Film Review: 1987’s Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn

After six years, Sam Raimi returns to The Evil Dead with a bigger budget and produces one of the most popular horror films of all time.  Is it worth the hype?

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The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II.  People really love these.  Maybe it’s because I like the horror aspects in the beginning and find it to be ruined by the comedy after the fact, or maybe Sam Raimi and I just have completely incompatible senses of humor.  Regardless, I’ve seen this movie praised for years, to the point where I simply can’t resist an opportunity to knock it down a peg.

Ever since Evil Dead was announced as a possibility and Sam Raimi might remake the film that put him on the map, it’s occasionally met with another topic that has cropped up from time to time about The Evil Dead: the question of whether or not it had already been remade in Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn.  Perhaps the reason why this debate has somewhat died down is that it’s clear early on that both sides are right to an extent.

To support the idea that this film remakes the other, we start off with the same two characters going to the same cabin as the first film, although it’s visually much improved and their friends (the body count from the original) don’t appear. They listen to the same recording, too unaware to be Ash’s return to the cabin, and they are possessed by childish demons again.  Ash is also very much remade, losing the pushover attitude that made “Ashley” such a fitting name for Bruce Campbell in the original, as well as becoming a much more interesting actor after 6 years.

To support the side that this is a sequel, the “remake” scenes – including Linda’s forest burial, last all of ten minutes. From there, we go on to Ash fleeing an unseen menace that he can clearly see, which results in his boarding himself up in the cabin to protect himself from this unseen menace. He’s safe during the daytime, although unable to escape, but the Deadites are eager to menace him once again at night. Like the rest of the film, the Deadites look much better.

>While we’re talking about the acting and the technicals, I don’t want to give you the impression that everything is perfect. There’s one scene in particular where all of Ash’s lines are clearly dubbed, as are the sound effects from his possessed hand. This is quite possibly the worst dubbing job that’s not related to translation that I’ve ever scene. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the worst I’ve ever seen, early Gojirasequels included. There’s also the rather obvious fact that Ash’s arm grew about four inches after his hand was cut off. Maybe he has a mutant healing factor?

Once the setup is complete, we undergo a series of scenes in which Ash struggles against the Deadites. Here we see that while the Deadites have the same annoying sense of humor as the first film (they later decide to chant the subtitle for absolutely no reason), it’s not nearly as repetitive or annoying. We see bits and pieces of other things borrowed from the original as the film goes on; rather than a tree rape, we get a violent death that borrows from 1982′s Pieces, of all things. Just as we think the film is going to run out of things to show us with Ash by himself, we introduce new characters: a redneck couple, the daughter of the researcher in the recording, and her husband.

Some continuity questions are raised from this plot, however. For example, apparently the owner of the house in the woods where Ash and his girlfriend went for some unsupervised time has only been missing for a week. So… why is he there? Is it just his routine to break into people’s houses and have sex in them?  That could have done with some explanation, or just a bit of tweaking that would have made a little bit more sense.

The rednecks, on the other hand, exist mainly to move the plot around by being greedy and stupid. You can peg the man as being too stupid to live from the first time you see his face, never mind opening his mouth. But he’s convenient to the plot, and he helps increase the body count, so he’s there.

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawnis technically a much better movie than the original, and fixes some of the issues that made me like it a lot less than its popularity would indicate. What does bring it down – in terms of memorability and recommendation – is that once you’ve watched the first, there’s little in the way of fresh and new. In the way a remake would be, Dead by Dawnis effectively a way to showcase a bigger budget, better effects and better acting by making the same movie again in a quasi-sequel. The biggest difference other than presentation between The Evil Deadand Dead by Dawnis Ash himself, played by Bruce Campbell in both versions but much more interesting a character in the sequel. Really, Campbell’s the best reason to pick up the sequel if you’ve already watched the original, and the movie acknowledges this by leading straight into the opening scenes of a movie about Bruce Campbell spouting one liners and shooting things. Groovy.

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2 thoughts on “Film Review: 1987’s Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn

  1. Good review Bill. I’ll admit it, this movie’s better than the first, but it’s also a lot crazier given what Raimi had to do to get this green-lit. Still, it’s a romping good time, no matter what type of genre-fan you are.

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