Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review: Evil Dead II (1987)

On into the third day of Evil Dead Week...

Evil Dead II (1987)

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Evil Dead II is the quintessential horror movie sequel, with a beefed-up budget, more ideas, and bigger special effects. The events of the first film are condensed and retold in broad strokes in a ten-minute prologue before continuing right where it left off, with Ash, the sole survivor of the original, now forced to spend another night in the cabin. Meanwhile, Annie, the daughter of the cabin's archaeologist owner, is coming home with artifacts from a dig, with several locals in tow to lead her around the broken bridge to the cabin. Naturally, they are put under siege by the ancient Sumerian demon that was inadvertently summoned in the first film, and find themselves possessed and killed one by one over the course of the night until the ghost of Annie's father reveals to them the secret of putting the demon away for good.

This film can be called a lot of good things, but "scary" isn't remotely one of them. While with the first film Raimi made a straight horror picture, here he leans more towards balls-out, gross-out slapstick comedy than he does frights. His style is still here, but is used in the service of laughs and "hell yeah"s rather than frights. A number of scenes were lifted directly from Three Stooges gags. The result can be compared, in the best possible way, to a carnival spook maze or a Halloween haunted house. The red corn syrup flows more generously than it did before and from more places, severed hands flip off the heroes, a possessed corpse does a sexy dance to taunt her still-living boyfriend, and Ash goes from a battered "final guy" to a wisecracking action hero with a chainsaw hand. Whereas the first film worked in spite of its campiness, here it fully embraces that element and works because of it.

Speaking of Ash, Bruce Campbell is in top form here. This was the movie that defined his image as the smart-assed badass, and while it isn't until the third act where he becomes his "The Chin" persona, when he does it is a sight to behold. When Ash got done suiting up for war with the demons, I was screaming "hell yeah!" and making metal horns because of how badass Campbell came off. And yet, he still sells the other Ash, the one from the first film who is still there at the start of this one. Between these two films alone, I'm convinced that a lot of people don't give Campbell enough credit as an actor. I have seen him play both a badass zombie slayer and a timid survivor, and more importantly, play them well. Having seen little of Campbell's filmography before this, I now proudly call myself part of the Cult of Bruce.

That said, I must say that I still prefer the original film over this one. Maybe it's because that was my introduction to the series, but having been legitimately frightened by that movie (I had to play Zombiewood on my phone for an hour to cool off), I was disappointed that this film wasn't all that scary in addition to being funny and awesome. I knew going in that this film's tone was different from the first, but it struck me just how much of a shift it was. I'd probably have to watch this again to get a better handle on it. In addition, growing up in a time when continuity is important to films, the condensing and retconning of the events of the first film simply struck me the wrong way.

Score: 4 out of 5

Other horror-comedies have managed to top this one in both laughs and scares, but this is still a great time and a very fun movie to watch. It's groovy.

(Once again, you didn't think I was just gonna drop this review without dropping one of its most famous quotes?

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