The Evil Dead holds a special place in the hearts (and nightmares) of most hardcore horror fans. Perhaps the original "creepy cabin in the woods" template film, Sam Raimi's first low-budget gore-fest is so visceral and inventive (and also so indie) that it's hard to nail down exactly why people love it, and its subsequent continuations, with such rabid fervor.
With the remake of the classic arriving in theaters this April, I thought it a good time to journey back to the Woods, enter the Cabin, trek down into that dank Cellar, and unleash some Hell, in an attempt to nail down why this franchise is so beloved (to me, at least).
Night #2: Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)
In Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, Sam Raimi and Co. set about doing two very important things:
1. Shifting the tone of the original film to one that more equally balances horror and humor.
2. Morphing Bruce Campbell's Ashley "Ash" J. Williams from naive, innocent victim into a chainsaw-and-shotgun wielding, action-figure-worthy superhero.
Six minutes. Six short minutes. Six minutes in and Ash has already been attacked by (and beheaded with a shovel) his love interest, the perennially doomed Linda. It's clear immediately that Evil Dead 2 is both a remake of and a sequel to the original, although Raimi isn't so much concerned with continuity as he is with using his bigger budget to up the ante in terms of gore and guts, letting his imagination run even wilder and more quickly into insane territory.
It never lets up, and it is glorious. Just as Ash and another handful of would-be cabin-visitors eager to exploit the power of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis aren't given time to catch a breath from the madness of reanimated corpses and haunted fruit cellars, neither is the audience.
Bruce Campbell's physicality and commitment make the hilarious slapstick work so well in conjunction with genuine scare-your-pants-off moments that the eighty-four minutes fly by as we're whisked from ghoul to ghoul, to severed limbs, to malicious living trees (a nod to The Wizard of Oz that perhaps hinted at Sam Raimi's directing future), and to so much more.
The effects that don't quite hold up twenty-six years later come across less hokey and more purposefully sentimental, homages to the great stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen. Of course, Harryhausen will get even more love in extensive sequences in the third and final entry in the series.
Evil Ash. Shotgun holster. "We'll swallow your soul!" Chainsaw appendage. There's just so much that's classic here it's hard not to gush.
What struck me most on this viewing (mainly because I didn't quite remember it) was how well Raimi sets up the medieval setting and action of the legendary follow-up, Army of Darkness. I giddily exclaimed my excitement vocally when Ash and Annie find the illustration from the 13th Century in the Necronomicon of "a man from the sky" who clearly has a blue shirt, and a chainsaw for a hand, ready to defeat the Deadite horde.
"He didn't do a very good job," Ash quips.
Up next: Army of Darkness (!!!)