Friday, September 25, 2020

H2020: #3 Evil Dead II (1987)

Evil Dead II would become a touchstone of 80s horror alongside the original Evil Dead that was released in 1981. Sam Raimi's career had stalled after his 1985 film Crime Wave flopped, so he and Bruce Campbell decided to make a follow up to The Evil Dead. Raimi's idea for a sequel was formulated during the making of the original, involving Ash being sent back to the Middle Ages to battle deadites, but that story would not be told till 1992 as Army of Darkness. Evil Dead II is more of a remix of the original, leaning towards a more comical and farcical tone. Influences ranged from The Three Stooges, 1950s b-movie horror, and McDonalds commercials. 

A framing device beings the film with an explanation of the Book of the Dead, an ancient that can unleash sinister forces. The film begins with Ash heading back to "the cabin" with his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler). Things quickly go south when they discover Professor Knowby's tapes from the Necronomicon and play them. A big mistake! Linda gets possessed, forcing Ash to kill her (a few times). Ash also gets possessed and at one point must fight off his own evil hand that attempts to strangle him by cutting it off - a moment played for laughs. It's great, a triumphant moment for Ash. 

Meanwhile, Professor Knowby's daughter Annie (Sarah Berry) acquires missing pages from the Book of the Dead and she heads to the cabin with her research assistant partner Ed (Richard Domeier). Locals lead them to the cabin where they find an embattled Ash who they believe murdered the professor and his wife. The second half of the film replays the original as they all battle the deadites, including the Professor's ghoulish wife who spouts off one liners. At one point Ash attaches a chainsaw to his stumped arm, another iconic moment. The action at the cabin plays as farce, but still gets gory with unique late 80s stop motion effects, spewing a variety of disgusting fluids.  

At 85 minutes, Evil Dead II gets in and gets out at the right time. Like the original it walks a fine line between graphic violence and slapstick comedy, this time around the camera is winking at us more often than not. Campbell's performance as Ash is a pastiche of the 80s action trope, a working class hero who finds the strength within to overcome otherworldly/demonic obstacles. The ending sets up the conclusion to the trilogy, providing an epic dimension to the saga.

Raimi would go to a successful career directing mainstream films in Hollywood, most famously the Spiderman trilogy with Tobey Maguire. The Evil Dead's imprint can be found in many of his films. Bruce Campbell can be counted on to make an appearance, as well as Ash's 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. 

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