In honour of the UK release of Evil Dead on Thursday, we watched the originals over the weekend. Here is a bumper collection of reviews of Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.
The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi burst onto the horror scene in 1981 with Evil Dead; a film that spent more time in the BBFC’s cutting room than it did in the editing suite of Edna Ruth Paul. Why did it spend so long being censored? Because it contains an ungodly amount of gore, epic scares and a scene with a tree that errs on the side of completely distasteful.
There is little point in going into the respective plots of the first one and three-quarter movies in this trilogy because there simply aren’t plots, three acts or any character development (in individual movies, but Ash has an arc over the trilogy). Therefore, they can be summed up in a bitesize format;
The Evil Dead is a delight if you are a horror hound. It has lots of gore, some genre-busting camerawork, a seminal performance from the legendary Bruce Campbell, as well is a mixture of live action and stop-motion animation. In a decade of slasher dominance, The Evil Dead holds the baton for the supernatural, flesh-melting fantasy horrors inspired by Charlie Chaplin, Ray Harryhausen and Night of the Living Dead.
Raimi invented a solid series with The Evil Dead and created a cult character with the help of Bruce Campbell (who is so damn good across the trilogy). Raimi proved that you can make a film full of scares, that has a thread of humour throughout, all done on a shoestring budget. The creative choice to make the tracking shots a “demon’s-eye view” is so clever, and without this the film wouldn’t be half as effective or scary.
On reflection though, these scares were scares ten years ago on first viewing, but now it looks really dated. The shoestring budget aspect is so evident, sometimes it’s difficult to look past how cheap it looks. As much as some of the camerawork is amazing, there are some scenes where it looks uncomfortably terrible; when Scott is checking out the cabin near the beginning of the film, the camera is so shaky it felt as if my eyes had caught temporary Parkinson’s. It’s thanks to Campbell that the film is held together, because if Raimi had anyone else in the role of Ash, the ‘Mach 10’ pace of the panicky action would have just got immensely dull.
Evil Dead 2
In many ways I’d say that Evil Dead 2 is Raimi actually remaking the first movie using what he learnt during production of The Evil Dead. While being a more polished experience, and although it relies on pretty much the same of everything, it’s a much more satisfying and funny watch.
Clearly Raimi has been reactive to the critical and popular opinion of the first movie, as he has cranked up the gore, but also the heart of the movie has gone from a scary movie being slightly funny, to being a hilarious pastiche of The Evil Dead. He isn’t paying homage to himself, because that would be a jerk move, but he’s honouring the audience with set pieces that go beyond the “Mach 10” of The Evil Dead; this one truly goes up to 11.
There are little jokes in this movie that honour the first; when Ash goes to grab his famous chainsaw it’s not there, we just see a chalk outline. This constant winking at the audience creates a fantastic mood; regardless of the gory, abject and incongruous imagery (was this where Beauty and the Beast got inspiration for moving household appliances?), it’s possible to sit through this film with a smile on your face. Well, maybe that’s just me, but it’s a great movie nonetheless, and the better of the two Evil Dead films.
The slight change in plot direction is the setting up of Army of Darkness at the end of the movie. Ash and Annie are left with the Necronomicon and, to try and save humanity, chant an incantation that opens a portal. Unfortunately, while the evil spirit gets sucked into the whirling portal, so does Ash and his Oldsmobile. They get transported into the Dark Ages, and viola, we have a perfect setup for the final film in the trilogy.
Army of Darkness
This is the most complete movie of the trilogy in terms of narrative structure, style and cinematic accomplishment in general. In my notes I have it down as ‘Monty Pyton meets Richard 3rd meets Evil Dead meets Charlie Chaplin’. Plot-wise, we follow on directly from the second movie; Ash gives us a little narration to jog any memories; I didn’t need it as I saw the two films three days apart, but in reality there was half a decade between the movies. Regardless, it is a great way to remind anyone that Ash is pretty much a badass, and that we are in for a rollercoaster ride similar to Evil Dead 2.
The production values are a galaxy away from the first Evil Dead. This was made ten years after, so editing and post-production process had got infinitely better, but it looks fantastic. Interestingly, we can see the seeds of the Green Goblin from Raimi’s Spiderman movie in the design of Ash’s metal hand (remember he cuts of his hand in the second movie? Well it’s replaced by a metal hand, which comes in handy against the hoardes of Undead’s swords!). It goes without saying that it has a proper plot! Ash has to find the Necrocomicon to read a passage that will transport him back to his own time, but also has to protect the book from an army of Deadites; he even has to fight a rotting version of himself, which is quite something to behold.
This movie is hilarious. Whether it’s Campbell fighting Gullivers travels-sized version of himself, or watching skeletons throw punches and be thrown at Ash from off camera, it’s just utterly ridiculous. If you didn’t like the style of the second film, you will not enjoy this version. It’s not one for farty critics; it’s an insane romp through the Dark Ages with an enlightened, shotgun-wielding, chainsaw-armed ‘Murican. I think Evil Dead 2 is my favourite of the three, but this one is a close second.
Overall, this trilogy rightfully deserves its place among cinema’s special movies. The heart and soul that runs through each film is a clear indicator of Raimi’s love of the medium. It balances the absurd, horrific, incongruous, hilarious and down right insane, so perfectly, it’s hard to see anyone matching the tone ever again.