FearTASTIC Vault O’FUN #100
Evil Dead II (1987)
Director(s): Sam Raimi
Writer(s): Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Denise Bixler, Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Ted Raimi
Dear Evil Dead 2,
For years now, I’ve been waxing poetic about horror gems that may not get the shine it deserves or reviewing the latest and greatest offerings to the horror genre in what I like to call the FearTastic Vault. This safe haven for the geeky deviants with macabre quirks is where I like to go and stir up some trouble, but I also get to share what I think are interesting bits of the world that you helped create. Yes, you are one of the solid beams in the foundation of the horror in general but definitely a significant structure in my beloved vault. I don’t talk about the foundation of this dwelling too often because writing about my admiration for the innovators of the horror genre would be preaching to the ghoulish choir.
Sure, I could talk about the fundamental structures of this vault lined with classics such as Carpenter’s Halloween that launched the beloved slasher genre to the stratosphere, Boris Karloff’s performance in Frankenstein as a staple in the Universal horror timeline, Dario Argento’s Suspria which is a key flick in the wave of spaghetti Italian flicks that encapsulated the beauty of horror, Romero’s Night of the Living Dead that sparked the eventual forest fire of zombie flicks that would dominate for decades to come, Hideo Nakata’s Ringu which introduced simple yet horrifying Asian horror to the main stream, Hitchcock’s Psycho that shocked the world with its twist ending and most infamous mamma’s boy and so on…and so forth…but that wouldn’t move the horror needle much, would it?
If you think about it, although it would be fun and nostalgic for me, my goal with letting people into the vault was to introduce them to films, books, events, etc. that may have been overlooked or to share some pure horrific joy in the more modern offerings the genre has to offer. To this humble freak, sharing that sort of excitement of discovery is what moves the horror genre FORWARD.
Having said that, I’ve never forgotten my dark roots. A child, staring at a video shelf that seemed to be 100 feet tall at the time, filled with the most creative cover art to entice you to frolic in entertaining terror. In those moments, the vault began to build itself.
In that spirit; Evil Dead 2, Dead by Dawn, second film of the Ash Saga…you’ve always been my favorite.
As the years went on and my curiosity grew, my passion for learning about the history of the genre resulted in my watching more films that continued to shape and fill the FearTastic Vault, but you’ve always remained the best in my dark heart. I’ll admit however, that I was terrified of you at first. Like the best friendships or whirlwind romances, we were definitely at odds. Your predecessor, Evil Dead, which is definitely known as a significant building block of the horror genre and subsequently the FearTastic vault, had me sweating through my sheets upon first viewing. Its chilling suspense, horrific effects and the traumatizing makeup had me making sure that no evil spirit could reach me as long as I was cuddled in my blanket only allowing my eyes and parts of my (large) forehead to poke through so I can continue the mental toll of watching this flick.
I knew I had to watch you since your predecessor leaves us on a sort of cliffhanger (actually, pretty satisfying ending but knowing you existed made me more interested). However, being at a young age, still figuring out how horror flicks would shape me later on, I was absolutely terrified to rent you at the video store because your cover alone was unnerving.
Unlike the first flick which was simple and straight to the point of an innocent woman being dragged down to the Earth with an evil arm, your cover had a much more sinister tone. It was simple but effective, especially if you’ve seen the first flick. An aged skull in front of a black background equipped with chilling eyeballs that seem to burn a whole through your soul. I mean, the Mona Lisa had nothing on this cover since it really did feel like it was watching you wherever you went in the video store. I could have been holding up a VHS of The Breakfast Club but still knew that you were still staring at me from behind with your terrorizing eyeballs. My curiosity however will always outweigh any underlying fears, so I finally got the courage to pay the $1.10 to rent you for a couple nights (yes, I know it seems like ages since anything was at that price).
How INTERESTING was the start of your movie? By the end of the first flick, after the slaughter of his friends and the love of his life, Linda, we see our final character, the EPIC Ashley Joanna “Ash” Williams get dragged through the woods by the Evil that had been awakened and we cut to the end credits (complete with old timey music by the way which was genius). Imagine my surprise when the first 5-10 minutes of your story was a re-cap of the first movie but without the mention of half the characters and a new actress playing Linda! There was definitely a moment of head scratching as the stories seemed similar enough to the point where I understood as a child that this was definitely a re-telling of a story for those who were not initiated. However, once the story was re-told, it brilliantly picked up EXACTLY where the first one left off with Ash being flung into the air by the evil spirits. It wasn’t until years later where I would read that your creators didn’t even have the rights to your predecessor, thus the re-cap but to me, the movie starts when Ash is being thrown like a rag doll through the woods and right into a tree.
From there, everything I loved about the first flick was only accentuated in terrorizing form but…the best part was…you had evolved. While the first flick was definitely more of a lesson in how suspense and gore can work well together when backed with creative effects, your movie was establishing a style that would later be iconic to horror fans everywhere. Your creator, Sam Raimi would be utilizing the chaotically fun style of storytelling for future movies and you can see it slowly unfold in your chapter. It’s hard to describe the style that has become so synonymous with Mr. Raimi but the quick takes of horror in ones face as the terror begins or the quick cuts to the action with exaggerated sound effects are what I consider classic Raimi but you were when the foundation begin to take true shape.
Let’s talk about the scenes that essentially shaped Ash because you were the movie that solidified the foundation of who that character would become for all to enjoy. You were the movie where Ash lost his hand to the evil spirits and the line between horror and comedy officially became fantastically blurry. The slapstick humor mixed with all the macabre gore is a style that you perfected in your movie and the scene where Ash and his hand in epic battle mode is the best representation on the tone of the entire movie.
“God help me, I buried her in the earthen floor of the fruit cellar.” Quick cut to a bloated and hideous creature bursting through the floor covered in worms and decrepit flesh as our hero Ash begins screaming in what can only be described as high-pitched horror. SUCH an iconic scene that introduced us to ultimate Deadite named Henrietta (the parasitic demons that possess humans in the Evil Dead series for all those who wondered lol). I’ll always remember watching as a kid and bursting into horror glee simply because Henrietta was more than a possessed human, it represented a sort of BOSS like figure you’d encounter in a video game. With her rotting physique and crackling voice, this Deadite seemed to have more of an authoritative presence about them which made the match up even more exciting. At this point, Ash had battled numerous Deadites; unfortunately, most of those creatures being his friends, family and loved one but still, the idea of a demonic presence hurling him across the room was not foreign. Having said that, the battle between Ash and Henrietta felt like the hero meeting the “Big-Bad” where the protagonist transforms into something new when they come out victorious. We even get a nice demonic upgrade from Henrietta during the battle where her neck elongates and her face morphs into a zombified skull!
Last but not least, the chainsaw. That beautiful, legendary chainsaw that is as iconic as Ash himself (along with the tattered blue shirt, carefully placed scars on the face and of course, his HERO chin). It’s an extension of himself that has become somewhat of a sidekick as opposed to just heavy-duty equipment and together, the duo has had some legendary battles that literally spans over hundreds of years fighting all sorts of baddies! One of the best scenes in the movie was Ash preparing himself for battle and how for the first time, we are introduced to…tinkerer Ash? Where we realize he’s not just an anti-hero but there were some brain cells to rub together in that head of his that’s not just fueled by pure instinct. Your flick also showed the wonderful style of director Sam Raimi as the quick cuts and explosive sounds show Ash concocting some sort of apparatus in order to turn his amputated limb into a chainsaw of Deadite DOOM!
In a way, seeing Ash become something so much more within your 1 hour and 25-minute runtime was a concept that stuck with me at first viewing. Before then, I remember him being nothing more than the last one standing which is already impressive considering all the mayhem and terror he experienced in the first go around but the catalyst of his genesis was rooted in madness. Ash has become such an iconic character in the horror genre that anyone who isn’t initiated often forget his timid roots.
I remember thinking in my own sort of logic was that the evil spirits that possessed an ultimately killed all his friends and the love of his life knew that there was something different about this survivor; a spark that could not easily be extinguished and would require a different path…a more sinister method…which resulted in the evil trying to drive Ash mad instead of trying to kill him. If you can’t kill your enemy, you immobilize them but making them unfit for battle. The beauty, however, was that the madness only made Ash STRONGER. It must have been a humbling moment for the evil spirits when they realized that in their attempt to handicap their foe, they inadvertently created their strongest enemy.
Ash’s descent to madness was not just simple cackles and screams (although, there are plenty of both for sure) but there was a sense of solid confidence and bravado that would only grow as the series progress. At this point, it’s an iconic attitude and presence that is easy enough to impersonate and the number of one-liners that Ash has produced over the entire Evil Dead franchise helped secure his place as a horror icon. All of this, yes, it’s because of you. It’s true that you are the second in the series, but you are the first in the birth of a character we all recognize and love. It’s amazing that you were able to create a horror icon on the other side of the knife by adding a chainsaw. I know there are plenty of iconic “final people” in horror flicks like Laurie Strode, Sydney Campbell, Tommy Jarvis, etc. but none of them ever descended as far as Ash into madness and came out as an Anti-Hero who was destined for greatness.
Ohhhhhh, Evil Dead 2, you gave me all the chills, sweats, screams, laughs that I was already expecting yet somehow, you managed to squeeze in a hero (albeit an anti-hero) in my life. While the other kids wanted to be like Mike, I so badly wanted to be like Ash. It has been said that the best leaders are not those who seek to lead but the ones who answer the call when they are needed and to me, this has been the comic tragedy of Ash’s life in the Evil Dead franchise. A common man who simply wanted to spend a weekend with his friends and his love and does everything he possibly can to avoid being the one everyone turns to because he simply wanted to survive. However, in the tale of his transformation, you start seeing how madness is what drove the character to take up the mantle of aggressor, leader and hero…while still keeping the attitude of wanting to save his own ass.
It’s hard to imagine a world before superheroes saturated the scene (I’m a fan but still, it needs to be said) but once upon a time, superhero flicks were scoffed upon and had little to no chance of reaching a wider audience besides the initiated few who linger upon the notion that the source material is the ONLY material for reference. Therefore, the heroes that oldies like me grew up with consisted of folks that didn’t come from the pages of a comic book, but rather characters that became cult heroes. Your movie introduced a generation of people to a character that started out as a skeptic, came off as coward, lost his mind, became an anti-hero and somehow became an icon! The image of Ash with his blue shirt, leather straps, chain saw hand and facial scars are now synonymous with the Evil Dead franchise itself which is quite the feat since the series is considered to be one of the greatest in the horror universe. Within those accolades however was you…wonderful, frightful you…not the first but the one that defined your importance in horror history and grateful freaks like me have been gushing about you ever since.
Although I don’t talk about you often, please know that to me; you are the most important part of the FearTastic Vault. Thanks for simply existing and I promise to always keep moving our genre forward because you taught me a lesson that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my macabre filled days which is…
Life is FAR more interesting when we take interest in things that scare us.
Your GROOVY Comrade for Life,
FearTastic Vault O’ FUN Creeper…err, I mean Keeper.