Sunday, February 14, 2016

Franchises: The Evil Dead. Evil Dead II (:Dead By Dawn)* (1987)

*I'm really glad that subtitle is only in the publicity materials because I've never liked it.

You know, it's always been interesting for me to slowly learn how much of a cult classic the original Evil Dead is considered to be since, when I first began to hear of the franchise, this was the one that was always brought up and got all the accolades. It's the entry in the series that's mentioned in the book, 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die, and in another book simply called Horror Films, one in a series by Virgin Films devoted to specific genres and the perceived milestones therein, this is the one that's focused on as being seminal, whereas the original, while still getting some praise, is mainly treated as a prelude to it. In any case, my personal history with the film actually begins long before I even knew of the title, The Evil Dead, when I saw that poster art on a VHS in our town's video rental store. As simple as it is, it stuck with me, as did many of the artworks I saw on the videos in the shop's horror section, and I was delighted years later when I was able to put a title to that artwork. Plus, years later when I was in my early-to-mid teens, I saw the special DiviMax DVD of the film where the disc came in a replica of the Book of the Dead at a video store (it was either On-Cue or Sam Goody, both of which are long since defunct). That definitely caught my attention, especially the screaming sound that you hear when you press the book's left eyeball, and at this point, I was still unfamiliar with the series. I'm not sure exactly when it was that I really learned of this series (I think it was a gradual accumulation of my reading up on various movies on the internet) but, regardless, by the time I saw the segment on it in the original CineMassacre's Monster Madness, I was well aware of both it and Sam Raimi, whom I learned of through his Spider-Man movies. I will say that I think hearing that these movies were some of his past films in the special features for those Spider-Man movies is where I finally formed a concrete awareness of the series. Regardless, as I said in my review of the original Evil Dead, my interest in the series was piqued from that web video, and I think a big reason why I ended up being let down by the first movie was because all of the stuff that James Rolfe showed that interested me was from Evil Dead II. So, even though I ultimately wasn't a big fan of the first film, I still wanted to see both it and Army of Darkness, which I eventually got the following summer when I bought them both at a Hastings (the edition of Evil Dead II that I got was that DiviMax edition, which is a really nice collectible).

I will say right off the bat that I enjoy this a lot more than the original Evil Dead and think that it's a vast improvement over it. It feels like this is the movie that Raimi always wanted to make with that first film, only now he had the money to pull it off. It's infinitely crazier, insane, and cartoonish, to the point where it makes the original look subtle... and that's what I enjoyed about it. I loved seeing the crazy and creative stuff that Raimi was coming up, which often got to the point where you could stop the movie and, while laughing, think to yourself, "What the hell am I watching right now?" What's more, the film's energy is manic, to say the least, and it throws one crazy thing after another at you for virtually the entire 84 minutes, with little chances for you to take a breath. However, I think that is also the movie's biggest weakness. While I enjoy seeing Raimi getting to cut loose, it gets to the point where it feels like overkill and, by the end of the movie, I start to burn out. It's still an enjoyable film for the craziness and imagination, as well as for Bruce Campbell, but it's like dealing with a little kid who's had too much sugar: after a while, you need some peace and quiet.

We might as well get the big issue that even the real diehard fans of the movie have out of the way right now because it's something of a sticking point for me too: if this is a sequel, then why does it seem to completely retcon the first movie in its opening? And furthermore, why does Ash appear to return to the cabin with no memory of what happened before? The reason for these circumstances in reality is because Raimi couldn't get the rights to footage from the first film to bridge the gap to the sequel, so he had to create a quick and effective recap for those who hadn't seen it from scratch, but in the context of the films, how does this work? Indeed, this film does seem to exist in a separate continuity from the original Evil Dead, with Ash and his girlfriend appearing to have been the only ones who went up to the cabin rather than him and a group of his friends, which is further compounded by there being no mention of what happened to those other friends or even a glimpse at their remains. I've heard that the film is really meant to begin at the point where the evil force crashes into Ash and sends him flying through the forest, carrying on from the ending of the first film, while everything before that was meant as a substitute for the footage that they weren't allowed to use in order to explain why Ash was at the cabin to begin with, right down to his girlfriend's name still being Linda and her dying in the same manner as in the first film. That's really confusing and I don't think has ever been done in such a way in any other sequel but it is a suitable enough explanation and I'd be willing to go with it... if Ash didn't seem so shocked that the bridge has been destroyed, which he already knew in the previous film. I guess you could say that he was so panicked to get away that he forgot that the bridge was out but, for those who have seen the original film, this whole state of affairs is really confusing, and Army of Darkness only adds to it, as we'll get into there. It's something that I try my best to let go of so I can just enjoy the film but it's sometimes very hard for me to do that, no matter how entertaining the movie gets.

After The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi moved on to a comedy called Crimewave, which he made with the Coen Brothers but did absolutely nothing at the box-office, prompting him to reconsider his original skeptical notion of doing a sequel to his first film. Like I said in my review of that movie, Raimi has always been more a fan of slapstick comedy than anything else and, along with co-writer Scott Spiegel, wanted to make it a major part of Evil Dead II rather than do another out-and-out horror film with some comedic touches here and there, especially after the tree rape scene in the original angered a lot of people. You can definitely see his love for the Three Stooges and slapstick in general throughout the film but, more significantly, I think this is the film where Raimi, after being a bit restrained by the first movie's meager budget, really let himself loose and create one of the nuttiest movies ever. Granted, I haven't seen Crimewave (which was almost a lost film for years until Shout! Factory put it out on Blu-Ray in 2013), but I don't how it could be crazier than Evil Dead II, which often achieves the level of lunacy of similar movies like the Japanese film House and A Chinese Ghost Story. Moreover, Raimi also demonstrates how he's able to get as much bang for his buck as possible, often making this $3.6 million movie look like it cost many, many times that, especially during the ending when all hell breaks loose. Like I said in the previous review, whatever I may think of some of his films, there is absolutely no denying that Raimi is one talented S.O.B.

A big step up that this film made from the original Evil Dead in my opinion is the cast. The acting still isn't Oscar-worthy (not that it's required in this kind of film) and a couple of the characters here are still pretty bland but I like them all a lot more than the cast in the first film, mainly because they don't act like idiots or spew out really dumb lines. In fact, a lot of the dialogue in this film has the flavor of what you would hear in a 1950's monster flick, which is more than fine with me given my love for many of those movies, as well as because it fits with the larger than life, comic book feel to the film. Plus, the first third of the movie acts as a one-man show for Bruce Campbell, which works really well given Campbell's improved acting at this point, as well as his nice comedic timing and flair for physical comedy. So, right there you've already impressed me more than you did with the first film and, as we'll see, it only gets better from there.

As much as I'm not a big fan of him, I have to admit that Bruce Campbell is pretty damn cool and fun to watch here as Ash. While there were good aspects to his performance in the first film, he was still pretty rough since he'd never really acted before and the bad lines he was sometimes given didn't help him either; here, though, you can tell that Campbell had really honed himself by this point and, as a result, doesn't make a misstep in the entire film. At the beginning, he's basically the way he was in the first film: a regular guy who was just out to have a good time with his girlfriend but has now gone through hell and is now scared out of his wits. When he comes to after getting thrown around the forest, as well as possessed by, the evil force, he does the smart thing and attempts to get out, only to realize that he has no chance of escape. Forced to go back to the cabin, he continues to fight the demons, still freaked out but determined to survive, to the point where he cuts off his own hand when it becomes corrupted by the evil. One thing that's great about Campbell's performance is how he tailors it to whatever the tone of the given sequence is. While frightened for most of the film, he's still able to accentuate the ridiculous nature of his hand being possessed and beating him up, as well as it's running around the cabin after he saws it off, with his reactions to it, and when everything in the cabin comes to life and starts laughing at him, he can't help but also laugh at how surreal it all is before eventually getting the hell out of the room. What's really great about Ash, though, is how strong and badass he becomes as the movie goes on, eventually deciding enough is enough and gearing up to face the evil head on, attaching the chainsaw to his severed hand and making his double-barreled shotgun into a sawed-off with it. And when he's battling the possessed Henrietta and kills her in the awesome way that he does, you can't help but love the guy. I also like how knowledgable and experienced he becomes from everything that's happened, knowing enough to break it to Jake that Bobby Joe is as good as dead since she ran out into those woods and feeling that the evil force roaming the forest is something that's trying to break its way into the world of the living. And finally, you have some good lines from Ash, like, "What do you say we head down into the cellar, and carve ourselves a witch?", "Swallow this," and, of course, "Groovy." (Funny thing about that latter line is that when I was a kid, I watched this computer-generated TV show called Reboot and there was an episode where the characters end up in a horror game, with a character who said nothing but that word again and again. Needless to say, when I saw clips from these movies years later, it didn't take me long to make the connection.)

After Ash, the two most memorable characters in the film are Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Kassie DePaiva), a hick couple who lead Annie and Ed through an alternate path to the cabin. Jake is nothing less than a stereotypical, white trash hillbilly, with a lot of missing teeth and a sleazy personality to boot, and Bobby Joe, despite being far too good-looking for Jake, is a selfish, foul-mouthed skank who initially acts all tough but quickly drops that facade when the group comes across the demons. The two of them agree to show Annie and Ed the way to the cabin but only after they pay them $100, which they have no choice but to agree to... although Annie manages to get back at Jake by making him carry a big, heavy trunk the whole way. Needless to say, the two of them get more than they bargained for when they reach the cabin and realize what's going on, them both freaking out when faced with the demons. Bobby Joe eventually panics and tries to escape into the woods, only to get attacked by the plants like Cheryl in the first movie and killed by them off-screen. Jake then proves that, if nothing else, he is devoted to his girl when he decides that he has to go out and find her, losing his mind over it to the point where he forces Ash and Annie to help him at gunpoint and even beats on Ash a bit when he doesn't cooperate (he also very stupidly throws the vital pages of the Book of the Dead down into the cellar, dismissing as a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, which is ridiculous for him to think given the crap he's seen). When they get out into the woods, Jake pays for his mistake when Ash becomes possessed again and attacks both him and Annie, who accidentally stabs in the torso with the dagger. Realizing her mistake, Annie tries to help Jake but he's killed by the possessed Henrietta in the cellar, resulting in a literal explosion of blood.

Unfortunately, the real leading lady of the film, Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry), is one of the blander characters. She's the daughter of Prof. Knowby, the scientist whose voice on the audio recording recites the spell that unleashes the demons, and she travels to the cabin to share with her father the new pages of the Book of the Dead that she's recently discovered, only to find that her parents are dead. She initially thinks that Ash is a lunatic who murdered them but when quickly learns the truth when she listens to her father's tape and helps him in fighting off the demons as well as trying to translate the pages of the book to recite a spell that will send the evil back where it came from. She's the one whose job it is to let Ash, and the audience, understand some of the mythology surrounding the Book of the Dead and, as a result, is the source of much of the film's 1950's sci-fi-esque dialogue. She does get to have some nice, emotional moments when she realizes what's happened to her parents and when she interacts with both her possessed mother and the spirit of her father but, for the most part, she really doesn't have much to do. She only becomes vital during the film's finale when she translates the pages and speaks the incantation that sucks the evil, and Ash, through a time portal back to Medieval times, although she's mortally wounded by Ash's severed hand and just barely manages to finish the spell with her dying breath. However, despite her bland nature, I'd still take her over any of the people from the first film.

The biggest blank slate in the movie is Ed (Richard Domeier), Annie's boyfriend who meets her at the airport and travels with her to the cabin. He's a professor himself and seems to have some knowledge of the Book of the Dead but is unable to do anything except come across as a typically good-looking, bland guy, akin to the heroes in many of those 50's B-movies. He only becomes memorable when he gets possessed due to the over-the-top design of his makeup and the way he's dismembered by Ash, which I'll go into more detail on shortly.

Describing Evil Dead II as simply more comedic than its predecessor is not only an understatement but also something of a disservice to the film. While there is still a fair amount of splatter as well as some moments that are horrific, the movie overall feels like if you took the Three Stooges, Looney Tunes, and Tom and Jerry, threw in the original Evil Dead, added some crank, and blended them together. If you've never seen the movie, you have no idea how crazy it gets, and my describing it here can't do it justice. If I were to try to describe every funny and wild part of this movie, I would pretty much have to do a complete synopsis, so I'll just talk about the ones that really struck me. In my opinion, the funniest stuff is when Ash's hand becomes corrupted by the evil after Linda's severed head bites it and it begins to attack him. Watching Bruce Campbell grab and twist his own face, smash plates against his head, and flip himself over is quite hilarious, as is how good he is at making it look like his hand is trying to inch its way towards a meat cleaver, having to drag his body with it in order to do so. I always smirk at the little growling and complaining sounds the hand makes and I think it gets even funnier when Ash cuts it off and it starts crawling around the cabin like Thing from The Addams Family, while Ash tries to hunt it down like Tom trying to catch Jerry. A part where I absolutely burst out laughing is when the hand suddenly turns and gets a mousetrap on its finger, prompting Ash to laugh, and when it flings the trap off, it gives him the finger. Campbell's constant angry and increasingly crazed threats towards the hand and the evil at large, especially after the walls have burst with blood and he's backing up with the gun, snarling, "Old double-barrel here! Blow your butts to kingdom come! See if we don't."

What follows is the stuff that really made me interested in the series when James Rolfe showed a little bit of it in his web video: everything in the cabin comes to life and starts laughing at Ash. The shot of that deer head, with its completely white eyes and the crazed expression its face has, suddenly twisting its head around and cackling really got my attention, as did the shot of Ash looking right at the camera and laughing. I knew that the movie had to have descended into madness by that point and when I finally saw it, I was not disappointed (granted, the movie descended into madness long before this scene but that's beside the point). After that deer head (which is probably my favorite thing in any of these movies since I've seen deer heads my entire life thanks to living in an area where hunting is a big thing, especially for my dad) starts, it's followed by everything from the table-lamp to the bookshelf, the cabinets, the couch, the pictures, and so on. Ash, as freaked out as he is, can't help but laugh himself at the sheer lunacy, even playing a brief game with the table-lamp that keeps bending back and forth as it laughs. This is the scene I meant where you just look at what's on the screen and, with a smile on your face, think to yourself, "What in the name of God am I watching right now?" And the film only gets more surreal and wild from there, which is hard to fathom given how at this point,  we've also had a headless corpse dancing in the moonlight, Ash struggling with his girlfriend's severed head biting him on the finger (him running around while struggling with it is pretty funny in and of itself), the aforementioned headless corpse coming at him with a chainsaw and getting the base of its neck skewered by it, and Ash taking the saw to the severed head. Following the laughter scene, you have the crazy, possessed Henrietta's eyeball popping out of its socket and flying across the room, into Bobby Joe's mouth, Henrietta and the possessed Ed (officially called, "Evil Ed," which makes me think of Fright Night) chanting, "Dead By Dawn" together, and the utterly insane climax, with Henrietta becoming a full-on, long-necked ghoul, "I'll swallow your soul!", the evil force attempting to destroy Ash and Annie along with the cabin, and the time portal that it and Ash get sucked into. And keep in mind, that's far from everything.

Evil Dead II's craziness is definitely what everybody remembers from it but, as I said in my introduction, I think it's also something of a weakness. While I enjoy the creativity and lunatic imagination that Sam Raimi puts into the movie, he throws so much crazy stuff at you so frequently and with so few breaks in-between that, by the end of the movie, I begin to burn out, even though it's only 84 minutes long. Raimi said in an interview around that time that he thinks that the worst sin a filmmaker can commit is to make a boring movie and while I do agree with that sentiment, a movie that goes at a mile-a-minute with few moments where it stops to catch a breath can become just as tiresome as a very slow movie where little happens. At the end of the day, that's my biggest issue with Evil Dead II: rather than boring, as I felt the original was at points, it becomes tiresome due to the insanity, despite how cosistently creative and well-executed it is throughout.

Because of the tone, the setting is never as atmospheric and creepy as it was in the first movie. Even at night, the cabin never feels quite as ominous, and the interior in particular feels different, like it was subtly designed to reflect the more cartoonish nature of the movie rather than have a genuinely raw and rundown look to it like before (mainly because this time, they had enough money to where they weren't bound to an actual location and could shoot in more convenient places). The woods around the cabin also feel more hyper-realistic, with the daytime scenes feeling sunnier and less overcast than those in the first film, and the night scenes having a more blue, cinematic moonlight feel to them rather than the pitch black previously, with the fog now only adding to the more hyped up look. However, the shot that really hammers home what kind of film the sequel is going to be is the big, wide shot of the bridge leading to the cabin, which looks like something out of a big, multi-million dollar Hollywood epic than a low-budget horror film. When you see that and the later wide-shots of it destroyed, you know that this is going to be more much more extravagant than the film that spawned it. And that's to say nothing of the medieval setting the film ends in, with an otherworldly desert landscape that appears to be completely obscured by dust from every direction, has quite a few extras as knights (one of whom is Raimi himself), and ends with a pretty big shot of Ash standing in front of what looks like a castle.

Like before, Raimi demonstrates a knack for wild, energetic camerawork and editing, only like everything else in this film, it's cranked up to ten. Hell, you get a really wild shot only a few minutes into the film, when the evil force slams into Ash and carries him through the woods, while turning his body around in place, all of which you see from the evil's POV. That shot is so kinetic that I have a hard time telling whether that was a miniature or if it really was Campbell on some kind of rig, photographed at high speed (I've read some information that say it was the latter, which is amazing to me), but whatever the case, it's a wild shot and it leads into some quick cutting of him getting slammed against a tree and falling face-first into a mud puddle. Speaking of the evil force, its POV shots are much more extensive and elaborate here. Instead of simply flying through the woods, now it's going straight through cars via the front and back windows as well the entire cabin (it literally chases Ash through every single room, even through a section between the walls), smashing doors out of its way, and then back out again. Raimi also takes advantage of undercranking the camera in order to create the feeling of hyper-fast movement, mainly during those shots I just mentioned as well as most notably during the scene where Ash is battling with his possessed hand in the kitchen and it's smashing plates against his head and such. Inventive is really the only word that can properly describe this stuff and it shows just how much you can get out of a low budget if you're clever enough.

Despite the emphasis of comedy rather than extreme horror, there's still a fair amount of blood splattering everywhere in this film, although here it's done in a very over-the-top manner that's more likely to make you laugh rather than wince and cringe like the nasty stabbings, eye-gougings, and dismemberments in the first film. In fact, even though they were going for a more comedic approach, I'm pretty sure that they went through more blood here than they did in the first film due to the sheer amount you see at a time. Rather than oozing and gushing out of nasty wounds, here the gore comes in the form of spray and even freaking geysers, like blood splashing all over the room, including the camera, when Ash saws Linda's severed head, his face getting sprayed when he cuts off his hand, fountains of it exploding out of the walls and all over him after he shoots his severed hand, and Jake erupting into an explosion of gore when Henrietta drags through the hatch to the cellar and eats him alive.  Also, in another attempt to keep people from complaining as much, as well as to secure an R-rating (which didn't work), Raimi has the demons mostly spew differently-colored blood, with Linda's headless corpse spraying Ash with black gunk when she accidentally chainsaws the base of her neck, the same substance coming out along with the blood in the scene where it shoots out of the walls, and the possessed Ed splashing green blood when Ash hacks him to death.

Gore is really the first film's thing, whereas this one's most memorable aspects are the very impressive special effects, particularly the creature effects, which are accomplished through a variety of means from makeup and suits to puppets and even stop-motion. They actually start out fairly simple, with Linda's (Denise Bixler) demonic makeup looking as simple as Betsy Baker's did in the first film, with pale skin, white eyes, and sharp teeth, but become more exaggerated and crazy as the film goes on. Not surprisingly, decapitating the possessed Linda wasn't enough to put her down, as she rises from her grave in the forest and does a dance in the moonlight while playing with her severed head, a sequence that's brought to life through stop-motion and looks all the more surreal as a result (it kind of makes me think of something that Tim Burton would do). Of course, her severed head begins plaguing Ash, falling into his lap out of nowhere and biting his hand, forcing him to run out to the tool shed and take a chainsaw to it. While the shots of him running around with that head on his are pretty simple, the shots of the severed head talking to him are very well-done, with the matting effects making it look as if Bixler's head actually has been decapitated but is still alive regardless. And the effect of her headless body running into the shed with the chainsaw looks a little dodgy but I think it makes all the more hilariously crazy, something that would make you laugh while saying, "Oh, shit!" Ash himself gets possessed at a couple of moments in the movie and his demonic makeup, while not as crazy as some of the others, is more elaborate than Linda's, with a skeletal look to the face, sunken-in white eyes with purple coloring around them, and sharp teeth. It's a fairly striking look and Bruce Campbell's face structure make its work. Speaking of Ash, his possessed hand is pulled off so well through the use of both rubber props and stop-motion that it becomes a character (a hilariously obnoxious, mean-spirited character that ultimately kills Annie) in its own right. Like I said, the sequence where Ash is trying hunt the hand down through the cabin, shooting at it while it does funny stuff like get caught in a mousetrap and flip Ash off, is the funniest part of the whole film. And I know I talked about the sequence involving the laughing deer head earlier but I have to bring the character himself back up because I just love this guy. I cannot stress how much I laughed when I first saw the shot of him turning his neck and laughing maniacally in James Rolfe's web video and I still at least smirk whenever I see him. The crazed look, with the white eyes and deranged expression on the face, combined with the laugh just makes me love this character, especially given that my dad filled our house up with deer heads (it actually reminds me of a bad dream I had when I was very little about those heads coming life!) I wish he was in the movie more so they could do things with him like maybe have him talk to Ash and the others. He could have taken part in the, "Dead By Dawn," chant later on.

The most memorable demonic character in the entire film, and that's saying something, has to be Henrietta, Annie's possessed mother who plays the role that Cheryl did in the original of being the monster stuck in the cellar. I would have never guessed that that was actually Ted Raimi under all that latex because he's absolutely unrecognizable, really looking like a hideous, overweight demonic old hag (plus, he doesn't look anything like Lou Hancock, who plays Henrietta when she's not possessed). As impressive at that body suit and makeup that Raimi wears is, though, the version of Henrietta that I think more people remember is that hideous ghoul she turns into that looks like a skull with nasty, pale skin stretched over it, big bulging eyes (one of which shoots out of its socket when Ash jumps on the head and flies into Bobby Joe's mouth), nasty, crooked teeth, and a bit of hair on top of its head. The stop-motion that's used when Henrietta's face morphs into that thing is really cool, as are the long shots of the long-necked monster threatening Ash, and the puppet that they use in the close-ups is just great, especially when it's yelling, "I'll swallow your soul!" That effect, in addition to more coming up, reminds me of some of the stuff seen in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies basically it's fairly big-scale effects work done in low budget movies. Every time I look at that Henrietta monster, I think of the big Freddy Snake in Dream Warriors, which came out the same year, and the personified evil force with all of those faces in its body remind me of Freddy's Chest of Souls in The Dream Master. In any case, another memorable demon is what Ed becomes after he's possessed: a pale, ugly as sin monster with bulging eyes, twisted flesh, and a lot of twisted teeth in his very large mouth. He doesn't get to do much before Ash hacks him up but he leaves an impression nevertheless. I've often seen a shot of him with a big chunk of his head missing after Ash gets through with him but it never appears in the actual film, which is a shame because it looks pretty cool. You do get some shots of an evil tree, with a vague, sinister face on its trunk, but it's clearly made of rubber and doesn't hold up that well; much more impressive is the physical manifestation of the evil force that crashes through the cabin and grabs Ash at the end. It's also a demonic tree, with roots and branches formed into a hand and a massive, orange-colored face with big red eyes, and it looks amazing, as is its side, with those talking heads sticking out of it. I'm not really sure what that's supposed to symbolize but, at this point, I'd given up trying to understand everything about this movie (especially since of those faces looks like Ash) and just admired how amazing this all looks, especially for a movie whose budget was under $4 million. And finally, you have that flying demon that Ash kills after getting sucked through the time portal, which is a pretty simple puppet effect and serves as a prelude to some of the stuff you'd later see in Army of Darkness.

As I said in my review of the original Evil Dead, the Book of the Dead never felt as raw and real in the sequels as it did in that film. Instead of looking like dried skin stretched around to form the outside of a book, here it's very over done and looks like a professionally-made, latex prop. The face especially doesn't have that same visceral quality that I really liked before. It still looks cool, mind you, with the pages still looking as Lovecraftian as ever (whoever drew that stuff is really talented), and is a nice piece of movie craftmanship, but it doesn't have the genuine feel to it that the book in the first film did. I don't know if there's any difference in the dagger, though, since I didn't pay much attention to it in the first movie, except to know that there's a skull carved into the handle. I was too busy looking at the book to really care about the dagger, which is why I'm pickier about the way it looks. The dagger still looks nice, though.

The film has a number of impressive miniature and optical effects, as well as instances of good old-fashioned trick photography. It even begins with a showcase of cool opticals as the Book of the Dead floats into frame, forms a more evil-looking face on its cover, the camera flies into its mouth to show a spiraling portal with transparent demons coming at the camera, the background turns into a blood-red tide, and you see the pages of the book being scribbled on and drawn in, with the pages flipping by themselves and the book then closes to fly off-screen, all while a narrator gives us some backstory on it. The first major piece of these types of effects narrative-wise is the bridge leading to the cabin that you see in big, wide shots before and after it's destroyed. While you can tell it's a miniature if you look at it very closely, it's matted into the scenes well enough to where you can suspend your disbelief. Another interesting bit is when Ash's reflection in the mirror suddenly lunges through it and grabs his shoulders. The wide-shot of the two of them looking at each other face to face is an effect you've seen done many times but the shot of the reflection coming out of the mirror and grabbing Ash is so fluid and seamless that I have a feeling there was no optical work involved, that they had a stand-in put his back to the camera while Bruce Campbell was in a room on the other side of the "mirror" and they simply mimicked each other's movements. If that was done in any other way, I'd be very surprised and even more impressed. Speaking of which, I'm really not sure how they accomplished the POV shot of the camera smashing through the back window of Ash's car and then going out the shattered windshield in one go. There had to be some trick photography or miniature work present there because I don't how they could have done that, unless they managed to make that POV shot less cumbersome than putting the camera on a plank of wood with two people carrying it on either side (since he had worked as a magician, Raimi probably came up with such a method). And finally, there's the time portal opening up and sucking everything into it at the end, which is a good mix of animation, miniatures, and blue screen work, particularly in the shots where the portal comes through the woods towards the cabin, where you see the cabin shaking from the force of it, and when Ash gets pulled backwards into the portal, leading into the final shot of Ash standing there in front of a miniature, medieval building in the background with a bunch of cheering knights and two big stone pillars in the foreground. Good stuff all-around. There are some wonky-looking shots, like when Ash is framed against the quickly setting sun upon discovering that the bridge is out, but overall, those type of effects in this film are just as solid as the number of creature effects.

If you look closely at the cabin walls in a couple of scenes, you'll spot Freddy Krueger's glove hanging up (boy, how would have liked for Ash to try to use that against the demons?), an unexpected sight that serves as the conclusion of an odd game of tag Sam Raimi played with Wes Craven throughout the 80's. It all started when Raimi saw The Hills Have Eyes and noticed that a poster of Jaws in the trailer had been ripped in half after the cannibals' attack, which he took to be Craven saying that that movie was nothing and that this is real horror. As a joke, Raimi put a torn poster for The Hills Have Eyes in the cabin's basement in the original Evil Dead, as if to say, "No, Wes, your movie is nothing; this is real horror." That, in turn, led to Craven having Nancy watch The Evil Dead during a scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street where she's trying to avoid falling asleep, as if to say, "No, that's what's just a movie, whereas this is the real deal." In an interview conducted around the time of Evil Dead II, Raimi said that he wasn't sure how he was going to top that but assured the interviewer that he'd come up with something. Well, he certainly did. I don't how he managed to get ahold of that glove, let alone get away with having it appear in the film not once but twice (granted, as you can see, you have to look really hard in order to see it since it's in the background and, what's more, this movie didn't do much at the theater), especially considering that I've heard it was the original glove that was stolen during production of Nightmare 2, but whatever the case, Craven must have figured, "Well, I don't know what else I can do beyond that," because I think the game between the two of them stopped right then and there. It's a shame that filmmakers nowadays can't have fun with each other like that; if you tried something like that now, you'd probably either get sued or verbally thrashed for it.

One thing I'm noticing in reviewing them is that the Evil Dead movies may be known for a lot of things but memorable music isn't one of them. Joseph LoDuca, who would go on to score Darkman and Army of Darkness for Raimi, returns and I actually remember his score here even less than I did the original film's. At least the original had that Dixieland tune and some occasional themes that were memorable for better or for worse; the only thing I remember here is a generic, "dun, dun, dun," bit that was played over the DVD menu screen, which the entire score seemed to jump off from. I honestly can't remember anything else about the score except that it was that generic throughout. I guess the music got lost in the movie's mayhem to my ears.

All in all, Evil Dead II does have a lot going for it. The characters are much more likable than the cast in the original movie, especially Bruce Campbell, who comes into his own as Ash, the camerawork and editing are just as wildly inventive as they were before, the creature effects are jaw-dropping, no matter how they're executed, there are some really good instances of opticals, miniatures, and trick photography throughout the film, the emphasis on outrageous humor rather than all-out horror really works and results in some truly hysterical moments, there's plenty of splatter to satisfy gorehounds, and the movie has a very fast and manic style to it and it barely pauses to take a breath. That, however, is my only major problem with the film. As I've said, it throws so much crazy stuff at you so quickly for 84 minutes that I find myself burning out by the end. In addition, while I understand the reason for it, the opening can be very confusing in how this film relates to the original and some of the characters are still on the bland side. But, overall, it is an entertaining film, which I've never felt the original was, and does deserve its cult status, although I can still easily see myself never getting the urge to watch it again.

No comments:

Post a Comment