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‘The Evil Dead II’ is a delightful gore-fest

PHOTO PROVIDED The poster for 1987’s “The Evil Dead II” is shown.

Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), the chainsaw wielding and double barrel shooting hero, is back and cooler than ever for “The Evil Dead II.”

Coming out about six years after the original film in 1987, “The Evil Dead II” is Sam Raimi’s big budget do-over of the first, filled with gags, gore and cheesy comedic quips, “Groovy!”

The film begins similarly to the original with Ash and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) arriving to an “abandoned” cabin in the woods (not the same cabin as the first, though it really is just the same cabin). Within the first five minutes alone, Raimi shows the satirical nature of what he was going for with the sequel. As the first movie was a straight up gorefest of horror, the sequel is a gorefest of horror BUT it is now for comedic effect. It is all the best of the first with so much more charm and with the usage of big-budget special effects. Gone is the cakey buildup of makeup on the fake shemps and in with the professional grade makeup effects to truly show the horrifying nature of the demons, however still in tune to their cartoony nature.

Ash and Linda get to the cabin in all of its ominous glory that brings back the nostalgia of the first. Linda is afraid that someone might show up to their cabin to which Ash assures no one will come. They eventually find a tape recorder in one of the rooms next to the “Necronomicon Ex Mortis,” “the Book of the Dead,” the same from the first, still bound in flesh with it’s iconic leathery face. Ash plays the recording to discover the secrets which the cabin’s owner, a professor, had recorded. He speaks about the book that he found in the Castle of Candar along with a knife with a skull on its handle. The professor from the recording begins to recite a passage involved with demonic possession. As he recites the passage in the recording, Linda quickly becomes possessed and disappears from the cabin.

Fearing for her safety, Ash ventures outside to find her but only to get attacked by the now-demonfied Linda. He panics and quickly finds a shovel and decapitates the absolute love of his life just like that. The only thing he can do for his now headless girlfriend, is to bury her, taking her necklace with him, which he just gave her. This is just the first 10 minutes of the film by the way. Raimi only takes the voltage to maximum from this point forward to absolute insanity (mostly with Bruce Cambpell). It is a faced-paced thrill ride of creativity and absurdity.

After he buries Linda, Ash is attacked by the demonic force of the forest, sweeping him through the woods like a Looney Tune bit. The force drops him into a murky bog of a puddle far away from the cabin. Lifting his head, he becomes possessed by the Candarian demon, eyes white as snow and face contorted to a hollowed ghastly aura. Fortunately this would be short lived as the sun comes up to save the day, dispersing the fog and relinquishing his possession. Now, tired and a little sad from killing his girlfriend, Ash decides to take a small nap in the woods before returning to the cabin, because why not?

Once returning to the cabin, Ash looks at the place to see a face superimposed on the structure along with hearing a faint demonic gesture saying “Join Us.” He rushes to his car and tries to escape the clutches of evil in order to not end up like Linda. However, the bridge to return to town is now destroyed by the demons, dawning night once again. The evil pursuit of Ash is once again back on as tree branches begin whipping his face and a tree stump stops his car from venturing forth, shooting him out of the windshield to then have his face smash into, well a tree. He collects himself and runs back to the safety of the cabin to take another nap. A hero needs some rest before fighting a horde of demons after all.

The film proceeds to introduce the other (expendable) characters to the story. The professor’s daughter, Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry) arrives at a local airport, carrying with her 3,000-year-old pages of the Book of the Dead to give to her father. Along with her is her boyfriend Ed Gently (Richard Domeier) who picks her up before driving off to the cabin. However, they are only able to travel to the now destroyed bridge on the opposite end. There they meet a redneck couple Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Jo (Kassie Wesley DePaiva) who are barracading the bridge. They offer help to Annie and Ed to get them to the cabin on an alternate route for a price.

As this takes place, Ash awakes from his “stoic” nap, covered in blood from his harassment with the demonic trees, to piano music seemingly playing on its own. He looks out the window at Linda’s grave, seeing the marker fall over and her body re-animate back to life with a fresher head on her shoulders and begins to dance. She toys with Ash before vanishing off into the woods to his confusion. There is dead silence before Linda returns just outside the barricaded window facing Ash and grabs him through it, begging him to dance with her. She takes him and continuously slams his face into the boards of the window continuously before her head falls off again.

Though Ash wakes up screaming in fear like the dance was just another dream; possibly a dream within a dream. However, in mere seconds Linda’s head miraculously drops on his lap saying “hello, lover” and then proceeds to bite his hand. Unable to remove her head from himself in hilarious slapstick fashion, Ash rushes outside to the shed and shoves the possessed head into a vice grip causing her to release the bite. To make matters worse for a guy who has just had a very stressful day, the possessed Linda begins to mock him. As if he hasn’t been through enough in the last 20 minutes. He reaches for a chainsaw on a shelf marked for it but it isn’t there. Then Linda’s body races toward the shed with a chainsaw to attack Ash. With his quick cunning thinking, Ash grabs a tire iron and deflects the blades of the chainsaw causing her body to clumsily fall and saws itself. He grabs the chainsaw from the body as Linda’s head returns to normal to trick him. This doesn’t work as she has pretty much gotten on his bad side, returning to the monstrous self before Ash proceeds to destroy it.

Returning to the cabin once again, trading the chainsaw for a double-barrel shotgun and a handful of shells, Ash gets frightened by a ghostly invisible entity moving a rocking chair and moaning. He believes he is losing his mind at this point and reassures himself in the mirror that everything is fine. Spoiler: it isn’t. His reflection instead comes to life and leans out of the mirror. It contradicts Ash, laughing at the predicament he has been put in before vanishing. He checks the mirror but only finding that it is a normal everyday mirror.

Ash’s right hand begins radiate dark veins from the bite wound Linda’s head left him. It begins to mutate and grows long finger nails, and moves around under its own possessed control. The hand is no longer Ash’s but a Candarian demon’s. It makes strange laughing noises in order to mock him and grabs for his face. He holds it down and screams to be given back his hand like telling a dog to drop something they shouldn’t be eating. In order to stop his demonified hand, he tries drowning it which doesn’t work as the hand smashes crockery over Ash’s head into the sink, hits him, and then flips him onto the floor. After the hand smashes a few plates and bottles over his head, it spots a cleaver and starts dragging him, who is now unconscious from the substantial brain trauma, toward it. This entire scene was completely improvised by Campbell and it’s great.

The absurdity only gets upped as Ash quickly wakes up and grabs the chainsaw where he begins to hack the possessed hand from his body, blood spewing all over the place. This is all for comedic effect by the way. He laughs maniacally, shouting “Who’s laughing now?!” at the hand and then binding his now stump of an arm with cloth and duct tape. However the hand is still alive and well, flipping Ash off in a one-finger salute. A now crazed Ash fires shells throughout the cabin until he hits the hand. Slowly, blood seeps from the wall from which it ran behind, but quickly turns to a geyser of blood that spews from the wall, showering Ash in vermilion.

Soaked in blood, disfigured, and mentally scarred, he sits back in a chair that breaks under his weight. He can’t win at all. Then everything in the room comes to life including an evil-looking deer head mount. Everything joins in to maniacally laugh at the deranged Ash; lamps, chairs, everything with amazing special effects work. Ash joins in as he stares at the camera laughing in hysterical insanity, blood and scars dawning his face.

However, the laughing stops as Annie and the rest arrive to the front porch of the cabin. Ash thinking its another demon and clearly fed up with everyone and everything, fires the shotgun through door.

He just grazes Bobby Jo and Ed and Jake enter the cabin to beat the hell out of Ash and throw him in the fruit cellar. Again, he just can’t win here.

Annie notices the absence of her parents, the professor and his wife. She sees blood on the chainsaw on the ground and the group come to the conclusion that Ash murdered them. But this theory is short lived as they find and continue her father’s recording. From the recording, they discover that Annie’s father was forced to kill his wife as she had become possessed by a demon and buried her in the cellar. Of course with his luck, Ash is in the same cellar with her. The possessed mother comes to life and frightens Ash to beg to be let up.

The group eventually lets him up and allows him to explain what is going on. There is never really time for talking as the demonic horde begins a full frontal horrific attack on the group, taking one out one by one in great ironic hysterical fashion. Raimi goes full nutso with the kills and demon possessions for the remaining of the film’s runtime.

Trying to devise a way to vanquish the evil, Ash and Annie discover in the texts of the Book of the Dead, that there was a hero depicted in 1,300 A.D. that appears as a figure with a chainsaw-hand and a “boomstick” that stopped the evil of the Deadites, or the demons. This is a foreshadow to the hilarious final movie of the trilogy, “Army of Darkness.”

As the film progresses, the group slowly diminishes with comedic and gory kills, Ash gets possessed once more, and the demonic presence grows. However, the possession of Ash is short lived as he looks at Linda’s necklace which miraculously brings him back to human.

What better way to celebrate garnering back humanity than with an awesome 80s horror montage? Ash uses his technical know-how to convert the chainsaw into a chainsaw hand, fitting firmly on his amputated stump and sawing the end of his shotgun to make his signature “boomstick”. The scene ends up with a close up of his rugged face and he announces,“Groovy.” Honestly, it is the coolest line in all of cinema. The previous coward has now become a lean mean Deadite slaying machine. Him and Annie fight the Deadites and resist possession as they try to get all of the pages together of the Book of the Dead in order to send the evil back to its slumber. Of course great quotes like “I’ll swallow your soul!” and “Swallow this!” are warranted.

Annie takes the pages the two gather and translates the text to manifest the evil. Bursting through the front door, the evil shows itself as the form of a large bloody head covered in the faces of those it has possessed. Ash is grabbed by tree branches and gets the ability to shove his chainsaw hand into the monster’s eye as Annie recites the incantation to rid the earth of the evil. This spawns a large vortex to open just outside the cabin, sucking everything into its foreboding drain, including Ash’s car, a large tree, and the evil itself. However, Ash’s possessed hand returns to stab the skull dagger into Annie’s back killing her. With her dying breaths, she finishes the incantation, sucking the giant monster head into the vortex.

Now Ash is left alone with Annie’s body for a moment before he is sucked into the vortex too. Being sent into a void, he falls from the sky onto the sandy ground along with his car and a tree. He looks around to find himself surrounded by armored and mounted knights. From the sky, a demonic bat like creature comes to attack Ash. He pulls out his “boomstick” and kills the evil before getting hailed as the “Hero from the Sky” and the man who will deliver them from the evil of the Deadites. The film concludes with Ash screaming “No!” as the story is far from over. Now ensues the third film, “Army of Darkness.”

“The Evil Dead II” is everything the first one should have been plus more. It is a horror masterpiece on every single level. Raimi cultivated one of the greatest heroes in horror with Bruce Campbell at the helm of the role. Unlike Campbell’s treatment in the first one, Ash may have been the main protagonist, however he lacked any memorable flare. Instead in its subsequent sequel, Campbell acts the ever-living hell out of the role of the chainsaw-handed Deadite killer. Where I give congrats to the crafty special effects work of the first film, the greatest part of “The Evil Dead II” is Bruce Campbell. He is hilarious and can act like he is legitimately deranged and I love him for it, and possibly concerned. His quips, his improv skills, and his ability to fully embrace himself into an absurd role makes for an extremely entertaining experience.

Along with the amazing directing of Campbell by Raimi, the larger budget ($3.5 million) makes for a huge different over the previous film’s $375,000. Most of the money is visible in the creative and entertaining special effects and practical effects work throughout the entire film. It is just an absolute blast to watch.

Stay tuned for my last review of “The Evil Dead” series with the “Army of Darkness” next week. There will be a lot of “groovy” moments awaiting with it.

“The Evil Dead II” has an IMBD rating of 7.7/10 and is rated R for substantial graphic horror, violence and gore. It can be watched and/or rented via Bo Max, YouTube, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Apple TV.

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