1987 in Film – Evil Dead II

Release Date: March 13th
Box Office: $5,923,044

Question: how do you create a sequel to the ultimate experience in gruelling terror?

Luckily this isn’t something that I have ever had to face but is something that Sam Raimi faced after the experience of making Crimewave (1985).

As we’ve already confirmed it’s by no means a bad film, just one that was interfered with so much it strangled the charm out of it. But the wreckage that followed the film could very easily have derailed the career of a young director.

Luckily, Raimi could still call on The Evil Dead (1981) and it’s influence. Having Stephen King champion your debut film always helps. Going back clearly wasn’t ideal but in doing so Raimi produced one of the most confident films ever put together.

Evil Dead II (1987) starts with a brief recap of the first film only dumping most of the other characters; this time only Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) go to the cabin in the woods rather than with their friends. They still find the tape recorder and the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, Ash still plays the tape translating the book which unleashes the evil force in the wood, Ash still has to take Linda’s head off with a shovel.

So far, so familiar. It’s at the point that the film takes flight in its own direction; if Evil Dead is a horror film, Evil Dead II is pure splatstick.

This is shown early; Ash tries to escape the cabin making it to his car, he drives off before slamming into a tree. He flies out of the car through the windscreen, sails through the air before crashing to the ground. Up he gets and off he runs.

It’s a clear delineation; Ash is now a cartoon character, a stress toy to be bashed around and swatted by the evil forces surrounding him.

That’s not to say it’s not scary, it really is. That dark, nasty tone from the first film is carried over firmly into its sequel. But now Raimi has the confidence to throw in his Three Stooges references without fear, to use them to counterpoint the horror.

And confidence is the right word, as Raimi throws around the camera like nobody else. There’s a shot at the beginning, tight on Ash’s face as he lies unconscious in a muddy puddle. As he snaps awake the camera literally flies into the air spinning as it goes. It’s a stunning shot, one that only someone supremely confident in their craft would even try to pull off.

The film is full of shots like this, mixing point of view with tracking shots and everything else to always keep the audience on their toes as to where the next scare will come from. And then Raimi throws in an near silent 360 panning shot that seems to last for half an hour. The silence, after all the noise that proceeded it, is one of the loudest things in Evil Dead II.

And you can’t get this far without mentioning Bruce Campbell. He makes the film, and with so much of it being him the sole person on camera all the pressure is on him. And he delivers, especially in the quieter moments when Ash faces the reality of what’s happening.

Which don’t last that long before the insanity starts again.

It’s a massive success of a film, a sequel that takes the original film concept and twists it in new ways. It’s dark and mean and funny and gory. It may not be the ultimate experience in gruelling terror but that’s fine.

Evil Dead II can stand on its own two bloodied feet.

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