One wonders if a young, ambitious Sam Raimi thought, if even for a fleeting second, how he was changing the game when making Evil Dead II. Maybe he had a twinkle in his eye when the sequel to his low-budget work of genre anarchy attracted the likes of producer Dino De Laurentiis. Maybe it was during one of the many moments when his muse Bruce Campbell grabs a scene by its throat and leaves no action nor effort unexhausted. Or perhaps it was turning the keys of the now-series over to Campbell’s Ash, who would become as big of a horror icon as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees in record time.
Evil Dead II remains one of the most pivotal horror films of the era for its surplus of gore, its love for extreme set-pieces, and its clever ability to pay subtle homage to things like The Three Stooges. It’s half-sequel and half-remake to Raimi’s early masterwork, only this time, it doubles down on gore and bloodlust to the point where scares become surreal and the film itself rises above (below) the realm of the art of bad taste.
The slim-and-trim narrative revolves around Ash (Campbell) and his girlfriend, Linda (Denise Bixler, replacing Betsy Baker), taking a cabin-retreat in Michigan where they stumble upon tapes left by an archaeologist. On them, he reads passages from the “Book of the Dead,” which he discovered during a dig. The reemergence of the book and the tapes themselves leads to Linda becoming a zombie and Ash assuming the mighty hero role once again.
Later on, Ash is joined by an influx of new faces: Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry), whose father owns the cabin; her boyfriend, Ed (Richard Domeier); a hick named Jake (Dan Hicks); and the hick’s girlfriend, Bobbie Joe (Kassie Wesley). As was the case in The Evil Dead, these characters are living on borrowed time. They existed to get hacked, slaughtered, and ripped apart by a variety of ghastly creatures, much to our delight.
The first installment was a linear horror film that benefitted from the rawness of its aesthetic. Shot on a shoestring budget, it was a lucid horror movie that experimented with camera angles, brutal violence, and copious amounts of blood. Evil Dead II leans into the comedy of this shock brigade a lot more. Dancing skeletons. Demonic entities oozing slime. Headless bodies and body-less heads rolling around. It’s all inherently silly, but Raimi’s love for art direction and the absurd keep you invested if for no other reason than just to see how far things go.
There are two scenes I loved in particular. One is a heavily stylized moment, involving an unseen force in the woods. Raimi latches us onto its point-of-view early in the film. Then, with a first-person perspective, sends us flying through the woods with a long, unbroken shot that zips by at such a breakneck speed, it’s as if we are the one crushing kindling, mowing down trees, and eventually sending Ash into a muddy pile of water in the woods.
The other scene is a moment of slapstick comedy — such a device ordinarily has no place in a horror film, but when all the rules are broken so deftly, even the seemingly impossible can be done well. Ash severs his own hand and the hand begins attacking him. All that’s missing is a Marx Brothers-esque musical cue. Ash eventually attaches a chainsaw to where his hand once existed, and if that’s not efficiency, I’m not sure what is.
Evil Dead II and all involved clearly have a blast breaking every conventional horror movie rule. However, I confess to enjoying the first installment more. Even with a pithily short runtime, Evil Dead II threatens to become exhausting around the hour-mark. In a film where no concrete rules are established, characters are introduced then devoured, and the insanity of special effects swallow whatever logic exists, I can’t help but feel myself tune-out the bedlam at times. The first film worked most effectively as this grungy, antithetical sendup of the horror genre while still operating like a devoted work of the genre. The sequel is a funhouse, by comparison; a colorful and impassioned one no less.
NOTE: As of this writing, Evil Dead II is available to rent on multiple platforms.
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Richard Domeier, and Denise Bixler. Directed by: Sam Raimi.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!