Evil Dead II Review
Evil Dead II (1987) | Dir. Sam Raimi | Cast: Bruce Campbell, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Sarah Berry | Writers: Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel
Back in 1981, Sam Raimi's project The Evil Dead emerged onto the horror scene and has remained a significant horror touchstone ever since. With its claustrophobic setting, distinctive cinematography, and oozing practical effects, its influence can be found in franchises from A Nightmare on Elm Street to Hellraiser. So what do you do following this success, six years later, to remain fresh and even top your previous movie? The answer: return to the scene of the horror and make a bizarre self-parody called Evil Dead II.
This is where I would usually give you a quick plot summary, but Evil Dead II is such a stream of consciousness that it isn't the easiest task. After spending the first ten minutes rewriting the events of the last film - trimming down the number of characters and upping legend Bruce Campbell's smooth appeal - it descends into utter chaos, blood geysers and body parts flying across the screen. New characters and fresh lore are introduced, but this is hardly the kind of franchise where you expect a consistent and coherent narrative logic; its never quite explained how the various demonic possessions work, and how some manage to survive them. Honestly though, when you're having this much fun watching a film, who cares?
Of course, this film is primarily known as the piece of pop culture that cemented Bruce Campbell as a true icon. There aren't many horror franchises where the hero is better known than the villain - Freddy, Jason, and Michael are far more recognizable than the final girls they chased - but in the case of Ash, it's certainly a well-deserved honour. While he may get a greater volume of one-liners in the follow-up film Army of Darkness, they aren't of as high a quality as here, his steely-eyed 'groovy' still arguably holding the spot for the most memorable Ash moment. The rest of the cast, including Ted Raimi as the deadite Henrietta and Denise Bixler as the explorer Annie, are decent enough, but no one else in any of these films can really hold a candle to Campbell.
As is often the case with practical effects, the visuals of Evil Dead II are distinctly tactile and visceral. They may have aged a little strangely, particularly the use of stop motion in some of the monstrous transformations, but this doesn't prevent them from being a fantastically grotesque spectacle, and aside from Campbell the best part of the movie. Probably the element that has aged the best is the costume design for some of the grosser deadites, the fleshy detail of the rubbery outfits providing a good amount of disgusting enjoyment. Though the plot at times may be lackluster, it exists almost entirely in service of these visuals, so in my opinion, the more contrived elements can be forgiven if it means watching Ash fighting his own evil dismembered hand.
Much like the original (as previously mentioned), the cinematography of Evil Dead II is one of the most innovative and creative elements. Frequently utilizing long takes, extreme close-ups, and dynamic movement, the camerawork does a brilliant job of visually articulating Ash's crumbling state of mind, as well as the twisted nature of the subject matter. The fact that this film series has a signature shot associated with it, that of the aggressive demon POV tracking shots achieved by putting a camera on Sam Raimi's bicycle, really says all you need to know. This is likely what has given the film its longevity also; the film doesn't rely just on what is within the frame for excitement, but also on the frame itself, unlike the lazier examples of the splatter genre.
In terms of the quality of the blu-ray, I can't say that Evil Dead II was ever I movie I clamored for in HD - it has such a low budget, B-movie appearance that it doesn't feel particularly necessary. However, despite the dodgy original sound recording, this version looks and sounds fine for what it is, and there is a certain appeal to seeing all the gory details of the aforementioned mise-en-scene in glorious high definition. As for the special features, the audio commentary on disc one by Raimi and several cast members (including Campbell) will prove interesting, while disc two features several different 'making of' short films, as well as the trailer and an interview with Campbell himself. For die-hard fans of the franchise or of horror in general looking for a definitive copy of the classic movie, this is an essential addition to your collection.
Coming in at a short and sweet 85 minutes, Evil Dead II is a perfect whirlwind of horror and comedy that keeps a quick pace and never feels boring. Though you can appreciate this movie for its cultural significance without a rewatch, doing so will definitely provide a solid amount of entertainment, and unlike other more self-serious horrors of the era, you won't feel shortchanged by dated scares. In the immortal words of Ash Williams during a later adventure: 'Hail to the King, baby'.