Cody Hamman recites Film Appreciation for the sequel to the ultimate experience in grueling horror, 1987's Evil Dead II.
There is a conception out there among a lot of horror fans that I have always found maddening. The idea that Sam Raimi's sequel to The Evil Dead, the film that started his career, can somehow be classified as a remake.
Maybe the confusion starts with the opening seven minutes of Evil Dead II, which present a simplified recap of the events of the first film. Since the filmmakers couldn't get the footage from its owners, New Line Cinema, to use it to construct a proper recap, they had to shoot an entirely new sequence to catch new viewers up to speed on what had come before. Rather than show that Ash had been accompanied by his girlfriend Linda, sister Cheryl, friend Scott, and Scott's girlfriend Shelly during a vacation at an isolated cabin in the woods, the reshoots pare the group down to just Ash and Linda. The cabin was besieged by demonic forces that were awoken in the forest when the vacationers played an audio recording they discovered in cabin, a recording of a man reading translated passages from the ancient tome Naturon Demonto, "the Book of the Dead", bound in human flesh and inked with blood. Recitations of its words can give a force of evil that roams the forests and dark bowers of man's domain license to possess the living, so for the translations to be read aloud was a very bad idea. In the 1981 Evil Dead, all of Ash's cohorts were possessed. In this recap, Linda is possessed and endures the same fate as she did in that's being recapped - decapitation and burial.
In the original film and in this recap, Ash stumbled out of the cabin once the threats had been dealt with. But the evil, demonic force was still active in the forest, and it rushed through the cabin, burst through the front door, and charged toward Ash, rushing into a close-up as his face as he let out a terrified scream. The Evil Dead cut to black as Ash screamed and the end credits played out.
Jump to the seven minute mark of Evil Dead II, and you'll find that this movie continues on from that exact moment, showing what happened to Ash after the force slammed into him. Evil Dead II is not a remake. It is a very direct continuation. Chop off the seven minute recap and you could splice the first and second movies together as one long film.
What happened to Ash after the ending moment of The Evil Dead is that he too got possessed, but he was fortunate enough that this possession occurred right at dawn, and the light of the rising sun expelled the demonic spirit from his body. Unfortunately for him, with the bridge to the cabin having been destroyed by the evil force, Ash isn't able to escape from the forest before night falls again, and must settle in at the cabin to endure another long night of being terrorized and tortured by the evil spirits... And the actor who plays Ash, Raimi's longtime pal Bruce Campbell, has to endure his friend and director dishing out as much torment to him as possible.
As his second night in the cabin goes on, Ash is subject to horrific things like pianos playing themselves, rocking chairs rocking with invisible bodies sitting in them, supposed-to-be inanimate objects laughing, fountains of blood, and the sight of the decomposing, headless corpse of his girlfriend putting on a dance routine (an effect that was accomplished with the use of stop-motion). It's enough to drive anyone insane, and Ash is certainly well off the deep end at this point. He also gets attacked by his girlfriend's chainsaw-wielding body, bitten on the hand by her zombie head, and confronted by his own mirror image.
Things reach their worst point when the bite wound Linda's head left on his hand gets infected... an infection that causes his hand to become infected. With the aid of some sped-up photography, Bruce Campbell fights with his own maniacal right hand, which smashes plates over his head, punches him, flips him over and does its best to kill him until he gets the upper hand and lops it off at the wrist with a chainsaw. From then on Ash's hand is running around the cabin like an evil version of Thing from The Addams Family.
While the original Evil Dead was the scariest movie I've ever seen, the movie did have traces of dark humor to it. The sequel latches on to that humorous element and runs with it. Evil Dead II is firmly in horror/comedy territory, it's essentially a live action horror cartoon in which Sam Raimi's love for the antics of the Three Stooges is very apparent.
Evil Dead II brings viewers more information on the history of the Book of the Dead and how it ended up in the cabin. The details of the vacationers' stay is retconned here - while the cabin was a cheap rental in the first film, this time it's a place that Ash thought was deserted. It actually belonged to Professor Raymond Knowby, who was staying there with his wife Henrietta while translating the book, which he had discovered with on an expedition to the Castle of Kandar with Henrietta, their daughter Annie, and their associate Ed Getley. The book had been missing since 1300 AD, but Knowby discovered it at the castle, hidden in a rear chamber.
While her parents have been holed up at the cabin, Annie has been on a solo expedition to recover some missing pages from the book, pages which may be able to open a doorway to another world. Now Annie is back in the states and headed to visit her parents at the cabin with Ed, worrying over the fact that it's been a week since Ed last heard from Raymond and Henrietta.
Finding the bridge to the cabin destroyed, Annie and Ed pair up with a local couple, Jake and his girlfriend Bobby Joe, who know a path that takes them around the bridge, through the forest, to the cabin.
Raymond and Henrietta are dead, the result of the professor reading those passages out loud. When Annie and her group arrive to find the crazy, one-handed but armed, gore-soaked Ash in the ransacked, bloody cabin, they initially believe he murdered the elder Knowbys, but once they listen to the tape recorder and Raymond's account of what happened to himself and his wife, they realize they're dealing with something other than a madman. Something much worse and purely evil... This is confirmed when members of the group start getting possessed, attacked and killed by living tree limbs, and the demon-possessed Henrietta rises from the dirt floor of the cabin's cellar.
Ash's new supporting cast is a fun bunch. Jake and Bobby Joe are very amusing with their dimwitted, backwoods personalities, and though Ed is basically just fodder, Annie is a good, smart sidekick for Ash to have. Her knowledge of the Book of the Dead may be very handy in helping him defeat the evil in the woods...
For most of the first film, Ash was incompetent and in denial. He was forced into fighting back to survive, only really stepping up once everyone else around him had died or been possessed. For the first half of Evil Dead II, he's fighting out of desperation and out of his mind, and when the others arrive he is able to pull off some heroic acts because he has become so used to what's happening in this cabin. It's when the third act of the sequel kicks off that Ash truly becomes the iconic horror hero that he's known as today. When he devises a plan to face off with the demonic Henrietta in order to achieve an objective, then replaces his missing right hand with a chainsaw, admiring his deadly new prosthetic and deeming it "Groovy", that is when Ash has reached hero status. It's a moment worthy of cheers.
In my book, Evil Dead II is one of the most purely entertaining films ever made. Not only is it side-splittingly funny, but the creature and gore effects are incredible. The screenplay Raimi co-wrote with Scott Spiegel (Intruder, Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except) is fantastic, and the look he was able to achieve for the film with cinematographer Peter Deming is wonderful.
Although the original Evil Dead was filmed in an actual standing cabin in Tennessee, the production of the sequel did not return to that location. Instead, the exterior of the cabin was recreated on a plot of land in North Carolina that Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple had also filmed on, and the interiors built on a sound stage that was actually the gymnasium of the J. R. Faison Junior High School in the town of Wadesboro, North Carolina. Since they were working on a stage for much of the shoot, that gave Raimi and Deming complete control over their evironment.
The movie is filled with Raimi's impressive, inventive camera moves and it has a spookshow quality to it that makes it perfect for viewing around Halloween time... Or any other time you're in the mood for one of the greatest horror-comedies ever made.