In the late 70s a group of friends got together in Morristown, TN, to create the low-budget gorefest to end all low-budget gorefests, The Evil Dead. Released in 1981, the film became a cult classic on home video and suddenly people knew the names of Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and of course Bruce Campbell. Six years later, on a budget ten times that of the original, the gang returned to the cabin in the woods and outdid themselves, crafting a half remake/half sequel that broke genre conventions and turned a one-off cult film into a now 5-decade-old franchise. The film was Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, and it was released in theaters 30 years ago this week. (It’s available now on Blu-ray.)
When I was young, my favorite thing to do was get lost in the local video store. And no section was more alluring for me than the horror section. Some of my earliest memories were perusing the shelves of Flo’s Video Store, examining every horror box and occasionally annoying my dad enough to rent one for me. I’ll never forget the Evil Dead II box, with Bruce Campbell being choked by a severed hand. I thought the look on his face was hilarious, but my dad adamantly said no to that one. When I did finally get to see the Evil Dead movies I was hooked instantly. They were the movie poster trilogy on my college bedroom wall, I was Ash for Halloween more than once, and I sat third row dead center in the splatter zone for the Evil Dead: The Musical.
Evil Dead was a clear horror film with disgusting zombified makeup and practical gore effects. It was legitimately scary and took the Lovecraftian mythos of the Necronomicon and made it cool. Evil Dead II, released in theaters on March 13, 1987, somehow improved on every aspect. In the original, Ash is kind of a doofus, until he’s suddenly the accidental hero. Evil Dead II doesn’t waste any time. Within minutes Ash has hacked off his girlfriend’s head, buried her under a cross, and is face to face with evil of all kinds, from wonky mirrors, laughing mounted moose heads, and his own Deadite hand. Bruce Campbell becomes the hero of geek boys everywhere as he delivers some of the most classic lines of B-movie dialogue during some of the most classic scenes. Campbell chainsawing his evil hand off screaming “Who’s laughing now?!” and showering himself in blood is a moment that stands alone. Deadpan deliveries of that plus other great lines like, “Swallow this,” and “It’s a trick, get an axe” make you laugh as you cover your eyes from the absurd amounts of blood spilled. And then of course, there’s the chainsaw hand, perhaps the most iconic horror weapon for a hero in history.
So let’s review: An iconic character with crossover genre appeal… Check. Dialogue so cheesy that it’s now part of the pop culture lexicon… Check. A weapon so cool it inspires countless toys, and Halloween costumes… Check. A story so iconic that 30 years later, it inspired a successful TV series on pay cable… Check. Any way you slice it, Evil Dead II is a masterwork. It has stood the test of time and is shockingly relevant in the modern pop culture zeitgeist. Whenever the horror films and shows of TV get too serious and moody, you can still turn to Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell to break the dramatic monotony and give you some outrageous horror comedy you have never seen before.
Happy 30th birthday to Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, one of my all time favorite films, one that has literally lasted with me since childhood and that I quote on a near everyday basis. The entire Evil Dead trilogy is available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime streaming service and you can catch up on Seasons 1 & 2 of Ash vs Evil Dead on Starz with a paid subscription. (Stream ED I; ED II; and Army Of Darkness.)