Evil Dead II is what we in the biz call a fascinating disaster. Here is a film born of 2 metaphorical creatures so completely at odds with each other that the movie spends almost it's entire length tripping over itself. It's idea is to mesh the jump out scares, tension building and gore of it's prequel, Evil Dead with the over the top comedic fantasy violence of it's eventual sequel, Army of Darkness. To watch these things try to come together to make a coherent whole is like watching a mid-air collision or the Hindenberg disaster, completely awestrikingly awful but you find yourself unable to look away.
I'm sorry if that first paragraph is overly negative, but for reasons that escape me, this film has a lot of die-hard fans (the first and third one's die-hard fans don't confuse me; hell I could be counted as one of them). So I thought I'd get the fact that I think it sucks out of the way early, so that people who like it could skip the review and the rather lengthy film analysis.
So anyway, this film comes to us courtesy of Sam Raimi, the talented director notably behind the Spider-Man series of films. Like many good-but-not-incredible directors, he usually does good work, but when screws up, he screws up HARD (looking at you Spider-Man 3). The story is essentially a retread of the narrative of Evil Dead which is an early warning sign as the narrative of Evil Dead was one of it's main weak points. Ash Willaims (played by our Lord God Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend are going up to a deserted cabin in the woods for reasons that are never abundantly clear, especially since it is made clear that it doesn't belong to them. In rather short order (literally like 5 minutes) she is possessed by a thingamajig which turns her into a Super Zombie, hereinafter referred to as a Deadite. She attacks Ash who showing the only sign of clear thinking he ever has in the film, chops off her head, sharpish and then proceeds to bolt for the bridge which has curled into a hand. Then he gets possessed. Then the house gets possessed. And then it gets weird.
Oh and some other guys show up later, to turn into other Deadites and fill in some plot points, mostly relating to how the Deadites are showing up, due to the owner of the cabin reading from some book called the Necronomicron (or however you spell it, it's been a while since I read Lovecraft) with some vaguely defined evil powers.
First I'd let to get the good aspects of the film out of the way. Ummm...the makeup team is doing a really good job. So is the set design. Oh the lighting guy, great. And I suppose the soundtrack wasn't terrible, like some films I could name.
Alright, on to the bad, and the first bad thing that stands out is the acting. None of the actors are doing a particularly good job, a couple are doing an astonishingly bad job, but the one who stands out the most is Bruce Campbell. Look, I love Bruce as much as the next person, generally more. In my household I have a copy of: Army of Darkness, Bubba Ho-tep and My Name is Bruce. But in this case it's too much. Sam Raimi must been standing like behind the camera like Harold Zoid yelling “WILL YOU SHOW SOME EMOTION!” until Bruce got to these insanely over the top ACTING!!!! moments that would get you thrown off an Uwe Boll set.
The next thing that deservers careful consideration is how scary it is, because believe it or not it intends to be a horror film. 98 percent of the scares are telegraphed from literally a mile off, the few that aren't are so over the top or cheesey that it kills the scare, like when Ash shoots the wall to try and hit his dismembered hand (long story) and it starts to leak blood. Not bad, eh? Sure it's massive ripoff from that bit in The Amityville Horror but it worked there and it could work here. But the next instant the wall sprays blood at him like he'd hit a pipe, which completely throws you out of the moment. Not only that but the next instant the blood all rushes back in, looking like they'd simply run the film of the blood rushing out in reverse (come to think of it, they probably did). It's unnecessary, it's overindulgent and it kills the tension.
Oy. What else haven't I bitched about? And the script, oh the script. The story, in principle is just fine. Sure it's just a “something evil is outside trying to get in” story, but you can make a good movie out of that (in fact they did, it's called Evil Dead.) But the dialogue and characters kill it. Not only is the every piece of dialogue awkwardly written and poorly delivered, but no one gets to develop as a character or act in a way that a normal human would recognize.
This isn't helped by a cameraman drinking down to his third scotch and Nos, making wild swings and insane pans throughout and one of the worst continuity editors I've ever seen. Weapons and items disappear and reappear as is convenient, things end up in places that they couldn't possibly have gotten to and events happen for no reason, leaving everyone moving around at the whim of what will push the story forward.
Ugh. I'm sorry, I know this is an overly negative review and I want to stress, it can be a lot of fun to watch, as the poor story, over the top acting, cheesey effects and lackluster scares lead it to be unintentionally hilarious. It's important that you get a good group with you though. I certainly had one tonight. People were shouting stuff at the screen, laughing at the poor dialogue and awful scares, repeating running jokes and applauding at the famous lines and scenes. Everyone was in on it, to the point where during a tense scene I shouted out, top of my lungs, a line from Aliens and not one person told me to be quiet. If you can get that kind of group for a movie like this, one that understands ironic enjoyment and wants to get in on the joke, than a movie like this can be a blast. If you're watching it alone, for it's quality as a film, skip it.
Oh before I go, a quick note about next time. On the 21st, the movie I'm going to end up seeing is a special Halloween Double Feature. The first film is Return of the Living Dead, an obscure little zombie comedy from the 80's. The second? I have no idea and I don't wanna know beforehand. Half the fun of going to a mystery double feature is the surprise when you find out what the movie is. The main point, I guess, is that I'll be posting 2 reviews next time. See you then. Or saturday, for my Owl-movie review.
Next Time on Second Age Reviews: Return of the Living Dead and ???
Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he'd like to advise you to shop smart: Shop S-Mart.