Evil Dead II, The (United States, 1987)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

What do you get when you cross George Romero with The Three Stooges by way of the director of A Simple Plan and The Gift? Something offbeat, to be sure. Something grotesque, without a doubt. Something... groovy.

Evil Dead II can be seen as a sequel to Evil Dead, a remake, or a little of both. Rather than starting off where its predecessor finished, Evil Dead II goes back to the beginning - sort of. The first ten minutes of the second film essentially recap what occurred in The Evil Dead. Ash heads up to the cabin, although, in this movie, his only companion is Linda (played here by Denise Bixler). The two discover the Necronomicon, and, in no time, Linda is a zombie and Ash is forced to chop her up to save himself. Before long, Ash is possessed, but he manages to fight off the demonic influence. He is joined by a group of four additional characters: Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry), whose father owns the cabin; her boyfriend, Ed (Richard Domeier); a redneck named Jake (Dan Hicks); and his girlfriend, Bobbie Joe (Kassie Wesley). Predictably, these characters are dispatched one-by-one, leaving Ash as the last one standing. The ending of Evil Dead II leads directly into Army of Darkness, although numerous details were changed when the third film was released.

Although The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II share numerous plot similarities, the tones of the features are significantly different. While both movies contain elements of satire, the first is much more of a straightforward horror endeavor than its sequel. Evil Dead II raises the stakes by introducing outright slapstick and one-liners into the mix. Consequently, the "scare level" of the movie drops a notch. It is still possible to be unsettled by Evil Dead II, but far less likely than by its predecessor.

Gore provides a key component to both films. Raimi uses it in such copious quantities that the sheer volume of fake blood often becomes humorous (especially in Evil Dead II, where red is not always the color of choice - there's black blood, green blood, and yellow blood). Heads and arms are frequently severed, but it's all done in such a good-natured and over-the-top manner that it's difficult imagining any horror aficionado being remotely distressed by the amount of gore. (It is equally difficult imagining anyone who doesn't like horror films coming within viewing distance of any Evil Dead movie - the pictures are intended for those who appreciate the genre.) In Evil Dead II, a bodiless head tries to chew on Ash's hand; later, he is attacked by the headless body. And, in what is unquestionably the most amusing moment in either film, an eye pops out of its socket and flies through the air to a waiting receptacle. With the Evil Dead movies, Raimi successfully illustrates that gore can be used for purposes other than grossing out an audience.

The makeup in The Evil Dead is rather crude. With the higher-budgeted Evil Dead II, Raimi had more money to play with. Consequently, he was able to use latex applications, specially designed suits, and even some stop-motion animation in his quest to make the appearance of the "Dead-ites" more outlandish. Indeed, they are more convincing in Evil Dead II, but they never lose the cartoonish appearance that is in keeping with the overall tone of the film. Raimi's goal is to frighten us a little, not to scare us out of our wits.

And that brings us to the Three Stooges. Raimi is on record as being an avid Three Stooges fan, and his appreciation of the old-time comics shows clearly in a variety of slapstick homages that appear throughout both Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. While the Stooges' routines might not seem to be ripe for incorporation in a horror movie, Raimi's use of this material works, primarily because the tapestry into which it is woven already has a highly satirical/comedic aspect. It's also interesting to note that, while the role of one of the Stooges is occasionally played by the human Ash, there are occasions when a zombie takes on the part of Larry, Curly, or Moe. (There are no obvious Three Stooges tributes in the more straightforward The Evil Dead.)

It's interesting to note the way Ash changes between The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. In the former, he's a geeky guy who ends up being a reluctant hero of sorts. In the sequel, he's a none-too-bright macho dude who's out to get the "Dead-ites". By the end of Evil Dead II, he has an impressive arsenal of weapons, including a sawed-off shotgun and a chainsaw (which has replaced the hand he hacks off partway through the movie). Campbell's performance shifts to match the needs of the script. In the first film, he could almost be described as low-key. In the second, he's all swagger, spitting out one-liners and taking on the forces of darkness.

Post-Evil Dead trilogy, Raimi's work on films like A Simple Plan have earned him the opportunity to helm a major Hollywood superhero movie (Spider-Man). But fans will remember him as the maverick director who pioneered the comedy/horror road a decade before Wes Craven popularized it with Scream. For those with a taste for outrageousness and an appetite for horror, there's no jucier meal than the Evil Dead movies.

Evil Dead II, The (United States, 1987)

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Denise Bixler, Richard Domeie
Screenplay: Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Music: Joseph LoDuca
U.S. Distributor: Rosebud Releasing Company
Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 1987-03-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1