The final contribution for SEQUEL SEPTEMBER is by Bobby Morgan, who writes for both Geeks of Doom and EuroCultAV. Bobby is probably one of my longest friends since I've started using social networking, becoming a true, trusted friend for many years now [when you have my phone number, you know you can be trusted]. Bobby and I seem to share the same tastes in cinema, mocking the terrible and enjoying the great and/or the silly. Bobby is a cinephile of all genres, but he definitely loves his horror and science fiction. He's an awesome person and I definitely wanted him to contribute to SEQUEL SEPTEMBER. Check out his writing at Geeks of Doom and EuroCultAV.com.
Bobby, no surprise to me, decided to write about his favorite sequel [and maybe movie] of all time - 1987's EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN. One of Sam Raimi's finest efforts, EVIL DEAD II is definitely a sequel that rivals the first film in terms of entertainment and quality. Check out Bobby's thoughts, as he shares his history and love for Ash Williams second adventure. Thanks Bobby for sharing and for helping out! Much appreciated, brother!
The summer of 1996. I was 17 years old and without a job. I had worked the entire previous summer in my first job at the Paramount’s Kings Dominion amusement park and before my junior year of high school ended they had invited me to come work for them that summer. It was a tough call but after some deliberation I decided not to return. There were several factors that pushed me to make that decision: the commute by bus each day was a chore, the work stunk (more often than not literally as part of my job entailed pushing around a garbage cart the size of a Humvee….in the fucking rain), and the only time I had to hang with my friends was on the weekends. Since I had some money saved from my first income tax refund I could float around on that and have a real summer vacation. There was a video store down the street from my house and I would walk down there every week and trawl the racks for new and vintage titles on video. Among the cooler flicks I saw that summer in the comforts of my own air-conditioned home were FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN, HEAT, and Adam Sandler’s finest hour, HAPPY GILMORE.
However there was one particular title that kept catching my eye but for some reason I could never muster up the courage to rent it. The funniest thing about my initial exposure to the EVIL DEAD trilogy was that I watched them in reverse order. In early 1995 I had rented ARMY OF DARKNESS, the third film in the trilogy, from the video section of a local grocery store and loved the movie so much I would watch it several times before returning it (late I might add). Late in the winter of the following year I sat alone in my house as a icy chill whipped through the trees outside and loaded a thirteen-year-old copy of the original HBO/Thorn EMI released of THE EVIL DEAD. Talk about setting a mood. For all its wooden acting and primitive (but highly effective) special effects the original EVIL DEAD remains to this day one of the scariest movies I have ever seen.
But EVIL DEAD II kicks its ass- hard - and it makes no apologies. I’ve seen it countless times in the thirteen years since my first viewing and I can clearly say that it is the single best movie I have ever seen. I even once watched it on the big screen. My friends, that was a genuine thrill. I can quote entire scenes from memory. The music constantly plays in my head. I can watch this movie over and over everyday without tiring of one second of it. I can name every cast member and what character they play, I know who does the special effects, and I even know the story behind the “Rosebud Films” logo that precedes the movie. I’ve watched the “The Gore, the Merrier” documentary on the Anchor Bay DVD almost as many times as the movie itself. When I bought my first Blu-ray player I made pretty damn sure that one of the inaugural Blu-ray discs in my collection would be Lionsgate's spectacular 25th Anniversary Edition disc released late last year. That remains one of my smartest investments.
I can find no fault with EVIL DEAD II. Without exaggeration this movie is perfect, and that is no bullshit.
The story of the first EVIL DEAD’s making and unleashing upon the world is legendary. If you’ve read any of the books about the films, listened to the DVD commentaries, or seen any of the cast and crew at horror conventions, then you would know the behind-the-scenes horror stories by heart. At least those stories resulted in a hell of a happy ending. Launched into the public consciousness thanks to an enthusiastic review by superstar author Stephen King, the movie took the world of horror cinema by storm and set its young director and producer/star on what would prove to be long and fruitful careers in film. Three years later those dreams of cinematic success were almost dashed forever. In 1985 for his first stab at major studio filmmaking (without the use of a Kandarian dagger) director Sam Raimi leapt at the chance to indulge the life-long admiration for over-the-top slapstick comedy that fueled his desire to become a filmmaker with his best friend and unlikely muse Bruce Campbell starring in the lead.
Unfortunately for them Raimi and Campbell were now working for Norman Lear’s Embassy Films and they had a small army of Hollywood studio executives to answer to. Making the original EVIL DEAD may have led Raimi, his producer Robert Tapert, and Campbell to maroon themselves in the woods of rural Tennessee during the winter of 1979-1980 with a $500,000 budget, several buckets of stage blood and a gaggle of overworked and undernourished cast and crew but every frame of the film that was the fruits of their labor could not be touched by any know-nothing industry suit. That was not to be the case with the movie Raimi originally titled THE XYZ MURDERS with Campbell as the hero and EVIL DEAD composer Joseph LoDuca providing the music score. First the Embassy suits decreed that Campbell, after being forced to submit to a screen test, would not star in the movie THEY were now calling CRIMEWAVE. Then they compelled Raimi to cast some obscure schnook with not a shred of comic timing as the hero. Lastly Raimi was coldly informed that his preferred composer LoDuca would not provide the score for THE XY….excuse me, CRIMEWAVE.
This all transpired before filming began.
After shooting was completed and Raimi completed his first cut of the film, the executives at Embassy took the film out of his hands and edited it to the point where it was no longer recognizable to its creators. CRIMEWAVE was ultimately released in a few theaters to fulfill a contractual obligation and barely registered at the box office. The movie may have gained a minor cult following in the years since its video release but Raimi has already disowned it before it hit theater screens. His first dance with the devils of Tinseltown had birthed a celluloid dumpster baby. Now the Michigan wonder boy who made demons melt and cameras leap and fly was in dire need of a job.
With some needed prompting from his EVIL DEAD sales agent, the legendary Irvin Shapiro (best known for suggesting that Raimi change the name of the original from BOOK OF THE DEAD to THE EVIL DEAD), and with Stephen King putting in a good word for Raimi with his MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE financial backer Dino De Laurentiis, Sam Raimi was about to do the unthinkable. With Campbell and Tapert in tow once more he was about to head back into that cursed forest to that hellish cabin to put his long-suffering hero Ash through his paces at the hands of demented and mischievous demonic forces. This time around Raimi wasn’t going back into the woods with meager funding and a skeleton crew forced to wear many hats to save the production some cash. This time Sam Raimi was a more experienced filmmaker and for EVIL DEAD II he would have the best of everything at his disposal, resources he would wisely utilize to make his definitive masterpiece.
Raimi intended for EVIL DEAD II to open with footage from the first film. At the end of the original EVIL DEAD after Ash has supposedly defeated the dark spirits that possessed his friends and beloved Linda and transformed them into murderous creatures that could only be destroyed by, and I quote, “the act of bodily dismemberment”, the demonic forces that roam the woods after being unleashed by Ash and his friends playing a tape recorded recital of incantations from the Kandarian Book of the Dead awake and snatch the bruised and bloodied Ash as he helplessly limps back to civilization. The camera rushes up to Bruce Campbell’s screaming face and the movie cuts to black. The original film’s distributor New Line Cinema refused to license Raimi the desired archival footage so the director, along with his co-writer Scott Spiegel (another friend from his Michigan youth), was put in the position of having to cram a compact remake of his directorial debut into the first five minutes of EVIL DEAD II.
So in a sense EVIL DEAD is both remake and sequel, but the remake part ends halfway through the first reel. Once Ash has had to decapitate his possessed girlfriend Linda (played by Denise Bixler)….again, and the evil Kandarian spirits hit him with a flying tackle that sends him soaring through the trees at a pace equal to that of the Concorde, then EVIL DEAD II truly begins. But from the moment the movie begins every single minute is utterly glorious. Each scene brings with a new surprise as Raimi, ably assisted by an aces cast and technical crew more than up to the challenge of bringing his feverishly insane ideas to life, keeps his imagination on warp speed.
This was the film that brought the now legendary team of Robert Kurtzman, Gregory Nicotero, and Howard Berger (known today as KNB EFX) together for the first time. Until EVIL DEAD II these masters of latex and foam rubber miracles had never worked with each other before. Even to this day the KNB boys have rarely been able to top the wizardry they conjured up with the assistance of Sam Raimi’s demented vision. They created some of the coolest-looking monsters ever seen: from the mad-eyed demons who make Ash’s life a literal living Hell to the monstrous trees who would give the living forest in THE WIZARD OF OZ the heebie jeebies to the team’s piece de resistance, when all of the trees in the haunted forest come together to form the ultimate Kandarian demon and it is both creepy and pretty goofy in a way that I can not help but love dearly. Heads spin, the cabin furniture comes to life, corpses dig out of their graves and do ballet, possessed hands scurry across the room, and untold gallons of blood all colors of the rainbow flood the cabin to name but a few.
Raimi’s most terrifying creation lives just off camera and haunts the dark forest in the form of a endlessly prowling first person point-of-view shot. With his director of photography Peter Deming (replacing original D.P. Eugene Shlugheit, who retained credit for the night exterior photography he completed before leaving the production) Raimi transforms the camera into the most relentless force in the film. He even came up with some interesting ideas for special rigs that would allow the camera to glide over car hoods, ram through windows, and tear ass through the cabin doors and walls in pursuit of our beleaguered hero Ash. The cinematography on EVIL DEAD II is the best of the trilogy. The sets and outdoor locations are brightly lit to the point where they practically look artificial. This works brilliantly as it enhances the fantastical world that the movie takes place within as opposed to the original EVIL DEAD where the sets and the forest were under-lit to play up its blackly horrific atmosphere. The haunted forest of EVIL DEAD II looks like it could have come out of a Grimm fairy tale or a movie such as KWAIDAN or NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. There is not a yellow brick road in these woods to take the characters from the horrors of the Deadites to the safety of civilization but there is a trail heavily guarded by the trees, and unless you are packing a chainsaw (or a pair of pruning shears) you travel it at your peril.
More than anything EVIL DEAD II is the film where the legend of Bruce Campbell began to take shape. In the first EVIL DEAD the character of Ash was more reactive than proactive. It was only towards the end when he really got into the action. In EVIL DEAD II he was no time to be the sensitive wussy boy - the demons are attacking right out of the gate. No other scene in Campbell's lengthy filmography sums up his unchallenged status as a pop culture icon than the moment when he arms up for the final battle. You know what I'm talking about: the expertly-crafted montage where he attaches a chainsaw to the stump where his possessed hand used to be and then uses the saw to chop off the barrel of his trusty shotgun. How many other horror movies or horror comedies have a scene that can equal or even surpass the sheer awesomeness of that singular moment when the camera slowly zooms in on Ash's intense face, the look of a man who has been through a literal Hell since he arrived at that cabin and is now ready for the battle of the ages, and he intones the one word that brilliantly encapsulates Campbell's storied legacy on film and television - "Groovy". If that is not one of the greatest moments ever captured on celluloid I just don't want to be part of this world anymore.
If you still haven't seen EVIL DEAD II I highly recommend you do right this minute. The chances are good that you will not like it as much as I, and that's if you even like it at all. But bear this in mind before you seek it out: this movie will defy each and every one of your expectations.