AKA Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn “What distinguishes Evil Dead II is that it isn’t a horror film with comic moments or a comedy with frightening moments. It is instead a true horror-comedy that taps into the fact that both comedy and horror rely on weirdness, incongruity, and shock.”–Victoria Large, Brattle Theater Film Notes
PLOT: Young Ash takes his girlfriend to a deserted cabin in the woods for a weekend of romance; unfortunately, the hideout was the former abode of a deceased archaeologist who had discovered a “Book of the Dead” the ancients believed could call forth an evil spirit and allow it to possess the bodies of the living and the dead. Ash plays an old tape by the professor in which he reads the magical words of summoning, and the spirit does indeed come and possess Ash’s girlfriend (whom he is forced to dispatch gruesomely). That’s only the beginning of Ash’s troubles, however, as, trapped in the cabin, now must fight off a horde of demonic presences, at first all alone and later with the help of the professor’s daughter and her companions.
Evil Dead II is much more a remake of, rather than a sequel to, Raimi’s low-budget drive-in hit The Evil Dead (1981) (although that point is technically debated among fans). Where The Evil Dead was a straightforward horror movie, Evil Dead II is a comedy in a horror setting. Actor Bruce Campbell reprises his role as Ash from the first film; it was this performance that made him into a cult actor.
This was Raimi’s third feature film, after The Evil Dead and the weird, Coen brothers scripted comedy Crimewave! (1985). He would go on to mainstream success when he was tapped to direct the Spider-Man series.
Powerful horror novelist Stephen King, a fan of the first Evil Dead, introduced Raimi to Dino de Laurentiis and convinced the producer to fund Evil Dead II after Raimi declined an offer to adapt King’s story Thinner.
Followed by a sequel, Army of Darkness (1992). Rumors of a fourth film in the series have circulated since the mid nineties; currently, an Evil Dead IV is listed as “in development” on the Internet Movie Database, although this is far from an assurance that a fourth film will be made.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Ash fighting his own disembodied hand: a scene that starts out creepy, but becomes a slapstick routine, ending up in a groan-inducing pun.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Oddly, Evil Dead II‘s credentials as a weird film are called into question by its almost unqualified embrace by critics and gorehounds alike: can anything that is so widely beloved, anything that fails to alienate either the high or the lowbrow, really be authentically weird? In fact, Evil Dead II is only slightly weird, but the events of the cabin feverish middle portion of the film—where the battered Ash seems to be hallucinating the horrific events—are just bizarre enough to make Evil Dead II eligible for inclusion. Add to those scenes the over-the-top gore, slapstick and constant surprises of the film’s last half, and you get a lovable mish-mash of a movie with a one-of-a-kind comic tone that is too exhilarating to be left off a list of the weirdest movies of all time.
PLOT: An anthropologist travels to Haiti in search of the legendary “zombie drug” and gets mixed up in voodoo and third world politics.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are three or four vivid hallucination/dream sequences in The Serpent and the Rainbow that are unique visual treats. (The most unusual and striking vision is a disembodied zombie hand crawling into a bowl of soup). Craven, however, uses only the canonical scare iconography—corpses and skulls, blood, snakes and spiders—which makes the scenes add up to standard, if well executed, nightmare sequences. Coupled with an ordinary horror movie plot (although it’s disguised well for the first two-thirds of the film), Serpent is a film with some fantastic scenes, but not weird one.
COMMENTS: Serpent is an above-average horror outing, although its ultimately a mild disappointment because the black magic premise has so much unrealized potential. The voodoo milieu the civilized doctor encounters in Haiti is memorable and spooky; the setting is also unique in that it mixes witchcraft with politics by having the main villain be both a powerful warlock and an officer of Haitian dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s secret police. In the end, unfortunately, Craven can’t figure out how to keep the momentum rolling into a proper climax to its interesting premise. We end up with a formula horror finale where Zakes Mokae’s brilliantly sadistic Dargent Peytraud transforms into a poor man’s Freddy Kruger. The eye-rolling climax comes complete with false deaths, catch phrases, an ironic comeuppance, and other silliness.
The movie was adapted from a memoir of the same name by real-life Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis, who actually went to Haiti to investigate the real zombie drug. To make this serious scientific book into a horror movie seems a bit like adapting “A Brief History of Time” as a space opera. Davis called the film “one of the worst Hollywood movies in history”; it’s not nearly that bad (in fact, it’s pretty good), but his frustration is understandable.
PLOT: A dowdy nurse contracts an odd strain of the zombie virus which changes her into
a flesh-eating sex maniac.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are plenty of weird elements in this low-budget B&W horror comedy, from slightly out-of-sync dubbing to deliberate overacting to Eraserhead-inspired dream sequences, but they seem forced and shallow, like an attempt by the filmmakers to distance themselves from the thin material they have to work with.
COMMENTS: One of the hardest things to do in the movie universe is to make deliberate camp. Yet, it’s a pitfall that beginning directors seem to fall into over and over. They want the audience to realize that they are too talented to be making a silly zombie nurse movie, when what the audience really wants is to not notice the direction and enjoy a silly zombie nurse movie. There is some talent on display here, especially in the black and white photography, but overall the humor is alternately too subtle and too broad to work. It’s obvious that the filmmakers and the crew and actors (who worked for free) enjoyed themselves tremendously, and that do-it-yourself enthusiasm comes across on screen and makes the movie seem less of a failure than it might otherwise have been.
Parts of the movie are obviously inspired by the look and feel of the films of fellow Canadian Guy Maddin. In fact, the movie was originally intended to be silent (which may help explain some of the mugging for the camera from the guy who played “handsome” doctor). The dubbing was added later by different voice actors, after the director and producers decided Graveyard Alive didn’t work as a modern silent.