Among horror fans and critics alike, there has been some disagreement as to whether Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn is a sequel to or remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult classic The Evil Dead. The reason being that this satirical film seems to skirt the edges of both categories, never quite landing fully in either. Bruce Campbell returns as hero Ashley ‘Ash’ Williams, and this time around he’s fully embracing his schmaltzy charm from word go. The first act serves to retell the events from the first film, distilling them into a bite-sized morsel. Reportedly, the original plan was to use actual footage from the first film, but a battle over the rights left Raimi no choice but to do it over.
Ash and his girlfriend Linda head out to a remote cabin for a weekend away, but things quickly go wrong when he discovers the Necronomicon, or Book of the Dead. When he plays the tape and unleashes an ancient evil that possesses Linda’s body, he is left with no choice but to kill her. While Ash struggles to survive the onslaught of the evil himself, a new group of unsuspecting characters assemble and begin to make their way towards the cabin. The daughter of the archaeologist who found the book is on the way with her boyfriend and some missing pages to the Necronomicon. Once they discover that the only road has been washed out, they enlist the help of locals Jake and Bobby Joe to guide them. The remainder of the plot plays out just as you’d expect; more of the players become Deadites and try to kill their comrades while Bruce Campbell hams it up. The more people around him that fall, the more of his muscles get exposed until his shirt is nothing but tattered rags.
With Evil Dead II, Raimi gives fans exactly what they want. Along with much more of Ash, the gross factor is there. All of the exaggerated gore is there and then some; with fake blood oozing and spurting from everything in sight and body parts being removed with surprisingly little fanfare. Likewise, the appearance of the Deadites has also escalated in tandem with the larger budget. Instead of the slowly decomposing bodies of the original hosts, those who are possessed become immediately disfigured with strange and monstrous new bone structures and mouths full of horrifying spiked teeth. The movie is also chock full of references to the original that fans will immediately recognize, ensuring that the story feels like an appreciative nod to fans.
And it worked! Inspired by slapstick classics like The Three Stooges, Evil Dead II is a perfect satire of the film that preceded it. At the time of its release, Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars and it has only gained appreciation since, coming in nineteenth when Entertainment Weekly released their list of the Top 50 Cult Movies of All Time. Evil Dead II Also gave us the now-instantly-recognizable image of Ash with his beloved chainsaw for a hand, as well as his famous catchphrase, “Groovy!” Whether this is a remake, a sequel, or a little of both, it easily proves as the exception to the rule that films in either category never stand up to the original.