* Warning: some images and scenes depicted in this article may be upsetting for people sensitive to horror or gore.
Dear friends, we will start today’s column… where we left off our last column:
With our old friends Rob (John Cusack) and Barry (Jack Black) from High Fidelity.
Rob and Laura (Iben Hjejle) have broken up, and Rob has learned that Laura has been staying at Ian’s house (perfectly douchey minor role played by Tim Robbins). Rob asked Laura if she’s been sleeping with Ian, and her response is, “I haven’t slept with him yet.” The next morning, Rob approaches Barry for the following conversation:
Rob: “Just come on. What would it mean to you, that sentence: “I haven’t seen Evil Dead 2 yet”?”
Barry: “Well, to me it would mean that you’re a liar. You’ve seen it twice. Once with Laura — oops — and once with me and Dick, remember? “
“We had that conversation about that guy making Beretta shotgun ammo off-screen in the 14th century.”
Rob: Right. But let’s just say that I hadn’t seen it. And I said, “I haven’t seen Evil Dead 2 yet.” What would you think?
Barry: I’d think that you’re a cinematic idiot and I’d feel sorry for you.
Rob: All right. But from that one sentence, would you think that I was going to see it?
Barry: I’m sorry, Rob. I’m struggling here. You’re asking me what would I think if you told me you hadn’t seen a film that you have already seen. What am I supposed to say?
Rob: “Just listen to me. If I said to you –”
Barry: “I haven’t seen Evil Dead 2 yet”, yes!
Rob: Would you get the impression that I really wanted to see it?
Barry: Oh, uh…well, you couldn’t have been desperate to see it, otherwise you’d have already gone.
Rob: Right. I’m not going to see that movie.
(Discussion… closed? But Barry looks up again after a moment; he’s had a thought.)
Barry: But the word “yet.”……Yeah, you know what? I get the impression that you wanted to see it…otherwise you’d have said you didn’t want to go.
Rob: But in your opinion, would I definitely go?
Barry: How the f**k am I supposed to know? Probably.
Barry: “Because it’s a brilliant film! It’s so funny and violent and the soundtrack kicks f**king ass.”
“I never thought I’d say this, but can I go to work now?”
Evil Dead 2 is indeed funny and violent and brilliant.
It’s a real treasure and my submission for the next entry in TNOCS Canon.
You may not be aware there is a horror comedy genre.
Honestly, it’s not a very large lane, and many so-called entries in this genre are really horror movies with some comedic elements (e.g. later entries with Freddy’s wisecracks in the Nightmare on Elm Street universe), or comedies with horror themes (e.g. What We Do in the Shadows, Student Bodies).
The number of movies that have successfully pulled off being truly frightening -and truly hilarious – is indeed not large.
Cabin in the Woods (2011) definitely qualifies, as does Ready or Not (2019).
Going back to a previous a generation, Return of the Living Dead (1985) and They Live (1988) would also be worthy candidates. We could have a large and fruitful discussion of what films do or don’t deserve to fit into this category.
But the Citizen Kane of horror comedies; the one everyone should have in their tool belt is:
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (usually just known as Evil Dead 2).
It’s the standard against which all other horror comedies should be measured.
“Wait a minute,” you may be thinking. “Why would I want to go for a sequel and not the original?”
Funny you should ask.
The original Evil Dead trilogy – Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2 (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992) – was directed by Sam Raimi, who you may know better as director of the original Tobey Maguire Spider Man trilogy, Darkman (1990) and Drag Me to Hell (2009).
The rights to the first Evil Dead movie were owned by New Line Cinema, but Evil Dead 2 was produced by Dino de Laurentis.
Sam Raimi couldn’t get the rights to his own movie from the original studio, so he kind of had to rehash / reinvent the original story in short order to build the foundation for the new story.
Evil Dead 2 pulls this off quite efficiently.
We couldn’t get the rights to our own movie which was the most ridiculous thing ever.
So, we just shot a recap with different actors as though that was the recap.
There is a big debate on whether Evil Dead 2 is a remake or a sequel. It’s a “requel.”
It’s whatever you want to call it.Bruce Campbell
The original Evil Dead from 1981 is a truly terrifying movie.
Sam Raimi tried to pull a William Castle when he premiered the movie in Detroit – stationing ambulances outside the theater and printing custom tickets.
He delivered – thousands of patrons showed up.
He re-staged these events in locations around the United States to build publicity and eventually secure distribution. The film earned an X-rating for gore so gruesome, it was compared to the notorious Cannibal Holocaust.
The third movie in the trilogy, Army of Darkness, is hardly a horror movie at all.
It’s more of a dark fantasy comedy, like if you combined Ray Harryhausen (the guy who gifted us with the stop motion fantasy monsters of the Sinbad movies of the 60’s and 70’s) with the Three Stooges. It’s definitely self-aware and almost trying to cement the legacy of the trilogy in the most over-the-top way possible.
But Evil Dead 2 is where the alchemy was just perfect. You get the genuine terror of the first movie, the batty sight gags of the third movie, and a story that allows these elements to coexist naturally – it doesn’t seem forced.
The beginning of Evil Dead 2 very quickly rehashes / reinvents the story of Evil Dead. The Book of the Dead, bound in human flesh, went missing in 1300 AD.
A couple sneaks off to an abandoned cabin in the woods.
They play a tape recording of a professor reading from the book, which awakens an evil entity.
The girlfriend Linda is possessed by the entity and attacks the boyfriend Ash (Bruce Campbell), who is forced to decapitate her and bury her. Ash is then possessed by the same entity, carried through the woods, then seemingly gets “un-possessed” in the sunlight.
This is where the old/rehashed story ends and new story picks up.
And we’re only 7 minutes in!
The travails that Ash must pass through over the next 15 minutes make Job look like he had it easy. He is pursued by the evil entity, but hides from it.
He is attacked first by his deceased girlfriend Linda’s head, then later by her body wielding a chainsaw.
His hand gets infected from where Linda’s head bit him, and it attacks him relentlessly, forcing him to cut off his own hand with a chainsaw.
The severed hand then makes repeat appearances throughout the movie attacking Ash or other characters.
When Ash first captures the hand under a bowl, he stacks books on top of it to ensure it doesn’t escape. Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms rests atop the stack.
Yes, this is that kind of movie.
Then there’s Ash’s slapstick, madcap, descent into madness. Which I can only recommend seeing for yourself:
At this point, the remaining characters arrive at the cabin:
- Annie, the professor’s daughter, coming to continue research into the Book of the Dead and look for her parents
- Ed, her research assistant
- Jake, a local yokel who acts as a guide to get Annie and Ed to the cabin
- Bobby Jo, Jake’s yokel girlfriend
Annie came to the cabin looking for her parents, and she sees a crazy Ash covered in blood and wielding a shotgun. Naturally he’s assumed to be some kind of psycho killer, so he’s tied up and locked in the cellar.
Then Annie continues playing the tape, where her professor father reveals that his wife Henrietta was possessed by an evil entity and had to be killed and locked in the cellar. Playing the tape reanimates Henrietta’s corpse, and suddenly Ash is in trouble. He barely escapes in time, and the melee to help Ash escape results in Jake and Ed both taking damage and Henrietta’s eyeball down Bobby Jo’s throat.
Pretty soon, Ed has become an evil dead monster in his own right. And Ash is forced to hack him to pieces with an axe, green blood spraying everywhere. The ghost of Annie’s professor dad warns Annie that she needs to recite passages from the Book of the Dead to make the evil material, then banish it back from whence it came. Bobby Jo runs off the woods, where the plants themselves attack her. Jake is accidentally stabbed by Annie. Ash becomes possessed again, then again becomes “un-possessed” upon seeing Linda’s necklace on the floor.
As Ash and Annie prepare for battle, Ash attaches the chainsaw to his arm stump where his hand was, and saws off the shotgun. Chainsaw + shotgun = ultimate horror warrior!
It’s all mayhem and terror from here on out. When Annie is finally able to recite from the Book of the Dead, Ash’s severed hand stabs her in the back. She is barely able to utter the last words as the life drains out of her, but in doing so, opens a vortex that sends the evil entity – as well as Ash and his Oldsmobile Delta 88 – back to the year 1300. He blows away a flying monster with his shotgun, then he’s hailed as a hero by knights, as he screams, “No… No!.. NO!!!”
The movie is pure catharsis:
If you aren’t laughing out loud, you’re cringing in terror.
Of course that means Evil Dead 2 is not for everybody. People who don’t like horror, or people who don’t want a good dose of dark, slapstick comedy with their horror, will not feel drawn to this movie.
Evil Dead 2 also defies analysis. It’s not trying to make social commentary, like many horror films of the 80’s, which had a subtext about the dangers of sex or conformity or complacence. Evil Dead 2 comes almost from a Lovecraftian angle – an unknowable evil, with no purpose that we can ever comprehend, and which we are virtually powerless to influence.
Combine this with truckloads of blood, memorable one-liners, and low-budget sight gags galore, and you’ve got a real cinematic classic. If you haven’t seen it yet (and if you are ok with horror movies), I won’t call you a “cinematic idiot” like Barry might, but I definitely would recommend it with the highest praise.
Since the original trilogy, there have been two other movies:
Evil Dead (2013) and Evil Dead Rise (2023 – just wrapping up its run in theaters now) – and a television series: Ash vs Evil Dead, that ran on Starz from 2015 to 2018.
I saw Evil Dead Rise a couple of weeks ago, and it really blew me away.
Exceptionally gory and terrifying, not afraid to “go there,” and an absolutely brilliant movie if you want your soul forcibly yanked out of your body. It was definitely more in the spirit of the original Evil Dead, one of the Grade-A gore movies of its time. Not funny like Evil Dead 2, but it had more soul than the torture porn movies of the 2000’s (e.g. the Saw franchise).
Highly recommended for gorehounds. Not recommended for the faint of heart.
What do you think – should Evil Dead 2 qualify for the TNOCS canon? If you’re already a fan of Evil Dead 2, what are your favorite lines or scenes?
What are your other favorites of the horror comedy genre?
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