On March 13, 2019, exactly 32 years after Evil Dead 2 was released in theatres, director Edgar Wright tweeted this about the film, “Your favourite film of all time is completely subjective. The best film of all time is objectively Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn”. Evil Dead 2 was written by Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel and directed by Raimi.
I recently revisited the film after finding a copy of it abandoned in a parking lot, and Edgar Wright is correct. I hadn’t watched Evil Dead 2 in over 10 years, but the experience of watching this film was delightful once I was able to actually sit and enjoy it. The copy of the film I found kept disappearing from the entertainment center where I left it near the tv and I’d find it in a kitchen cabinet or under my pillow. From the time I brought the movie into my home, my 4-year-old daughter began exhibiting strange behavior. She would growl and try to bite me or I’d find her awake in the middle of the night standing in her room holding a copy of the film and I’d hear a strange, guttural voice whisper, “Did you watch it?”. I’m sure these things are not related. Just in case, I’ve now watched the movie so things should return to normal. Well, as normal as things can get when dealing with a movie possibly possessed by demons.
Evil Dead 2 tells the story of Ash Williams (played by Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda. Ash and Linda take a vacation to a cabin in the woods and play a recording of archaeologist Raymond Knowby translating the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the Book of the Dead. This unleashes a powerful demonic force that turns Linda into a Deadite, forcing Ash to kill her. As Ash continues to battle the demonic forces unleashed into the nearby woods, Knowby’s daughter Annie, her friend Ed, and locals Jake and Bobby Joe show up at the cabin. Spoiler Alert: Things do not go well.
The first half hour of the film is basically a retelling of The Evil Dead, using only Ash and Linda rather than all 5 characters that appear in that film. This was due to Raimi and Campbell having sold the rights to The Evil Dead, which prevented them from using any footage from it to recap the events of the film. The Evil Dead ends on a cliffhanger with everyone but Ash dead and the demonic entity possessing Ash. Evil Dead 2 contains a similar scene and the remainder of the film functions as a sequel.
The story surrounding the making of Evil Dead 2 is almost as good as the movie itself. When Raimi was having trouble getting the necessary funding for the film, after the critical and financial failure of Crimewave, Stephen King, a big fan of the original film, who at the time was making Maximum Overdrive with producer Dino De Laurentiis, convinced De Laurentiis to finance Evil Dead 2. However, De Laurentiis insisted that the plot of Evil Dead 2 be similar to The Evil Dead. Raimi’s idea to have Ash time travel to the Middle Ages would have to wait for Army of Darkness.
Evil Dead 2 has the perfect mix of horror and slapstick comedy, a mash-up of The Evil Dead and The Three Stooges. The low-budget practical effects are astounding: from Linda’s headless corpse attacking Ash with a chainsaw to the blood gushing out of the walls soaking Ash to the scene where everything in the room begins laughing at Ash until he succumbs to the madness too. The physicality of Campbell’s performance is unique, with the fearlessness of Buster Keaton and the swagger of Harrison Ford. The scene in which Ash’s hand becomes corrupted and he has to fight it, punching himself, smashing plates over his head, dragging his unconscious body across the floor until he eventually cuts it off, is one of the best fight scenes in modern cinema. It is second only to episode 19 of Season 5 of Three’s Company in which Jack Tripper has to fight himself as his own twin brother Austin. Jack Tripper walked so Ash Williams could run. I will forever be confused as to why Campbell didn’t win an Oscar. I was shocked to find out he wasn’t even nominated. What’s so great about Michael Douglas in Wall Street anyway? I mean, look at him. LOOK. AT. HIM.
It’s not just that I agree with Edgar Wright that Evil Dead 2 is objectively the best film of all time, but it has held a special place in my heart since 2009 when I directed the Delaware Regional Premier of Evil Dead: The Musical for Bootless Stageworks’ 2009-2010 season. If you haven’t seen it or aren’t familiar with the musical, I highly recommend you get the original cast recording or, even better, seek out a production as live theatre returns. Essentially, the first act of the musical covers the events of The Evil Dead and the second act covers Evil Dead 2. The ending of the musical was reworked for the 2006 production and the song “Blew That Bitch Away” more closely resembles the ending to Army of Darkness.
Alright, well watching Evil Dead 2 didn’t seem to work. The kids are hiding in the room with me as I type this and the pounding on the walls keeps getting louder. I keep trying to tell them it’s just the wind, but I’m pretty sure they don’t believe me anymore, at least not since their mother started floating in the middle of the room screaming, “We are the things that were and shall be again!” Time to grab my sawed-off shotgun and strap on my chainsaw hand. This could get messy. Groovy.