by Mel Valentin
In the mid-eighties, writer/director Sam Raimi (the "Spider-Man" trilogy, "The Gift," "A Simple Plan," "Darkman") was as far from the A-list as you can imagine. His feature-length debut, "Evil Dead," made for a paltry $375,000 over four years with a cast and crew made up of friends and acquaintances, including, of course, Bruce Campbell, turned a healthy profit for his investors in countries where it hadn’t been banned outright (e.g., Germany, England). After collaborating with the Coen Brothers on "Crimewave," a noir comedy that he directed and they wrote that failed to impress critics or moviegoers, Raimi returned to the "Evil Dead" universe. The result, "Evil Dead II" (a.k.a. "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn" or "The Sequel to the Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror"), is a brilliantly inventive horror-comedy, one of the best of its kind.Rather than a straight sequel or even a direct remake, Raimi decided to do both, due, in the first instance, to rights issues over the first Evil Dead film and, of course, the producers’ demands to give moviegoers more of what Evil Dead offered, an outrageous gorefest leavened by black humor. Tipping further into comedy than horror this time out, Raimi focuses the recap of the Evil Dead on the lone survivor, Ashley 'Ash' J. Williams (Bruce Campbell). Gone are Ash’s friends who didn’t survive with the exception of Ash’s girlfriend, Linda (Denise Bixler). Over the course of a single night, Ash and Linda stumble on an apparently abandoned, run-down cabin, and decide to settle in for the evening. Ash discovers an ancient book, the Necronomicon (“Book of the Dead”) finds a tape machine left by the cabin’s former occupant, Professor Raymond Knowby (John Peakes), gives it a listen, and literally unleashes unholy hell, demons who want to possess the bodies of the living or the newly dead to wreak bloody havoc on the still living.
"Puts the "splat" and the "stick" in "splatstick."
Ash, of course, survives. Linda dies gruesomely. When morning arrives, Ash thinks he’s in the clear, but when he tries to drive away, he discovers that the bridge to town has been destroyed. Returning to the cabin, Ash begins to lose his mind. Ash's hand becomes possessed after a recently resurrected Linda bites him. Ash resorts to the most extreme of measures: a chainsaw. That doesn’t stop the hand from attacking Ash, but as Ash loses his grip on reality, new arrivals threaten to release the demon or demons all over again. Annie (Sarah Berry), Professor Knowby’s daughter, arrives at the cabin with Ed Getley (Richard Domeier), a friend and classmate, and Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobbie Joe (Kassie DePaiva), two townspeople trying to make a buck as guides for Annie and Ed. Seconds after meeting the blood-splattered Ash, they decide to throw him into the cellar, where not coincidentally, Professor Knowby buried his demonically possessed wife, Henrietta (Lou Hancock/Ted Raimi).
To call Raimi “inventive” is to undersell Evil Dead II. Working with a significantly larger budget (approximately $3.6 million), but still smaller than the average Hollywood film at the time, Raimi made a sequel as good or even better than the original. Everything about Evil Dead II is over-the-top, from Bruce Campbell’s manic, eye-rolling, energetic performance to Raimi’s wildly gyrating, gliding camerawork and oddball camera angles, infinitely quotable dialogue, to, of course, the buckets of (fake) blood and goblets of green goo (for the demonic dead) that Raimi’s effects guru, Gregory Nicotero, splatters over everything. Evil Dead II puts the “splatter” into “splatterfest.” Even better, the gore is played (mostly) for laughs with Raimi channeling Ted Avary and Chuck Jones, both masters of the cartoon art form, and, by his own admission, the Three Stooges and their demented brand of slapstick. Then again, the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired story might be simple, but with Raimi at the controls, it moves along at a rapid clip from the first frame to the last.In fact, if you're wondering where the word “splatstick,” a combination of slapstick and splatter, came from, you need look no further than the "Evil Dead" trilogy. Of course, Raimi wasn’t alone in helping to bring splatter comedy to the horror genre. Stuart Gordon’s "Re-Animator," Dan O’Bannon’s "Return of the Living Dead," and Peter Jackson’s "Dead/Alive" are all noteworthy, but Raimi may just have been the most influential. After all, Raimi did get there first with "Evil Dead" (released in 1981 after fours in production) and showed filmmakers working in the horror genre that a low budget wasn’t so much a limitation as an opportunity for unbridled imagination. In that, Raimi succeeded, probably far and above his own expectations.
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originally posted: 11/24/07 17:28:14