Bruce Campbell - Ash
Sarah Berry - Annie
Dan Hicks - Jake
Kassie Wesley - Bobbie Jo
Theodore Raimi - Possessed Henrietta
Richard Domeier - Ed
Denise Bixler - Linda
Year - 1987
Running Time - 85 Minutes
Score - 4 Howls Outta 4
In 1982, the original THE EVIL DEAD was released. A $50,000 budgeted film, it had enough fun, scares, gore, and energy to become quite the success. It's considered a cult classic and pretty much launched Sam Raimi's name as a director. Raimi had never planned on a sequel to THE EVIL DEAD, even though the ending was a bit open-ended in a way. Instead, Raimi decided to direct a film he produced with the Coen Brothers called CRIMEWAVE, a comedy/film noir film that did very little business. Producer Dino De Laurentiis, a fan of THE EVIL DEAD, offered Sam Raimi $7 million to direct and create a sequel to THE EVIL DEAD. Needing a film that would keep him afloat in Hollywood, Raimi signed on for EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN to be released in 1987.
There was a problem though. Raimi couldn't get any of the rights to use any of his footage from the original THE EVIL DEAD. Apparently another company had a copyright to the film, causing Raimi to refilm scenes from the original for the sequel's prologue. However, Raimi only had enough money to film as few characters as possible. So he only used Ash and Linda, leaving the other three characters from the original out in the cold. This has led to a misconception that EVIL DEAD II is a remake of the original, but it's far from it. In fact, the prologue is more H.P. Lovecraft in nature, as the Book of the Dead is finally called The Necronomicon and is given a bit more of a history than in the original.
Another difference is that the sequel is a bit more slapstick than horror, as the original was just a creepy horror film. The character Ash is also more heroic and a master of one-liners, a big change from the shy and naive Ash of the original. With a bigger budget, changes in story, and more comedic elements, would these things make EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN a much inferior product than the original? Not only is it not inferior to the original, but it's probably the best EVIL DEAD film in the trilogy.
After fighting demonic forces that were awakened due to a really old audio tape player that possessed and murdered his girlfriend, Ash (Bruce Campbell) is himself possessed by these forces on his way of escaping the mansion. But the daylight saves him, realizing he has to escape the area before nightfall to save his soul. However, his only way of escaping [a bridge] has been destroyed. Ash has no choice but to go back to the cabin, where the demonic forces are trying to drive him crazy by reanimating corpses and possessing his own hand into attacking him. When the daughter of the man who recited the incantation of The Necronomicon arrives at the cabin (Sarah Berry), she's the only hope in silencing these demons for good and saving a chainsaw-clad Ash's soul.
If you have not seen EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN, you can't call yourself a horror fan. Sam Raimi takes the energy he infused into the original and multiplies it by ten. Once the demons are out in full force, there's not one quiet moment in the entire film. Hilarious, a bit creepy, and extremely well-made technically, EVIL DEAD II deserves its status as one of the best horror films ever created. For a $7 million movie, it looks much more than that.
This film belongs to two men and two men only: Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. Now famous for his work on the SPIDER-MAN franchise, Raimi's best work is still on this film. Raimi doesn't shoot footage just to shoot it and turn it into a film. He pulls all of himself into everything he directs. There's not one frame in the film that's not kinetic or energenic. Every frame means something. Nothing is spared here. The trademark "Raimi POV shot" is in fuller effect than ever, as the camera zip zags, zooms, and moves around frantically in weird angles to enhance the situation Ash and the supporting characters are in. I still love the POV shots where the demons race towards their victims. So freakin' simple and cool. And the momentum never stops building, even when the film slows down. Just brilliant direction at the top of his game. I would love to see Raimi direct another film with this kind of energy and style. We got a glimpse of it during that Doc Ock hospital scene in SPIDER-MAN 2. We need to see more of that, Mr. Raimi.
And this film would be nothing with Bruce Campbell's classic performance as Ash. Unlike the original, here's where Campbell becomes the King of One-Liners. And they all work. Hell, Duke Nukem stole them, didn't he? Yep, Mr. Campbell goes all out here. Fantastic physical comedy here, especially with the possessed hand. You have no idea how many times I chuckle every time I see Campbell smash dishes over his head. It's so stupid that you can't help but laugh at it. And Campbell is pretty much physically abused in this film, being thrown all over the place and dragged into the cellar. Pretty much 95% of the film, Ash is sweaty and bloody from head to toe. Yet he keeps trotting forward to stop these demons. And in the final act, when Ash creates a new hand out of a chainsaw and loads his shotgun, uttering the words "Groovy.", a movie icon is born. And Campbell has a straight face throughout the entire thing, but we know he's having the time of his life. He's probably the best B-movie actor ever created for the world of film. He's just so magnetic and fascinating to watch unravel onscreen.
You also got to hand it to the SFX team behind this film. Yes, the effects look cheesy and extremely dated compared to CGI that's being used now. But honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. The effects are what makes these films so great. The possessed demons look great with make-up. Hell, I would be scared of these motherfuckers if I was in Ash's position. Especially Theodore "Ted" Raimi's turn as the possessed Henrietta. Headless Linda was done really well for an 80s flick. The blood gushing sequences remind me of that Johnny Depp bed scene in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. It's more Kool-Aid than plasma, if you get me. The demons spew green blood, which Raimi intentionally used to avoid the MPAA censoring the film. The possessed hand bit looks great. And the portal that's summoned by The Necronomicon is very impressive. My favorite bit is actually the eye-popping scene where the eye flies out and lands in Bobbie Jo's mouth. Still makes me cringe while laughing to this day. The original version had the strings attached, but the DVDs had that digitally edited out. It kind of takes away the appeal of the gag but it's still effective nonetheless. And hell, I still enjoy the cheap looking claymation bits in the film. It was the 1980s and dammit, I'm an 80s child! I wish they would use more claymation in films like this! Yeah, I said it!
Now, I've heard from many people I know that the new characters introduced into the film take away from EVIL DEAD II. They feel it should have been an Ash-only show. Now while these characters don't really do much besides Annie (Sarah Berry), I liked how stereotypical they were. I mean you had the hick, the hot-looking white trash chick, and the nice blonde guy who...what did he do again? Yeah, these characters could have been developed a bit more. But honestly, anyone who watches this film knows they're nothing but food for these demons. So it doesn't really matter. Ash is the only character that counts and matters to the audience. These characters were added to move the story to its climax. Nothing more, nothing less. As long as they have some kind of use to move the story along, then I'm fine with it.
Besides Bruce Campbell, the acting was...well this film isn't about the acting. Sarah Berry was decent, although I'm not sure she knew what film she was in. She almost looked like Britney Spears during her "Gimme More" performance at the 2007 VMAs at some spots. But she didn't bug me. Dan Hicks as the hick Jake bothered me though. Not because his acting was bad because he played a hick extremely well. It's just that his character was so damn stupid that I was hoping he'd die a gruesome death. Kassie Wesley [now Depaiva] was pretty good here. I actually wanted to see more of her. Too bad the trees got to her before that could happen. Oh well. And Richard Domeier as blonde Ed...um yeah, what did you do again? Eh, it doesn't matter.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE BEING SMACKED AROUND BY MY REFLECTION IN THE MIRROR
1. The Necronomicon serves as an evil passageway to the world's beyond. You know...where reality TV shows rule and talentless young socialites make the front page of the newspaper for reasons nobody cares about but the media? Oh shit...
2. If your lover is ever possessed, take them out with a sharp shovel. They'll fall head over heels over your offense.
3. The house demanded Ash to "Join Us." I guess that portal leads right back to Amityville and its pointless sequels. Hell indeed.
4. Don't ever attempt to saw your girlfriend in half. If you're not David Copperfield, David Blaine, or Criss Angel, the illusion will become bloody reality.
5. I hate when your own hand turns on you. If it's because of "size issues", I'll save up to fix the problem. Just don't stop pleasing me, Righty! ::sobs::
Okay, I'm better now.
6. Ash's hand like to smash plates on Ash's head. I didn't realize Ash's hand was Greek?
7. Kassie Depaiva got grazed by Ash's shotgun. Be careful there. She only has ONE LIFE TO LIVE.
8. If you're a hot chick, never run into the woods as long as the Necronomicon is involved. If you're not raped by trees, they'll probably eat you alive. And not in the fun way either.
9. Henrietta wanted to swallow Ash's soul. I bet she swallowed more than that in her hey day!
10. When you open a portal to get rid of demonic forces, know how to close it. Just like opening and closing your legs. Learn from Britney Spears' mistakes.
THE FINAL HOWL
EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN is one of the classics in the ever-increasing horror genre. It's bloody. It has cool looking demons. It has great acting by Bruce Campbell. It's over the top. It has cheap special effects. It's less than 90 minutes long. And the film is never boring. Plus the ending leads into the final part of the trilogy, ARMY OF DARKNESS, leaving you wanting more. Every horror fan should own this film. Anyone who likes horror should have seen this one already or should go make sure they see it. And if you don't, you deserve to be sent to a cabin to deal with demons until you go insane for living the same mess twice. Now that's groovy.