Having created low-budget horror classic The Evil Dead, director Sam Raimi decided to move onto new things, notably Crimewave a comedy-crime drama. As it floundered to gain any critical or commercial success, he was convinced to go back to his horror roots with Evil Dead II. Initially conceived as a history-spanning adventure in medieval times, Raimi did not have the budget available, and so gave his producers exactly what they asked for (“more of the same”) and effectively remade the original.
Evil Dead II starts with our hero from the first film, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), who returns to the cabin in the woods with a new girlfriend. No mention is made of his original experiences, which may inform the reason that he decides to play a record of someone reading from the Necronomicon. This, as before, unleashes spirits into the cabin, who quickly possess his girlfriend and set about a chain of events, similar to the original as Ash battles to survive, while the spirit promises he’ll be “dead by dawn.”
The fact that Evil Dead II is never properly explained has been the source of debate from fans of the series. Is it a sequel? Or a remake? It doesn’t really matter in the long run, because it’s a great low-budget horror in its own right and was successful enough to spawn a direct sequel where Raimi was allowed to send Ash back in time in Army of Darkness.
Evil Dead II has a distinct move away from the traditional horror elements of The Evil Dead, and despite having far more gore, is played almost entirely with a comic edge. Raimi’s originality in this regard, which would become a key factor in the success of Spider-Man sees each horror scene given a punchline, such as the free-roaming POV shot of the spirit of the woods or the Three Stooges reference when Ash is forced to cut off his own hand.
In fact this iconic scene then references Taxi Driver when he, preposterously attaches a chainsaw to the stump left remaining. Yet because of Raimi’s keen sense of wit and invention, it fits perfectly within the construct of the film. There’s also nods to other horror films, like Freddy Krueger’s claw hanging in the basement, itself probably a reference to the fact that a character in A Nightmare on Elm Street is seen watching The Evil Dead.
An improvement upon the original film, Evil Dead II has become on of the most successful cult horror films of all time. It’s loved unreservedly by its fans and is an original and memorable satire of the horror genre. It helped make Raimi one of the most popular directors working today, and should have done the same for chisel-jawed star Bruce Campbell. But if all else fails, he’ll always have Ash… and his BOOMSTICK!