There is a legend told of the Necromonicon, The Book of the Dead, which was discovered by a historian and taken to a remote cabin in the woods where he and his wife could study it in peace. A week later, Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) drove up to the place to spend the weekend there and drink champagne, but Ash found a reel to reel tape recorder in one room which when played revealed the professor's voice telling what he had translated in the book. Once the incantations were heard through the speaker, there was a scream from the other room: what had been unleashed?
Only one of the great horror sequels - but wait, was it a sequel? Director Sam Raimi and his co-writer Scott Spiegel spent the first quarter of an hour recapping what had happened in The Evil Dead, one of the most infamous shockers of its decade, up there with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for controversy, except in this telling the details were not only compacted, but different. Then again, the manner in which the movie told its story was similar to the source, so was it actually a remake? The question of what Evil Dead II actually was - sequake? Requel? - was best left to those who obsessed over the details, because if you had any sympathy with what they were trying here, you'd just enjoy the ride.
And what a ride it was, there were blockbusting action movies which had less incident than what was packed into the insanely energetic pandemonium here, so much occurred that it could have flown by in a blur were it not so vividly depicted. The main difference in approach between this and its predecessor was something that some had observed in the original, but not everyone had discerned, and that was a sense of humour. Sure, there were those who could laugh at what went on in that marvel of innovation on a tiny budget, but most found it pretty scary, and when those audiences took on Evil Dead II they initially anticipated more of the same. Which you could say is what they got.
Only this time around Raimi was actively inviting you to laugh at the shocks; you could observe the eighties was the decade the horror comedy really came into its own in such hybrids as so-called splatstick, but no film did it better than this. There was what happened to Ash here, and some way behind there was everything else which wanted you to chortle at the scares, although there were imitators, this was the benchmark and you could argue nobody really bettered it, not even Raimi with the third entry in the series Army of Darkness. It would have been nothing without a leading man who truly understood how to pitch his performance, and Campbell got it perfectly, his thousand yard stare erupting into action whenever he was able to shake off the terror.
There were other characters here once Linda was possessed by the spirits conjured by the incantations, but for a long stretch there was just Ash on the screen versus the most ingenious antagonists in the genre: whatever he did, they had an answer to it. When he has to cut off his hand with a chainsaw after it has been infected with the dead, it's the climax to a portion in the movie which could act as a perfect short film, and yet there's more to come as the hand becomes part of a Tom and Jerry chase around the cabin with the increasingly (and understandably) crazed hero seemingly fighting a losing battle. Raimi threw everything within his means at Ash, relishing the punishment of a character he saw as an update of his beloved Three Stooges, even turning him into a monster at one stage to terrorise the hapless chumps who have shown up at the cabin. It builds to one of the all-time great horror movie endings, both a punchline and acknowledgement that every silver lining has a cloud. A true classic. Music by Joseph LoDuca.
[Studio Canal's Blu-ray has a bunch of featurettes, many taken from the DVD, as is the commentary with the filmmakers, but it's such an entertaining package that fans won't begrudge the upgrade to HD, not when it looks this good.]
Precociously talented American director with a penchant for horror/fantasy and inventive camerawork. Raimi made a huge impact with his debut film The Evil Dead at the tender age of 22, a gory, often breathtaking horror romp made on a tiny budget with a variety of friends from his hometown of Detroit. Follow-up Crimewave was a comic misfire, but Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness were supremely entertaining, while tragic superhero yarn Darkman was Raimi's first time wielding a big budget.
Raimi showed a more serious side with the baseball drama For Love of the Game, thriller A Simple Plan and supernatural chiller The Gift, before directing one of 2002's biggest grossing films, Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 was released in summer 2004, with Spider-Man 3 following two years later. He then returned to outright horror with the thrill ride Drag Me to Hell, and hit Wizard of Oz prequel Oz the Great and Powerful after that. On the small screen, Raimi co-created American Gothic and the hugely popular Hercules and Xena series. Bruce Campbell usually pops up in his films, as does his trusty Oldsmobile car.