Evil Dead II might have a number in its title, but it doesn’t play out all that much like a sequel. It’s more like a mulligan, like a remake of the first Evil Dead. In that film, a group of young adults went up to a remote cabin in the woods and unleashed the spirits of the dead thanks to an evil book. In this one, only one of the characters returns, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), and he is once again going to a cabin in the woods, isolated from the rest of the world.
He’s joined only by his girlfriend, who jokes with him about the cabin while they’re in the car, almost like they’ve seen the first film and are reminiscing. She dies soon enough, and much of the film is singularly focused on Ash. He sees a book, “The Book of the Dead,” from the first film, a record player that recites some incantations supposed to resurrect spirits, and you can pretty much figure out where it’s going to go from there. She dies, and he’s going to have to fight off the evil spirits.
Ash has undergone a character change in this not-really-a-sequel to The Evil Dead. There, he was kind of a nerdy, reluctant hero. Here, he has decided to be the kind of cocksure man continuously spouting one-liners and having no problem going headfirst into danger. This is another reason why it’s confusing to even call Evil Dead II a sequel, as the main character is completely different, even though he shares the same name and actor. Sure, the initial “why he is going back to the cabin in the woods after what happened last time?” question is jarring, but this is a much longer-lasting feeling.
Anyway, once the horror starts, it doesn’t stop. Spirits are relentless, having nothing to lose in their quest to come back from the dead, and it’s up to Ash Williams to take them all down. He’s better prepared this time around, knowing where all the weapons are and figuring out quickly how to use them, and without unnecessary secondary characters to get in his way, he’s totally ready for anything that the spirits will throw at him. That is, until secondary characters do show up, and the film slows down a bit.
It also becomes less humorous, which is a shame. The lighthearted tone is still there, but it just isn’t as funny, for some reason. Early in the film, when it’s just Ash alone with the spirits, there are many points where the insanity is so strong that it’s hard not to laugh. Ash even has a couple of times when he has to laugh. The spirits are even laughing along with him! But once the secondary humans show up — their collective purpose is to be killed or covered in blood — the humor seemed to drain from the film.
Maybe the improved special effects were part of the problem. Much of the film is doused in effects, and they all actually look pretty good. The first Evil Dead had laughable effects, but because they looked cheap, it was funny to watch them. In this one, they’re excessive and over-the-top, but they look fine so there’s nothing to laugh at. You just get bored with the constant blood and gore that covers these characters, or the relentless spirits that should really just give up.
I appreciated in this film how the set-up for the premise doesn’t take any additional time that it doesn’t need. There are only about ten minutes before the spirits start attacking, and once they begin, they don’t stop until the very end. It’s refreshing after watching The Evil Dead and waiting over thirty minutes before the horror begins. In this one, we only have to wait those ten minutes, even though the film’s running time is on par with its predecessor. You get more action and horror this time around, leading to a more enjoyable film overall.
The “bigger is better” approach to sequel making was taken here by director Sam Raimi, and the film is better for it. You get a lot of silliness, still, but there are some genuinely tense and thrilling action scenes scattered throughout. How many films have a character cut off his own hand and attach a chainsaw to it — while also wielding a shotgun with his other hand? This one does, and if you can find me another, I’ll be grateful.
Evil Dead II does feel overly familiar, largely because it’s like a pseudo-remake of the first Evil Dead. Many of the set-pieces and plot points have been reused here, and there’s a certain lack of freshness to the whole production. Yes, it’s still fun, and you get more of the exciting portion this time around, but some of it was done better before. It really does feel like a redo of something that was somewhat successful earlier. Maybe an upgrade, using better special effects thanks to a larger budget. I guess it’s the charm of the first film that’s really missing.
Still, I enjoyed Evil Dead II more than The Evil Dead because of the way it moved quickly into the action-horror portion of the film. Because it’s frequently entertaining, I tended to overlook some of the issues, like the lack of real characters and the rehashing of previous events, as I constantly had something thrown at me that would hold my attention. This is a bigger and better version of The Evil Dead, even if it was missing some of the charm that came from its lower budget predecessor.