Cabin Fever Memories: Evil Dead II at 30
In 1981, childhood friends Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell had finally procured the necessary funds to start filming the feature length version of their 1978 short film, Within the Woods. With $350,000 ready to go, filming began on The Evil Dead. Telling the story of five friends on a rural retreat to a cabin in the woods, they discover the Book of the Dead (Necromonicon Ex Mortis), its powers being unleashed with dire consequences. The film was finished and screened out of competition at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, where horror author Stephen King gave a rave review of the film, which helped convince New Line Cinema to pick up distribution rights. Both early and later critical reception were universally positive and in the years since its release, The Evil Dead has developed a reputation as one of the largest cult films and has been cited among the greatest horror films of all time by numerous critics and fans across the globe, launching the careers of both Campbell and Raimi.
Fast forward to 1987 with a sequel penned by Raimi and Scott Spiegal, Evil Dead II was now a reality and today we celebrate the 30th anniversary of its release!
Evil Dead II begins with a simplified recap of the events of the first film, which was standard for 80's horror flicks. This time it's just Ash Williams and his girlfriend Linda who take a romantic vacation to a seemingly abandoned cabin in the woods. While in the cabin, Ash plays a tape of an archaeologist known as Professor Raymond Knowby, the cabin's previous inhabitant, reciting passages from the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, which he discovered during an archaeological dig. The recorded incantation unleashes an evil force that kills and later possesses Linda. Ash is then forced to decapitate his girlfriend with a shovel and bury her near the cabin.
The film then picks up where the first film left off, where a spirit is seen throwing Ash through the woods. Ash briefly becomes possessed by the demonic force, but when day breaks the spirit is gone, and Ash returns to normal. Ash finds little chance of safety, however, as the bridge leading to the cabin has been destroyed. Linda's revived head attacks Ash by biting his hand so Ash brings Linda's severed head to the toolshed, where her headless body attacks him with a chainsaw. Ash gains the upper hand and slashes the relentless Deadite Linda to death, killing her a second and final time. On his return to the cabin, Ash's now possessed right hand tries to kill him - full on Three Stooges hilarity ensues and Ash is forced to sever his own hand with his chainsaw.
The rest of the movie, is filled with slapstick comedy, tons of gore and great low budget special effects by Greg Nicotero, Bruce Campbell putting on an amazing physical comedy one man show, and classic one liners from a now beloved hero who on a normal day would probably have trouble trying to tie his own shoes. Oh yeah, and of course, an Oldsmobile Delta 88.
That's Evil Dead II in a nutshell; its influence and importance on par, if not succeeding it's predecessor at times. But is it really a sequel? I always considered it a retelling of the first film but this time with the addition of a bigger budget and satirical humor covered in slapstick gore.
As with The Evil Dead, critical reception was extremely positive (with the original at 95% and Evil Dead II at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes) and like the first picture, it has accumulated a massive cult following. Some of Raimi's best direction and an all timer lead performance make Evil Dead II essential viewing for genre and non genre fans alike. The Evil Dead series has since spawned another sequel (Army of Darkness) and a reimagining of the first film (Fede Alvarez' astounding 2013 effort). On top of that we have the popular Ash vs. Evil Dead television show, which will soon be entering its third season.
If you asked me when I first saw these movies if I ever thought I'd see a continuation of the the Evil Dead mythos on television, I would have laughed in your face. As a matter of fact my introduction to both Evil Dead and Evil Dead II was one for the ages. I started watching more intense horror at an early age, but it wasn't until I was about 12 when I saw a double feature of both films on the same night. We had a theater in town that, for two bucks a ticket, would play new semi-recent release and older pictures. My buddy and I were terrified of the first film, but before you know it the whole theater was cackling away during Evil Dead II. The atmosphere was intoxicating. Some guy ran up and down the aisles screaming, popcorn was flying everywhere, people were jumping in their seats caused by both fright and laughter, and someone kept loudly screaming "DEAD BY DAWN!" and "I'LL SWALLOW YOUR SOUL!".
It was perfect.
Happy Birthday Evil Dead II!