Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith
I’m sure some people are looking at the “Smith’s Verdict” rating and thinking, “What?! This so-called ‘critic’ didn’t give ‘Evil Dead II,’ one of the best movies ever made in the history of mankind, a four-star rating? Or even a FIVE-star rating?! I’m so mad, I’m going to unsubscribe from his blog right now! That’ll show him for giving ‘The Goonies’ a higher rating than this movie!” There is an explanation for that—a selfish reason, but still a reason all the same. “Evil Dead II,” Sam Raimi’s sort-of sequel to his 1981 gory, goofy horror classic “The Evil Dead,” is a hell of a good time—a slapstick comedy in the guise of a horrific supernatural shocker. It is a relentless, outrageous (and yes, also groovy) romp with lots of blood, gore, slapstick, gags, practical effects, crazy camerawork, fast editing, energetic spirit, an awesome hero, and an overall uncompromisingly zany style to it. Since then, it has become a cult classic like no one’s business, with many, many people praising it to high heaven (ironic, considering this movie features many, many demons in it), watching it every Halloween, showing it to their friends, and calling it one of their favorite movies. It was definitely the movie that put Sam Raimi in the spotlight, causing him to make another sequel (“Army of Darkness”) and eventually make more mainstream movies (such as the “Spider-Man” trilogy later on), and I think it’s safe to say it made actor Bruce Campbell the star we know him as today.
The film is technically a sequel to the original film, but it’s more of a remake. It was supposed to take place where the original left off, but the sequel’s new studio couldn’t get the rights to footage from the original for a recap, and so, they shot new footage for a prologue, explaining why Ash (Campbell) is at that creepy cabin in the woods and how the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (or “Book of the Dead”) has brought forth an evil entity that threatens to consume his soul. He barely survives but can’t escape the evil, and he’s left to face off against whatever this force can throw at him in a night of battle against non-stop over-the-top macabre components. Ash isn’t one to give up so easily—even when he is forced to cut off his right hand, which was possessed by a demon, he eventually has it replaced…with a chainsaw. Is that “groovy” or what?
The film is similar in style to the original “Evil Dead” but not necessarily in tone. The original intent of “Evil Dead” was to be legitimately scary, while the main intent for “Evil Dead II” is to be ludicrously comical. Raimi and his crew pull out every trick in the bag to make something so absurd into something so fitting, and it really works. This movie is a lot of fun to watch as a result, and that’s why people love it so much. Absolute slapstick (such as when Ash’s hand punches him in the face or grabs his head to smash against dishes and windows) and one-liners (such as when Ash shotguns a demon who wants to “swallow [his] soul”—“Swallow this”) add to the humor aspects of the movie. “Evil Dead II” can unsettle you if you don’t like nasty, creepy-looking, possessed people or mangled deer heads coming to life and laughing maniacally (yes, that’s in this, if you haven’t seen the movie already) or lots and lots of blood (sometimes in different colors even), but it’s not here to scare you or even to necessarily gross you out—it’s here to make you laugh.
So, what do I think would make “Evil Dead II” a better movie (and by that, I mean a four-star movie rather than a three-and-a-half-star movie)? Well…if it had no one else except Bruce Campbell in it. I mean it—if it was just the ever-awesome Bruce Campbell taking center-stage throughout, fighting off many supernatural beasties (or “Dead-ites”) with no outside help whatsoever, I would’ve given the movie a four-star rating. But instead, Raimi decided to bring in some annoying visitors for the demons to kill. They are Annie (Sarah Berry), whose father owns the cabin; her boyfriend (Richard Domeier); and a redneck couple (Dan Hicks and Kassie Wesley). I get that they’re here to be picked off one-by-one, and they’re supposed to be funny, I suppose. But I wasn’t amused by them and I found them annoying and too dumb for me to care. The stuff with Ash fighting off the forces of darkness is great on its own; if the movie was just about this macho-dude-turned-badass-hero against an army of demons, then I would’ve given it four stars. That’s a compliment to Bruce Campbell, who is so much fun to watch in a movie that is so much fun to watch, despite my nitpick about the other characters.