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Evil Dead II Dead By Dawn - dir: Sam Raimi

Recently a friend of mine satiated my quest for 80ís kiddie porn by lending me a copy of the Molly Ringwald classic, 16 Candles. Upon its return my friend insinuated that I should reply to the favor by lending her a copy of one on the many fine films in my video collection. "How about Evil Dead II?" "I asked. "Itís just like 16 Candles, but with more flying zombies!"

In truth, Evil Dead II - Dead By Dawn is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made. Directed by Sam Raimi (Of current A Simple Plan fame) and starring his childhood friend, Bruce Campbell (a modern day Buster Keaton) the film is essentially a remake of the first Evil Dead with a much bigger budget. Really more of a comedy than a horror flick (albeit a comedy where all the characters either die or are hideously tortured) the plot ghosts the story of its predecessor - young people arrive in spooky house, summon forces of evil and then wackiness ensues. A lot of what keeps the film becoming a clichť of the Friday the 13th part 7 variety is Campbellís wonderful overacting; he seems to have a continual body tick that offsets his "boy next door" good looks with spastic twitching. He then proceeds to heighten that effect with quietly mumbled curses in the flavor of Elmer Fudd. Also impressive is the pure physical abuse Campbell takes during the film: heís thrown from a car window, repeatedly smashed into trees, maniacally saws off his own demon-processed hand and has enough dishware smashed against his head to knock out Iron Mike. One gets the feeling that if Campbell wasnít available for the role it would have gone to Roger Rabbit.

Despite the underlying farcical nature of the film, there is a moody eerieness. Raimi is one of the few directors who can use a fog machine in a way that doesnít remind you of a 1989 Whitesnake concert and also has some patented violent camerawork that continually disorients the viewer and creates the illusion of panic. His "rushing along the ground" shot that represents an evil force we never really see is perhaps the most instantly recognizable and identifying camera shot of any director. (Though I just recently read the idea wasnít Raimiís but some forgettable AD or something.) Thereís also some great claymation work right out of the Ray Harryhausen catalogue that it its own way seems far more impressive than the computer generated effects of films such as Deep Impact or Jurassic Park. You can see the elbow grease that goes into claymation; itís strikingly obvious that the only way to create such effects is to diligently manipulate clay and camera for what must be days. The purity of the effort overcomes the obvious limitations on realism.

So the film moves along, humorously eliminating its human characters while Bruce Campbellís alter ego, Ash, progresses from a nervous simp, to a kick-ass, battle ready simp. The plot leads directly into what was essentially the third Evil Dead, Army of Darkness. All three films are vital to any connoisseur of cult, but I do believe it is the second Evil Dead that stands the strongest. Evil Dead II also made a minor contribution to pop culture that I never really noticed until a visit to my friend Danís House, this past summer. "You know," I mentioned. "I donít think you really saw zombies with eyeballs until Evil Dead II" (A large grinning and eyeballed, zombie stares out from the EDII poster.) And this is true. The old style zombies of the Christopher Lee mummy films to even Ed Woodís work have no apparent vision devices. But a few years after Evil Dead II, films like Return of the Living Dead (another classic, the film that got me into Punk Rock) or Scooby Doo on Zombie Island appeared, featuring zombies with full ocular abilities. I know many of you have often wondered when the undead first appeared with functioning eyeballs and hopefully this goes a long way towards answering your question.

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