Ashley Williams drives his girlfriend Linda up to the wilds of Michigan to spend a weekend. They come across an abandoned cabin once occupied by an archaeologist who has stumbled on a copy of an ancient tome translated as The Necronomicon, a book of unspeakable evil capable of opening the door to Hell and releasing demons on Earth. The archaeologist’s recording of passages from the book gets played by our unwitting couple and something comes forth to possess Linda and torment Ash. That was the first movie.
Although actually made almost seven years later, Evil Dead 2 picks up almost where the original leaves off with a new couple arriving at the cabin looking for the missing archaeologist. They find instead a blood-soaked Ash and a malevolence that seeks to eat their very souls.
I was too young to see either of these films in theaters. (Well so much as I couldn’t talk one of my parents into taking me.) Now, you may be wondering why I am doing Evil Dead 2 (also known as Dead by Dawn) first? Well, to be honest, I saw it first. It was always one of “those movies” that the lucky few got to see and would brag about how awesome it was at school. Video cassette rentals opened up a world of possibilities rivaled only by cable television. The picture for Evil Dead 2 showed star Bruce Campbell in three quarter profile with a menacing skull superimposed over his face. This image is as iconic as the movie itself.
The plot is about a simple as it gets, big bad versus helpless mortals. What made this movie notorious was how balls to the wall gruesome, for 1987, it was. Almost literal oceans of fake blood get splattered, slashed, projected, and spewed in almost every other scene. It’s a tour-de-force of gore. In one of the more memorable moments, an eye gets knocked out of a dead person’s head, flies across the room, and is swallowed whole by one of the frantic humans. To this day, my mother insists that I talk about anything other than this movie. It was visceral, raw, and forbidden. I was accustomed to movie violence but this was akin to porn. It was a step beyond. Something so foreboding that my mind rewrote itself and opened new vistas of creative expression. It wouldn’t be until I saw Hellraiser that I knew limits could be breached or lines crossed.
No, I did not grow up to become a serial killer. Never once did I feel exploited nor marginalized. I have a healthy understanding of violence and how it relates to anger. I don’t paint with my own feces nor do I participate in satanic rituals. I know what is real and what is fantasy. Yes, there are those who point their judgmental fingers at a movie like Evil Dead 2 and cry, “It’s corrupting our young ones! It should be destroyed!” These same people hide their hideousness behind closed doors and create laws to bar free speech. No, not going to go all soap box. You, dear reader, must understand there are those in the world who have minds so closed they practically shit diamonds.
Evil Dead 2 is a comedy disguised as a horror movie. Campbell hams it up to a hilarious max and chews scenery better than Shatner on a good day. The quotes come fast and frequently. Go to any convention and I almost guarantee someone there will say at least one line from this flick. Truly. It is “The Law” passed down by our geek ancestors. Maybe if enough of you demand it I’ll do a special “Quotable Epics” Then & Now. How can someone not see through the cornball latex costumes and gallons of fake blood? There is only so much blood in a human body. This is a hyper-reality of surrealistic mania. Yes, children could possibly get nightmares from watching the unending rampage of crazy that fills this movie. You can also argue they’d get them from watching the evening news. (Look it up.) Horror isn’t for everyone. I respect my parents and others for being cautious. At least mine taught me to consider the consequences of my actions. If I watch something like Evil Dead 2 and get freaked out, I was warned in advance.
Sam Raimi’s camera work is a class unto itself. He strapped cameras on two by fours and ran them through windows so the viewer had the ultimate POV shot as the performers ran away from the “entity” which doggedly pursued them. He and his production team did magic with a low budget and innovative camera angles. Every time I watch this movie I want to grab a camera and some friends, head out somewhere remote, and just make a movie. Kevin Smith is another huge influence, showing how you can shoot a narrative in one location and barely move the camera at all. (Clerks.) I owe a lot to this film. From great scares, to an education in film making. A Mr. Raimi would often say, “You can’t kill the classic!” (Read Bruce Campbell’s book, “If Chins Could Kill.” Maybe one day, he’ll read this and promote my stuff too. That would be…groovy!)