This is one of those cult classic ’80s films we’ve been meaning to watch for a long time. And now we’ve finally caught up with it.
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dead launched in 1987 and has become a horror favourite since thanks to its heady mix of excessive gore and slapstick.
It’s one hell of a weird film, but we’re happy to say it’s good fun thanks to its self-aware, tongue-in-cheek nature. Hurray!
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is Iconic Movie Magic
The film begins with Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) taking a romantic trip to an incredibly disturbing and mysterious abandoned cottage in the woods. Indeed.
Whilst goofing about in the cabin, Ash comes across a tape recorder left by the previous owner. That of archaeologist Raymond Knowby.
In the recording, Knowby recites lines from the Book of the Dead, Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, which unleashes demonic forces (the Kandarian Demon) on the cabin and the surrounding woodland.
That wipes out Linda and turns her into a deadite (zombie/demon).
In response, Ash holes up in the cabin and attempts to stay sane (and alive). But the demonic forces start to infiltrate the building.
Ash is unlucky enough to discover this and has to chop Linda’s head off and buries her body.
Infuriated, the demon charges through the woods and briefly possesses Ash by hurling him against a tree. Check out this epic scene!
Once conscience again, Ash returns to the cabin and attempts to keep his senses together.
But his girlfriend returns from the dead and begins attacking the cabin.
Her severed head bites Ash’s hand and refuses to let go, leading to all sorts of shenanigans.
That’s where the classic ’80s practical effects start to kick in. Think of The Thing (1982) and all that sort of gloriousness. Very darkly comical of course, but also graphic!
Ash’s hand then becomes possessed and by the demon and it begins attacking him, which forces the poor bloke to hack it off with a chainsaw.
Actor Bruce Campbell really gives himself a beating in this scene, so full credit to him there for laying it on himself.
After severing his hand, Evil Dead 2’s quirky sense of humour rears itself again.
The hand is still alive, so Ash decides to trap it under a pot. He places some books on the pot to ensure the hand doesn’t go anywhere—one of the books is Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. We liked that bit. It made us go, “Duuh huh huh!”
But the hand escapes and Ash tries to blow it away with his shotgun.
And that leads to, arguably, the most famous scene in the film. Along with the iconic crazed laughter expression from Ash. Even if you’ve not seen Evil Dead 2, you probably know of that look of mania.
Whilst this madness is playing out, a sub-plot emerges where cabin owner Richard Knowby’s daughter, Annie (played by the rather gorgeous Sarah Berry), returns from a different archaeological dig to gather the missing pages of the Necronomicon.
They receive help from locals Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobyb Joe (Kassie Wesley) to get to the cabin, whereupon they find Ash Williams in a state of total mania.
Believing he’s a madman, they chuck him into the basement.
But then it emerges Annie’s mother has also been possessed by the demon—she was buried in the basement by Richard after she died.
The zombie/witch form of Henrietta Knowby then emerges from the grave and begins attacking everyone.
As the cast drops one by one, Ash and Annie are left to do battle and wipe out that psycho demon once and for all! Groovy…
Evil Dead 2’s ending then comes out of leftfield, sort of like Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).
As Ash and Annie battle the demon in the climatic scene, it opens up a whirling temporal vortex that sucks Ash into it.
He promptly lands in the Middle Ages with his Oldsmobile Delta 88. An army of soldiers then witness him shoot dead a demon and believe Ash to be a God sent down from heaven to save them. They began chanting in worship for him whilst Ash, realising he’s stuck, wails in distress.
Yeah, it’s one of the most bizarre films we’ve ever seen. But that’s what makes it so glorious.
Although far from perfect, Evil Dead 2 has enough ridiculously entertaining set pieces to alleviate the limitations of the budget.
Most of the film is restricted to the cabin, which does hinder the film somewhat.
The budget clearly went on the special effects, which are all very well done and impressive, but it shows elsewhere in the film.
Whilst not an outright spoof along the lines of, say, Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010), the film’s all-knowing self-awareness is what makes it a rather entertaining comedy horror jaunt.
What also helps Evil Dead 2 now is its age. Now 35 years old, it fits neatly into the ’80s era of practical effects and slapstick horror, excessive gore of many horror films of that decade.
It’s a great little subgenre of the main scares horror attempts to provide.
All-in-all, we had a lot of fun with Evil Dead 2. It’s completely ridiculous to the extreme, sure, but that’s what you want from a movie sometimes. Groovy.
Evil Dead 2’s Production
Director Sam Raimi was only 21 (!) when he directed The Evil Dead (1981), with Bruce Campbell only 22. So they’d been launched into cult status at a young age.
After finding cult success, a sequel was on the cards.
Raimi needed it, too, as his film Crimewave (1985) was a box office disaster. Luckily, Stephen King liked the first film so much he contacted producer Dino De Laurentiis and convinced him to fund the sequel.
The budget Raimi received of $3.6 million was considerably higher than the first film ($375,000). This helped up the spectacle of the special effects.
These were handled by Mark Shostrom, who led a team involving Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger.
Nicotero and Berger went on to form KNB EFX Group, which provided the special effects for The Walking Dead (arguably the biggest TV show of the 21st century so far).
As for the cast, Raimi’s friend and co-producer Bruce Campbell promptly returned for the second outing—here’s the handsome SOB in 1988 discussing the project.
The other lead, Sarah Berry, was initially intended for a smaller role. But Raimi was impressed by her high-pitched screaming abilities, so she got the part of Annie Knowby.
However, she pretty much ended her film career after this performance.
According to Bruce Campbell, she had a young family she wanted to focus on and she also went off to become a clinical psychologist.
Filming took place in Wadesboro, North Carolina, in the woods. It wasn’t a film studio set.
After production wrapped, Evil Dead 2 faced censorship issues due to the extensive violence. But it eventually got the all clear and was a moderate hit in cinemas, earning back $10.9 million worldwide. $5.9 million of that came from the US market.
As VHS was so popular in the late ’80s, with people able to watch films at home for the first time, this and Blockbuster further added to its income.
Evil Dead 2 is now also a legendary cult classic that influenced directors such as Quentin Tarantino.
It’s a lot of fun and enjoys regular special screenings across the world, some of which Bruce Campbell attends to provide his thoughts on filming. Again… groovy.