As mentioned in my Evil Dead review, I was introduced to the series out of order, viewing Army of Darkness, the third movie, first. With Evil Dead II I have finally managed to complete the trilogy, albeit in anachronic order.
If going from Army of Darkness to The Evil Dead was interesting, finishing with Evil Dead II is just as interesting. It really does serve as a bridge between the two styles of film, as well as their plots. The Evil Dead was a pure horror film. Army of Darkness was an action-comedy with horror elements. Evil Dead II is a horror-comedy with action elements.
It even features a primitive screwhead.
The film opens up with an abridged and character-reduced reenactment of the first movie. Ash (Bruce Campbell) brings his girlfriend (and this time nobody else) out to an isolated cabin for some R&R. They listen to a professor’s recording of translating an evil book of the dead, and Linda becomes possessed. Ash has to kill her, buries her, and as seen at the end of The Evil Dead, a malevolent force sweeps up to get him as well. Enter the start of the actual film, with Ash recovering from possession as the sun comes out. The reenactment sequence occurs in fast forward, and takes about ten minutes from start to finish. It is, unfortunately, one of the film’s more notable flaws. Sam Raimi was reportedly unable to re-acquire the rights to use footage from the first film, and so opted to re-shoot scenes for the recap, leaving out the other couple and Ash’s sister. But unlike Army of Darkness, which opens with a recap that has Ash narrating what happened before, the recap in Evil Dead II is presented without commentary. The director’s choices here have a curious effect of being suboptimal in different ways for people who saw the first film and those who did not. Those who saw the first film may get the impression, at least initially, that Ash is heading back with a new girlfriend; at the very least, they’ll wonder why the other characters aren’t present for the recap. (Raimi could have spent a little money on extras for a ten-minute sequence.) For those who haven’t seen the first film, the fast-forward recap doesn’t actually do a very good job of recapping; it’s not clear what’s going on at all stages, and even for those who saw the original film it’s only clear in retrospect that it’s a recap. A bit of narration would have made things clearer.
But not from this thing, thanks.
The remainder of the film comes in essentially two acts. Act one is Ash dealing with the aftermath of having killed Linda, and with still having to face evil disembodied spirits in the cabin. There’s a comically disturbing sequence in which he has to fight — and dissever — his own possessed hand, and a stretch where it seems as though Ash has gone insane, inviting the question as to whether the entire thing was in his mind to begin with. (It’s not, of course, but the question is put forth.) These segments are very dark, but are also fairly comical, with Ash firing jibing insults as his tormentors and Bruce Campbell hamming it up.
Act two features the arrival of new cannon fodder, in the form of the professor’s daughter Annie (Sarah Berry), her boyfriend (Richard Domeier), and the pair of backwoods hicks that help them reach the cabin (Dan Hicks and Kassie Wesley DePaiva). Domeier and DePaiva’s characters are pretty much there as extra bodies, but Berry and Hicks get to add a little more personality to their performances. Annie is a competent linguist in her own right, and while not as combat-ready as Ash, she’s at least mentally equipped to deal with the horrors she finds herself facing, and has some unusually sensible reactions. Jake the hick, on the other hand, is pretty close to the last person you want on your team when facing the undead. He’s not actively working in favor of the demons, but his attempts to do things his way turn out that way quite a bit anyway.
From a horror standpoint, the film is hardly scary at all, especially in comparison to the first film. It’s hard to maintain fear when comedy is added. But it makes up for it on that front with the added action element as Ash is more of an active protagonist in this film. And the comedy works as well, although a good part of the time the audience may be laughing at the film’s less convincing elements, which like the opening sequence often have to do with questionable editing. But much like a class clown, Evil Dead II works whether you’re laughing at it, or laughing with it.
Or laughing at the spiders in your brain.
It’s hard to say where to rank the original Evil Dead films with respect to each other. Army of Darkness is the most polished of the three, and probably my personal favorite. But the other two are harder to pin down. The addition of the comedy makes Evil Dead II an easier film to enjoy overall, but The Evil Dead is a purer film, and I think the editing is more consistent in the first film. But either way, the whole trilogy is entertaining, which is a rarity in horror franchises.