How “Evil Dead 2” reinvented the wheel for horror


Movie Review Sig

Grant Wheeler

Roger Ebert once said in his review of “Evil Dead 2” that “Level One viewers will say it’s in bad taste. Level Two folks like myself will perceive that it is about bad taste.”

Fall’s crisp chill is finally in the air, thankfully! For me, October always marks a great jump-off point to indulge myself in the cinema of all things spooky. In terms of indulgence, no horror film does it as wickedly or as skillfully as Sam Raimi’s 1987 horror masterpiece “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn”and that’s a good thing.

The film is a melting pot of all kinds of genres and plays with the clichés found within them. The horror/comedy/parody is a re-imagining of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, which was released six years earlier in 1981. The basic plot surrounds a young man named Ash Williams, played by Bruce Campbell, who travels to a cabin in the wilderness for a weekend getaway with his girlfriend. As in any horror film, things aren’t as they seem around the cabin and chaos ensues. Campbell’s performance has garnered a cult following and prompted numerous franchise installments and projects in the subsequent years following the film’s release.

The film wastes absolutely no time getting right into the craziness, as things begin to go awry somewhere in the first 5-10 minutes. The true genius of the film lies in the fact that it knows exactly what it is and never takes itself too seriously. The absurdity of the film paired with Raimi’s fast paced cuts and direction set the stage for a truly memorable cinematic experience. Each sequence is increasingly more obscene than the last—as things get weirder and weirder it becomes more and more apparent that the atmosphere and setting of the film are the very heart and soul of it.

The charisma of Bruce Campbell’s Ash lends itself to much of the comedic aspects of the film, as well as the madness. As the film progresses Ash finds himself more and more deeply engulfed in his frenzied state of cabin fever. Other characters are fine, but they are mainly there to act as a foil for the character of Ash. The use of the secondary characters as caricatures works in favor of Raimi’s style. Campbell’s strong central performance, on the other hand, is so refreshing due to the lack of performances in the genre that match its stature. It’s a perfect balance.

The mythology of the franchise, as well as its Easter eggs of other slasher classics such as Wes Craven’s “Nightmare on Elm Street,”enrich the story and breathe life into the lore. The effects have aged, but to me they only add to the heart of the film. For the time, the effects were a massive achievement, and still are in many practical aspects. The film works well within its $3.6 million-dollar budget to maximize its full potential—it’s exemplary of the ingenuity a filmmaker can possess, especially in a pre-CGI era.

There is an abundance of memorable scenes scattered throughout the 82-minute run-time, which feels perfectly paced. I can honestly say the only gripes some may have about the film are about aspects that others such as myself will love. It’s a niche film for those who love the horror genre, as well as for those who love films that explore other styles and transcend the genre altogether. The constant balance of one-liners and bloody mayhem help cement the film as something that can’t be replicated, and in my opinion give Raimi the accreditation of being one of the most influential directors ever to help mold the genre.

The film lays the foundation for modern day possession movies while also playing with all of the great elements of the slasher genre. I believe this film has stood and will continue to stand the test of time. Every single aspect of this film can be appreciated for its own contributions. The individuality of the film is why it will withstand the endless waves of sub-par horror films being released today. If you want something to watch this holiday season, look no further than this film—if you’re anything like I am, it may turn out to be an annual viewing tradition during the macabre month of October.