10/29/09

Halloween Top 13:The Sequel #3: Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987)

I’ve talked an awful lot about villains over these last few days. Freddy, Jason, Pinhead, Angela, and The Tall Man have all made appearances on the countdown, but for the next couple of days, I’m going to set the focus on the bad guys aside and talk mainly about a couple of heroes. Horror heroes are a much rarer breed. They often make it through the film only to get killed in a shocking conclusion or they appear in the sequel to get taken out in the first few minutes. The horror film is unkind to its saviors, but today’s hero is made of tougher stuff than that. He can take all the abuse that an unseen force, a possessed old lady, and even his own hand can dish out, and he’s still up for more. That hero is Ashley ’Ash’ J. Williams, and the movie is Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn.

Before I get into a synopsis, I want to address the sequel/remake debate that hovers around the first two Evil Dead films. They are essentially very similar films, but what proves that Evil Dead 2 is a sequel is a trait it shares with many of the films on this list, a recap. Raimi opens his film by giving a truncated version of the first film. If the events of the first film had not occurred, there would be nothing to recap. It’s true that events and characters from the first film fall by the wayside in this recap, but seriously, it was more important to get the second film going than catch everyone up on the minutia of the first. If there are still any of you out there that doubt that Evil Dead 2 is a sequel, then here is the straight dope direct from Raimi. On the DVD commentary he clearly states that, if the recaps at the beginning of Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness were removed, you could watch the three as a continuous film. Hence, Evil Dead 2 is a sequel.

The recap shows Ash (Bruce Campbell) and Linda (Denise Bixler) going to the cabin and playing a tape where Professor Knowby recites parts of the Necronomicon. The incantation turns Linda into a deadite, and Ash has to lop off Linda’s head with a shovel. This is basically where the new film begins. The next day Ash tries to escape only to find that the bridge leading away from the cabin has been destroyed, and he is chased back to the cabin by the unseen force. Linda’s body comes back to life and attacks Ash. The head bites his hand while the body menaces him with a chainsaw. Recovering the chainsaw, our hero defeats the separate pieces of his girlfriend’s body. Returning to the cabin, he gets taunted by his own reflection and his hand goes bad so he has to cut it off. That’s about the time that the Professor’s daughter Annie (Sarah Berry) and his research assistant Ed (Richard Domeier) arrive at the cabin after being guided there by Jake and Bobbie Joe (Dan Hicks and Kassie Wesley DePavia), a couple of local yahoos. First the newcomers turn on Ash, but after listening to her father’s tape recount how her mother went insane and tried to kill him, they release him from the fruit cellar. The five of them soon become four, then three, and finally two, and it is up to Ash and Annie to find a way to send the evil force back were it belongs.

Evil Dead II was a film that almost didn’t happen because it was having trouble attracting funding, but thanks to another horror icon, Steven King, the picture was bankrolled by Dino De Laurentiis. Dino was also producing King’s directorial debut Maximum Overdrive, and we should all thank our lucky stars this was before King directed his killer trucks disaster and not after. So with financing secured, Raimi turned to Scott Spiegel, a childhood friend of his and Campbell who had collaborated on many of their home movies. The script they came up with was far less horror driven than the first film, and it derived much of its inspiration from The Three Stooges.

The addition of humor into Ash’s world brought the energetic style of Rami’s first film to the next level, and a good bit of this can be attributed to the influence of Spiegel. Ash’s battle with his hand was based off a short film Spiegel had made called Attack of the Helping Hand, and many of the visual jokes can be attributed to his sense of humor. Adding comedy to the mix not only made this film more entertaining, it also greatly enhanced the performance of Bruce Campbell. I don’t know if Bruce knew he was a comic actor before making this film, but there’s no denying his ability after seeing Evil Dead II. His timing and wide eyed crazy looks are part of what makes this film such a classic.

I don’t think I need to go into the career of Bruce Campbell as I can’t imagine there are many horror fans that are unaware of his career and personality. Let me just say this about Bruce, and I realize I’m not going to be alone on this one. He’s one of my favorite genre film actors, and I will watch any manner of crap in which he appears. Maniac Cop, bring it on. My Name is Bruce, hell, yeah it is. Bubba Ho-Tep, you better believe it. Spider Man 3. Ahem, Spider Man 3. Yeah, I’ll even watch Spider Man 3. Bruce Campbell is one of the most relentlessly entertaining actors appearing in genre, and Evil Dead II is really the film that made his reputation. This is the film where Campbell became quotable (something that almost got taken too far in Army of Darkness), and there’s nothing better than the first time Ash utters the immortal line “Groovy.”

There’s not really much to say about the supporting cast of this film. While the professor’s daughter, his assistant, and the pair of rednecks are well acted, it is not like we really get to know their characters. If I had to pick one of them, I would go with Dan Hicks as Jake. He plays the redneck to the hilt, and the scene where he insists, at gunpoint, they go out to look for his doomed girlfriend Bobbie Joe is an indispensable scene. There is one other great supporting role, but it’s performed from under such a heavy layer of makeup that a lot of folks don’t know who the actor is. Underneath the layers of prosthetics, Ted Rami is truly inspired in his performance as Henrietta the possessed wife of the professor. Rami is always great at playing those over the top characters (see his performance as Joxor in any episode of Xena), and he really went for it with this role.

Of course, no discussion of a Sam Raimi film would be complete without turning an eye to his film making. The tracking shots of the unseen force, the camera that whirls around, and the use of shadows are all on display in Evil Dead II. One of the reasons that I like the second installment a little better is that it has an extra layer of polish that the first film lacked. Now I’m not saying I need a film to have incredible production values, I’m just saying that the boost in the look of the second film really serves it well. Raimi has always had a firm grasp on how to alternately use gore and the techniques of classic horror films to achieve his goals. With Evil Dead II, he perfectly captured a feeling that makes this distinctly his film, and that is the mark of any skilled director. Raimi not only made one of the best sequels ever made in the horror world, but he created one of the best and most entertaining heroes ever to grace the screen. Ash would only get a trilogy of films (although a fourth has been long rumored) unlike his evil counterparts who often reached double digits in their sequels, but they lodged the character of Ash deeply into the consciousness of every horror fan. Sometimes it great to see how the bad guy kills folks, but for once, it was nice to cheer for a hero instead.

Bugg Rating


Today’s list comes from Emily over at The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense. If you only read one blog written by a gal who’s freaked out by dolls, then you should make it Emily’s site. For her list, Emily thought a little outside the box, and she opened up her list to all kind of sequels. So get ready for a list that is as entertaining as it is original. Take it away, Emily….


13. Ewoks: The Battle for Endor: As a little girl rarely allowed to play with my brothers' action figures, this was my way into the Star Wars universe. Not a great movie, but a nice way for kids to enjoy the mythology without suffering though JarJar Binks.

12. Silent Night Deadly Night 2: It's 2 movies in one! Since 45 minutes are devoted flashbacks, you get the best-of from the original, plus the most insanely awful killing spree of all time. Every day should be Garbage Day!

11. The Muppets Take Manhattan: The Muppet Movie brings incredible music styling to the Henson world and The Great Muppet Caper throws in a nice stylish twist, but it's this 1984 frogs and chickens and whatever in the city that warms my heart on a cold day.

10. Starship Troopers 3: Nowhere near the splashy fun of the first one, but this direct-to-DVD sequel returns after a ho-hum Part 2, bringing big bug action and very sharp satire on religion.

9. Saw IV: Most people that insult the Saw series probably haven't seen past Part II. While none of the annual sequels are masterpieces, each does its job at giving us insanely ridiculous kills and a fluid--if overly complicated--storyline. My biggest problem with the
franchise was always its lack of, well, niceness. Sure, it's fun to see Donnie Walberg slumming it up, but it's hard to stay invested when his and every other character onscreen is so damn unlikable. Thankfully, Part IV took a step to fix this by making the more
sympathetic character of Rigg, first glimpsed at as a too emotional SWAT member in Part 2, its main protagonist. You get everything you expect from a Saw film but for once, you actually care about the outcome.

8. Jason Takes Manhattan: possibly the worst entry in the series in terms of (cough cough) quality, this 8th installment achieves incredible levels of ridiculousness in its last 20 minutes. The head punch is the highlight, but it's the over-the-top unfriendliness of a
Canadian version of NYC--complete with heroine-shooting rapists, apathetic subway riders, and a daily cleaning of the sewer systems with toxic waste--that makes this film my favorite.

7. 28 Weeks Later: Scary as hell and built on several solid performances. Nothing quite captures the eeriness of Boyle's abandoned London, but just try to watch that opening scene without holding your breath.

6. Army of Darkness: Has any director had such a fun time directing an actor than Sam Raimi? Bruce Campbell returns to fight Deadites, this time rounding a British army in medieval England. The mix of physical comedy and sharp one liners never fails to make me smile.

5. Hostel II: Picking up from where part 1 left off, Eli Roth wastes no time by bringing audiences deeper into the world he created, this time focusing on more sympathetic protagonists and a pair of fascinating torturers-to-be.

4. The Road Warrior: Mad Max established a stark Australia following a disaster, but this first sequel is what sent the world over the edge as the car chases got bigger, the hair grew longer, and the leather went out of control.

3. Scream 2: Scream brought a fresh meta take on the slasher genre, while this film smartly used every cliché of horror sequels to funny, and occasionally frightening effect. It blatantly explains what sequels shouldn't do, then has the guts (sometimes borrowed from
cameo'ing actors) to do them anyway.

2. Seed of Chucky: By the 21st century, poor little Charles Lee Ray had lost his fear factor (to everyone but me, but anyway...). Instead of trying to continue the balance between straight horror and camp awkwardly towed in Parts 2 &3, Bride of Chucky galloped in with a comedic over-the-top edge. Sure, that's the film that introduced us to Jennifer Tilly’s Tiffany, but it's Seed of Chucky--helmed by Child's Play's original author--that goes all out. Redman directs a film about the Virgin Mary, John Waters cameos as a sleazy reporter, Julia Roberts gets insulted, and the audiences meet the sweetest, most sympathetic collection of plastic ever to have sexual identity issues

1. Dawn of the Dead: Simply the best.

Honorable Mention: Battle Royale 2: I know, I know. It's a mess and nowhere near as classic as the 1999 original. That being said, Battle Royale 2 does a lot of intriguing things--perhaps too many. In depicting a terrorism scarred society, the sequel goes back to capture some of the tyrannical government spirit so present in the original novel. The opening attack scene is as intense as anything in Saving Private Ryan and some of the dialogue makes thoughtful observations on life in wartime. It's a flawed 2+ hours, but not a totally dull one.


That’s some list there Emily. I really liked how outside of the norm a lot of your choices are though I have a hard time believing anyone likes Starship Troopers III. However, your defense of Seed of Chucky actually makes me want to see that film again, something I thought would never happen. That brings day three to a close folks, and with only 2 more to go, I can’t wait to get into these films.




3 comments:

  1. Starship Troopers 3 really took me by surprise. It's buggier than part 2, plus has a wickedly clever satirical spin on organized religion that pays off in the very last credits scene.

    As far as Seed of Chucky, it's a loving homage to all things camp. C'mon: even John Waters gets hammy! Best of all is the DVD commentary by Don Mancini and Jennifer Tilly. It's almost as fun as the movie itself.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post "No teme" in your blog with the link to you?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sure, let me know what the link is I'd love to see your site.

    ReplyDelete

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