Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Kassie DePaiva, Dan Hicks
Plot: Ash (Campbell) takes his girlfriend to a cabin in the woods, only for the Book of the Dead to unleash an army from Hell against him.
Cult cinema is a very tricky beast, especially when it comes to horror. When enough people claim an older movie is good, it sometimes becomes so ingrained in the minds of the majority that they put in on a pedestal it does not belong. The sad truth of the matter is that I was highly disappointed with the second Evil Dead movie.
The original was messy and disjointed. Raimi had a strong idea and a great villain, but hadn’t quite learned the skills to tell his story properly. It says a lot about the core idea at the heart of the Evil Dead that audiences saw through the stack of flaws and gave it a second chance. Raimi’s first mistake is remaking the first movie, rather than focusing his efforts into a sequel. While retrying the first movie with a larger budget may have made sense in the time, looking at it two decades later, and it is a little hard to distinguish. There are definitely more effects and Raimi cackles with glee with some of the set-pieces he can now afford, but as a whole, it isn’t a big enough step up. It is also painfully obvious he is speeding through the story, as he tells the same plot threads, but doesn’t want to bore audiences with things they already know. Ash is now in the cabin with a single friend, his lover, and the Book of the Dead is lying on the coffee table, waiting for him upon his arrival. A tape recorder even speaks the cursed words, so he doesn’t have to. In seconds, his girlfriend is both dead and a Deadite. Where is the suspense? Where was the chilling crawl to the reveal of the monster? Raimi proved his expertise at taunting the audience in the original; it was the main reason I forgave the minimal plot and poor acting in the last one. Here, he races to the good stuff, a bull in a china shop, rather than a director cherishing a second chance at a clear passion project. As Ash wakes up and finds the woods around him, threatening him with execution at dawn, it is hard not to wonder why Raimi didn’t decide to begin his movie with Ash waking up, after his ‘demise’ at the end of the first film. The sequel approach would negate the awkwardness and bring the film to where Raimi wants it to be without the awkward opening ten minutes. Evil Dead II comes across as a horror movie that throws everything at the audience and hopes that something, anything, sticks. I came to this movie expected a refined experience. In all honesty, I prefer the messy but honest original.
I do see hidden gems in the movie that explain some of the love for the sequel. For one, when Raimi is so loose with expectations, the benefit of his off-kilter approach is anything goes. One moment, we are fighting standard, possessed demons, the next the furniture is cackling at the poor Ash trapped inside. The finale in particular proves that Raimi’s imagination is still at its peak, as trees smash their trunks into the cabin and grotesque 80s beings crawl out of the woodwork. The highlight of the movie is actually when Ash is alone in the cabin, fighting off wave after wave of unique attacks. One scene sees a tense gunfight with Ash’s own hand. Raimi makes the segment so diverse that what should have been a drawn-out experiment between a director and an actor, attempting to fuel a feature film, is tense viewing, balancing spoof and genuine thriller with ease. Bruce Campbell relishes the chance at playing both helpless victim and demonic hand. It is almost a shame that some red shirts end up being shoe-horned into the story, when Raimi runs out of ideas. Then we are in more familiar territory. A girl is grabbed by trees (thankfully, the joke isn’t taken horrendously too far this time), there’s a monster poking up through the cellar and the next person to get possessed is never obvious. But now we are back to the first movie, albeit one that is allowed to truly ramp up the set-pieces in the final act. On the other hand, maybe there is something more charming about the restraint of the original. At the very least, Raimi and Campbell appear more in synch this time around, Campbell meeting the director gag for gag, and be awarded with an essentially cool scene, where he creates his own sawn-off shotgun. Groovy!
Final Verdict: Disappointingly rushed and just as messy, if not messier, than the first. I expected a lot better.