Release Date: March 13th, 1987 (US); June 26th, 1987 (UK)
Genre: Comedy; Horror
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie DePaiva
The second instalment of Sam Raimi’s highly regarded Evil Dead franchise, Evil Dead II (or Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn to be precise) takes a slightly different route as far as tone goes to that unearthed in Evil Dead. Here, Raimi chooses to essentially recreate the original and utilise the film as a comical nod to horror in general. With a shortage of laughs never in question and Bruce Campbell at the helm once again, Evil Dead II ticks all of the classic horror boxes in a knowing way. Unfortunately, this shift of focus to comedy shreds a great of the scare-factor away that the original provided so well, meaning the film succeeds as an amusing satire, but fails to deliver as a scary horror. Luckily, a scary horror is not what it is meant to be.
Evil Dead II begins in a similar vein to its predecessor, as Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) travels with his girlfriend Linda to an old cabin in the woods. Soon after they arrive (that is, very soon after) Ash and his girlfriend are attacked by an evil spirit resulting in the death of Linda and Ash becoming partially possessed. Meanwhile, the daughter of the cabin owners, Annie Knowby, is also on her way to the forest retreat alongside her boyfriend and father’s associate Professor Ed Getley. The duo come across southern Jake and his partner Bobby Joe, who join them on their journey to impending madness and gore.
Much of what occurs on-screen during Evil Dead II is designed almost as a parody of horror, and is in place simply to make the audience laugh. From the outset Raimi puts his characters through the everyday (or, more suitably, every-night) rigours of horror: we see a spooky cabin in a dense forest; the demise of a loved one; a suspect bridge (the destruction of which would leave those who have crossed-over in isolation); a dark cellar; Gothic books with ancient text; and all of that makes up the opening half hour. When the focus is centred on these self-acknowledging elements the film works, and works effectively.
Not only is the setting clichéd and the set-pieces part of horror lore, so too are the characters, each of whom boast individual qualities. The heroic protagonist, the charming damsel-in-distress, the goofy idiot and his self-centred partner — they are all present. Evil Dead II‘s obvious satirical drive and the fact that it does not take itself seriously are the two proponents which make the comedy aspect of the film a resounding success. Raimi knows he is pandering to an aware audience, thus, when the additional ancient passages which must be recited to disperse the evil spirits are thrown into the unwelcoming cellar, or when a hapless Bobby Joe scampers out into the demon-infested forest without so much as a moment of rationalisation, a simultaneous chuckle can be heard from both the filmmaker and the audience — communally, we all get it.
Without a doubt, Evil Dead II trumps its precursor as far as comedy goes, but it is a far cry from its predecessor in terms of actual horror. As each scenario becomes increasingly humour-filled and events display the usual scary movie elements, the film quickly loses any lingering tension which would typically be present. Unlike The Evil Dead — which survived and made its name by way of its relentless atmosphere that ranged from discreetly eerie to outright frightening — Evil Dead II struggles to strike up any semblance of an underlying chilling tone. The overarching comedy out-muscles any potential horror during scenes, generating laughter where there would normally be scares. With that being said, the film is not trying to be scary. On the odd occasion that it does reach for a proverbial jump-scare, it does so because those scares have become a staple of horror.
Bruce Campbell’s Ash is as equally at home in amongst the comical nature of Evil Dead II as he was alongside the spookiness of Evil Dead. In fact, his outlandish antics and hilarious facial expressions are even more welcome this time around as they offer more to the film and, in unison with the satire, provide genuine laughs. The duel Ash is involved in early on with his possessed hand delivers outrageous merriment, the resonance of which holds up throughout the film. The supporting cast, on the other hand, do not offer as much comedy — at least not intentionally. Much of their involvement consists of loud screeching and accentuated vowels. Ash’s antics make up the trunk of the film, while the remaining cast are simply the supporting branches. A few snapped twigs have little effect on the strength of a tree, right?
With low production values and ridiculous-looking gore, Evil Dead II sets a comical tone from the get-go as it knowingly places clichéd horror characters in a classic scary setting and through common frightful situations. The shift in focus from terror to comedy negates any usual scares and turns them into echoes of laughter. Often, when a horror film of any ilk is not at all scary, something is not quite right.
However in the case of Evil Dead II, it could not be more right.