Give me back my hand.
Seven years after Sam Raimi’s low-budget horror The Evil Dead came onto the scene with ample scares and impressive special effects, its inevitable sequel released. I say inevitable because Raimi wasn’t initially interested, firmly in the belief that going back to the well wouldn’t be necessary once his latest proved a success. Well, his publicist put out an announcement for one anyway and it’s a good thing since Crimewave never quite lived up to Raimi’s expectations. So it was back to the woods, cabin, and book of the dead for him and his crew. Only this time the team brought some slapstick along for the ride with help from co-writer Scott Spiegel and maybe a little osmosis thanks to living with the Coen Brothers at that time.
Evil Dead II ultimately ends up more reboot/remake than sequel though. Some descriptions falsely explain it as Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) returning to the cabin that murdered his friends with a new girlfriend inexplicably also named Linda (Denise Bixler). Others say the second entry’s beginning is a “recap” despite bearing only surface resemblance. Supposedly Raimi had planned to bring all five of his original characters back despite four having died in the first, but his budget simply didn’t allow it. Perhaps The Evil Dead was so obscure back then that he didn’t feel he could rely solely on its lead-in, but Part II simply starts the franchise over so it can utilize many of the original’s elements and not force audience members to remember what occurred.
The repeated elements include having a creepy woman possessed in the basement and using “living” vines to kill an unsuspecting woman trying to escape her fate through the forest. For Evil Dead II to be a straight sequel, explaining these redundancies would prove impossible. As a reboot with a bigger budget (almost $3.6 million as compared to $350,000), however, it makes sense to revisit those tropes. The project therefore exists as a clean slate to revamp the tone, gore, and effects that made Raimi a young name of note. It’s about giving Campbell the spotlight to run wild, creating grotesque demons via stop motion and detailed costumes, and increasing the blood. I should say “liquid” considering the evolution of color from red to black to green to blue.
There are no scares this time because the tone doesn’t allow for any. A comedy through and through, it’s as though Raimi intentionally used his larger budget to make everything look fake. The original’s effects work is amazing considering his resources, but this one is all bright, shiny red and watery blood with a cartoonish sheen. It’s crazy to look at the two works side by side because they are so different aesthetically. You laugh out of confusion when Ash and Linda’s car travels down an isolated bridge that looks to be a cardboard cut-out reject from a Wes Anderson production, but then you settle in once Campbell’s hand becomes possessed for him to engage in a one-man battle royale of plastic expressions and hilarious physical humor.
And while we probably would have been okay with him battling evil in the woods alone, Raimi introduces a few more players for nothing more than a wider variety of victims. Joining Ash’s squatter—the cabin wasn’t his to use for fun with his girl in the first place—are Annie (Sarah Berry), daughter of owners Professor Knowby (John Peakes) and Henrietta (Lou Hancock); her boyfriend Ed (Richard Domeier); and two local “guides” in redneck Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Kassie Wesley DePaiva). Annie hopes to see her father and reunite pages from the Necronomicon she has with those he’s been translating. Let’s just say Knowby’s work succeeded because the evil upending Ash’s life is that which he was researching. Now he’s nowhere to be found.
These characters bring extra levity in their fright, penchant for getting hurt, and connection to Mrs. Knowby in the basement (her possessed form played in full prosthesis by Raimi’s brother Ted). Their arrival to scream and worry allows Ash to become the sarcastic badass we know and love in Army of Darkness. This is Raimi’s sole goal considering Evil Dead II‘s events have no consequence. Ash doesn’t seem very affected by Linda’s death except when his love is needed to preserve his humanity and the others are pawns to help construct his origin story. Raimi always wanted to send Ash through a portal to medieval times and when the budget wouldn’t allow it he obviously reworked things to ensure the next would if given the chance.
This entry is hardly disposable, though. The Evil Dead is just better through its scares and ingenuity. The sequel exists to bridge that horror to the forthcoming wild adventure and those in love with its campiness made it the larger cult favorite as a result. Its own technical prowess above the laughter shouldn’t be discounted either: the numerous camera spins, fast-paced camera drags, and a brilliant extended one-shot chase through doors and walls. In the end it’s a completely different beast so the two films can stand apart as separate entities rather than continuous chapters. This might actually be best because it allows me to appreciate the first as the horror staple it is and the second as the beginning of the comedic saga still going strong today.