(This is the fifth of 50 pieces I’ll post here over the next several months. They originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)
Jeff Pike has stolen a bit of my thunder on this one, as he recently posted an excellent essay on the film (and the work of Sam Raimi overall) on his blog. I’m stealing a couple of his points here, first, that Raimi’s career has an interesting trajectory (from horror gore fests to the Spider-Man franchise, and back to his roots with Drag Me to Hell), and second, that while people may argue whether this movie is a sequel or a remake, the important thing to note is that Evil Dead II is a comedy.
I’ve often wondered why Raimi was handed Spider-Man. That first of the three blockbusters cost $139 million to make. To that point, Raimi had made dirt-cheap films, and then he had made low-to-medium budgeted films, none of which were exactly box-office successes. The story is that various directors were proposed as the project bounced around, and that Raimi finally got the job in part because he loved comic books, which strikes me as an odd reason to give a director $139 million. That none of the Spider-Man movies are anywhere near as good as Evil Dead II (or Drag Me to Hell, for that matter) doesn’t prove the studios were wrong, because those Spider-Man films made a ton of money.
As Jeff points out, the key reference point for Evil Dead II is the Three Stooges. While the special effects are very good, especially given the low budget, one of the best special effects is simply Bruce Campbell as Ash. When Ash’s right hand is taken over by the dark side, Campbell becomes all three Stooges, fighting with himself … all that’s missing are goofy sound effects and Curly saying “Whoop Whoop Whoop!”
None of this would matter if Raimi and Campbell didn’t approach the material with affection. The effects are thoughtful (and gory) (and funny); the horror is scary (and gory) (and funny); Bruce Campbell is Bruce Campbell (and gory) (and funny). It helps to be able to stomach a comedy that is unrated due to gore, and it doesn’t hurt to be a part of the Bruce Campbell cult. Evil Dead II is not a movie for everyone. But for some of us, this is Sam Raimi’s finest hour.
In the comments, one person said the Evil Dead movies were “something of a bravery test in my peer group around 17-18.” Another called the first film in the series “possibly the most surreal horror film ever made”, after which someone else admitted to getting a bad scare from that one.