Monday, March 12, 2012

“Have we got a movie to watch when you get home!”

Receiving a phone call from Dad starting with that line was already a big event. Not only was he normally not the one to call me in college, but also almost every time he did call, Mom would be in the background saying, “Tell him…” in a voice loud enough that he didn’t need to repeat it in the first place. (Those with Italian mothers should be familiar with this phenomenon.) 

The truly major event of that call, however, was that it foreshadowed my introduction to the Greatest Film in the History of Cinema - a movie that opened twenty five years ago tomorrow. Frankly I’m deeply offended that I have to work, and that schools are not closed on this momentous occasion:

The Silver Anniversary of Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
The prime reason I bought my first DVD player.

Don’t think it deserves the title “Greatest Film in the History of Cinema”?  Answer me this:

Did Casablanca have a first person (thing?) view of an eyeball popping from a demonic skull like socket into the mouth of a screaming victim?
POP, Swish-ish-ish, gulp!

Did The Godfather have an undead ballerina that did hat tricks with her own severed head, animated by the guy who did Davey and Goliath?

Did Citizen Kane have its main character beaten up by his own possessed hand, which he then lopped off with a chainsaw, and imprisoned under a bucket weighted down by the book Farewell to Arms (by Stubby Kaye); only to have it escape, give its former owner the finger, and explode in multiple geysers of blood and bile after being shot?
Who's Laughing Now?

See, the Greatest Film in the History of Cinema.

It even holds the distinction of being a sequel better (by virtue of having more everything: horror, slapstick, and inspired lunacy) than the original, and the original Evil Dead was a great, and dang scary early eighties low budget horror movie. Although technically, the beginning of part two is a remake (or at least recap) of Evil Dead…which was a full length remake of the Super-8 movie Within the Woods.  Perhaps it was the iterative process that made Dead by Dawn reach perfection.  The last five minutes even provides a Readers Digest version of its sequel.

Some will tell you that sequel, Army of Darkness (Really Evil Dead 3, or The Medieval Dead), is better than Evil Dead 2. 

And those people… are wrong.

Army of Darkness is an action comedy with monsters, an excellent one, with the flair only Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell can add to a movie, but still one of many.  As good as it was, many of its key moments of awesomeness pay homage to the previous film.

Evil Dead 2 is an actual horror movie - filled with dark moody suspense, terrifying creatures, and startling poppy-uppy things - that happens to use the Three Stooges as the primary influence for its action scenes.  No other film can say that.

Army of Darkness also suffered from excessive studio involvement and changes. That explains why I own three different versions of it, none of which match the one my family and I went on a pilgrimage to see in the theater.

The most important difference, though, is character arc.  In the third film, Ash begins, continues to be, and ends as a blustering blowhard. (A wonderfully awesome and entertaining blustering blowhard, who is the first person you’d want to call to fight a deadite, and we love him.)  In Evil Dead 2, however, we follow his transformation as he journeys through what must unquestionably be the absolute worst day ever (in a tiny cabin with what must unquestionably be an impossibly large interior).

Starting as a somewhat meek, regular, if goofy, guy: he manages to battle and defeat his deadite girlfriend Linda, get shoved through the forest by an all terrain unseen force (while being beaten by seen branches wielded by the unseen Sam Raimi)
 and shake off a brief possession with the help of the sun and quite possibly the largest puddle in the universe.  His escape is denied, and he’s forced into a rematch with Linda. (Both her headless body and bodiless head, completeness is a hallmark of quality cinema.) 
Release the Muppet!

As more horrendous things befall him - including a stern talking to by his reflection
"We just cut up our girlfriend with a chainsaw, does that sound fine?"
 and the possession of a limb, he travels well past fear, to the pit of despair.
"You bastards! Give me back my hand!"
Following the above mentioned hand lopping scene that is not in Citizen Kane, he is reduced to complete and utter madness as he joins in the insane laughter of a room full of furniture and the evil deer head on the wall.
Another scene lacking in Mr. Welles' work.
Being brutally beaten up by terrified yokels (Jake and Bobby Jo) and equally vicious academics (Annie and Ed), and locked into the cellar to be attacked by the rotting Henrietta drives him back to abject panic.  The strength of Ash begins to rise once rescued.  He pushes his terror aside matter of factly to dispatch -
the hair eating EVIL ED!

and try to make sense of the professor’s ghostly warnings and the Necronomicon Ex Mortis (Literal translation, “Book of the names of the dead of the dead”…Awesome.) 
Ash takes charge.

Once again beaten and abused by Jake, he is forced outside by him to look for the now eaten by trees Bobby Jo. (Featuring a heartbreakingly tragic scene by Jake looking for his lost love… following a gut breakingly hysterical scene where Bobby Jo is water skied through the giant puddle and into an awaiting tree by vines.) Free from the little protection the dimensionally transcendental cabin provides, Ash transforms into a deadite again.
Join Us! (Fans of Evil Dead, that is.)

 While he rampages, Annie manages to accidentally stab, batter with a door, and bludgeon Jake.  She leaves him next to the trap door where he becomes not only Henrietta’s meal, but also the second blood geyser in the film.
(For those keeping score: that’s two more blood geysers than the top ten AFI movies combined!  Seriously, what lame criteria were used for that list?)

After Jake's deluge like comeuppance, and for the second time, Ash becomes the only character to break free of deadite control.  The first time he was saved by the dawn, but the second is by his own force of will.  The process clearly and visibly snaps something within him.
"I said...I'M ALL RIGHT!"

He passes further down the path of the warrior in his determination to rescue the pages of the Necronomicon, sawing off his trusty double barreled shotgun with the chainsaw he fitted to replace his lost hand.


A second attack and thrashing in the cellar by Henrietta knocks a majority of the fear out of him, leading him to rise from the trap door with full confidence in his abilities.  This conviction is shown starting with his initial challenge:
"Let's go."
to the hovering Henrietta (When she hears him, you can see the sweat pouring out of the ear of the costume poor unsuspecting twenty one year old Ted Raimi was talked into wearing by his brother.)
The final coup de gras cements his internal fortitude at the culmination of his battle with the long necked, skull faced, monkey noise making Henrietta demon -who sounds like a deflating balloon when dismembered - after being distracted by Annie’s rendition of “Hush Little Baby”, while her disconnected skull head writhes on the floor repeating,
I'll swallow your soul...I'll swallow your soul...aaack
"Swallow this."  *BOOM!*
Try finding that in a Fellini film.  You won’t, which is why he never made the Greatest Film in the History of the Cinema. 

Annie’s death by his own Kandarian dagger wielding, severed hand mid-incantation and a trip through a time portal with the giant “Rotten Apple Head” monster
Any color but red.
and Sam’s Oldsmobile destroys any manners that may have been left. Picking himself up from the dust is the deadite slaying Ash who arrogantly proclaims “All right you primitive screwheads, listen up…this is my BOOMSTICK!” in Army of Darkness. 
The last thing the first medieval deadite to meet the boomstick saw.

The legacy of Evil Dead 2 is long and proud.

Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert went on to create the popular Hercules and Xena series, (with Bruce Campbell joining in with his high school/college friends from time to time) and more recently the Spartacus series.

The camera techniques developed on these horror films served Sam Raimi well as he went on to be a blockbuster director. (Bruce and Ted, in spite of previous, and continued, on camera abuse went on to serve him equally well, making cameo appearances everywhere in his films, and each other’s: Ted Raimi playing three roles in The Call Me Bruce, Campbell’s celebration of his Ash image.)  In fact, the Doc Ock tentacle cam views in Spider-Man 2 are very obviously (to students of the Greatest Film in the History of the Cinema) based on the “Ram-o-cam” created for Evil Dead 2.

Evil Dead 2 also marked the first time Kurtzman, Nicotero and Berger worked together, leading to the formation of the Oscar and Emmy winning KNB EFX Group. (Dusk till Dawn, Dances with Wolves, Transformers, John Carpenter’s Vampires, Narnia, Frank Herbert’s Dune, etc. etc.) As acknowledgment of the greatness of their starting point, Frank Darabont (Director of the Oscar nominated Green Mile) and many others, have asked them to create a “Heinous Horror Hag” in direct reference to Evil Dead 2.

Word is that Sam, Rob and Bruce are reuniting to remake The Evil Dead, but without the Ash character.  With those three running it, awesomeness must follow.  Note the genius present in the realization that recreating the perfection that was the original Ashley J. Williams is not possible.

The film has also had far reaching effects on others in Hollywood.

The opening video shown on Weird Al’s Alpocalypse tour looks and awful lot like the chainsaw grafting scene from Evil Dead 2, but with an accordion. (Awesome!)

Snake Plissken himself, Kurt Russell, spent an unusual amount of time when he worked on Escape from L.A. with him trying to get Bruce to say, “Workshed.”

James Cameron showed up at Bill Paxton’s home and gave him two minutes to get ready because he MUST come see Evil Dead 2.

Robert Rodriguez was thrilled to discover the KNB guys had worked on Evil Dead 2, and insisted on watching six hours of Nicotero’s behind the scenes footage as soon as he knew it existed.

Even outside of Hollywood, the influence of the Greatest Film in the History of the Cinema (referred to at the end of its own credits as "Evil Dead II, the sequel to the ultimate experience in grueling terror") is powerful.
There are vendors who still won’t look me in the eye after stopping in at my company one Halloween on routine visits.

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