Evil Dead II

Evil Dead II ★★★★★

Ash Williams is the butt of a sick cosmic joke. One minute he's on vacation in a cabin in the woods with his girlfriend, the next his world has been turned completely inside out by a ghastly demented onslaught of supernatural nastiness where the woods, the world, everything seems determined to make his life into a bizarre blood-soaked punchline. But this ain't the doing of god or the devil. It's Sam Raimi. And to watch Evil Dead 2 is to get sucked into this grisly and maniacal gagfest right along with them.

Big fan of the first film Stephen King put in a call to producer Dino De Laurentiis and bam! Raimi and company had $3.6 million (about ten times the budget of The Evil Dead) for a sequel. After initially struggling to find financing, suddenly Raimi had all the resources he needed to run poor Ashley through a macabre bit of movie mischief quite unlike any other.

Raimi took the framework of his original film about the discovery of an evil spell book that unleashes the forces of hell (the one and only Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the Book of the Dead) and replaced parts, sanded off rough edges, and completely souped that sucker up like a racing Hot Rod.. and it's all done in the service of refining the story and letting it flourish even further, sucking the viewer in even deeper.

Instead of five friends arriving at the cabin together like in the original, we now see Ash (Bruce Campbell) and Linda (Denise Bixler) show up there alone, with their romance then developed to a greater degree so that it can add more depth to Ash's character arc later on. Meanwhile the fairly generic group of accompanying friends have been replaced here with Annie (Sarah Berry), the daughter of the archeologist who found the Book of the Dead and brought it to the cabin, her boyfriend Ed (Richard Domeier), and their redneck local guides Bobby Joe and Jake (Kassie Wesley and Dan Hicks). We now have cutaway scenes (something the single location original film didn't really have) that expand on the discovery of the Book of the Dead, thereby adding more connecting threads between the initial set-up and our group of victims. And by putting Ash in the middle between a preppie couple and a decidedly more rough-around-the-edges couple, we identify with his everyman even more.

It is Bruce Campbell's amazing (a word I rarely use to talk about acting performances), deeply charismatic portrayal of Ash--and the great pains Raimi goes through to make us experience the story's horrors as he does--that is key to the success of Evil Dead 2. The sequence early on where Ash is knocked unconscious, possessed by a demon, sleeps for hours and then wakes up in time only to see the sun drop from the sky and set in a matter of seconds...that's one of the greatest bits of time-space fuckery to befall a horror film character. There's a number of moments like this in the movie, scenes where deeply innovative editing, camerawork, and special effects combine with Campbell's incredibly expressive performance to show us just how deep this Evil Dead shit is getting into Ash's head (and by extension, the viewer's). For his part, Campbell throws himself fully into this physically demanding role, face and chin included and even a hand to boot, in a sequence that takes the idea of "Body Horror" in a whole new direction. Meanwhile Campbell's delivery of the dialogue is so pitch-perfect that he was able to make just the word "groovy" into something iconic and highly quotable.

Campbell's Ash is an almost ideal dupe for a horror film scenario of this type, and Raimi doesn't waste a penny of his increased budget in finding ways to torment him and his group. The new-and-improved demon possession designs come with plenty of rows of jagged teeth and a good dose of extra flesh rot. Claymation, animatronics, trick photography, this movie isn't afraid to go full Harryhausen to deliver up the twisted goods. It's also bold enough to play to Raimi influences as diverse as lurid 50's EC Comics and drive-in movie terror, but also the likes of Looney Tunes and the Three Stooges.

The end result of this wild sensory assault is a dizzying, addictive, and very heady horror movie. Evil Dead 2 is one of those movies I feel like I could smoke a joint and watch once a day, and I sometimes find myself wondering why I don't. While The Evil Dead is quite possibly the greatest of all the 80's indie horror exploitation films, for me Evil Dead 2 is easily one of the greatest horror films ever, one I've delightedly seen countless times and will undoubtedly watch countless more.

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