Our reviews of Evil Dead II (Blu-ray) 25th Anniversary Edition (published November 21st, 2011), Evil Dead II: Book Of The Dead Limited Edition (published October 10th, 2005), and Evil Dead II (Blu-ray) (published October 4th, 2007) are also available.
From 1987 is the virtual remake of The Evil Dead, called, oddly enough, Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn. Bruce Campbell (Escape From LA, Congo), returns as the dimwitted hero, Ash, while Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan, The Gift, Darkman, Spider-Man) directs in hyper-kinetic style and Anchor Bay re-releases the film in all its comic book style gore. Of the two versions released by Anchor Bay, I picked up the limited edition tin, 25,216 of 50,000, for those who keep count, rather than the movie-only disc. This is a nicely packed Special Edition with all of the things we expect from Anchor Bay and guess what? They have even included close captioning for the hearing impaired.
Facts of the Case
Improbably Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his new/old girlfriend, Linda (Denise Bixler), return to the cabin where four years earlier he battled the spirits from Hell raised by the Necronomicon Ex Mortis or Book of the Dead. Sure enough, the same things start to happen again…heads start getting chopped off, multicolor blood starts exploding everywhere and people get possessed by demons.
Joined in the fight by the daughter of the explorer who discovered the book as well as her boyfriend and some locals, the battle kicks into high gear. Will an old and monstrous evil be freed from its other dimensional prison? Will Ash find the strength, not to mention the brains, to battle this unspeakable demon, or will a reign of darkness begin? For the answers to these and many more questions, see Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn and find out. If, like Ash, you can't quite figure it out after seeing the movie, stay tuned and read the review of Army Of Darkness, otherwise known as Evil Dead III, to get the final answers.
Evil Dead made quite an impact on both the general film world and the sub-genre of horror movies. So imagine everyone's surprise when its sequel came out and it turned out to be more of a homage to the movies of the Three Stooges than an all out horror epic. It was this combination of styles that makes Evil Dead II so remarkable. Extreme gore and hysterical pratfalls all combine in a truly memorable mix. Or, as star Bruce Campbell coined the term, "splatstick."
So it is with great seriousness that I tell everyone I know, Evil Dead II should have made the AFI's list of the one hundred funniest American movies ever made. The film is a laugh riot. The glee with which director Sam Raimi tortures his entire cast is infectious, and this sense of humor simply bounces off the scream, er…screen. In addition to the movie being a love letter to the Three Stooges, Campbell and Raimi also pay tribute to the comedy of Harpo Marx. It is with these kind of references that this movie goes places that are completely unexpected, and it is a big part of the joy.
As a director, Sam Raimi is known for his kinetic camera, off-the-wall angles and strange point-of-view perspectives. All of these gifts are on ample display in this movie. There are images in this movie that stick in the memory and several that have been lifted by other filmmakers. One that certainly came to mind is when Ash's dead girlfriend raises herself from the grave and does a, literal, dance of death. After watching it, try going to Henry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas and watch Jack Skellington's dance and tell me Evil Dead II was not a major influence. With the impressive body of work Raimi has built since Evil Dead II, he is a director to be reckoned with. Speaking for myself, I am as giddy as a little girl waiting to see his film version of Columbia's upcoming Spider-Man.
The acting is of the "B"-movie level and that is just the way it is supposed to be. As Ash, a man who is none too bright but does not panic and make those fatal horror movie mistakes, is the great Bruce Campbell. Campbell is probably the best known of all cult actors and a lot of that reputation comes from Evil Dead II. He manages to be dim but calm at the same time. Also a masterful physical actor, Campbell does the greatest job of flipping himself over of any actor in cinema today. I also don't know of another actor who can make the image of a man chopping his own, possessed, hand off so cool and funny to boot. But cool he is, and so is his performance. Although to be fair, if Ash is not the brightest bulb in the box, the demons that he faces are also pretty stupid. Still, watching Campbell is always a joy and he is the center of attention here.
Despite being a low budget affair, Evil Dead II does manage a number of special effects laden chills and laughs. The make-up and physical effects by Mark Shostrom, Mike Trcic, Shannon Shea, Howard Berger and Rick Catizone are all top notch, especially considering the lack of funds available. Special mention should also be made of the stop motion effects by Doug Bestwick. Loving care was given to these sequences and they stand as one of the joys of the movie as well being an affectionate nod to the previous film and to stop motion master Ray Harryhausen.
On the disc end, Anchor Bay once more proves their metal (pun intended). On this dual-layered disc the option of an open matte full frame presentation as well as anamorphic widescreen are offered. The open matte does posses certain charms—if anything the picture seems a little spacious—but after viewing both, I felt the 1.85:1 picture won out. Given its low budget origins, you can expect a certain degree of grain, but overall the image is quite strong. Colors are strong, having great detail and all those multicolor blood spills are easier to make out than ever. Most of the film is set at night, so the black level needs to be strong. Again Anchor Bay comes shining through. Blacks are rock solid, showing off a great deal of clarity with nary a trace of pixel breakup or shimmer.
The sound offered is 2.0 Surround and 5.1 Dolby Digital. Both are effective mixes, with the 5.1 being the way to go. The state of the source material is very strong with there being few background distractions. Anchor Bay does a great job of creating an effective soundscape. Panning effects are nicely mixed in, with the rumbling of the creature in the woods giving my speakers a good workout. Dialogue is not always clearly heard, but that could well be a source material problem; its not a major concern, just something to be aware of.
The disc has a number of cool features. First up is a great commentary track with Campbell, Raimi, co-writer Scott Spiegel and special make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero. To say this track is almost as fun as the movie itself is no overstatement. There are almost no pauses, and it is obvious all these guys really like hanging out and working together. There is enough information given, but it is the feeling of family between these guys that comes shining through. One of the biggest highlights of the track is the joy Raimi received by terrorizing Campbell and his brother Ted during the course of filming.
There is a 30-minute featurette on the movie's special effects called "The Gore The Merrier" and for what it is, it is really good. Lots of information is given and some candid assessments of problems in the production, as well as the final onscreen product are discussed.
The film's original theatrical trailer is provided as is an advertisement for the upcoming Playstation game called Evil Dead: Hail To The King. The disc is closed out by two still galleries, talent bios and THX Optimode audio/video calibration tests. These are all on the disc only release. If you purchase the tin, the main addition is an information packed, all color booklet. Either package makes a solid purchase but being a film geek, I went for the metal.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As a movie or as a disc I don't have any complaints. Where I do have a problem, however, is with the fact that when this movie came before the Motion Picture Association of America it was rated X and then released by the producers as a non rated feature. Sure, there are decapitations and dismemberment's galore and the fake blood flows, runs, not to mention explodes off the screen, but it is all done in such a comic book style that it is hard to take seriously. The filmmakers went out of their way to make all of the fake blood look, well, fake. The blood is green, black almost any color but red. Sure there is a certain degree of suspense and tension but the movie is, in its heart, a comedy. Why it gets slapped with an X is beyond me. But then why Last Tango In Paris got slapped with an X is beyond me as well. There should be a delineation between extreme, realistic violence and cartoon violence. Maybe I'm asking for too much but hey, it's my review.
Is this movie for everyone? Nope. If you don't like physical comedy, demonic possession or spewing blood, you might want to pass on this one. I think it's pretty damn funny though, and I know a lot of people who feel the same way. So as always, your mileage may vary. Just remember, you were warned.
Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn is that rarest of screen animals, a sequel that is, in tone, completely different from its predecessor and in many ways, an improvement.
Fans of cutting edge cinema, great comedy and Bruce Campbell are greatly encouraged to pick up this disc, as Anchor Bay has come through again. Great transfer, excellent extras AND close captioning.
By all means, pick up this disc. The limited edition tin is certainly cool, but if you don't feel like spending the extra cash, the disc only version is sure to keep you very happy. Buy it and tell some friends, after all, the gore the merrier.
All involved are released from this courtroom with charges dismissed. This court gives one warning though, beware of flying eyeballs. That is all on today's docket, we stand in recess. Good day.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary with Director Sam Raimi, Star Bruce Campbell, Co-Writer Scott Spiegel, and Special Effects Artist Greg Nicotero
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