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Evil Dead II
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Sam Raimi & Scott Spiegel
Stars: Bruce Campbell (Ash), Sarah Berry (Annie Knowby), Dan Hicks (Jake), Kassie Wesley (Bobbie), Ted Raimi (Possessed Henrietta), Denise Bixler (Linda), Richard Domeier (Ed Getley)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1987
Country: U.S.
Evil Dead II Book of the Dead DVD
Evil Dead II Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II is less a sequel than it is a remake/expansion of the ideas in his original 1982 low-budget shocker Evil Dead, a movie that was billed as horror but had enough elements of humor to almost qualify it as some kind of deranged comedy. Evil Dead II works on the exact same premise as the original, but it puts the comedy front and center, turning the film into a raucous blood-and-guts riff on the Three Stooges (which Raimi has admitted was a major influence on his work).

Slapstick comedy has always been based on some form of pain and violence, and Raimi simply takes it to the next logical level. So, rather than simply getting poked in the eyeballs or bopped on top of the head ala the Three Stooges, in Evil Dead II eyeballs get popped out of their sockets and fly across the room and land in people’s mouths.

The violence in Evil Dead II is extreme in both its gruesome detail and its sheer volume, but it is impossible to take seriously because it is so over-the-top and ridiculous. Heads are lopped off with shovels, hands are sawed off with chainsaws, bodies are dismembered, headless corpses run amok, gallons and blood and bile spew from holes in a wall--yet all of it is designed and filmed in lavishly cartoonish proportions that lend all the proceedings a slightly surreal quality. The whole film is an assault on the senses that it also very, very funny.

Evil Dead II once again stars B-movie favorite Bruce Campbell as the (un)heroic Ash, a college student who, with his girlfriend, Linda (Denise Bixler), spends a night in a cabin in the woods and accidentally unleashes demonic forces when he turns on a tape recorder into which a professor has read certain incantations from the Sumerian Book of the Dead. Denise is the first to be turned into a demonic zombie, and Ash is forced to decapitate her and then do battle with her headless, rotting corpse when it attacks him with a chainsaw. Soon, four more people arrive at the cabin, including the professor’s daughter, Annie (Sarah Berry), and her boyfriend, Ed (Richard Domeier), which only provides more bodies to be possessed.

Evil Dead II revolves completely around the performance of Bruce Campbell who, outside of Sam Raimi’s films and an assortment of B-movie junk, has not had much success as an actor. He’s not particularly convincing in dramatic, everyday situations; in fact, his delivery is stiff and quite self-conscious. Luckily, there are only about two minutes’ worth of such sequences in Evil Dead II. The rest of the film is outrageous, out-of-control mayhem, which are the kind of scenes in which Campbell excels. His conscious overacting gives the film’s most overwrought sequences just the right edge of hilarity.

Campbell could be best described as the result of Sylvester Stallone and Jim Carrey morphing together into one body. With his dark hair, strong jutting chin, and thick neck, he looks like a typical Hollywood tough guy, yet in both Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, some of the best scenes involve his being forced into the role usually occupied by screaming young women in slasher films. At the same time, he is a wonderfully adept physical comedian with an exaggerated rubbery face who makes every scream into an outrageous parody of horror movie clichés.

The funniest sequence in Evil Dead II involves Campbell’s hand becoming possessed and taking on a life of its own. In a tour-de-force one-man comedy routine, Campbell does battle with his own offending appendage, and after he is finally forced to cut it off with a chainsaw, it runs around on its own, continuing to wreak havoc. On paper that sequence probably doesn’t sound all that hilarious, but the manner in which writer/director Sam Raimi executes it makes it so ludicrous that it can’t help but be funny.

Raimi’s technical bravada was impressive in Evil Dead, his directorial debut when he was 23, and it has only improved over the years. The fact that he has also directed the Hitchcockian A Simple Plan (1998) and the two wildly successful Spider-Man films, the second of which is a genuine comic book masterpiece, proves that he is not a one-trick pony. Evil Dead II is replete with a startling array of creative camera angles and sound effects that keep the movie constantly hurtling forward. The gory special effects are sometimes a bit unconvincing, but that’s part of the fun. If it were too realistic, the underlying horror of the film might overrun its humor.

If Evil Dead II is slightly better than its predecessor, it is because it is slightly more daring and outrageous. The first Evil Dead was an exceptionally well-made low-budget horror film based on one idea. It essentially ran out of steam near the end, which made it all the more obvious how simplistic it was. Evil Dead II is not much different, but Raimi’s stronger focus on the comedic aspects of his material raises it to another level.

Evil Dead II “Book of the Dead” Special Edition DVD
“EvilThe Evil Dead II “Book of the Dead” DVD is available separately or packaged together as a Limited Edition Gift Set with the Evil Dead “Book of the Dead” DVD (SRP: $69.95).
Aspect Ratio1.85:1
AnamorphicYes
Audio
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
  • SubtitlesNone
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary with writer/director Sam Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and special make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero. “Evil Dead 2: Behind-The-Screams” slideshow narrated by Tom Sullivan “The Gore, the Merrier” making-of featurette
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Stills gallery
  • Sam Raimi bio
  • Bruce Campbell bio
  • DistributorAnchor Bay Entertainment
    SRP$39.98
    Release DateSeptember 27, 2005

    VIDEO
    The “Book of the Dead” DVD release of Evil Dead II sports a new Divimax anamorphic widescreen transfer that was supervised by Sam Raimi and looks quite a bit different from the THX-certified transfer on Anchor Bay’s 2000 DVD release. It is a brighter and smoother transfer, with stronger colors and more detail in the darker corners of the frame. The anamorphic transfer gives the film a high level of detail and clarity, which, from time to time, actually works against some of the movie’s less-convincing special effects, especially a scene in which Ash is standing on the edge of a cliff that is all too obviously a matte painting. As far as I can tell, this transfer has the film looking about as good as it can possibly look.

    AUDIO
    This disc includes the same remastered discrete Dolby Digital 5.1 track that was included on the 2000 disc. There is not a lot of music in the film, but it is filled wall-to-wall with all kinds of grisly sound effects that are given great range and directionality by the new soundtrack. A great example occurs in Chapter 14 when the unseen demonic force is crashing about the cabin, and each sound comes from a different speaker. All the while, you can watch Ash’s eyes as he follows the sound, and it literally appears that he’s looking at each corner of your living room from which the sound emits. The more bass-heavy aspects of the track can sound a tad muffled at times, but the overall fidelity is impressive.

    SUPPLEMENTS
    The majority of the supplements on the “Book of the Dead” edition of Evil Dead II are recycled from Anchor Bay’s 2000 DVD release of the film (which itself was a significant improvement over the virtually bare-bones 1998 release). First up is an entertaining running audio commentary with writer/director Sam Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and special make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero. The commentary, which was recorded with all of them at once, is laid-back and funny, with the participants throwing jokes back and forth while discussing the making of the film. The disc also contains a 30-minute making-of featurette titled “The Gore the Merrier,” which, obviously, focuses on the make-up special effects. The featurette consists of a recent interview with make-up designers Greg Nicotero, Robert Kurtzman, and Howard Berger intercut with video footage shot before production at the shop in which all the effects were created and on the set during filming. The result is a thoroughly entertaining and informative feature about special effects, and it also includes video footage of two scenes that were left on the cutting room floor and lost forever. There is an original theatrical trailer, a stills gallery of close to 100 production stills and behind-the-scenes photos and cast and crew biographies. The only new addition to the supplements is “Evil Dead 2: Behind-The-Screams,” a 17-minute slideshow of behind-the-scenes photographs narrated by stop-motion animator Tom Sullivan.

    Overall Rating: (3)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Anchor Bay Entertainment


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