Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Evil Dead 2

31 Days of Horror: Day 2
Legend has it that director/co-writer Sam Raimi always had a plan to make a sequel to his surprise cult hit, The Evil Dead.  I've seen it reported in a few places that he wanted to tell a story where Ash is transported to Medieval times, an idea that later became the story to Army of Darkness.  So, if the third movie in the series used the idea that the director had for the second movie...what did he do with the actual sequel?

Evil Dead II picks up right where...well, where the other movie began.  This time around, though, only Ash () and his girlfriend, Linda (), make the poor choice to spend the weekend in a cabin in the woods.  This isn't a creepy, ramshackle cabin, though; it is well-furnished --- it even has a piano! --- and looks more like a vacation home than anything else.  Not that Ash and Linda are renting it or anything; Ash is taking her there because it is "deserted."  Essentially, Ash is an aspiring squatter.  He then makes the mistake of playing an audio tape he finds on a desk in the cabin, where a professor of some sorts reads off his phonetic translation of the passages in the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, or the "Book of the Dead."  Soon enough, an evil spirit possesses Linda, she get decapitated by Ash's shovel, and Ash is the last person standing, alone in the woods with some sort of woods demon out to get him.  To this point, the story has been pretty much a highly edited (about six minutes long!) remake of the original movie.  But then things start to get a little weird.
That's right: hillbilly-in-overalls weird
It turns out that the voice on the audio tape belonged to an archaeology professor who was working on a project to explain the Book of the Dead.  His daughter, Annie (), and her research partner, Ed (), were on their way back from an excavation, where they had found the last pages of the book.  Those pages contain spells that can ultimately destroy the evil spirit.  Now, all we need is for Annie and her partner to get to the cabin, team up with Ash, and figure out how to stay alive long enough to do what needs to be done.  The only problems are (in order):
  • the only bridge leading to or from the cabin has been wrecked by the demon spirit thing
  • Ash is a stranger, covered in blood and Annie's parents are missing
  • All they have to do is decode a dead language and apply that knowledge to the problem at hand
Oh, and Ash's hand has become possessed and is trying to kill him.

The acting in Evil Dead II is certainly not impressive at first glance, but Bruce Campbell's improvement is more noticeable if you compare it to his work in the previous film.  This is less of a straight horror movie, as it has added a lot of broad slapstick comedy to the mix, and that plays to Campbell's strengths.  Specifically, he does well with exaggerated expressions and hammy dialogue, so the cartoony sequences in the movie (especially Ash vs. his hand) are a lot of fun to watch.
"What's up, Doc?" would have fit this scene like a glove
Of the rest of the cast, I suppose longtime soap actress is probably the most noteworthy; she didn't do a whole lot, but she was inoffensive.  This was the only featured role ever had --- her only other credit is as an extra in C.H.U.D. II - Bud the Chud ---but I thought she was pretty decent.  There aren't a lot of good female roles in horror movies, especially in the 80s, but she was convincingly stubborn and strong.  , as is his usual schtick, played a small part in his brother's movie.  This time, he played Henrietta, Annie's possessed mother.  Ted doesn't really "act" in this movie, so much as he "lumbers around under a lot of makeup and costuming," but Henrietta is one of the more memorable monsters in the movie, so I guess all that thankless work was worthwhile.
Why is this not Ted Raimi's IMDb image?

Only one film bridges the gap between the that made The Evil Dead and the one that made Evil Dead II, but it makes all the difference.  Raimi is much more confident as a director and the overall feel of the film is less "amateurish" and more "professional with a low budget."  The most obvious difference between the two films is the conscious choice to add a lot more comedy to Evil Dead II, and that was probably the right choice.  Raimi has a talent for capturing comedy on camera, especially slightly awkward comedy, and this was his first true platform to show off that talent.  I don't know if I would say that Raimi was any better at directing the cast in this film, but he and Bruce Campbell seemed to be working on the same comedic wavelength, if nothing else.  The cinematography, while not spectacular, wasn't bad.  The iconic POV shot of the evil woods demon thingie tearing through the woods made a return, and that was probably the most memorable bit of cinematography in the film.  Raimi also did a good job capturing some truly weird and gross moments on film.
...sometimes bordering on cold-medicine-induced-nightmare moments

Evil Dead II may be going for laughs, but there are still enough horror tropes to satisfy most fans of the genre.  If you're looking for fake blood, this has some of the more ridiculously over-the-top spurts of the 80s.  I was a little surprised to notice that there is very little gore captured on-camera, though; the most gruesome scenes simply show blood spattering on something else, like the wall of the shed.
Remember those Gatorade "sweat" ads?  Raimi missed an advertising tie-in.
If you're looking for special effects, the makeup and costumes for the possessed are pretty good.  Some of the FX are simply claymation and are showing their age, but I'm pretty sure those FX were cheesy when the film was released, too.  Still, they add to the goofy/surreal tone of the movie and I like them a hell of a lot more than late 80s CGI.
Can you imagine this with 80s CGI?  Ugh.  Now THAT'S gross.
Even though the gore was off-camera (or just goofy) and the special effects were more gross-looking than scary, Evil Dead II earned an "X" rating in America when it was released, for reasons I cannot understand.  If they had recreated the rape tree scene from the first movie, that would make sense, but Kassie Wesley DePaiva's scene doesn't get sexual at all. 

In fact, Evil Dead II is generally less horrific than the original movie, despite the cast and director having more experience and money to work with.  And yet, Evil Dead II is a much, much more entertaining movie on every other level.  The characters are a lot less irritating, the story makes a little bit more sense, and the comic weirdness and goofiness that comes from a hero with a chainsaw hand all add up to something odd and unique.  Ash may have been the main character in The Evil Dead, but the character that has become a cult icon doesn't appear until he grabs a chainsaw and shotgun.
Behold: Ash is born!
The first time I sat down to watch this film, I was eighteen.  I hadn't gotten into horror yet, and didn't really understand the value of campiness or low-budget charm.  However, when the movie finished, I turned to my friend and said, "I can't believe that I have to see the sequel now."  Even though I didn't care for Evil Dead II at first glance, it still reeled me in and left me wanting to know more.  Since then, it improves with every viewing.  It's not quite up there with my absolute personal favorites, but I give it...

Oh, and I have come to a realization with the "is it a remake or a sequel" question that surrounds this movie.  We don't actually see the Necronomicon after the six-minute recap at the beginning of the film, just the additional pages.  It is entirely possible that the events of the first film could have happened (minus, I guess, the other two friends).  So, aside from the recap --- which was necessary to explain what the hell was going on --- there is little to no remaking going on.  Why did they film the recap instead of showing clips from the original film?  Since it was made by a different production company, I will assume there was some sort of ownership issue.

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