Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn

Like most rabid horror fans in Los Angeles, I caught the first showing of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” at a midnight screening of a film festival. It was in one of those great old theaters on Wilshire Boulevard that no longer exists. Raimi had blown up his 16mm negative into a 35mm print for the occasion. He even attended the screening to field questions afterwards.


evildead2I remember when the lights came up, people were too numb to ask any questions. Oh sure, the usual Fangoria gang backed Raimi into a corner, but the rest of the film festival crowd just sat there. Then they quietly got up and left. They just didn’t get it. My friends and I laughed as they filed past us, one by one. Maybe it was the excessive gore. Maybe it was the sight of seeing a woman get raped by a tree. Who knows.

The crowd reaction didn’t deter Raimi, who saw a franchise in story of the film’s reluctant hero Ash, played by a then unknown Bruce Campbell. While it followed pretty much the same path as the first film, “Evil Dead 2” is superior in every aspect. Campbell, who would go on to modest stardom in “Brisco County Jr.” and several other films, is excellent as Ash, the poor sap who has the bad fortune to visit a haunted isolated cabin the woods not once, but twice.

Some people never learn. Luckily for them, it’s one of those isolated cabins in the woods that comes with it’s own power supply, so Ash can play back a tape recording by a professor that summons the dead. Otherwise he would have to read the passages from the Book of the Dead, which would be really hard because they’re in an ancient language. Moments after Ash plays back the message, his girlfriend Linda is abducted by an evil presence. By the time Ash catches up with her, she’s been transformed into a zombie, and he’s forced to sever her head with a shovel. Don’t you hate it when that happens? So like every responsible boyfriend, he buries the body in a shallow grave, and takes refuge back in the house.

Ash’s problems mount when his hand becomes possessed, and he’s forced to chop it off. Then his severed hand takes on a life of its own, creating all sorts of havoc. While Ash deals with his problems, another group of victims shows up, including the daughter of the professor. Luckily, she can read ancient languages, and has brought with her the missing pages of the book that will banish the evil. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have much time to catch up on her reading as the group is turned in zombies one by one. Raimi and co-screenwriter Scott Spiegel pepper the horror with wild fits of whimsy.

The wicked humor is a welcome relief to the non-stop horror, which is fast and furious. While the gore content has been raised (and yet the film still received an “R” rating), some of the objectionable material from the first film has been excised. A female victim is still assaulted by trees and vines, but the actual rape has been left out. Good choice. While violence towards women is a staple of most horror films, sexual violence is extremely ugly. Oh sure, you can chop of a woman’s head and parade it around on a stick, but you better not have sex with her while you’re doing it. The gore is something else. It’s very stylized, so that takes off some of the edge.

Poor Ash gets covered with more blood than “Carrie” at her prom. The film is filled with severed limbs, flying eyeballs, gushers of crimson fluid, dancing headless naked corpses, and yet it’s very entertaining and funny. It’s all done tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes tongue-out-of-cheek. Campbell is hilarious as Ash, delivering an over-the-top performance that somehow seems at home in this film. The rest of the cast is fine, but the real stars are the behind-the-scenes technicians who make all of this madness work.

The special effects are truly special, while the production design is very cinematic. “Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn” is both scary and fun, the perfect movie to enjoy on a dark, stormy night with a large bowl of popcorn.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ ] EXCELLENT [ X ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

On the whole, the digital transfer is solid. There are some problems with ghosting, especially dealing with Ash’s jet black hair and some patterned backgrounds. While this problem almost lends an eerie look to the scenes, they do become annoying. On a better note, the 1.85:1 widescreen transfer shows good color definition and impenetrable blacks. Some of the grainy interiors look more like a film stock choice rather than a compression problem. The flesh tones are rich, while the reds get a real workout. Not a superior transfer, but considering the source material, a pretty decent one.

HEARING: [ ] EXCELLENT [ X ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

The Dolby Digital Mono track is sufficient and gets the job done, but even a manipulated surround track would have enhanced the experience.

ORAL: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ X ] D.O.A.

No closed captions or subtitles.

COORDINATION: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ X ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

The menus are nice, but aside from the original theatrical trailer, there’s no much here. The scene access menu and accompanying literature list 12 chapter stops. There are 12 chapter stops, but they don’t register on the DVD front panel display. You can jump to the chapters via the scene access menu or by punching the next scene button on the remote. This is a continuing problem with Anchor Bay Entertainment DVDs and needs to be addressed. Interestingly, the DVD begins with an Elite Entertainment logo.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] EXCELLENT [ X ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

Like other fans of “Evil Dead 2,” I have anxiously been awaiting its release on DVD. Except for the ghosting and chapter stop problems, the DVD looks and sounds great.

VITALS: $29.99/Rated R/85 Min/Color/12 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#DV10504

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: EVIL DEAD 2 – DEAD BY DAWN

BIRTH DATE: 1987

HMO: Anchor Bay Entertainment



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