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EVIL DEAD II

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Richard Domeier
Director: Sam Raimi
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 or Surround 2.0
Subtitles: English closed captioning
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 or full frame
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: commentary track, "making-of" featurette, trailer, galleries, talent bios, video game preview
Length: 84 minutes
Release Date: August 29, 2000

"Dead by dawn!  Dead by dawn!  Dead by dawn!"

Film ***

In the late 1970's, a fledgling filmmaker named Sam Raimi decided that he wanted to make the scariest movie ever.  To stir up interest in his pet project, he shot a Super-8 short subject, Within the Woods, starring a young actor named Bruce Campbell.  Potential investors liked what they saw, and soon Raimi possessed a few hundred thousand dollars with which to make his first feature-length film.  Gathering some friends and colleagues together and re-teaming with Campbell, Raimi set off back into the woods to direct his movie, dubbed Book of the Dead.  Four years later, that movie was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, of all places.  Now renamed The Evil Dead, it was gory and bloody, with hacked limbs flying about and grotesque demon monsters (the Deadites) everywhere.  Plus, it featured Raimi's shaky-cam technique, which he invented on-the-fly to portray the creepy, stalking point-of-view of the evil Deadites.  In short, the film was absolutely frightful, campy fun.

Soon after hitting the American shores, The Evil Dead rapidly acquired cult status.  The film's devoted fans asked for more, and thus vindicated, Raimi re-armed himself a few years later with a bigger budget (around $3 million) to make the sequel, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987).  The film would follow the further misadventures of Ash (Campbell), the lone survivor of the original film.  This time around though, Raimi wanted to make a more visually fun film with a dash of humor, the sort of film the Three Stooges might have attempted had they dabbled in the horror genre.

Be forewarned, though.  Evil Dead II may be lighter in spirit than its predecessor, but it is still a very intense film.  In fact, it originally received an X rating, not because of nudity (there is none) but because of the sensory-overload of its images and gallons (literally) of blood.  Very young children or anyone prone to bad nightmares probably should run far away from this film.

Disclaimer aside, Evil Dead II picks up approximately where the last film concluded.  For viewers not familiar with the original film, Raimi provides a quick synopsis of its plot in the first few moments of the sequel.  In fact, this opening sequence might even be considered a quick remake of the original, with a few minor plot elements altered.

In Raimi's original film, a group of friends had driven to an isolated cabin in a remote forest to spend a weekend.  Discovering an audio recording of the Book of the Dead, they played it and inadvertently unleashed evil into the surrounding woods.  All of them were subsequently killed off, save for Ash (Bruce Campbell), who somehow managed to triumph over evil...maybe.  The Evil Dead closed on a shot of Ash wandering out from the cabin in the morning to take in a breath of fresh air...and then suddenly getting mauled by something wicked this way comes very fast.

In the sequel, there is now just Ash and his girlfriend, Linda.  They go to the cabin, where Ash finds an audio tape. He plays it, not knowing that it contains a passage from the Book of the Dead; consequently, he summons forth Deadites galore.  These evil beings possess Linda, turning her into one of them, and then maul Ash, just as in the conclusion of the first film.

Ash isn't killed, though.  Oh no; that would be too easy, and Ash is in for a world of suffering and hurt, yet.  Evil Dead II picks up the story on the morning while Ash is being manhandled and tossed around like a rag-doll.  In a brief moment of respite, Ash makes a quick dash for his car and attempts to drive off as fast as he can.  It is one of his rare bright thoughts, but unfortunately, the only way out of the woods is over a large chasm, whose crossing bridge has been mysteriously destroyed overnight (surprise, surprise).  With darkness falling suspiciously fast (where did the day suddenly go?), Ash has no choice but to return to the cabin and to face the evil...in the dead of night.

Is that a cool set-up or what?  Lest the viewer thinks this film is strictly a one-man show, there are other characters, too.  Anne (Berry), the unsuspecting daughter of the cabin's original owner, an archaeologist, is returning from abroad with extra parchments from the Book of the Dead.  She is accompanied by her boyfriend, and on their way to her father's cabin, they are joined by two other folks, a redneck and his honey.  Would anyone care to wager on how many of these characters will still be standing by the end of the film?  No?  Well, regardless, they somehow manage to reach the cabin via a dirt path only to find a wild-eyed Ash inside.  Assuming that he has somehow murdered Anne's parents, they lock Ash into the cellar (oh no!).  And as we all know, ghouls and ghosts just love to dwell in cellars, don't they?  Needless to say, all hell soon breaks loose.

Watching Evil Dead II, one can only but marvel at the display of masochism on director Sam Raimi's part.  During the course of the film, his hero Ash is bitten, punched, kicked, thrown about, attacked with a chainsaw, knocked unconscious, knocked unconscious some more, and even mutilated.  It is as though Raimi sat down with Campbell to brain-storm up new ways of tormenting the film's hero without actually killing his star.  The end result is just a teensy bit on the gory and violent side, but boy is it uproariously funny!  Bruce Campbell is simply great and displays a keen instinct for physical comedy.  The other actors in the film may be of the generic horror film character mold (in terms of acting ability, shrieking ability, pertinence to the plot, etc., you name it), but Bruce Campbell is the man.

When all is said and done, Evil Dead II is an ideal film for a midnight viewing.  Yes, some of the effects look cheesy.  Some even look downright fake in that wonderful Harryhausen style of yesteryear.  And sure, the plot and acting are purely B-list.  But Raimi infuses so much charm and unencumbered energy into his film that it is a lot of fun and really zips right along.  Evil Dead II does have a cliff-hanger ending, but it is a perfect lead-in into the third (and funniest) film in the trilogy, Army of Darkness.

The hero Ash may be a dimwit, but he is a lovable one.  Somehow, despite the fact that everyone around him keeps dropping dead like flies and then popping right back up as Deadites, Ash finds a way to stay alive.  In Ash, Raimi may have created just a ordinary everyman with no super powers, but to legions of Evil Dead fans, Ash is a true hero.  Hail to the king!

Video ***

Viewers have the option of watching the film in widescreen or full frame format.  Either way, Evil Dead II looks good, though some scenes do possess a small amount of graininess and lower contrast (probably a reflection of the film's small budget).  Otherwise, the transfer is quite nice, and the image quality is better than in any previous home versions.

Evil Dead II has been THX digitally mastered for video and audio quality.  The film's fans can thus be assured that this disc not only looks great but sounds great as well.  A THX optimode is provided to assist in optimization of the sound and picture for high-end systems.

Audio *** 1/2

The original monaural audio track has been upgraded into a 5.1 Dolby digital track for this DVD.  Normally, these conversions lead to some mighty disastrous results, but in this case, Anchor Bay has done a splendid job.  The mix is well balanced and loud but not distorted.  I was quite pleased with the overall audio quality, and Anchor Bay seems to do a much better job with these monaural-to-5.1 conversions than do most other DVD companies.

Features *** 1/2

Well, every time another Halloween rolls in, there's seems to be a new DVD offering of Army of Darkness or one of the first two Evil Dead films.  It's enough to make your head spin.

To date, this most recent edition of Evil Dead II comes courtesy of Anchor Bay.  There are probably other versions still floating around out there, but this is the one you want for one big reason, and that reason is the commentary track with Bruce Campbell!

The commentary is a total riot!  Director Sam Raimi, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and effects artist Greg Nicotero also get into the act, but it's really Bruce Campbell's show!  From start to finish, the commentary is probably one of the funniest commentaries I've ever listened to.  Campbell is positively uproarious and strikes up a mischievous and devious banter with Raimi.  These guys talk practically non-stop, and the result is a track that is as entertaining as the film itself.

The making-of featurette on this DVD is just as funny, too!  It focuses on the many folks associated with the production of Evil Dead II.  We get to see the women practicing their screams or the actors clowning around on the set and testing out various costumes.  The effects guys and make-up guys add a lot of funny recollections, too.  They obviously don't take themselves too seriously, either, even pointing out with great amusement and in elaborate detail some of the goofs which can be seen in the film.  There are even a few brief glimpses of deleted scenes, such as a half-headed ghoul or evil-Ash eating a squirrel.  Best of all, watch the whole featurette to the very end, and you will see a hilarious parody, Evil Dead Baby!

The remaining features on this DVD are of lesser significance but have their charms.  There is a stills gallery which is divided into two section.  The "horror highlights" section contains 56 entries involving the ghouls and demons.  The "behind the screams" section has 31 photographs of the actors in and out of make-up.  For those interested in being Ash, there's a cool preview of the PC game Evil Dead: Hail to the King.  The game itself is not so great, but Bruce Campbell does participate in a lot of the witty voice-overs, and he's a hoot.  Lastly, there is a talent bios section which focuses on Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, with selected filmographies included.

Summary:

Groovy!  Evil Dead II may not be high art, but it mixes horror and zany humor into delicious, delirious fun!  Want a cult classic that's the perfect movie for Halloween night?  Check out Evil Dead II (or even The Evil Dead or Army of Darkness) - you'll shriek, you'll laugh, you'll have a ball!