Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (***) – I get it, I just don’t get it

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn – 1987

Director Sam Raimi
Screenplay, Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel
Starring Bruce Campbell, Sara Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Richard Domeier, Ted Raimi

The Evil Dead series is one of those that gets better with each Raimi-directed film. The first one is bad because they were young, inexperienced and had no real budget. This sequel is as much a parody of that first film as horror in general. Army of Darkness, which is the first one I saw in the theater, is all that and so much more. For now, I want to concentrate on the one that still gets the big press.

Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn is like a reboot, but with the main star Ash (Campbell) back, and apparently remembering nothing of the original he partook in with disastrous results. In the first 10 minutes, we see Ash and his new girl occupy a cabin in the woods that they don’t own, unleash a torrent of hell through the Book of the Dead, both possessed but Linda (Bixler) dead and buried.

Then daylight hits. His possession is undone by daylight, but he loses the only way out.

Then the sun goes down again.

Half the world away, the daughter (Berry) of the cabin owners meets with a fellow scientist and love interest (Domeier) to talk about her parents’ research. They haven’t heard from them in a week. The cabin has no phone, though, so they head that way.

Needless to say, they all arrive at the camp, with two more annoying characters in tow (Wesley, Hicks). The happennings throughout make increasingly less sense as the film goes on. There are some cool moments, and the splatter is intensely B movie quality. The acting is circa 1950’s drive in style. It’s funny and gross at once. And it doesn’t try to make sense.

The mantra for the film is think up something cool, storyboard it, then try to make sense of it with the script. In one scene, someone swallows a demon’s eyeball while screaming. The next thing you know, someone entirely different is possessed.

Campbell is game for everything going on. He s repeatedly thrown about, Three Stooges style. He inflicts most of the damage on himself through an astounding array of flips, slaps and flops. He’s like a classic old timey wrassler the way he goes about it..

It is best not to try to make sense of what is going on. Is possession a tansient property, or are the effects enduring? Is the house possessed? Where is this other dimension or three they are talking about? Why is the house laughing? Why is he laughing with it?

There is a blending of styles throughout the film. None of it looks seamless, but much of it is daring enough to work alongside the comedic element Campbell adds, despite the fact that the rest of the cast contributes increasingly little.

In the end, this is a good, but not a great watch. It’s interesting mainly as a study of the directing style of Raimi, who went on to make some fantastic films, and with the second part of the Dr. Strange films, hopefully there will be more.

When I watch, I am not as much amazed as amused. Most of the credit this film gets is because everyone enjoys the filmmakers as much as the film itself. For me, it’s more of a pitstop on the road to some place better.

(*** out of *****)

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