As a case study, the Evil Dead series is fascinating. Director Sam Raimi (the Spider-Man trilogy, Drag Me To Hell and, most recently, Oz: The Great and Powerful) started the series in earnest with the relatively straight-faced and ultra low-budget shocker Evil Dead. With the success of the film, Raimi then half-remade his own film with a healthier budget and in a goofier fashion and thus Evil Dead II was born. Raimi then rounded off the trilogy with the slice of wacky, gory lunacy that is Army of Darkness. If you’re not familiar with the schlocky genius that is the franchise, now’s the time to catch up. With the well-received remake of the first film making box-office tills ring in the U.S. and set to do the same over here, it’s worth checking to see what all the fuss about gropey trees is all about. Plus, the special edition of this film just came out today in what I’m sure is just some kind of crazy cosmic coincidence.
Whilst I do have a soft spot for both the original film and the ridiculous Army of Darkness, Evil Dead II (sometimes suffixed with “Dead By Dawn”) is easily my favourite. It hits the perfect balance of tongue-in-cheek humour and cheesy acting with liberal amounts of blood and an inventive way of shooting that makes it insanely entertaining. Is it scary? Eh- maybe for some marshmallows out there, but most will walk away beaming from the genuinely amusing slapstick stuff or the film’s manically gaudy approach to gore. Sole cabin survivor from the first film, Ash (played by the lantern-jawed cult legend Bruce Campbell) inexplicably travels to the same cabin in the woods with girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler). Ash foolishly plays a tape of a professor reciting passages from the Necronomicon and before he knows it all manner of evil tits have gone up and his girlfriend is now undead. Ash now has to face all manner of supernatural nasties alone if he’s to survive until dawn.
The film is intentionally goofy, with the acting style coming straight from ’50s B-movies. It features a powerhouse turn from Campbell who gives us a screwball performance for the ages. Not many actors could properly sell a fight with their own possessed hand, but Campbell manages it. You may start off all cynical and snort at how corny and low-fi everything is but I can damn near guarantee you that the film will draw you in with its unique charms. Despite being a lower budget film, it doesn’t rest on its laurels visually. There are more camera tricks, quirks and invention on display here than you will find in a thousand modern horrors. This was before the era where CGI made everything look the same, so there’s judicious use of things like matte paintings, stop-motion animation and other endearing old-school techniques that just make the film. This was the start of my fandom of both Raimi and Campbell that continues to this day. Yes, even after Spider-Man 3.
There will be some people who just don’t “get” Evil Dead II. In this age of po-faced cynicism, Evil Dead II will seem like a crappy, laughable mess to some. The people who can get on board with the hokey acting and the old-school splatter will have a whale of a time and not only love it, but love it hard. I’m having a tough job explaining just what makes the film so good without spoiling some of the film’s highlights, which are definitely best left as surprises. There are some fantastically silly and gruesome set-pieces that just add up to an incredibly enjoyable film. It’s the cultiest cult film that ever culted and I couldn’t love it any more than I already do.