Most monsters in horror films tend to be motivated by some form of animalistic instinct. Say the perpetual desire for brains that animates zombies, the thirst for blood that prompts creatures like the shark in Jaws and the Xenomorph in Alien to kill, or the pure biological inclination that instructs parasites and viruses to wreak havoc in films like The Thing and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.
But no such compulsion appears to affect the malevolent force in the Evil Dead films, which possess and turn its victims into grotesque ‘deadites’. When they attack, they do so while gleefully laughing at their prey, as well as mocking and playing tricks on them. There’s no indication that they wish to create more deadites to multiply and survive, and nor do they ever feed on their flesh – rather, their sole motivation seems to be to torment.
Indeed, the glorious 90 minutes of virtuoso blood-drenched horror-comedy that is Evil Dead 2 essentially boils down to Bruce Campbell being tormented by evil forces. Occupying a tonal sweet spot between The Evil Dead’s darker scares and the total abandonment of horror in Army of Darkness, the second film best represents what it is the series’ cult following adores most about it: sublime practical effects, scenes that are as grotesque as they are hilarious, and Campbell’s inimitable reactions to the mad cascade of horrors that overwhelms him.
At the start of the film (which is more accurately described as a reimagining of The Evil Dead rather than a sequel, given the lack of continuity), his character Ash is visiting a remote cabin in the woods with his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler). Upon injudiciously playing a tape recording found inside of an archaeologist reading out a spell from the so-called ‘Book of the Dead’, Ash inadvertently summons an evil force that possesses Linda and proceeds to both mentally and violently taunt him for the rest of the film.
Although other characters join him in the cabin later (establishing a scenario more similar to the original film in that there is an ensemble that each get picked off one by one), it’s these early scenes of Ash being forced to fend off the mischievous forces of evil by himself that produce most of the best moments. The deadite Linda mocks him by mimicking her pre-possessed state, only to later attack him with a chainsaw; inanimate objects in the cabin manically laugh at him in unison, only for Ash, in typical unhinged fashion, to join in; even his own hand harasses him when it is possessed, prompting some extraordinary physical acting by Campbell as he literally beats himself up.
The whole thing would be sadistic (at another point he’s forced to cut to pieces the severed head of his girlfriend) were the tone of the film not so outrageously silly, amplified by an ironic score, cheesy one-liners (‘groovy’ being the most famous) and cartoonish sound effects.
The film’s glee in putting its lead character through hell, and Bruce Campbell’s apparently masochistic relish for such treatment, is mirrored by the off-screen relationship between Campbell and director Sam Raimi. Both are life-long close friends, having grown up together in Michigan, and their relationship was (and is) a kind of class clown double act, with Raimi frequently explaining in interviews how much he enjoys torturing his partner in crime, and Campbell how he is happy to degrade himself in the name of entertainment.
As kids, Raimi would stab his friend with pencils in class; now as adults making a film together, he douses him in fake blood and pokes his injured ankle with sticks. In this sense, the famous point of view shots of an unseen foe chasing after Ash works at a meta-level – it’s as if the camera itself, with Raimi behind it, is chasing and tormenting his hapless victim.
It’s this sense of juvenile fun and play-fighting that makes Evil Dead 2 such a deranged joy to watch, not in spite, but because of the travails its hero is put through. Ironically for a film series so synonymous with the moral panic of the ‘video nasties’ and its potential damaging effect on children, Evil Dead 2 is a film made by amiable rascals who never grew up.
Published 13 Mar 2017
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