Today let’s talk EVIL DEAD II. Let’s begin with one of the more important notes about this film, it is NOT a remake. This is probably the most important thing to cover first when talking EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN (the whole title) because there’s a lot of people out there that believe it is nothing more than the first, rehashed. This simply isn’t true. Due to some rights issues, they did not have the ability to run a ‘Previously on THE EVIL DEAD’ series of clips. In THE EVIL DEAD (1981), at the end, the evil catches up with Ash (nasty little bugger came in through the backdoor. Ash should feel extra violated). So EVIL DEAD II should start at that exact point. But without access to the scenes from the first, there was no way to bring us to the point where EVIL DEAD II should start without jarring an audience who more than likely haven’t seen the first one anyway.
So with that in mind, they took the first film, cut out three characters, and moved through the plot of the first at breakneck speed to bring us to the point of newness, when Ash gets hit by the evil in the forest and then becomes a deadite. So think of the first 10 minutes as a recap, not a remake.
Phew, that felt good, and by the way they made sure they wouldn’t have this problem in ARMY OF DARKNESS and show, instead, what people would see as a recap with scenes actually out of the previous film.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about some other stuff. I can see why people think it’s a remake, although the specifics are wildly different, the overall story feels very much like the first, five people in a cabin being pursued and overtaken by deadites. This is probably because it’s a very simple story and not overly complicated (like say…ERASERHEAD). What it may lack in story, it more than makes up for in horror and humor. Actually, let’s talk about those two things really quick.
EVIL DEAD II is horrifying, it’s also laugh-out-loud funny, and often one follows right on the heels of the other. I’ve seen a lot of movies, and a lot of horror films, but as I sit here and type I can’t think of a single film that manages to match the perfect balance of horror and humor that EVIL DEAD II was able to capture. The closest is SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but that movie wasn’t really all that horrifying. It’s a balance I honestly don’t think I’ve seen before, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen it since. This is one of the main reasons I liked EVIL DEAD II over THE EVIL DEAD at first. Both are well-crafted films, that is not a point of contention, it just came down to which was better written, and in that department, I must award EVIL DEAD II the prizes…all of the prizes. Here’s the weird thing, Over the decade(s?) that I’ve been watching the EVIL DEAD series of films, my love for EVIL DEAD II has never dwindled, I just grew to appreciate THE EVIL DEAD more as I learned about filmmaking, and film in general. That’s not to say EVIL DEAD II is lazily shot, but the majority of the tricks up Sam Raimi’s sleeve were already played in THE EVIL DEAD. Which I guess is another thing that strengthens the thoughts of some that this is a remake, again…it’s not.
This time around instead of a bunch of twentysomethings releasing evil they have no clue about, we’ve got some characters that are wise to the nastiness they’re facing. Here’s the breakdown:
It turns out that old cabin Ash and co. went to actually belonged to someone else, an aging professor and his wife. The professor found the Necronomicon in some Candarian ruins (this is when we start to get lore that sticks, as the demons are referred to in both this and ARMY OF DARKNESS as Candarian demons…as well as deadites, for short). He and his wife came to the cabin and he recorded his findings on the book, foolishly including incantations from the Necronomicon, which happened in the first film, but now we have more exposition to explain its existence better. Then the professor’s daughter reaches the cabin with her boyfriend and two country bumpkins that showed them a way around the out-of-order bridge, she has additional pages of the Necronomicon. When they show up and find Ash, and a good amount of blood all over the place, they think the worst that Ash has killed the girl’s parents and so they lock him in the cellar. But with the Evil possessing them and causing all sorts of whacky stuff to happen in the cabin, a truce must be made, more incantations must be read, and the evil dispelled.
I’m not sure which approach I like more. THE EVIL DEAD where there’s very little exposition or understanding of what is going on, a blind run. Or EVIL DEAD II, where things are explained and the course is set and known. Both have their pros and cons, but I think in the end that THE EVIL DEAD has it beat because if you don’t necessarily have to explain why what’s going on is going on, then you have much more room to do random, scary, things without explanation. Making THE EVIL DEAD, in my mind, the more creative of the two. Sure you can argue that to do equally random stuff in the sequel, but having to explain why, is more of a talent because you’re working in parameters, coloring inside the line. But this is solely my thoughts on the subject, we’re all entitled to our own opinion.
I think, more than anything, the thing to love about EVIL DEAD II is the amazingly adept way it balances horror with humor. You just don’t get writing like that anymore (well…I guess now that I think of it CABIN IN THE WOODS does a pretty good job of that, and it’s self-aware and super smart at the same time, as well…).
EVIL DEAD II is a rare gem that I suggest you savor and treasure. One viewing of this is never enough. Then again, to be honest, one viewing of any of the films in the EVIL DEAD series is never enough. So go enjoy.
That’s right, I said now. Rent it from Amazon Instant Video or pull them out of your own collection and start watching. Much like the advertisement that says there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s, there is no wrong time to enjoy an EVIL DEAD marathon.