I have few memories of seeing a horror movie for the first time where it had an impact, and one of those times was ‘Evil Dead II.’
It was a Saturday night back in 1988. My parents were out and I was being watched by my Aunt Judy at her apartment. I remember it was late at night and that I was sleeping on her love seat. I woke up and a movie was starting on HBO. I was about 6 or 7, so I was still scared of horror films.
The film starts with the opening narration about the book of the dead, and when it got to the book overlayed on the red ocean, I remember thinking how surreal it was, before I even knew of the existence of the word surreal, let alone its meaning. I looked over at my Aunt and she asked what I was doing up. I shrugged and said, I was just up. Knowing that I was scared of horror films, she started to change the channel, but I stopped her and said leave this one.
I’ll never forget what she said next: “I thought you didn’t like spook-shows.” My Aunt Judy came from the old school of films like ‘I Was a Teenage Werewolf’ and the original ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ and Saturday Night Spook-shows on the three channel media blitz that was television.
I told her that it was ok and she could leave it, and she did, and I was introduced to ‘Evil Dead II.’ I don’t vividly remember the rest of the film apart from Ash turning in to a Deadite for the first time.
Fast-forward 9 or 10 years…I rent Evil Dead II, watch it, and while I like it for the most part, I thought it was a terrible film! I was ignorant of the fact that comedy and horror could coexist. “You could see the stick guiding the eyeball!!! How dumb!” (I punish myself enough now for that line of thinking)
Fast forward another few years in my dorm room in college. My buddies and I were talking about horror movies, good and bad, I can’t remember how the subject of the ‘Evil Dead’ series came up, but we talked about it and had a few laughs, I had mentioned I’d never seen ‘Evil Dead’ and we were quickly off to Best Buy to buy the VHS of the whole series. Yes, children, V-H-S. There were only about 4 films released on DVD at that point, maybe and they were all $30+.
We get back home and pop in ‘Evil Dead’ and it gave me a few good scares and lots of gore. I loved it and still do. Then we watched ‘Evil Dead II,’ and I enjoyed it much more now than I did at 16. I wasn’t that much more mature, but I just saw it in a whole new light. We broke for dinner and theorized over why Ash felt it was necessary to go back to the cabin! “Who in their right mind would do that?!?” “IT’S THE SAME CABIN!!!” “Can you beleive he read that fucking book AGAIN? Didn’t he learn from the last time?!?” Note: At the time we didn’t realize that the beginning of ‘Evil Dead II’ was a truncated retelling/re-imagining of Evil Dead right up until Ash turns into a Deadite. From then on, we watched Evil Dead 1 and 2 almost daily.
This film exhibited some of the best special FX I’ve ever seen, but when you have Mark Shostrom, and Pre-KNB Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, and Robert Kurtzman, the FX will be nothing less than astounding. Henrietta is a testament to their art as it didn’t even look like someone wearing a suit, until you see the rip in the suit towards the end. She was bloated and gnarly and looked to have been dead for a long time, and when she utters the words, “Someone’s in my fruit cellar,” it’s genuinely chilling. Another great effect was the “Rotten Apple Head,” the evil made flesh. It looked like a giant pile of ground beef formed into a head with eyes, teeth, and little heads on the side. The thing was massive. It probably could’ve swallowed someone whole.
Tom Sullivan, the FX artist from ‘Evil Dead I’, was brought in to do the stop-motion animation. The ballet sequence by Deadite Linda was exquisite. He was also once again responsible for the design of the Necronomicon and dagger.
One of my favorite sequences of the whole film was when Ash’s hand gets possessed because it basically turns into an episode of the Three Stooges, which was a huge inspiration for Sam, Bruce and Rob. Bruce does his best to kick his own ass, smashing plates and bottles over his head, punching in the gut and face, but my personal fave is when he grabs his collar and flips himself. No actor could do the things Bruce Campbell did in these films. He’s the reason these films are amazing. Yeah, Sam Raimi was a great director and the FX are mind blowing, but without Bruce’s flavor, that’s all you’d have. No one could stab their own hand and say a badass line like, “Uh-huh, that’s right! Who’s laughing now,” then cut it off with a chainsaw. No one else could have strapped on a chainsaw to their hand stump and say, “Groovy,” like he did. From anyone else’s lips, it would’ve come off as stupid. Then the hand comes back to life, crawling around and giving Ash the finger. He shoots it through the wall, and you hear it scream. Then blood starts coming through the hole. A little at first, then a stream, then a fucking river of I don’t even know how many gallons of blood hits Bruce’s entire torso. It was enough that he was blowing blood from his nose for something like a month or two after. Bruce Campbell is just the man.
The supporting characters of Jake (Danny Hicks) and Bobby Jo (Kassie Wesley) were also very fun because, Jake was such a dirty redneck and the chaw-spitting Bobby Jo was actually pretty cute. Makes you wonder how the hell they got together…probably just a numbers game in that small mountain town. Annie (Sarah Berry) was strong, a great screamer and a trooper when she got covered in gallons of blood from Jake’s death by Henrietta. Ed (Richard Domeier) made one hell of a Deadite.
The cabin itself was it’s own character. Able to be built on a soundstage, the filmmakers could do anything they wanted with it, whereas the original cabin was a real standing structure cabin. After Ash gets blasted by the blood from the walls of the cabin, he goes to sit on a chair, which breaks, then the deer trophy turns and starts laughing at him, as well as every other inanimate object in the room, the clock, the books, and the lamp, with which Bruce dances.
This is an important horror film as it really showed that Three Stooges style comedy could work in a balls out horror film, and for the time, it was horrifying, and stands has one of my top three horror films of all time.
There is nothing you could possibly dislike about this film, but I dare you to try…