Wednesday, October 16, 2013

BOP Reviews: Evil Dead 2


A symphony of madness.

It's been about 24 hours since I first watched Sam Raimi's now famously cult classic follow-up to his breakout film and the movie that cemented him as a horror king. EVIL DEAD 2 was a movie I had long been anticipating my first viewing of, going back to years before I had ever seen a frame of Raimi's work outside of the Spider-Man movies and Darkman. I had heard about the legend of Ashley J. Williams through countless internet praises and friends who had grown up with the gutsy gorefests that made Bruce Campbell a household name, but as far as my exposure to the actual Evil Dead brand went, I was pretty scarce. The only film of the three that I had seen in full was ARMY OF DARKNESS, and that was definitely not the film to start off on. Not because it was lacking anything - quite the opposite, Army of Darkness is immensely entertaining and one of the best horror comedies ever made - but because in that movie, Ash was already established as the badass that he inevitably became. He'd gone through the hurdle of two entire movies that built him up to be the face (or chin) of demon slaying debauchery and the best cheesy one-liners imaginable. So as a film, Army gave me great entertainment, but it did nothing to improve my experience with the Evil Dead franchise. It was simply the spark.

The clutch was actually a film in the series that would come many years later, and it's not exactly a rendition that would have prepared me for the adventures of Ash either. But Fede Alvarez's EVIL DEAD remake, released in 2012, was where I began to understand just what this series was really even about, if you could say it was about anything. As I'd understand through my viewing of 2, the series was very disjointed in a way that I could never quite put my finger on. We all know that Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD was a much different film than the sequels, with an emphasis on a very straight-laced portrayal of a group of teenagers who unleash a series of demonic entities through their discovery of a strange book inside of an old cabin, but Alvarez's remake was where I started to "get" that there was something that connected the first movie to it's predecessors. Evil Dead isn't about staunch horror or grotesque imagery, and it isn't about over-the-top camp and visual gags either. It's about all of those things combined. A celebration of the horror genre in all of it's many forms. 

Alvarez's Evil Dead was an attempt to bring things back to the roots, but there was still plenty of fun, despite it's largely serious reinvisioning of the events of the first film. Army of Darkness set out to do something different, and play things largely for laughs without any form of inhibition. The point is, neither stray entirely from the other side of the coin, either. The 2012 Evil Dead ends with it's heroine chopping her demonic tormentor in half with a chainsaw while it rains blood from the heavens. Army of Darkness' antagonist is an undead, physically grotesque mirror image of it's protagonist given life after being slain who leads an army of the dead. Whether by intention or not, the series inherently embraces both sides of their respective genre and says that you can have your cake and eat it too, and that's okay, because it won't affect the quality as long as you know what you're doing and are willing to have fun with it and dive as deep as you possibly can.

So with all of that said, I decided to finally give Evil Dead 2 a shot to see what I was missing. I hadn't seen The Evil Dead all the way through, but I'd seen enough to get where it was going by the time I had to shut it off - and oddly enough, the remake actually helped to fill in some of the blanks from there. So in terms of understanding the series and where it had ended up, without fully knowing how it had gotten there, I felt prepared. I went to Netflix, sought it out, and at 4 o'clock in the morning, I laid back in my bed and pressed play, feeling confident that I was finally going to close out the portion of the series I had waited to see the longest.

WELCOME TO OZ!

I was not prepared. Not at all. And since watching the movie, this simple description of the movie has kept going through my mind - over and over, I kept thinking "It's a symphony of madness. A symphony of madness. A symphony of madness." And I think the scene that did it for me was about twenty minutes into the movie, where Ash quite literally begins laughing hysterically with the scenery. The entire room has come to life - the mounted deer's head, the lamp, the chairs, everything - and begins laughing at the now blood-drenched Ash as avatars of the demonic entity that's been dragging him along through a new kind of hell since the very beginning. But rather than get angry at their mockery - or, as he'd start doing just a scene later, taking his shotgun and going to town on the laughing items in question - he joins in with them. The man has just severed his hand from his arm in a bid to rid himself of the curse, has been put through agonizing torture and thrown through trees, and all he can do is give into the insanity. 

The camera manically pans around him as he launches into hysteric mania, but you don't feel horrified by what's happening. You feel overjoyed. This isn't meant to be depressing. And by "this", I mean alot of things. The movie isn't meant to be depressing, the story isn't meant to be depressing - hell, the genre itself isn't really even meant to be depressing - and Raimi goes in fully acknowledging that from the start. I think The Evil Dead was his trial run at a directorial career, something that he felt safe with and something that he could use to test the waters. Because if that isn't the case, Raimi may have very well lost his mind before starting the production of it's sequel. But I do believe that it was intentional, as much as someone who doesn't know anything about the backstory of the two movies' respective productions can wager, because the very first scene says everything you need to know.

Perhaps in a stroke of genius, the first thing that Raimi decides to do is remake The Evil Dead within the first five to ten minutes. And not just remake it, but completely reinvision it. The Ashley Williams of the first movie is not present for a single second of this film, and instead, he's been replaced with someone cooler and suaver. He and his girlfriend are on a couple's retreat to the cabin, instead of going with a bunch of friends. He's even driving this time, rather than being stuck silent and awkward in the backseat. This is Ash, not Ashley. The film has crossed over into an entirely different continuity. From there, the events that transpire in The Evil Dead are more or less the same, except that instead of his friends being killed off one by one, Ash is in a one-on-one battle with the supernatural. It's taken his girlfriend away, and almost immediately, he chops her head off when it's become clear that she's possessed. Through there, the film unshackles itself from the parameters of a director's first attempt at film and lets itself become unhinged. And what an unhinging it is. 

For the first twenty minutes, I was actually pretty mixed on the movie. I saw the comedy and acknowledged what was there, but I wasn't really laughing. I didn't get it, and it all kind of seemed like a jumbled mess. But the minute that Ash began laughing with the scenery, it and everything that came before it clicked. This was a one-man show of both the lead actor and director, the other characters be damned. This was a symposium of horror and comedy by an up-and-coming Mozart of the genre. From there on, I was onboard, and felt that Raimi knew exactly what he was doing. He was giving convention the middle finger. Films aren't supposed to work by a formula, they're supposed to just... work. And that's what Evil Dead 2 does. It allows itself to go into any direction at once, like a Tom and Jerry cartoon already high on acid while snorting cocaine and breaking it's own fingers. It's a film that defies it's own nature and says "fuck it" at nearly every turn. An entire scene is just Bruce Campbell having a fight with his own hand? Why the hell not. The walls spray out a faucet of blood and then retracts the stream? You've got it. The camera chases Ash through a house so long that it begins to feel like Scooby Doo or a Benny Hill sketch? That was the point.


Also, how he is supposed to masturbate now?!

Evil Dead 2 is a testament to the idea that insanity isn't always a negative portion of the human psyche. Sometimes giving into the madness in all of us is actually very rewarding, and gives you the most creative freedom imaginable. Sometimes, all you really need to do is let it all out and embrace something's inner nature. Film can be alot of things, but restricted is something it should never be and Sam Raimi completely understood that when he was making this movie. This movie is a classic because it's over the top, because it's camp, and because it completely loses it's own mind in the process. And it's a classic because... that's the way it wants it to be.

Groovy.

- MB