EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN
Sam Raimi’s kinetic king of all horror-comedy hybrids
HAILED BY STEPHEN King in 1981 as “the most ferociously original horror film of the year”, The Evil Dead easily earned its reputation as a blood-thirsty video nasty with a Grand Guignol display of demonic possession and bodily dismemberment. Made on a shoe-string budget by a group of young Michigan filmmakers including director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert and star Bruce Campbell, the relentless ultra-violence delighted grindhouses and video store visitors the world over, but it would be six years before the team created one of the finest horror sequels of all time.
The 1987 sequel, built on the director’s love of The Three Stooges, went for slapstick gags rather than gag reflexes. Not that the film skimps on the axe-wielding carnage, it’s just the resultant arterial sprays are now gloopy green slime and black goo rather than the gallons of the red stuff that made the original the bête noire of censor’s scissors worldwide.
Raimi had only made one film since his notorious horror flick, the under-appreciated Crimewave (co-written by Ethan and Joel Coen) so he was finding it hard financing the sequel. Once again, step in Stephen King. The author, then directing Maximum Overdrive for the legendary Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, heard from one of the crew about the sequel’s financial difficulties and put in a call telling De Laurentiis he should finance the movie. He did.
There was still a problem over the rights for the original, so Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn kicks off with a recreation of the highlights of the first film. It was a move that confused some viewers who were unsure if they were watching a sequel or a remake (or a “requel”, as Campbell quipped), but what followed was an exhilarating thrill ride of which Empire once noted was “the gaudily gory, virtuoso, hyper-kinetic horror sequel that uses every trick in the cinematic book”.
In Dead By Dawn, Campbell once again plays Ash Williams, the sole survivor from the first film. He is joined in the remote cabin within the woods by a group of strangers including Annie Knowby, the daughter of the archaeologist whose tape of incantations from the fleshy pages of The Necronomicon summoned the demons in the first place. And now she wants to know what happened to her father.
Despite earlier proclamations that the sequel toned down the gutsy chills and spills, there is plenty of gut-wrenching violence on display. The catalogue of carnage includes Ash’s decapitated girlfriend’s body attacking him with a chainsaw; Ash chopping off his own possessed hand, leading to the film’s best gags and Henrieta (played under prosthetics by Ted Raimi), the archaeologist’s wife, escaping from her basement prison only to have her arms and head sawn off before being blasted to bits by Ash’s “boomstick”. Ash (Bruce Campbell) and friends have an axe to grind.
The FX craziness was provided by
Mark Shostrom, then hot off A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, leading a team including KNB EFX Group founders Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero.
The frenetic pace never lets up, as a Campbell on the brink of hysteria transforms Ash from a whimpering nervous wreck into a groovy chainsaw wielding, wise-cracking hero while Raimi uses every camera trick in the book to throw the audience, and Ash, all over the screen. Horror and comedy have always been strange bedfellows that often fail to gel, but with Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn, Raimi managed to create a terrifying melange of mirth and mayhem. Groovy.
DAVID MICHAEL BROWN EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN SCREENS 22 AND 24 OCTOBER AS PART OF EVENT CINEMAS’ ‘IN THE HOUSE’ PROGRAM. BOOK TICKETS AT EVENTCINEMAS.COM.AU