When legendary author Stephen King watched the low budget horror film “Evil Dead” at the Cannes Film Festival, he loved the movie so much that he wrote a glowing review for the film in Twilight Zone magazine, calling it “the most ferociously original horror film of the year.”
This positive review from the iconic author helped secured distribution from New Line Cinema and when “Evil Dead” was released in 1981, the film became an instant commercial hit, scaring audiences nationwide. The movie was well received by critics, and was recognized early on as one of the best horror films of all time.
After the success of “Evil Dead”, Raimi’s next film “Crimewave” was released in 1986, produced and co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen. The crime drama/comedy was a flop at the box office, and fearing his career might soon stall because of the lukewarm reception to his newest film, Raimi decided to make a return to the cabin in the woods and create a sequel to “Evil Dead”.
Co-writer Scott Spiegel and Raimi crafted the script for “Evil Dead 2” while staying at a house the two men shared with the Coen brothers, Holly Hunter, Kathy Bates, and Frances McDormand in Los Angeles, and while creating the script, the comedic material was developed because Raimi and Spiegel were coming up with so many insane and crazy ideas for the sequel they would often break out into laughter while writing it.
In starting from scratch and departing from the deadly serious tone of the first film, instead of creating a follow-up sequel, “Evil Dead 2” was more of a remake, a reimagining of the original movie. And that’s the brilliance of “Evil Dead 2” – it has a surreal quality to it because of its feeling of deja vu.
The film begins somewhat like the first film, but quickly it turns into a rollercoaster ride; one minute the audience is laughing out loud, and the next moment they’re jumping in their seats. There hasn’t been any other film before or since that has successfully infused comedy and horror so skillfully as “Evil Dead 2”.
The sequel would surpass the original film, turning into a cult classic, and would go on to become one of the most popular horror movies ever made. The sheer audacity of the film makes it an unforgettable movie experience for anyone that watches it.
1. Necronomicon Ex-Mortis
As the movie starts, a montage revealing the folklore of the book begins and a narrator explains the backstory to the audience.
“Legend has it it was written by the dark ones. Necronomicon Ex Mortis. Roughly translated – ‘Book of the Dead’. The book served as a passageway to the evil worlds beyond. It was written long ago, when the seas ran red of blood. It was this blood that was used to ink the book. In the year 1300 AD, the book disappeared.”
The Book of the Dead provided a portal for the undead evil spirits coming from an unknown origin to invade our world, providing the perfect deadly antagonist. Throughout history there has been many so-called demonic books that have inspired dread in humanity, such as the real life Codex Gigas, also known as the Devil’s Bible.
The concept of the Necronomicon was created by author H.P. Lovecraft. He first introduced the mythology in his short story “The Hound”, published in 1924. For years, people assumed the book was real and curious souls searched bookstores and libraries trying to get a copy of the Necronomicon; this fact alone is testament to the power of Lovecraft’s storytelling ability.
In “Evil Dead 2”, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis was written by the Dark Ones, the ink used to write the book came from human blood, and the book was bound in human flesh. Reciting the ancient text inside the book releases a Kandarian demon into this world, wreaking havoc.
The great things about using the Book of the Dead is how it gave Raimi a way to introduce the demonic forces, but it also provided a way to defeat the evil, because within the book there’s incantation that can send the evil forces back to their own world, which gave the protagonist a convenient way to defeat the seemly unstoppable demonic forces, making it more plausible for the audience to believe the climatic ending.
2. Bruce Campbell
His portrayal of Ash Williams has reached an iconic status; it’s an over-the-top performance which is thrilling to watch because it’s so engrossing. The character played by Campbell has been a big part of pop culture for the past 30 years and his character Ash is the definition of a bad ass – after all, he replaces his possessed decapitated hand with a chainsaw fused to his wrist, he uses a sawed-off double barrel shotgun to battle demons, and after gearing up for battle Ash recites cool lines like “groovy.”
Campbell and Raimi were childhood friends growing up, and the close bond and trust the two men have for one another is evident on the screen because the director trusted his good friend enough to allow him to carry the film on his shoulders.
There’s a good section of the movie where Campbell is the only actor on screen, battling the demonic forces inside the cabin all by himself. Campbell plays the role with a campy performance, but at the same time he’s so deep into his character that you can’t help but feel the intensity.
Ash Williams, the character created by Campbell, is so memorable that he’s been portrayed in comic books, video games, and even as recently as 2015, Campbell resurrected the character for a brand new television series called “Ash vs Evil Dead”. Bruce Campbell is one of the few actors in the industry who has been lucky enough to play a character that people still love, so many years after the movie was first released.
3. Sam Raimi
Decades before comic book franchises from Marvel and DC would dominate the movie industry, director Sam Raimi was showing off his talents of bringing comic book panels to life in his movies. The Evil Dead trilogy and “Dark Man” are prime examples of the comic book influences in his work.
From the way the shots were framed and set up, to their editings, his movies had the same compelling storytelling style that one would find in comic books. And it was no surprise that Columbia Pictures hired Raimi to direct “Spider-Man” starring Tobey Maguire. The film was released in 2002, and Raimi also helmed the two follow-up sequels.
In “Evil Dead 2”, one of the most notable visual components in the movie is the acrobatic camera movements captured on screen. Peter Deming, the cinematographer for “Evil Dead 2”, would go on to photograph “My Cousin Vinny”, “Cabin in the Woods”, David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”, and “Mulholland Dr.”, and would go on to work with Raimi again on his films “Drag Me to Hell” and “Oz the Great and Powerful”.
He explained why the camera work on “Evil Dead 2” was so dynamic: “Sam and I sort of come from Super 8, he made Super 8 films, I made Super 8 films. When you make Super 8 films, there was almost nothing you couldn’t do with the camera because it’s so small, and he sort of still subscribed to this philosophy even though we were shooting 35mm.”
Raimi used the bigger and heavier 35mm camera, just like the smaller Super 8 format, creating shots that other filmmakers might consider impossible. And rarely did they shoot “Evil Dead 2” at 24fps; most times the camera was shooting at 22 or 21fps, speeding up the action just a bit to give the scenes an extra punch.
Aside from creating arresting visuals, the most important job for any director is to get great performances from his actors, and Raimi made sure every actor on the set matched up to Bruce Campbell’s over-the-top, campy performance, and the combination of inventive camera work and solid acting guided by Raimi is the reason “Evil Dead 2” is still wowing viewers to this very day.
4. Low budget special effects
What the production lacked in resources when it came to the practical special effects was more than made up for with sheer creativity. The effects created for “Evil Dead 2” were never before seen in a horror movie, including monsters to gore; from a flying eyeball landing inside a character’s mouth to Ash’s decapitated hand attacking anyone in sight and flipping the bird, “Evil Dead 2” took everything to the next level.
One of the funniest and most memorable effects in the movie is when Ash’s hand becomes possessed and starts attacking him. The only way Ash can escape the brutal assault is by chopping off the rogue hand and once he does, things only get worse because now the severed hand can travel around, going anywhere it pleases inside the cabin.
The special effects crew accomplished the rogue hand effect several ways; in the first way, they created a fake hand that was operated by a remote control, the second way consists of crew members from the special effects team using their own hand attached to a severed stump appliance, and the third was using stop-motion animation for other shots. Once all three techniques were edited together, it all appeared seamless and hilarious at the same time.
Henrietta, the possessed wife lurking in the basement cellar, played a big role in the film. The demonically-possessed character was played by Raimi’s younger brother Ted Raimi, and out of everyone working on the set he experienced the hardest time during the filming.
Ted was outfitted head-to-toe in a latex costume and during the filming, which took place in North Carolina, the outside temperature was 100 degrees; however, inside the set with the lights on the temperature reached 110 degrees. Henrietta’s scenes were filmed at night when it was cooler, but during breaks between takes Ted had to wear an oxygen mask and drink huge amounts of Gatorade to keep from overheating.
Ted was sweating so much inside the costume that there’s a scene in the film when Henrietta turns to the camera, and a huge amount of sweat leaks out of a hole in the costume over the ear. Even though Ted suffered during the filming, he provided a great performance as the diabolical demon in the cellar.
The last scene at the end of the movie, when the huge demon breaks through the cabin window, grabbing Ash and pulling him out to the unknown, was accomplished by the crew first constructing the tree arm. Some of the special effects crew went out taking photographs of different types of trees for reference, and built a 16-foot tree arm and hand-constructed with a aluminum frame attached to cables and covered with artificial bark.
The huge demon face that appears at the end was 13 feet long and took three people to operate the mechanical monster, which never worked the way the special effects crew intended, so Raimi used an anamorphic lens distorting the image to cover up for the special effects’ shortcomings.
Many of the special effects artists working on the film would go on to work on such films as “Beetlejuice”, “The Howling”, “The Monster Squad”, “Angels in the Outfield” and “Zombieland”. But their most popular and most watched accomplishment is, without a doubt, “Evil Dead 2”.
5. Dead by Dawn
“I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll swallow your soul!”
“We are the things that were and shall be again!”
“Ahahahaha! Spirits of the book! We want what is yours! LIFE!”
“Dead by dawn! Dead by dawn!”
The demonic forces in “Evil Dead 2” were relentless, shown by the invisible force traveling through the woods at unnatural speeds. It has the ability to possess anyone and even our hero Ash falls victim himself a few times, overcome by demonic possession.
Will any of the characters survive the night and live to see the dawn? Unfortunately no – everyone except for Ash dies, destroyed by the evil radiating from the Book of the Dead. Even though Ash survived, he’s transported back in time to the medieval era and only makes it back home in the sequel “Army of Darkness”.
However, ‘Dead by Dawn’ could serve as a metaphor for the audience as well, because the burning question is will the viewer survive the 84 minutes of pure cinematic fun? Like our hero Ash, of course, the audience will make it to the end and survive, but ironically we suffer the same fate as Ash. We’re stuck in a time portal ourselves because never again will we see a movie as inventive, insane, and just straight up fun as “Evil Dead 2”.
Author Bio: R. Prince is a filmmaker from Harlem, New York and the author of the book How to Roll a Blunt for Dummies.