EVIL DEAD II (REVIEW)
Dir. Sam Raimi
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
THE EVIL DEAD is THE greatest horror film of all time (other opinions are available, and incorrect) and so it's "sequel" has an awful lot to live upto. Sam Raimi's college project managed to spawn enough interest to secure a whopping $3.5m budget compared to the circa $90k for the first film. As such, everything about EVIL DEAD II is bigger, bolder and much more fun.
It's obvious early on that this is the film Raimi wanted to make when he released the 1981 classic and despite the film's numbered title suggests, is a reboot not sequel and acknowledges none of hte events from the first film, instead amalgamates events to allow a streamlined and much quicker journey to reach the horror. After all, with a title like EVIL DEAD, everyone knows what they are expecting and want to pick up where they left off.
Returning characters Ash Williams (reprised by Brice Campbell) and Linda (this time recast from Betsy Baker to Sarah Berry) take a vacation to a cabin in the woods only to find an old recording which when played, unleashes the demonic deadites into the woods. This is where events blur from the original with moments intersliced with what did happen (Linda being beheaded) with a new version of events levied (missing are Cheryl, Scott and Shelly, and new characters introduced for the death count).
The reason for this is unclear, Raimi's corrections of his first feature, a production team wanting to replicate the previous films success or more controversially, the events of EVIL DEAD II are actually Ash's memories of the first film played out how HE remembers them - this is a fan theory that has since been woven into the EVIL DEAD lore via ASH VS THE EVIL DEAD but depending on how you see the film could well determine what you get out of it.
As an original standalone film, EVIL DEAD II is violent, graphic, chaotic horror that delves more into comedy and action than the horror and suspense the first film carried. As such, it's far more entertaining and at 85 minutes it never outstays its welcome (considerably more fast paced than it should be) and throws everything but the kitchen sink with no time to settle for what what previously unfolded. As mentioned, there's a much bigger budget here and as such the monster effects are mindblowing even by todays standards. Raimi's passion for practical effects hark back to those of Harryhausen especially where some of the stop motion deadites come on screen. Further to that there are gallons of blood ejected from walls, iconic scenes such as the laughing furniture, the possessed hand, the ejection from the cabin, an origin story that comes back to haunt the inhabitants, all made ever so slightly tongue in cheek by Raimi who at this point delivers something for everyone.
In it's own, there is no denying that EVIL DEAD II is a razor sharp dose of action/horror/comedy that stands on it's own two feet. Unfortunately as a sequel, it's a terrible follow-up and certainly does no justice to a back to back sitting and makes absolutely zero sense as to how this can even hold the title of EVIL DEAD II. Second to what? Unlike ARMY OF DARKNESS, to which the events of EVIL DEAD II directly lead to, is a straight sequel despite beiong set centuries in the past but does allow for continuity between films.
Fortunately, a deeper angle to view EVIL DEAD II and the only saving grace to it's legacy to the EVIL DEAD saga is to view it with an aspect of imagination to it's lead character creating a memory of troubles events and coping with the realities of his actions. For a film of 1987 that has been up until now deemed as one of the greatest horror films in living memory, frankly still is, however it can be much more than a sum of its parts and goes a long way to connect both the 1981 original and it's 2 sequels.
There are a few scenes and behaviors that indicate this but none more so than the madness scene which sees Ash crumble under the cabin furniture and laughs back to what he sees as an almost disney-esque (long before BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) company of laughing lamps, wardrobes and deer heads. All appearing to be possessions and an extension of the deadite curse that extends now much further than the individuals it inhabits, but instead the whole woods themselves. The scene goes for an extensive few minutes with Ash constantly breaking to see the furniture still in motions and the laughter echoing around the room - a true sign of madness and one that breaks horror from someone in the midst of all the madness. These breaks and splashes of humour are a far cry from THE EVIL DEAD, and yet something that's contradicted between the versions of the character so often. The uttering of the now famous franchise line "groovy" feels out of character for someone in the midst of a possession but fits perfectly fine for someone who knows what's to come and has a plan to get through it.
Ash's constant grief of the early death of Linda haunt him persistently. The decapitated walking corpse, at this point rotten yet she had only died moments before, the focus on the pair and omission of the trio who joined them in the cabin for part one reminds us that Ash is drawn into the grief of the death of his girlfriend and not focused on anything else that did not directly affect him. The possessed hand - the same hand that killed Linda - is a key trip in this movie, one where Ash literally disconnects himself from the hand that killed her. The mirror scene wherein Ash sees himself and jumps to attack him, only for the mirrored version to flash away and we see Ash strangling himself, something also echoed with the transformation into an evil Ash, fully possessed and yet still semi conscious unlike others possessed.
It's difficult without Raimi's firm seal of approval which version was attended but this new layer really elevates EVIL DEAD II as a perfect companion piece to the greatest horror film ever made.