Evil Dead II (1987) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween 2023
Ash Williams and his girlfriend Linda find a log cabin in the woods with a voice recording from an archaeologist who had recorded himself reciting ancient chants from "The Book of the Dead." As they play the recording an evil power is unleashed taking over Linda's body.
Welcome to Knockout Horror and to day five of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween 2023 feature. We spent the past few days looking at some horror movies that fall under the cult classic label. Today we are going to be looking at something that is simply a horror classic. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2. Talk about a change of pace from the previous four days. Let’s take a look.
I always start these articles by reminding you that if you are participating in an October horror movie a day marathon. Then you can check out our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween 2022 list for inspiration or even our A Tubi 31 Days of Halloween for a whole selection of movies available to watch completely free. You can also just follow along with the reviews we will be releasing every day.
A Fantastic Horror Franchise
Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise is something of a horror phenomenon. Rarely do you see an entire series of movies all receive at least some degree of critical acclaim. Sure, the third entry, Army of Darkness, was criticised by some for its change of style. But it has become a cult classic and modern opinions of the movie have changed for the positive. Even the 2013 reboot was pretty well received and 2023’s Evil Dead Rise has earned a bunch of critical praise. It is rare to see a franchise that is enjoyable from start to finish. A feat that is made all the more impressive by the large gap in between releases.
In my opinion, the best entry into the series is Evil Dead 2 and that’s the movie we will be checking out for October the fifth. Following the story of the horror megastar Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) as he and his fiancee head deep into the woods to spend a weekend together in a cabin. Only to find themselves in the middle of a Deadite infested hell hole and a desperate fight for survival. Evil Dead 2 acts as something of a reset for the Evil Dead formula while, at the same time, being a sequel. Taking the events of the first movie, scrubbing them out, and redoing them in what some class as a “Re-quel”.
So 80s Horror Was Something
When talking about movies from the 80s, particularly low budget horror. It’s hard not to address how well they have aged. I mean, the majority of people that will read this review are going to be 45 and under. That’s just the nature of internet use. Going back to some of these movies in the 2020s can be, let’s be honest here, a little jarring. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is more jarring than going back to horror from the 30s and 40s. And that may present the first issue when it comes to younger people enjoying movies like Evil Dead 2.
When viewed through a modern lens, this movie looks a little bit hokey. The practical effects have aged about as well as Beetlejuice’s practical effects. The acting is camp and a bit ridiculous. The scenarios are ludicrous and the amount of gore is legitimately farcical. Going back to this movie for someone who is used to The Conjuring, Insidious, or Hereditary is going to cause no small amount of whiplash. In fact, whiplash will be the least of your worries. With regards to jarring shifts of style. Evil Dead 2 will throw modern horror movie fans straight through the windshield in much the same way that Ash himself is thrown through the windshield of his car.
An Era That Changed Horror
It is only when you realise that this approach is very much deliberate and very much a big part of the charm that you can enjoy these movies for what they really are. The 80s was a time of horror experimentation and the blending of styles. Movie makers realised that horror needed to change and expand. After a couple of decades of unrelentingly serious scares. It became clear that there was room for comedy in horror and that copious amounts of action had its place too. Horror movies didn’t need to feature a sinister, faceless, antagonist with no personality. They didn’t need to tell a harrowing story of brooding evil. They didn’t need to get under the viewer’s skin.
80’s horror found a way to slide in among the incredibly popular action movies and comedies of the era simply by blending those traits with horror. We had Re-Animator, The Lost Boys, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, They Live, An American Werewolf in London, Gremlins, and Night of the Creeps among many many others. All in one decade.
Hell, even movies that took themselves quite seriously would go on to include comedy elements, A Nightmare on Elm Street for example. The 80s changed horror forever and Evil Dead 2 might represent the apex of that approach. The perfect blend of horror, action and comedy. It is a movie that blasts through your screen like a tornado of horror and laughs. Not stopping to take a breath for even a second. It is unrelenting and tremendous fun for 84 straight minutes. You just need to remember to turn your brain off before watching.
Groovy and Charming
The silliness of the practical effects, the buckets of gore and the ridiculous humour are all instrumental in making Evil Dead 2 such a great watch. The action starts within the first 5 minutes with almost no exposition or build and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. It is non stop violence and gore. Blood spurts all over walls and faces as if shot from a fire hose. Limbs are dismembered, people are beheaded, chainsaws are grafted to arms and boomsticks are fired unrelentingly. Everything in the movie bleeds, even the cabin itself. It is continuous, brutal, brilliant mayhem and that’s what makes the movie so great.
If you go into Evil Dead 2 expecting a serious horror with a slow build, tons of tension, and loads of scares. You are going to be beyond disappointed. You need to reset your expectations for this movie and that is something you should be doing with all 80’s horror. Expect a film version of a fair ground ghost train ride and you will be a lot closer to what this movie delivers. It is pure chaos from beginning to end. I compared the recent Deadstream to Evil Dead and I think that is one of the better examples of modern versions of these types of movies. But there really isn’t much around like this any more. Evil Dead 2 is almost the flag bearer for a type of horror that doesn’t get made anymore. Something that makes me rather sad.
Comedy Horror Done Right
Evil Dead 2 deserves a whole bunch of praise for its balance of comedy, action, and horror. The action doesn’t relent for one minute and the horror is ever present. But it is in its moments of pure hilarity that Evil Dead 2 might be at its most charming. Ash Williams, played brilliantly by Bruce Campbell, is a catchphrase spouting, action movie star lampooning, icon of a horror movie protagonist. Evil Dead 2 takes some of the traits of the characters from the more serious The Evil Dead. Recognises the potential for laughs and turns them up to 11.
Everyone here is a caricature and Ash is no exception. He has an inhuman tolerance for abuse and should have been killed multiple times but his series plot armour keeps him coming back for more. Campbell’s consistently hilarious facial expressions coupled with some brilliant one liners make Ash one of the best horror movie protagonists of all time. He will make you laugh throughout. Something that the spirits surrounding Ash also add to. It is massively charming and consistently amusing. Evil Dead is just the right amount of funny. With the comedy never getting in the way of the horror or action.
Bruce Campbell is Fantastic
Campbell’s acting deserves mention, here. Some may watch Evil Dead 2 and think that there is a lot of overacting and silliness but that would be missing the point. This is a movie that is very self aware and Ash is a character that is deliberately ridiculous. Campbell was very inexperienced going into The Evil Dead but worked closely with Raimi to bring the character of Ash to life. Years on, he is considered a horror icon and much beloved within the community.
He is fantastic here in the only role really worthy of note. Campbell completely gets the type of character Ash is supposed to be and is pitch perfect in delivering it. His facial expressions and comedy timing are perfect for this movie. He completely gets the campiness and silliness needed for the role. Campbell would bring to life a character in Ash that would endure for years. Ash has inspired dozens of video game and movie characters and that is in no small part thanks to Campbell’s brilliant performance here.
Fantastic Direction and Effects
Raimi takes many of the things that made The Evil Dead great and expands on them here. He is a veritable hurricane of ideas and each collection of scenes acts as its own little set piece. There is more use of bike cameras to capture long trailing shots through the woods. Creative use of mirrors and camera angles to aid special effects. Great scene set ups that get the most out of the chaos inside the cabin and some brilliant lighting to add ambiance. Raimi manages to keep an immense pace throughout the movie with very little let up between shots. There are a few continuity issues here and there but nothing major.
It’s impossible not to be impressed at just what was achieved with Evil Dead 2. Looking back on it now, the amount of work that went in to the practical effects is incredible. Trees come to life, disembodied heads attack people mercilessly, hands roam around of their own free will like Thing from The Addams Family and all of it is done practically. There is a ton of stop motion and a whole bunch of creative effects work. And while some of it looks a bit hokey and silly today. It is no less impressive when you consider just how much an achievement this was at the time.
Final Thoughts a Score
I’ve done a lot of raving here only for someone to slap this movie on and immediately laugh at how old it looks and how silly it is. And while you would be right in thinking that. It sort of misses the point. Evil Dead 2 represents a type of horror movie that you just don’t see a lot anymore. It is pure action and laughs from beginning to end. It’s not supposed to be tense and unsettling. It’s supposed to be pulse racing silliness and unrelenting laughs. It achieves that perfectly. Sure, it is old and looks it., but that is all part of the charm.
Campbell’s performance is fantastic and the practical effects are of particular note given the budget constraints and the time the movie was made. Raimi’s myriad ideas lead to a movie that plays out like a fair ground horror ride in the best possible way. In a lot of ways, Evil Dead 2 is a rather ridiculous movie with a thread bare story and little in the way of scares. But if you just switch off your brain and grab some popcorn. There may not be a more satisfying horror thrill ride around.