31 Screams in October, #20: Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)

Posted: October 20, 2014 in Movie Review
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Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Director: Sam Raimi

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Ted Raimi

It’s a sequel! No, it’s a remake/reboot! No, it’s a parody of the original! Confused? Fans are, too, which is why the debate rages on. “The Evil Dead,” though cheesy enough that some of it could be looked at as unintentionally amusing, was played as a straight, blood-soaked horror movie. Its sequel is exactly the same thing, only better because it embraces the silliness and ramps it up a few notches. Where “The Evil Dead” goes for scares, “Evil Dead 2” primarily uses sight gags and some other notable in-joke references to elicit a response of uproarious laughter. Still, it’s a movie that remains hard to classify.

The movie begins by essentially doing a quick, six-minute recap of the events of “The Evil Dead,” recasting the actress playing Linda, the girlfriend of Ash (Bruce Campbell) and leaving out their other three friends. They go to the same cabin, he presents her with the same necklace, and find the same tape recorder which, when played, speaks the words to release demonic spirits that take possession of the living. Linda is once again taken, and Ash must once again dismember her corpse, after which the demons come for him just as they did in the final scene of “The Evil Dead.” This is where the fun begins.

Most of the next 30-35 minutes of the movie feature Bruce Campbell as a one-man show. The demonic forces take him, release him when the sun comes up, and then come back for his right hand, which he is forced to cut off with a chainsaw, and then chase around the room with a shotgun. Much of this sequence owes a lot to “The Three Stooges,” of which director Sam Raimi is a huge fan (and the reason why his stunt doubles for “The Evil Dead” had been billed as “Fake Shemps”), before ending up later giving a nod to “Taxi Driver” when Ash connects the chainsaw to the stump on his right arm. This part of the movie is so hilarious, and he does such a great job that I wouldn’t have minded had the entire movie been limited to just Bruce Campbell inside of the cabin. Alas, it was not to be. Eventually, Annie (Sarah Berry), the daughter of the cabin’s previous owner shows up with three other people in tow and carrying with her pages from an ancient book that’s been missing since 1300 AD (the same one Ash burned up in the cabin’s fireplace in the last movie. Huh…).

I understand the need for other characters, as they help bring the film to its intended conclusion (not to mention set up the next sequel). But the ones chosen as Ash’s supporting cast just are too silly for words to do any real justice. Like that’s going to stop me from trying. Firstly, there is the redneck couple, Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (daytime soap opera star Kassie Wesley). They are there mostly to get killed by the evil spirits, but also to serve… through their own ignorance… as a hindrance to Ash and Annie’s attempts to ward off the evil spirits. Annie is the biggest offender, though. I swear, I don’t know if it’s just her or if she’s just playing the character as written, but Sarah Berry’s screams (which are as frequent as they are grating on the nerves) are some of the most over-the-top, fake-sounding screams I’ve ever heard. Sometimes it adds to the humor, but most of the time I just want her to stop. Ted Raimi (the director’s brother) as Annie’s possessed mother, Henrietta, is the only other person in this movie who really contributes to its success.

In choosing a horror/humor blend over straight-up horror, “Evil Dead 2” is something of an improvement on its predecessor. Bruce Campbell’s Ash also evolves from film to film. But there’s still that confusion over what exactly to call this second chapter. Had there not been that first six minutes of key scenes from the first film re-shot for “Evil Dead 2,” you could definitively consider it a sequel that was being played for laughs, and that would be the end of the discussion. But because that first part of this movie exists, it keeps things rather muddled. In my estimation, it’s definitely a sequel with a more light-hearted tone, but it is also a reboot. That’s the only way to explain Ash returning to the same cabin in the same car with yet another Michigan State sweater-wearing girlfriend named Linda (who we’re actually meant to perceive as the original one). Your best bet is to avoid the headache you’ll receive from too much over-analyzing and just sit back and enjoy the damn thing, and let Bruce Campbell do the rest.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Well written. Love the three stooges parallel. Sounds like a giggle fest!!!!

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