My Favourite Films #16: Evil Dead II

Bruce Campbell is one of my cinematic heroes, he’s made a ton of fun B-movies and his autobiography If Chins Could Kill is highly entertaining. His first big break came in childhood friend Sam Raimi’s low budget horror movie The Evil Dead, and he’s frequently cropped up in Raimi’s work, becoming one of the director’s trademarks (his cameo is still the best part of Spider-Man 3).

This is Raimi’s sequel/remake of his own earlier work, the first is pretty much a straight forward horror flick, but this movie is a step towards comedy-horror and for my money, benefits from the change in tone. Don’t get me wrong, The Evil Dead is a great little movie and quite enjoyable, but even with it’s low budget, homemade effects it’s still a bit grueling due to it’s nastiness, the sequel is much more pleasant.

ed2 pos

That’s not to say that Raimi has skimped on the gore, as there’s quite a lot of the red stuff splashed around and some delightfully icky old fashioned FX work on display.

The movie follows the misadventures of Campbell’s Ash, who goes up to an old cabin in the woods with his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) for a romantic weekend. Their fun is spoiled however when Ash plays an old tape recording left by the cabin’s owner, an archaeologist who discovered the ancient book the Necromicon, which he reads aloud. The words being played awakes evil spirits in the woods, who possess Linda forcing Ash to kill her.

Ash then attempts to flee but is trapped as the bridge has been destroyed, he in turn is possessed, but the rising sun frees him. He returns to the cabin where he is trapped and tormented by the spirits, who possess items in the house, reanimate Linda’s body and then possess his own hand, which he is forced to hack off, but which still keeps attacking him.

On the way to the cabin is Annie (Sarah Berry), daughter of the academic and her research partner, Ed (Richard Domeier), and their local redneck guides Jake and Bobby-Jo (Dan Hicks and Kassie DePaiva respectively). They arrive and suspect that Ash killed Annie’s parents so chuck him in the cellar, only to then play the tape which reveals that Annie’s mother was possessed and her father forced to kill her and dump her in the cellar.

The body rises and comes after Ash, who the others free.

Example of the comedy grotesques on show in the movie.
Example of the comedy grotesques on show in the movie.

The spirits then come for the rest of them, with Ed and Bobby-Jo getting picked off early. Annie’s father’s ghost visits them and tells them they need to recite more of the book in order to send the spirits back to where they came from, where a crude drawing shows a picture of the warrior who will defeat them.

But Jake, eager to go find Bobby-Jo who ran into the woods, throws the pages into the cellar and forces them out at gunpoint. Ash is possessed again, and Jake is killed in the confusion, but the sight of Linda’s necklace enables Ash to regain control of his body and he and Annie continue with their plan.

Ash tools up with the group’s shotgun and also attaches a chainsaw to replace his lost hand and fights against Annie’s possessed mother and retrieves the pages. The portal is opened and the evil sent through, but Ash’s hand returns and stabs Annie, stopping her from completing the ritual and closing the portal. Ash is sucked through and lands in a time of knights where he kills a demon and realizes that he is the warrior from the book.

Here’s the thing, if that synopsis didn’t already tell you, this is a bonkers movie. But it’s madcap, goofy tone is part of it’s appeal. Raimi shoots it all in this great style complete with crash zooms and demented angles. He’s still capable of building tension in the movie, and some of the monsters are quite gross, but largely to comic effect.

The comedy is definitely to the fore though and Raimi shoots it at times like a live action cartoon and shows a knack for slapstick comedy, but the horror is still always there, such as in the scene with the laughing deer’s head, which is grimly amusing but still rather unsettling.

But the movie belongs to Bruce Campbell and his performance. Alone for much of the film, Campbell is a joy of crazed facial expressions and physicality. The sequence where he battles his possessed hand is a superb lesson in physical comedy with Campbell hurling himself about and smashing himself around the head with fantastic intensity. It’s also extremely funny, and I would say one of my all time favourite sequences in any film.

Ash vs his hand
Ash vs his hand

Campbell’s lantern jawed face makes him look like a traditional B-movie star, but there’s a lot of humour underneath and a sense he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and while some of it is cheesy that just adds to the appeal.

It’s a goofy, laugh out loud and yet still creepy movie. I also love that it features a point where our hero decides that enough is enough and it’s time to fight back, and this leads to one of the best lines in the movie. As Ash arms himself he saws off the shotgun and spins the gun into a holster on his back, at which point the camera zooms in and he’s going to speak. You expect some inspiring speech or some macho “let’s kick some ass!” posturing, but he merely states “Groovy”. Genius.

ed2 fightback

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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