30 years of Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn

30 years of Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn

Today, March 13th 2017, is the 30th year anniversary of the United States theatrical release of Evil Dead 2.

There are many great sequels out there: The Godfather 2, Empire Strikes Back and Police Academy 2: Their First assignment but, for me, and I am sure for many fellow horror fans and deadites out there, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn is not just one of the greatest sequels of all time but also one of the greatest films ever made. 

The incredible thing is that we weren’t ever meant to get a sequel. As far as Sam Raimi and Co. were concerned our reluctant hero, Ashley J Williams, is killed at the end of the first movie but the production and financial fiasco that was their second film, Crimewave left them finding that a second Evil Dead film was all that they could get financed. Thus, a franchise was born.

Sam Raimi, when he started, must’ve been fearless. As weird, inventive and wonderful as the original Evil Dead was, it is nothing compared to the joyous lunacy of the sequel. Most filmmakers whose first film took 5 years to become a modest horror hit and whose second film was a wild, multi-genre, miscast, incoherent but original mess (and, subsequently, a huge flop) would have maybe played it safe with the sequel to their only success. Not Sam Raimi. Evil Dead 2 is a glorious, non-stop, splatstick masterpiece.

It's also a brave move just how long he has simply one protagonist on screen by himself but when it's Bruce Campbell fighting his possessed hand and laughing manically with possessed inanimate objects, it could be the whole film and I wouldn't mind. Talk about a tour de force. 

Director  Sam Raimi  "Plays  Bruce  like a video game" in the   Evil Dead 2   puddle sequence

Director Sam Raimi "Plays Bruce like a video game" in the Evil Dead 2 puddle sequence

It's part horror movie, part comedy movie and part action movie. The camera work is some of the most frenetic and mad you’ve ever witnessed and when you combine them with weird, wonderful, original and inventive film-making techniques, including animation with live actors, reverse shooting, dutch angles and ram-o-cams! (to name but a few) it's like a fright filled roller-coaster of gore, goo and guffaws like you've never witnessed.

The sound design is incredible! Every object in this movie from the trees, to lamps, chairs and even the cabin itself are living, creaking, breathing, screeching things. Add to that the ever present wind and the groans, moans and gurgles of the evil spirits and it's a feast for the ear holes!  

Bruce Campbell’s performance is unprecedented, and unmatched. Seriously. Part caricature, part cartoon and part stuntman, no one has ever made being put through the ringer look so appealing. It's a lovable endurance test for the senses. That's not to say he's without depth or emotion either. When he is driven to madness, despair, sadness and insanity, you believe it, every very step of the way. He fleshes Ash out from goofball to action hero in 90 minutes passing through just about every single emotional and physical state an actor would ever have to (sometimes several at one time) all while having to facilitate the near impossible technical demands of the special and prosthetic effects. Take that De Niro

That brings us to the make up and special effects in Evil Dead 2. Mark Shostrum leading the team that would become KNB create truly artistic and wondrous practical effects for the film. The gore and grue is dazzlingly beautiful in its grotesque splendor. It's one of the best combinations of director, special effects and a performer that's ever been committed to celluloid. It's an explosion of unique creativity.

Greg Nicotero  puppeters the Henrietta head in some of the film's final scenes

Greg Nicotero puppeters the Henrietta head in some of the film's final scenes

One of the keys to getting some types of comedy right is to play it straight. The same can be said for horror. The cast have to believe in the situation they find themselves in and then play that accordingly. No one is going to deny that in some moments in Evil Dead 2 the acting gets a little hammy but overall, from Campbell on down, the cast are consistently in the moment and in their character. The characters may be a little one dimensional on the page but everyone on screen is doing their best to bring them to fully fledged and, in some cases, grotesque life. 

A brief shout out to Ted Raimi who, next to Bruce Campbell, endured hell in heavy and airless prosthetics as the malevolent and deliciously wicked Henrietta. A truly wonderful horror creation. 

One reviewer called it “A twisted Warner Brothers cartoon” and it is certainly that. If you ever want to see just how fucking dull movies have become in the last 10 years, watch Evil Dead 2.

Evil Dead 2 is one of the films for me that when I watch another crazy, enjoyable, blood soaked 80s horror: Re-Animator, Braindead/Dead-Alive and The Return of the Living Dead for example, I always think – it’s great but it’s not Evil Dead 2.

Sequel or Remake?

The debate rages on, online (doesn’t it always!) about whether Evil Dead 2 is a sequel or a remake. Well it’s obviously a sequel and anyone who says otherwise is a troll or an idiot. The confusion arises because of the recap of the story of ED1 during the first few minutes of the movie. Some people think Ash was stupid enough to go back to the cabin a second time with a second Linda and some people think the whole film is a remake of the first.

Both these theories are ridiculous.

So you should all stop them now.

The sequence from the very end of the first film, where the evil force roams through the cabin and hits Ash in the face appears in the second film. This indicates where the recap ends and the sequel begins. The reason the recap is in there is because they weren’t sure how many people had seen the first film and because they couldn’t get the rights to use footage from the first film. They removed all the other characters and boiled it down to Ash and Linda for time and pacing purposes. Also because this wasn’t a remake but a continuation.

To further burst the bubble of the irritating “Evil Dead 2 is a remake” crowd:

  • It doesn’t feature any of the other characters from the first film
  • In the first film Ash doesn’t cut off his hand and replace it with a chainsaw
  • In the first film Henrietta doesn’t come out of the cellar
  • It’s called Evil Dead 2

To burst the bubble of the just plain silly “Ash takes a second woman called Linda to the cabin crowd”:

  • Shut up. Just shut up now.

High Fidelity How could they have got Evil Dead 2 so wrong?

There is a, now, infamous scene in the John Cusack film High Fidelity which both pleases me and angers me no end:

Rob: Just come on. What would it mean to you, that sentence: "I haven't seen Evil Dead II yet"?
Barry: Well, to me it would mean that you're a liar. You've seen it twice. Once with Laura -- oops -- and once with me and Dick 'member? We had that conversation about that guy making Beretta shotgun ammo off-screen in the 14th century.
Rob: Right. But let's just say that I hadn't seen it. And I said, "I haven't seen Evil Dead II yet." What would you think?
Barry: I'd think that you're a cinematic idiot and I'd feel sorry for you.
Rob: All right. But from that one sentence, would you think that I was going to see it?
Barry: I'm sorry, Rob. I'm struggling here. You're asking me what would I think if you told me you hadn't seen a film that you have already seen. What am I supposed to say?
Rob: Just listen to me. If I said to you --
Barry: "I haven't seen Evil Dead II yet", yes!
Rob: Would you get the impression that I really wanted to see it?
Barry: Oh, uh...well, you couldn't have been desperate to see it, otherwise you'd have already gone.
Rob: Right. I'm not going to see that movie. (After a pause, Barry looks up again.)
Barry: But the word "yet."......Yeah, you know what? I get the impression that you wanted to see it...otherwise you'd have said you didn't want to go.
Rob: But in your opinion, would I definitely go?
Barry: How the fuck am I supposed to know? Probably.
Rob: Why?
Barry: Because it's a brilliant film! It's so funny and violent and the soundtrack kicks fucking ass. I never thought I'd say this, but can I go to work now?

The Evil Dead nerd in me goes crazy at this point because they’re clearly referencing Army of Darkness and not Evil Dead 2. The movie is about anal retentive nerds who get nit-picky on every single issue but here they are making many gaffes about The Evil Dead franchise. This begs the question that if the writers didn’t know the movies that well, why reference them at all? In the book of High Fidelity it’s Reservoir Dogs not Evil Dead, so why change it but then get it wrong?? madness!

  • Evil Dead 2 is not set in the 14th century. (Neither “technically” is Army of Darkness as Ash says “ My name is Ash and I am a slave. Close as I can figure, the year is thirteen hundred A.D” and that is the last year of the 13th century, not the first year of the 14th century but I admit, that’s nit-picky, even for me)
  • Ash uses a double barreled Remington (S-Mart’s top of the line) not a Beretta shot gun in Army of Darkness
  • I love Joe LoDuca’s music in all three but after seeing Evil Dead 2 you probably wouldn’t say “The soundtrack kicks ass” but you might after Army of Darkness. Although, again “technically”, you’d be talking about the SCORE kicking ass and not the soundtrack.

It’s a shame because it’s a rare pop culture reference to the movie and they manage to get everything wrong. Still, a name check is a name check I guess.

Since then and since the rise of Bruce Campbell/Evil Dead fever (over the last 15 - 20 years) the Evil Dead franchise has been referenced and repeated and grown across movies, tv and comic books and with the third season of Ash Vs Evil Dead being filmed as I type this, it shows no sign of dying down any time soon.

Evil Dead 2, though, more than any film or TV episode in the franchise, epitomises Raimi and Co. firing on all cylinders and perfectly blending horror, comedy, action and one liners in a way that few have managed before or since. 

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