Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Ted Raimi, Denise Bixler
Running Time: 85 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
When talking about sequels which improve upon their predecessors, the same titles usually come up – The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back and Aliens. However, a film I think achieves this to a greater degree (especially seeing as I fractionally prefer The Godfather and Alien over their sequels) is Evil Dead 2 (a.k.a. Evil Dead II). The first film in the series is very good, offering a gory and intense shot in the arm to American horror movies of the period, but it’s more than a little rough around the edges and quite a nasty, uncomfortable watch (purposefully so, I guess). The sequel took the film’s simple concept and launched it into a whole new direction though, with a bigger emphasis on comedy and a bold, improved aesthetic. It’s long been a favourite horror-comedy of mine and even sits among my favourite films of all time. I haven’t seen it for a while though, so when I was offered the chance to review Studiocanal’s freshly remastered Blu-Ray (to go alongside a new 4K UHD release) I jumped at it.
Reportedly, director Sam Raimi wanted to start Evil Dead 2 with a recap of events from the first film, but it was made by a different production company so they couldn’t get the rights. So instead, the film begins with a modified and hyper-streamlined recreation of the original over the first 10 or 15 minutes, with Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) heading to a cabin in the woods for a romantic evening before accidentally unleashing a Kandarian Demon by playing excerpts from the Book of the Dead via a tape recording. The demon possesses Linda, who proceeds to attack Ash, forcing him to kill her before it inhabits him too. This similar introduction means the film can seem like a remake rather than a sequel, or at first glance it looks like Ash is stupidly going back to the cabin where he and his friends were attacked by demons a year or two prior.
As the film goes on though, it becomes its own animal. Whilst Ash battles his literal inner demon, Annie (Sarah Berry) and her research partner Ed (Richard Domeier) drive over to the cabin to bring her father (who owns it) some more pages from the Book of the Dead so they can be studied. Along the way, they come across a couple of hillbillies, Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Kassie Wesley DePaiva), who take them on an alternative footpath to the cabin after the road bridge is ripped up (by the demon). Eventually they end up at the cabin and join Ash in his fight against the spirits trying to swallow their souls.
It’s rather a flimsy story that often doesn’t make much sense, but concerning yourself with that would be missing the point. Evil Dead 2 is a gleefully manic experience that mixes the splatter of the first film with slapstick comedy and bravura filmmaking. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever found it particularly scary, other than a couple of cheap jump scares, but it’s one of the most deliriously enjoyable films I’ve ever seen.
Central to the film’s fun factor is its sheer energy. I can think of very few films that come close to matching its drive, if any. It rarely pauses for breath as scenes of excessive gore or wildly violent slapstick play out in quick succession.
It’s not only the blood and gags that keep the energy up though, Raimi’s hyper-dynamic visual style is key too. Using a variety of homemade rigs and incredibly inventive and daring movements, the camera is thrown in, around, through and above the set and characters in a dizzyingly audacious display of cinematic tricks. The film’s dynamism and hyperactive use of effects and camera movement can perhaps only be compared, in my mind, to Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s equally bonkers House in 1977, or possibly Peter Jackson’s Braindead (a.k.a. Dead Alive) in 1992.
Matching Raimi’s brash filmmaking is Bruce Campbell’s cult-star-making performance. Yes, he’s hamming it up to the extreme and he’s never going to win an Oscar for his mugging, but in the context of the film it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job. He flings himself into the role with incredible physicality, bringing to mind Buster Keaton and a touch of Jackie Chan (without the martial arts skills). The possessed hand sequence in particular is a masterclass in physical comedy.
The special effects are effective too. Yes, many of them have dated and are rarely what you’d call realistic, but numerous techniques are thrown into the mix, from stop motion to rear projection to camera tricks to makeup, all being used to create the comic-book funhouse world of the film.
Visually inventive, hugely entertaining and bolstered by a wildly spirited lead performance, it never fails to plaster a huge grin on my face, no matter how many times I’ve seen it.
Evil Dead 2 is out on 4th March 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray™, DVD and Digital Download in the UK, released by Studiocanal. I saw the Blu-Ray version and the film looks and sounds great, with rich textures and colours that look natural.
There are plenty of extra features included too:
– Audio commentary with Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel, Bruce Campbell and Greg Nicotero
– Bloody and Groovy, Baby! – Tribute to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2
– Swallowed Souls: Making of Evil Dead 2
– Cabin Fever: A “Fly on the Wall”
– Road to Wadesboro: Revisiting the Shooting Location with Filmmaker Tony Elwood
– The Gore the Merrier: Making of Evil Dead 2
– Interview with Bruce Campbell
A lot of the material has cropped up in previous releases of the film, but it’s great to have it all here in one package. The ‘Bloody and Groovy, Baby!’ documentary is new though. Running close to an hour it’s a solid feature and has an impressive roster of contributors, including Guillermo del Toro and Edgar Wright, although it’s largely just a love-in with fans of the films raving about how good it is.
Looking back at the older material, the commentary was listed in my article of favourite special features of all time and listening back to it again this week I stand by that placing. The group have a wonderfully jokey rapport and still manage to throw in plenty of interesting facts and anecdotes about the production in amongst their goofing around. Similarly, the handful of ‘making of’ films are fairly light-hearted. Although it was a tough shoot that was physically demanding for Campbell and Ted Raimi (who plays a demon old lady) in particular, everyone seems to have had a great time and it resulted in a film they’re all happy with. There’s a fair bit of crossover in the making of’s unfortunately, so if you’ve seen the feature length ‘Swallowed Souls’ doc you probably don’t need to watch the rest, but I still enjoyed watching the raw footage presented in ‘Cabin Fever’, including snippets from a few fun deleted scenes.
Topping off the package, the ‘Road to Wadesboro’ piece brings a bit of nostalgia, and the Campbell interview is great too, with the actor on charismatic top form. So all in all, it’s the best release of the film I’ve come across and comes very highly recommended.