Movies We Like
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn
Bold as it is to say, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn is my favorite movie of all time. For me, it teeters in competition with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. And to be clear, just because it happens to be my favorite movie doesn’t mean that I think it’s the best acted, best scripted, best directed movie ever. (Although the directing is top-notch. More on that in a bit.) Movies are entertainment; their sole purpose is to entertain us. So for me personally, in terms of sheer entertainment value, I find nothing more entertaining than Sam Raimi’s sequel to his own break out independent hit, The Evil Dead.
The first Evil Dead was the culmination of years and years of Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tappert honing their filmmaking skills by cranking out numerous short films together in school. Pooling together a budget from investors primarily consisting of dentists, they managed to make a little indie movie touted as “the most grueling experience ever!” An endorsement from Stephen King early on solidified The Evil Dead’s cult status. So several years later, after Raimi and the Coen Brothers had a creatively unsuccessful studio experience making the feature Crimewave, Raimi went back to the ol’ cabin and decided to sequelize his big break out movie with Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn.
What’s funny about the film is that it’s not exactly a sequel. Sure, it can be viewed that way if you hypothetically want to believe that A) Bruce Campbell’s character Ash survived the ordeal and the ending of the last film, and B) after all that, he would be stupid enough to go back there with another girlfriend also named Linda. No, instead Evil Dead 2 acts more as a remake of the first rather than a sequel. It summarizes the events of the first film within the first 5 minutes (minus all the secondary characters from the original) and then spins off in its own new, unique direction. Ash and his girlfriend Linda head out to a remote cabin in the woods to spend a romantic weekend together, but while there Ash stumbles upon an old reel to reel audio recorder. When he plays it, he hears the cabin’s previous inhabitant, a Professor Raymond Knowby (John Peakes), who explains that he’s uncovered Necronomicon Ex Mortum, roughly translated to “the Book of the Dead” and begins reading aloud his translations of the passages in the book. Unbeknownst to Ash, these passages resurrect an ancient evil force when spoken aloud and by playing the tape, the evil dead are awoken yet again. They take over Linda’s body and Ash is forced to off his girlfriend with his trusty shovel, burying her out back before he begins to suffer some of the craziest delusions (or are they?) in the cabin.
This is where Bruce Campbell shines, because for a good solid 20-30 minutes, it’s just him dealing with the various evils of the woods (and of the mind). First, the evil unseen force (represented here on film as our own P.O.V. shot) lifts him up and propels him through the woods. Attempting to escape, the bridge that he rode in on has been destroyed. Linda’s body resurrects itself and attacks Ash! First her decapitated head falls into Ash’s lap and sinks her razor sharp teeth into his hand. Then her body comes after him with a chainsaw! The bite infects Ash’s hand and there’s an entire sequence where Ash does battle with (you guessed it) his own evil hand. Even after he uses the chainsaw to sever his hand (all while screaming, “Who’s laughing now!”), the hand escapes from the bucket he put it under and he ends up chasing it through the cabin much like one would chase a rodent. Even the deer head hanging in the living room starts laughing at Ash. This is when a group of four new characters enter the picture.
Annie (Sarah Berry) is the daughter of Professor Knowby who shows up with her colleague Ed and two locals, Jake and Bobby-Jo, who show them a path to the cabin since the bridge is down. Once they play a little more of the tape, all hell breaks loose as they unleash Henrietta (Annie’s mother) and Ed transforms into “Evil Ed,” one of the most memorable and iconic monsters of the entire Evil Dead trilogy. All in all, Evil Dead 2 is one of the few horror movies that delivers both the frights and gore expected from this type of picture, but also merges them perfectly with the laughs. As co-writer Scott Spiegel once said, “Sam is just trying to make Three Stooges movies over and over again.” You’ll spot various gags (such as the eyeball in the mouth gag) directly lifted from old Three Stooges shorts.
Director Sam Raimi is the true star who makes this movie as great as it is. This is long before Sam tackled films such as Darkman, A Simple Plan and the Spider-Man trilogy. Hell, you can absolutely spot various camera moves and techniques applied in all the Spider-Man movies directly re-used from his Evil Dead trilogy, but in particular Evil Dead 2. From a filmmaking point of view, you can’t help but marvel at exactly how Raimi uses the camera in every shot here. Doing the evil dead’s point of view, the usage of “reverse” acting and even playing back certain shots in reverse shows a tremendous amount of creativity and style. And all of it was birthed out of necessity and working with such a low budget. Evil Dead 2 was the first movie to make me really aware of what a director does, it fueled my imagination and it made me want to try directing myself. Again, remember when I said earlier that this is one of the most entertaining movies you’ll ever see? Even if your knowledge of filmmaking is minimal, you’ll be able to recognize just how creative and interesting the shots in Evil Dead 2 are. And therein lies its greatest strength as a movie.
It gets my highest recommendation. Sure, you can start with Evil Dead 1, and yes there is a direct sequel titled Army Of Darkness which in itself is a huge amount of fun, but if this is your first foray into Evil Dead / Sam Raimi territory, kick it off with Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn.