It’s been 32 years since Sam Raimi brought Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn to the big screen, on recommendation from Stephen King to Dino De Laurentiis that he fund it through his production company; and now Studiocanal have remastered the notorious cult classic in 4K Ultra HD for the first time.
Once again staring Raimi’s childhood friend and longtime collaborator, Bruce Campbell, as the suffering protagonist Ashley Williams, it has far more comedic elements than the first outing, but still contains lots of jump-scares and gore to satisfy horror fans.
Often confused for being a remake, the film is a true sequel but, due to an issue obtaining the rights of The Evil Dead and so not being able to use any footage from it, Raimi had to sum up what happened in the first film within the opening scenes, with a few alterations to allow for the sequel. Raimi had intended for it to be set in medieval times with Ash having been sucked through a portal. But, due to budgetary constraints, the idea was shelved and as we all should know Raimi eventually got his wish and used the idea for the third instalment in the series, Army of Darkness.
Stripping back the other characters that feature in the first and leaving only Ash and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) journeying to the cabin in the woods, there is a recap of how Ash unwittingly summons an Evil Force when he plays a tape recording of an archaeologist reading out loud from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis or the Book of the Dead. The Evil Force, also known as a Kandarian Demon, kills and possesses Linda turning her into a deadite. The recap ends when Ash becomes possessed, after having to decapitate and bury the unfortunate Linda, and the plot of the sequel continues when he recovers in the daylight.
Ash attempts to flee but finds he cannot when he discovers the Evil Force has destroyed the only bridge that leads in and out of the area. He is chased back to the cabin and forced to endure more torment at the hands of the possessed Linda and we encounter new characters who get thrown into the mix.
Bruce Campbell considers the film to be his favourite of the trilogy, and it is a far more polished production that shows both Raimi’s growing experience as a director and showcases a lot more of what Campbell can bring as a leading man. A lot of the film see Campbell alone or being tormented by the Evil Force, but he excels in every moment he’s on screen. He delivers a lot of physical comedy, such as the fight scene involving himself and his possessed hand and also the backflip that would go on to secure him the lead in the television show The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Another area in which Campbell excels is within ‘reverse acting’, there are several scenes shot this way to achieve certain effects. The actor films a scene one way but when it is shown it is played backwards. If an actor isn’t skilled enough you can spot when this has taken place but it is exceptionally hard to pick out these scenes with the film. One such example within Evil Dead II is when Ash is being throttled by his own amputated hand.
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It’s not just a Bruce Campbell solo showcase though as Ash is eventually joined by four others, Annie (Sarah Berry) the daughter of the archeologist who owned the cabin, and her boyfriend Ed (Richard Domeier), and two local hicks who they pay to take them on foot to the cabin, Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Kassie Wesley). An interesting fact is that the no-nonsense Bobby Joe character was based on Holly Hunter who was a housemate of Raimi’s at the time of writing the film, as were Kathy Bates, Frances McDormand and the Coen Brothers. None of these supporting characters particularly stand out, they are by no means bad but they merely further the plot along to its conclusion, one character that does make a big impression is the possessed corpse of Annie’s mother, Henrietta, played by Sam Raimi’s little brother Ted.
Once a child that Bruce Campbell used to babysit, Ted Raimi has gone on to have a film career of his own and has frequently collaborated with Campbell, but Evil Dead II was particularly gruelling for him. The makeup process to transform him into the deadite started at three in the morning and involved him having to wear a heavy full-body latex suit during a heatwave. He would have to use a respirator between takes and the sweat that accumulated in the suit had to be decanted out of it at the end of every day.
Evil Dead II is still a very watchable and very much beloved cult horror classic that is carried by the genius of Campbell’s acting performance and just how much he was prepared to endure Raimi throwing at him, at some points literally. It will endure and will no doubt go on to inspire filmmakers for another 30+ years and it’s fantastic to know it remastered for today’s technology.
Evil Dead II arrives on 4K Ultra HD (for the first time), Blu-ray™ and DVD on 4 March, and on digital download on 1 April.