||Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn:
Ash brings the word 'groovy' into the late 80s.
Back during our October horror fest, I posted a review of The Evil Dead, the first in everyone's fave schlock horror trilogy. I had promised to review the final two movies of the series, but for a multitude of reasons best summed up with a simple 'I didn't feel like watching them again,' they were buried deep into the abyss of articles people keep asking me to finish up on, right alongside the Sea Monkey fiasco and Alex Winter movies. Today's article was originally going to be the ultra mega super-supreme primal Super Smash Bros. review, but I got so frustrated trying to get the video capture progs to work with my N64 that I threw the game at my wall unit. What pops out onto the floor in its place? Evil Dead 2. I considered it some kind of mystical, occult omen, so for those of you who really wanted Campbell immortalized in action figures and the internet, take solice in my shitty makeshift video editing equipment...today we take a look at the second of the Evil Dead series.
Things To Know: Released in 1987, five years after the original, as somewhat of a setup film for the final (and probably most famous) movie in the series, Army of Darkness. Unlike the second films in many trilogies, this one actually makes an attempt to tell its own story. Even at the expense of what you saw in the first film. The plot generally focuses on Ash, a guy trapped in a cabin unfortunately dead center in the world's most haunted woods, where one false move will have him possessed by some of the most talkative demons in movie history.
Things To Forget You Knew: Disregard the group of friends Ash and his galpal went to the haunted cabin in the first film, because they're completely written out of the flashbacks here. But, since those characters weren't exactly seething with development or intrigue to begin with, you don't really have to worry about overt continuity lapses. As for this movie, the only people who originally went to the cabin are Ash and Linda. A few other minute changes were made to make this film more of its own, but unless you're in the one percentile who've watched Evil Dead and Evil Dead only for the past 20 years, you'll be able to write it off pretty easily.
Things To Watch Out For: Animatronic demented mounted deer head demon from Hell. Forget about the chainsaw hand, this is easily the best scene of the movie. More on that later.
At one point, I think I named this as my favorite of the three flicks. Not sure why, after watching it again its squarely placed behind the other two, and maybe even behind Christmas Evil on my off-balanced ranking scale. That's not to say its a bad movie - certainly one of the most creative ones I've seen in the genre particularly from this time period, but fact is, we've seen most of this stuff in Evil Dead already, so no matter how much red water they pour out of the cabin walls, you're still going to think the tree rape scene in the original was so much cooler. Still, Evil Dead 2 retains its historic significance for serving as the series' doorway from straight horror to comedy/horror, and for breaking the media record previously set on an old episode of Three's Company (an Angelino's episode) for 'most dinner plates broken in a two minute stretch'. In short, the movie's good, but if you've never seen it, don't expect to be so enamored that you'll break out the black marker and start sprawling the movie's title across your t-shirt because you just can't wait to buy an official one. The legend may exceed the quality just a tad, but let's walk through it and see how it got that reputation to begin with...
Ash and Linda arrive at their romantic hideaway - a hideously rotting cabin deep in the woods that doesn't belong to either of them. In other words, don't be fooled. This isn't so much of a 'romantic hideaway' as it is a way for Ash to get laid without hitting his head on the roof of the car sixty times. Amazingly, this train of thought makes the plot much more sensical than in the first film, where a bunch of college guys and their girlfriends actually go to this place with actual vacationing intent. C'mon, I know this was the mid-80s while bona fide hot spots weren't invented till '92, but who really wants to spend quality time at this place? No, I think sex is pretty obviously the driving force. Fortunately for those who wanted a horror movie without the token titshot, those pesky demons aren't going to waste any time.
Ash notices a tape recorder and some Satanic artifacts laying on a desk. Usually, this would be an indication to run like hell. But remember, Ash hasn't gotten laid yet and he's still thinking with the wrong head. So he instead decides to regard the devilish Book of the Dead as harmless, and to play the tape recording of a man reading off various demon-calling spells without batting an eye. Heroes in horror films are typically the most curious people on the planet, even at their own personal risk. Sure enough, the tape recorder's chants of tomfoolery wake the evils of the forest, and almost immediately possess Linda, turning her into a deformed monster with really great color contacts considering that this was only 1987.
The problem here isn't so much that Linda's a demon. The real problem is that she's a demon who wants to murder Ash. So, our paragon of virtue is torn: try to save Linda from a horrible, twisted eternal fate as a demon? Or just slice her head off with a shovel? Well, there's no way he's going to have sex with her when she's looking like that, so we get choice B.
Cool Shit: They must've rented out three dozen fog machines for this flick. There's smoke everywhere. And no, I don't mean that shitty computer generated smoke that the actors desperately try to see. I'm talking real fog.
Uncool Shit: I was so intrigued by the stop-and-rewind motion of the smoke that I completely missed the drama of the scene when Ash buries his decapitated girlfriend. Emotional Ash scenes are oddly funny.
If Ash thought that was it, he's dead wrong. Evil Dead wrong. Evil Dead II wrong. The horrific spirits of the forest certainly aren't satisfied with just killing some broad who isn't even played by the same chick from the first movie. If they went home after this, they'd be pretty shoddy demons. No, they aren't going to rest until they kill the guy with top billing, and since the only other people who star in this movie are a fat giggling hick and a girl who wears lavender safari shorts into the freezing forest, Mr. Campbell's gonna have his work cut out for it. After a brief moment where he gets possessed himself, Ash awakes the next morning and makes a mental note about the demons: they disappear in the daytime. Hey, everyone needs their sleep, and when you're working the night shift, you tend to miss out on tanning time.
What's even worse? The bridge that leads to the forest cabin has been completely destroyed. Yes, there's only one house in an otherwise abandoned forest, but that was still sufficient reason to build a million dollar bridge. For Ash, the most frustrating thing is that the distance between the two bridge points has diminished to a mere 10' or so from the start of the movie, where it was clearly the size of the Golden Gate. But even with that oversight, its just too far to jump across. Ash is trapped, and this place is nowhere near as fun as being trapped in a candy store or one of those books from Gumby. He can't escape, and there's big bad faceless demons trying to eat him.
But maybe there's hope! As the story goes, some researcher and his wife were at that cabin trying to comprehend the Book of the Dead. That's how all this demons-on-Earth nonsense started up. Of course, the aforementioned researcher and his wife are very much dead at this point. But the bastards didn't have the common courtesy to call their daughter and let her know that, so here she is, about to embark towards the forest with her boyfriend and fellow occult enthusiast. They expect to find her parents idly sitting around in party hats, thinking about all the millions they're sure to receive for opening Earth's door to an evil new world. In other words, they're setting themselves up for some major disappointment.
Annie Knowby is the movie's heroine. Not the horrible actress/slutty knockout that's been the norm for movies of this genre for years, but I found a bit of salvage in the fact that she's one of the few girly girls in these types of movies that doesn't stumble on her lines by matter of necessity. Its even more amazing when you remember that most of the people in this film were director Sam Raimi's friends or other such non-acting people. When you're working on a low budget, you've gotta cut some corners. I have no clue what budget they were working with here, but I'm sure it wasn't on the level of George Lucas' pocketbook or anything. That said, they pull off some great tricks with the cheap lemons they had to work with.
The Book of the Dead is, of course, extremely important to the plot of the entire trilogy. Its also become a pretty famous 'artifact' to find at your local witch store or online auctioneer. For some reason, everyone, myself include, is fascinated with the idea of owning weird documents that almost definitely don't hold the key to a dimension nobody should want to unlock anyway. A lot of movies have used this tool, but I'd credit Evil Dead long before that awful Blair Witch sequel for bringing it into the spotlight. And anything that gives pseudowiccan housewifes an excuse to sew black felt over your standard three-ring school binder is okay by me. Especially when they lace the binder with lavender seeds. Those things smell terrific.
Elsewhere, Ash's woes continue as his dead and headless girlfriend rises from the grave only to transform into a 6" lump of dancing clay. Yikes. This scene used to really creep me out. I had heard of the movie for years, but it wasn't until they showed the trailer to this one before running Rocky Horror at a city theater that I was sold on its merits. I watched the trilogy with a friend in marathon format, and while the water blood and green slime was pretty disgusting at times, this whole clay dancing sequence was what really got me.
Linda didn't dig herself up just to dance, though. She eventually makes her way back into the house to chew on Ash's hand, ultimately leading to a classic scene in the toolshed where her headless, rotting corpse runs at him with a chainsaw, only to have it flipped on its torso. Tons of green ooze abounds. At this point, Ash is pretty sick of giving this demon the benefit of the doubt. Yes, at one point, this was his girlfriend. But Ash subscribes to the three strikes policy, and Linda's corpse has already tried to kill him at least five times. Sooooo...
He slices her head open with a chainsaw! Tell me that's not the ultimate dream for anyone who's ever had a bitchy girlfriend. This is a lot better than soiling her reputation with numbers scrawled on bathroom walls. But Ash is a forgiving soul, and he's pretty darn upset that circumstances have forced him to dismember his fiance. Ash, there's other fish in the sea. Other fish with their heads still attached. Learn from this and move on.
Meanwhile, those two other people with that dead book thing meet up with some slack-jawed yokels who agree to lead them to the cabin for the super low price of a hundred bucks. The locals are of course typical hicks - the guys are fat, toothless, and in overalls. The girls are gum-lovin' skanks. And amazingly, they like each other. But you know who they don't like? Those dirty city slickers with their fast cars and their Necronomicons. But for a hundred bucks, they can toss the personal differences aside, pile into a car, and make their way to Chateau Hell, where the blood is green and the girls are gritty. Taaaake. Meeeee. Hooooome.
Back at the ranch, Ash's hand, infested with demonic enlightenment, decides to attack him by breaking dinner plate after dinner plate over his head. Finally, Ash gets so pissed that he uses a chainsaw to shred the thing right off of his arm. Ash is unbelievably hardcore. I think my hand would have to drag me into a theater and force me to watch Freddy Got Fingered before I even considered chopping it off. And even then, I'd probably rip off my ears and take out my eyes first. For the few of you who've noticed Ash's missing hand and never knew the why part, now you've got one less reason to lay awake in a sea of timeless mysteries at night.
Amazingly, Ash doesn't pass out from the pain. Then again, earlier in the movie the demon spirit threw him halfway across the forest halfway into a tree. He's really been building his durability. You've also got to admire how he handles the bloodied limb: wrapping it up in a dirty rag and using electrical tape to clot up the blood. Under those circumstances, I don't think I could play Nintendo much less take on an army of angry monsters. Is it any wonder the guy has such a cult following? Its not just the hair, folks.
The rest of the crew arrives at the cabin and, because of the bloody chainsaw on the floor and the missing researchers, think Ash is the culprit. The fact that he accidentally shot the hick girl was just an afterthought. They're not sure what to do with him, so they throw him into the sinister cellar most of us remember from the first movie as being a, as they say, 'bad, BAD place.' Moments later, Annie's dead mother comes to life as a murderous demonic (but still grossly overweight) corpse, chanting something about wanting fresh souls to eat. From the looks of her, you can replace souls with pretty much any other edible facet of life, and some inedible. That aside, she's bad news. This little incident tips everyone else off that maybe the demons are the ones responsible for the bloodshed, so they free Ash from his basement prison before Mother Demon has a chance to bite off his one good hand.
Locking a demon in the cellar only solves part of the problem, however.
Oh, for movie history buffs, this flick is sometimes thought of as a remake of the Evil Dead. Not so. Legalese kept Raimi from being able to show clips from the first movie in this one, so since they had to reshoot some scenes, they figured it'd be best to rewrite them to better suit the current plot. Then again, there are some pretty rudimentary likenesses between the first two films, particularly the fact that anyone can turn into a derelict, bloodthirsty zombie at the drop of a hat. Annie's boyfriend is the first to go, quickly axed to death by Ash. Annie doesn't give the matter too much thought, presumably because he was obviously a faux blonde bleachhead anyway.
Of all the zombies in the first two films, this one's by far the best because he doesn't just try to kill people, he does it while disco dancing. Seriously, his head goes all monster and the next thing you know, you're watching the Halloween edition of Solid Gold. To drive the point home, he eats some of Annie's hair. These demons are really bad at killing people.
More chicanery commences as the hick's girlfriend gets dragged off into the woods and attacked by tree branches in a scene lifted from the first movie. They don't do the nasty with her this time around, though. Still, its enough to bring everyone else out of the cabin on a hapless search. Ash and Annie really have no interest in saving a girl who's destined to wind up dead in a ditch someday anyway, but all these demons around really cloud their judgment. Sho nuff, its not long before matters get worse. The rest of the movie is pretty much standard Evil Dead stuff. My personal and likely incorrect theory is that Raimi's magnum opus was Army of Darkness, but since he'd already done Evil Dead, this second movie was necessary to set it up. That might sound preposterous, but remember, Evil Dead's fanfare is probably bigger right now than it was when the movies came out. If they wanted to spend the next few years building the AOD sequel, they had to throw something out there to keep fans remembering the series. If Friday the 13th part II came out next week, I don't think it'd have quite the same impact. This isn't to say they didn't care about what they were filming, just that there wasn't too much of a point in changing the entire formula when the whole point was to finish up that third flick and keep the fanfare alive.
I'm sure anyone could disprove that theory with a small bit of research, but it sounds workable enough, so I'm sticking to it. I'm not complaining either way, I'd rather have two versions of a good movie than two really bad movies. And with a payoff like AOD, the first and second films could be chronological studies of monkey evolution and it'd still be worth it.
Ash morphs into demon form for a few minutes until locating the necklace he gave his dead girlfriend. Overwrought with emotion, he expels the SICK and turns back into the hero we know and love. It must really upset him when he realizes that his girlfriend would've turned back into a human at daybreak. If he had just held off cutting her into bits and pieces for just a few hours, they'd still be together. Or should I say, she'd still be together.
It takes a little persuading for Annie to accept Ash as a good guy, which is understandable considering that he was previously throwing her into walls with pure white eyes. In times like these though, trust is a big issue. Annie knows she's got no chance to escape without some help, so she's willing to roll the dice and take a gamble on Ash. Of course, I'm making this sound eighty times more dramatic than it is - Ash just yells at her to stop trying to kill him with an ax. She agrees. That's it, that's all.
By the way, those two other hicks? Dead. The guy got dragged into the cellar and exploded into 45,000 gallons of colored water. Whatta way to go. Somehow its determined that the evil will disappear if they read off certain passages from the Book of the Dead. Problem is, those pages are in the cellar with Mother Demon.
Annie helps Ash do her in, and understandably gets upset because, when all's said and done, she just aided in totally decimating her mother. Ash considers romance, then remembers the last time he did that his girlfriend ended up dancing by a tree with her head ripped off. Kinda kills the libido. We're coming into the home stretch now - they've got the pages necessary to kill off the evil, BUT: the evil has manifested itself into a giant, sentient tree with bad intentions. Something's gotta give.
I've gotta admit, the tree scene was pretty cool. I miss the giant, ridiculous monster puppets of the old days. Especially groaning ones with big plastic eyes that shake around alot. The tree uses its makeshift claw to grab Ash, but before it can eat him, and dying Annie recites the final line of the heavenly haiku that will expel the evil off the Earth. And that, my friends, is our segue to Army of Darkness....
Portal opens, car goes in. Sound familiar? Ash tries his best to resist, but even heroes such as him can't escape the natural laws of gravitational pulls. The inside of the portal is pretty neat, its full of neon lights and fireworks. If the music wasn't so dismal, I'd almost call it happy. But you know, Ash hasn't exactly had a great last few days, even if this dimensional portal is prettier than most, he's not really up for dealing with it.
Fortunately/unfortunately, the trip doesn't last long, as Ash lands squarely in medieval times, where the many knights proclaim him as their savior who will save their society from the evils of the Deadites. And that's how we close out. Ash isn't too happy, but by the time AoD rolls around, that'll just be another one of his charming personality quirks.
Overall: Well, this was 1987. Look at other horror flicks from '87. Lots of awful storylines, pathetic scripts, and really shitty characters a'plenty. The Evil Dead series doesn't stand out just because Ash had a few cool catchphrases. Anyone's who seen even a bit of the mass amount of stuff available concerning the making of these movies knows they were labors of love. Let's face it, few low budget movies of this type are made for the fast buck simply because they typically make no money. They're made because someone *really* wanted to make 'em. Raimi represents the realization of a dream of a whole lotta aspiring moviemakers. He's not a name synonymous with 'big time director,' but if you can't credit him for putting together a series that's remained this highly regarded after all these years, you're just not looking hard enough. Raimi, Campbell, and the rest of their crew made a great team, and while I wouldn't call Evil Dead II a movie along the lines of greatness as I've seen others do, I will say that you could do a lot worse in your picks at the video store. And, as you'll see when I finally get around to reviewing Army of Darkness, the end results made for one hell of a horror trilogy. Endorsed by Stephen King!
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