Since the dawn of splatter, there has been one age-old question that fanboys have been arguing over at length, often coming to blows. Which movie is better: Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, or Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II?
Now, with Raimi’s reportedly glorious return to schlock horror, the question has once again reared its ugly head. While Drag Me to Hell is not a direct sequel to any of the dead films (no, I haven’t forgotten about the camp-fest Army of Darkness), it shares some striking similarities in both plot and tone. But while the original Dead movie was made for a mere $350,000, Raimi’s newest film has significantly more money behind it.
Any Evil Dead fan, though, will assure you that it isn’t about the money. Or the characters, really, or even the “plot.” It’s about the jokes, the clever exchanges, the gore, and Bruce Campbell.
The debate about film sequels is nothing new. Many people argue about the best Back to the Future or Indiana Jones movie. This case is slightly different though, and it’s due to one reason: the second film is basically a remake and extension of the first.
In both films we have Bruce Campbell’s Ash holed up in the same creepy cabin. In both movies, there is a cadre of dispensable characters that are killed in gruesome ways, and in both films we have a fight against demons who possess human hosts.
All right, maybe I’m describing most schlock horror films.
So what’s the big debate? They’re basically the same movie, right?
Wrong. The difference is a matter of tone, and which movie you prefer comes down, largely, to what you want out of your fun, goofy horror films.
The original Evil Dead is more horror than comedy. While there are some laughs to be mined from the bad acting (fans still debate whether this is a purposeful choice), the silly effects, and the over-the-top gore, The Evil Dead really never goes so far out there that you’d have to call it an out-and-out comedy. Instead, it gives viewers a series of gory and chilling moments punctuated by episodes, like a tree rape scene, that make us all stop for a moment and ask “is this movie serious?”
It’s the walking of that fine line between horror, comedy and camp that makes the movie so enjoyable for me. Towards the end, it even goes into a creepy time-shifting, Lovecraftian suspense scene that is guaranteed to freak out even the most jaded horror aficionado…only to follow it up with shotgun blasts and burning monsters.
The second film gives us something entirely different. We understand from frame one that Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn is taking the comedic elements of the first film and spinning them into its own movie. It even goes so far as to rewrite the entire first film in an Ash-narrated prologue that neglects almost every other character from The Evil Dead and lets us focus squarely on Ash…who has inexplicably become a buff, stereotypical zombie-fighting action star.
At no point in this movie will you get chills or scream due to anything except glee. It’s more obvious, overt, and funny. Me, I thought it was a whole lot less interesting–if a little more entertaining, on the whole.
And Evil Dead II contains the most iconic moment from the Dead series–when Ash cuts off his possessed hand (it doesn’t die, of course), only to replace it later with a chainsaw.
In any other director’s hands, this would be the point where the series jumped the shark. It’s insane, over-the-top, and flies in the face of any serious horror that came before. But Raimi is so bold and aggressive about it–so honest about the extent of his own departure–that the audience has no choice but to throw their hands in the air and laugh along.
Personally, I kind of skip Evil Dead II altogether. If I want that low-budget, borderline horror filmmaking, I’ll revisit the original. For off-the-wall shenanigans, it’s time to watch Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness, a film that manages to push the comedic/camp element of the franchise even farther by catapulting Ash into the 14th Century.
The debate, though, will rage on, and I can’t fault either side for their opinion. It’s those movie-going hoity-toities who “don’t get it” we should all be wary of. Remember, Dead fans, we’re all on the same side. It’s the teenager falling madly in love with the Saw movies who is the enemy.
Sam’s new film should be good news for fans of the original Dead and the sequel, alike. In a recent screening, Raimi said that the tone he was going for in this film was a mixture of The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. I think I just had a nerdgasm.
Whatever, Sam. I trust you. Just make it better than Spider-Man 3 (so bad…).