The Evil Dead series uses a classic horror setup. In the first two films, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his friends go to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of partying and reading aloud from an ancient evil book (“Legend has it it was written by the Dark Ones, Necromicon Ex Mortis.”) In Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, they summon Kandarian demons who promptly possess them. While the first film is a more serious take, the second goes bonkers. It’s part slasher, part possession film, part pro wrestling match, part Lovecraftian horror, and excellent.
Director Sam Raimi didn’t invent point of view shots. In Hitchcock, in Carpenter, in the groundbreaking Peeping Tom, and in nearly every film of the slasher boom, the camera stalked. It plodded, giving viewers a glimpse of what a killer saw as they closed in on their victim. In 1987, Raimi hitched a rocket to his camera (figuratively) to show what the world looked like to the Kandarian demons. It zooms miles in a second, breaking down doors, chasing down cars, and sending poor Ash halfway across the damn forest without missing a single branch. It was frenetic, revolutionary.
The only thing in the movie more energetic than the camerawork is Campbell’s performance. The movie was made for dirt cheap, so a big part of it is Campbell alone with props and he acts the hell out of it. When Linda’s (Denise Bixler) decapitated head bites into his thumb, he beats the shit out of himself. In reality, a grown man is throwing himself on the floor and writhing with the model of a woman’s head on his hand, but he does it with such fervor. When his own hand is possessed, there’s no way to doubt Ash is fighting it with all his might because of the mania with which he breaks an entire cupboard on his own face, one plate at a time.
The Evil Dead II is a phenomenal film and it’s not because of just Raimi or just Campbell. There’s something between the lifelong friends that sparks magic. Maybe it’s because they’ve got a unity of vision, having started making films together in high school. That kind of familiarity is hard to come by. Maybe it was because The Evil Dead II was similar enough to its predecessor they knew exactly what to do with their second chance. And maybe it was just some luck of the timing, both of their talents blooming at once. It’s impossible to say exactly what it is, but something about the two of them working together that makes the film pop off the screen.
Unlike The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead II and it’s sequel lean into the slapstick humor. It’s a blast because Raimi balances the funnier moments with terrifying ones. Quiet ones: a chair is rocking and when Ash puts his hand out to stop it, it stops itself before reaching his hand. Loud ones: the deer on the wall, the couch, the books, all laughing maniacally and waking up my dog on the sofa next to me. Gory ones: Ash being soaked with what looks like a firehose stream of blood; an eyeball flying out of a deadite into Annie’s mouth. Those moments of tension make the moments of levity all the funnier.
The people over at Lionsgate feel the same way I do about this film, and it shows in their kickass 4K DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack. The Evil Dead II looks incredible, especially in its quieter moments. Raimi probably didn’t anticipate his film ever being shown in a higher image quality than the one he’d filmed it in and it shows at times. It’s especially apparent with some of the FX deadites. It’s a question of texture. When everything is filmed in the same quality on the same roll, it leads to a smooth texture. When, as the marketing material brags, the film “deliver[s] spectacular colors never before seen on a screen, highlights that are up to 40 times brighter, and blacks that are 10 times darker,” special effects that were convincing in the color that they were shot in sometimes don’t hold up with the image enhanced.
That doesn’t mean this set isn’t worth buying though. It’s still a gorgeous film, and the disk is packed with special features: a documentary Swallowed Souls: The Making of the Evil Dead II that’s ten minutes longer than the movie itself; extra on set footage filmed by Greg Nicotero; commentary tracks with Raimi, Campbell, Nicotero, and cowriter Scott Spiegel; a featurette where filmmaker Tony Elwood revisits the original cabin; and much much more! What are you waiting for? This rerelease is groovy!
The Evil Dead II 4K Ultra HD and Blu-Ray 2 Pack is in stores from Lionsgate now!
Wicked Rating: 9/10.
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Sam Raimi and Scott Piegel
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks
Release Date: 11 December 2018
Studio/Production Company: Lionsgate, Studio Canal
Length: 84 minutes