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Di­rec­tor Sam Raimi’s glo­ri­ously gory, groovy hor­ror se­quel


THERE’S A SCHOOL of thought that, in or­der for a movie to be con­sid­ered a mas­ter­piece, it has to be about more than just sight and sound. It has to have some­thing to say. It has to be about some­thing. It has to il­lu­mi­nate insight into this crazy lit­tle thing we call the hu­man con­di­tion.

Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II is the glo­ri­ous ex­cep­tion to this rule. It’s the crazy, cor­us­cat­ing Of­sted re­port that shuts down that school of thought. It doesn’t have a pro­found mes­sage, or a weighty theme, un­less that mes­sage is “don’t turn on a tape recorder in a creepy old log cabin in case it con­tains a mes­sage that will res­ur­rect an evil spirit you’ll spend the en­tire night bat­tling”. It doesn’t have a thought in its de­mented, blood-spat­tered head. And yet it’s as pure a piece of audio-vis­ual cinema (and what audio, what vi­su­als) as it’s pos­si­ble to get.

It came from a po­si­tion of ad­ver­sity for its di­rec­tor. Raimi and his old high-school chums, Robert Tapert (pro­ducer) and Bruce Camp­bell (jut­ting-jawed lead­ing man), had burst onto the scene in dra­matic fash­ion with the lo-fi The Evil Dead in 1981. Billed as “the ul­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence in gru­elling hor­ror”, it gained no­to­ri­ety for its re­lent­less grot and got caught up in the Bri­tish video-nasty com­mo­tion, but marked the ob­vi­ously tal­ented but undis­ci­plined Raimi as one to watch.

Af­ter that, anx­ious not to get type­cast as a hor­ror guy (the trio had cho­sen to make a hor­ror film for their de­but pri­mar­ily be­cause it was a lu­cra­tive market), Raimi moved onto

his am­bi­tious ca­per com­edy Crime­wave… and had about as aw­ful a time as it’s pos­si­ble for a young di­rec­tor to have. Over­ruled by the money men (Camp­bell was re­duced from star to bit-part player), the film was a dis­as­ter, with few of Raimi’s sig­na­ture flour­ishes sur­viv­ing in­tact. Crit­ics hated it. Au­di­ences shrugged.

Lick­ing their wounds, Raimi, Tapert and Camp­bell re­treated into the wel­com­ing bo­som of the evil dead. With fund­ing from Dino De Lau­ren­tiis, and a script co-writ­ten by Raimi and Scott Spiegel, they headed to Wades­boro, North Carolina, to start pro­duc­tion on a movie that would once again pit Camp­bell’s be­lea­guered hero, Ash, against a group of vi­cious, mock­ing demons in a cabin in the woods. That’s the ba­sic log­line, but it doesn’t even be­gin to de­scribe the lu­nacy that tran­spires in Evil Dead II, a movie in which an en­tire room­ful of ob­jects comes to life just to laugh and point at its hero.

Watch­ing Evil Dead II now, it feels like the work of a di­rec­tor who fears he may never be al­lowed to di­rect a mo­tion pic­ture again, so he’s de­ploy­ing ev­ery trick in his ar­se­nal, and break­ing ev­ery rule he can think of, while he still can. It’s a film in which any­thing goes, es­tab­lished from the off by the de­ci­sion to ef­fec­tively re­make The Evil Dead in the first five min­utes. There are seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble track­ing shots, and crash zooms aplenty. There is stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tion. The film is speeded-up, slowed down, stretched. The sound de­sign is in­cred­i­ble, growls and oth­er­worldly screeches lurch­ing at us like a stranger in the dark. It is an ex­tra­or­di­nary tour de force of tech­nique.

One key de­ci­sion was to re­cal­i­brate the film as a hor­ror-com­edy, chang­ing The Evil Dead’s bleak, fa­tal­is­tic tone into some­thing far fun­nier and OTT. There are still plenty of scares in a film billed as “the se­quel to the ul­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence in gru­elling hor­ror” (Raimi has the tim­ing of a mas­ter when it comes to jump shocks), but the de­ci­sion to show­case the di­rec­tor’s imp­ish, Three Stooges-in­spired sense of hu­mour gives the film a deliri­ous, fever­ish free­dom. It al­lows Raimi to con­struct a de­li­ciously daft toolin­gup mon­tage, or have its hero drenched in gal­lons of sticky multi-coloured goo, or throw in a last-minute twist end­ing that out-planet

Of The Apes Planet Of The Apes.

And he has, in Camp­bell, the per­fect col­lab­o­ra­tor. Ash was once voted the great­est hor­ror char­ac­ter of all time by Em­pire read­ers, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a won­der­ful per­for­mance, neatly sketch­ing Ash’s tran­si­tion from shocked, shaken sur­vivor, to brit­tle coward, and fi­nally badass, chain­saw-wield­ing hero. Camp­bell never be­came the megas­tar he de­serves to be, but this glo­ri­ous, gurn­ing per­for­mance will be his legacy.

It’s be­come al­most a cliché to re­fer to a film as “the Cit­i­zen Kane of [in­sert genre here]”, but in Evil Dead II’S case, that de­scrip­tion fits like a glove. It is the Cit­i­zen Kane of hor­ror films: a tech­ni­cal ex­er­cise where a di­rec­tor, giddy with the po­ten­tial of cinema, runs wild and shows other di­rec­tors the way ahead. But — and this is one hell of a hill to die on — it’s bet­ter than Cit­i­zen Kane, be­cause in­stead of a bloke bang­ing on about a sled, it has a bloke at­tach­ing a chain­saw to the stump where his de­mon­i­cally pos­sessed right hand used to be, then us­ing said chain­saw to slice off the head off an evil witch. You can shove your sub­text up your arse — this is what a purely cin­e­matic mas­ter­piece looks like. And it is groovy.


The hor­ror: Ash (Bruce Camp­bell) and f(r)iend.

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