Evil Dead 2: Book of the Dead 2 Review

Holidaying in a remote cabin, Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler), find a strange book, a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a dagger made from human bones. As Ash plays the tape, which contains a recording made by a professor translating the text of the book, its incantations release an unseen Sumerian spirit into the woods that surround the cabin, which possesses Linda. After decapitating Linda and burying the body, Ash tries to escape but the spirit prevents him from leaving, accelerating the day towards sunset when the power of the spirit grows stronger. As night falls and Ash locks himself into the cabin, where he hopes to hold out against the spirit, he finds that unfinished business from the previous night's attack comes back to, quite literally, bite him.

Meanwhile, at a nearby airport, Annie (Sarah Berry), whose father was the professor who translated the book, along with her partner Ed (Richard Domeier), are travelling to the cabin with the final pages of the book, which had long been thought of as lost. When they arrive, alongside a couple of hillbillies, Jake and Bobby Joe (Dan Hicks and Kassie Wesley, respectively), Annie finds that her parents are dead and an insane, bloody and shotgun wielding Ash appears to have murdered them and disposed of the bodies. They throw Ash into the cellar but as Annie plays the tape of her father's recording, Ash hears that he is not alone down there...

Is there any film as cool as Evil Dead 2? Not good, just cool. It is, after all, difficult to pin down just what makes one film cooler than another - Casino is a better film than Goodfellas but is not as cool. Swingers was made to be cool, and it is, but so was Be Cool and it is not. The original Ocean's Eleven was not a good film but it is cool whereas Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven (and Twelve) are neither good films nor cool. But what of Evil Dead 2? It certainly helps that it's the follow-up to a film that Mary Whitehouse dubbed the number one nasty and one that James Ferman described as leaving one examiner at the BBFC feeling nauseated. Similarly, the feeling of excitement that one got from seeing a copy of the original Evil Dead VHS tape in a video shop post-banning carried through to its much less harrowing sequel but, nevertheless, one never felt as though Evil Dead 2 spared the viewer any horrors. Despite this notoriety, all three Evil Dead films remain resolutely beneath the radar of popular culture and, although this is less accurate now when one can watch the once-banned The Evil Dead on a laptop on a commuter train, it once took a concerted effort to track down an Evil Dead film.

Of course, should you ever have met another fan of the series of films, there was much quoting of all three films but, in particular, this one. Groovy! Swallow this! You're goin' down...chainsaw! But unlike other films that provide a ready stream of quotations - and fans ready to quote them - there was nothing embarrassing about Evil Dead 2. Not even Duke Nukem being Ash by another name can tarnish this film - it is almost above criticism and retains a coolness throughout every one of its frames, throughout the frequent reissues by Anchor Bay, of which this is the latest, and throughout even dorks like me quoting it. It is one of the all-time great horror films and like so many other classics of the genre, one suspects it will still be considered as such for many, many years to come.

But who would have thought that Evil Dead 2 would have been the film that it is? Despite The Evil Dead being considered in hindsight, and with the slapstick humour from this film reflected upon it, as a horror comedy, it remains one of the most gruelling of gore movies. To this day, it, along with The Exorcist, is a film that I have trouble watching alone at night but where the first film in the series is an uncomfortably gruesome movie, its sequels are pure slapstick that are inspired more by Sam Raimi's beloved Three Stooges than the horrors of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead and The Driller Killer.

What begins as a remix and recap of the first film - initial plans to include footage from The Evil Dead were scuppered when buying up the rights to the film from more than fifty overseas territories proved legally and financially difficult - soon plunges into a wild and brilliantly inventive mix of horror and comedy with dazzling and dizzying camerawork. Whether following an eyeball from its point of view as it flies from the head of a Sumerian demon into the mouth of a screaming woman or crashing through the forest as the spirit in the woods takes possession of Ash, Raimi's visuals are outstanding, belying the film's low-budget origins. Indeed, Raimi does well to cover the cracks in the film for despite Evil Dead 2 keeping to a respectable eighty-four minutes, it does tend towards repeating itself on occasion and, as one might expect, many of its scenes owe much to its predecessor. Raimi, however, hides all of this under a thick coat of invention and moves the film along at a breakneck pace. And yet, without criticising the film for this, Evil Dead 2 is none the worse for that. It's a slight film that makes up for its absence of plotting - couple goes to shack for holiday, awake demons, become possessed and one kills the other; other party arrives, everyone but the lead in each party become possessed before one opens a time portal into which the other disappears - with never letting the audience rest for a sufficient amount of time to realise it.

Bruce Campbell, despite being a favourite at Fangoria conventions and the like, plays second fiddle to Raimi's direction and camerawork. Those of us who have followed the director through the lean years of For the Love of the Game must have, like me, been overjoyed at him not only landing the Spiderman gig but that he made such a success of it. With Evil Dead 2, there's the feeling that it's Raimi's first successful blending of everything that we would consider Raimi's unique style. Yes, The Evil Dead had inventive camerawork but the tree rape sequence is one that Raimi has admitted feeling embarrassed about. Indeed, Evil Dead 2 offers a remixed version of it that errs on the side of decency. Crimewave had much slapstick but it was a messy picture that, sadly, seems to have been ignored post-Spiderman. But Evil Dead 2 does it all just right - the laughs to be had when Peter Parker goes through the process of discovering his spider-enhanced powers are the fumblings of Ash in this film. The attack on the surgeons in Spiderman 2 by Doc Ock's arms as he lies unconscious is all shadows and shafts of light and owes much to the workshed footage in Evil Dead 2. And has any character better understood Ash's reluctance to be a hero at the end of Evil Dead 2 than Peter Parker in Spiderman?

In the end, though, Evil Dead 2 is simply a riotously entertaining film from beginning to end. It's never as grim as the first film in the series, nor does it offer quite as much slapstick as its sequel but it aims for, and gets, a delightfully bloody balance between laughs and horror. The Evil Dead certainly had horror but few laughs whilst Army Of Darkness had the laughs but one missed the horror from its predecessors. But Evil Dead 2 is a classic horror film that has barely aged in the almost twenty years that have passed since its release. Much has come and gone in horror since then but, with the exception of those horrors produced by Peter Jackson, the sight of Ash's hair greying as the unnamed horror in the woods bursts through the door of the cabin is more inventive a moment in anything produced in horror since '87. With ballet, decapitations, a medieval castle, a car chase, demonic possessions, time travel and the greatest horror icon of his age, Evil Dead 2 never appears to aim as high as it does but nor does it fail in its ambitions. It is a mightily fine film and as essential for any decent DVD collection as Withnail and I, Brazil and Rio Bravo. It really is that good.



Transfer

The case states that this DVD release features an all-new HD Transfer supervised by Sam Raimi and, as you'll note from the screen grabs below, it really is an improvement on the old R2 release that I have compared it to.

Original Momentum R2 Release

This R1 Book Of The Dead Release

Original Momentum R2 Release

This R1 Book Of The Dead Release

Original Momentum R2 Release

This R1 Book Of The Dead Release

Original Momentum R2 Release

This R1 Book Of The Dead Release

Without question, the image is sharper, the colours are richer, the picture is brighter and less murky and there is no damage to the print. It really looks better on this DVD than I can ever remember seeing it before and, for that alone, may well be worth upgrading.

The sound is just as good with less noise than on the old Momentum R2 and crisper dialogue and effects. The 5.1 remix isn't as impressive as it might suggest but the surround soundtrack is very good with a nice amount of separation between the channels.



Extras

Audio Commentary: This is justifiably held up as being of the better commentaries as it sounds exactly what it is - a set of four old friends coming back together to watch a film some years after they made it. Writer/director Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell (Ash), co-writer Scott Spiegel and make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero (the 'N' of KNB) contribute a hugely enjoyable commentary that has Campbell and absent producer Rob Tapert as the butt of many of Raimi and Spiegel's jokes. That the four get on is never in doubt but they also manage to get over as many facts about the production as they can remember.

Evil Dead 2 - Behind The Screams (17m06s): Featuring Tom Sullivan narrating a selection of photographs that he and others took on-set, this is a mix of production history and shots of the special effects, such as the cutaway mirror used in the movie appearing after a photograph of Bruce Campbell and his body double. Sullivan tries for a mix of comedy and facts but after the commentary, Sullivan can't help but sound a little dry.

The Gore The Merrier (31m50s): Featuring Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger - the founders of KNB FX - this is a quick trawl through some of the archive footage of the effects shots being prepared, interspersed with a more recent interview with the three of them together. The highlights of the feature are Evil Dead Baby, KNB's less-than-serious homage to Re-Animator and Greg Nicotero's replica Sam Raimi storyboard, complete with outsized hand and a frowning Bruce Campbell, both of which were there to suggest possession.

Trailer (1m26s): They could hardly go wrong by just taking all of the best horror and effects gags out of the film and so it proves.

Poster and Stills Gallery: Fifty-one images are included in this feature, which does not play automatically but requires that the user scrolls through the content.

Talent Bios: Only Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi get included here, with pages of still text summarising their careers to date.

Also On DVD: With trailers for The Evil Dead, Man With The Screaming Brain, a promo for the latest Evil Dead game and Dead & Breakfast, this highlights some of Anchor Bay and THQ's latest, related products.



Overall

It's easy to criticise Anchor Bay for their numerous updates and reissues of the Evil Dead films - easier, even, when planned extras such as Within The Woods do not appear - but for the fact that they stuck with these films and have generally presented them with more care and attention than many other studios would see fit to, means that they can get away with it. As with previous versions, the sound is very good indeed but the picture quality is a massive improvement over the existing R2 Momentum version. Add to that the Book Of The Dead packaging, which is possibly one of the best DVD packages available, and you have a fantastic release. Whether, however, you can justify the outlay on what may be a second or third copy of the film is only something that you can decide.

Film
10 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

9

out of 10

Last updated: 23/06/2018 18:39:51

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