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‘Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn’

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 30, 1987


Sam Raimi
Bruce Campbell;
Sarah Barry
Not rated

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Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn" is a scream of consciousness, a goremonger's nightmare, and so what if it's an almost exact replica of its predecessor, one of the most successful (and, believe it or not, critically acclaimed) films in the horror-gore genre. With their virtually nonstop geysers of blood, dismemberments and ghastly ugliness (the Evil Dead are not high on personal hygiene), these films are not for the faint-hearted or lily-livered -- and definitely not for children.

For adults, however, everything is so Out There, so comedically exaggerated, that there's no way to take the films seriously. Raimi and his crew certainly don't. "Evil Dead" is the postmidnight meld of Roadrunner cartoons and Three Stooges films, but mostly it's a showcase for scary special effects and gruesome makeup: gagging for gags' sake, as it were.

In Raimi's world, there is no rest for the eerie. Bruce Campbell (who also starred in the first "Evil Dead" and who looks like a bug-eyed David Byrne on steroids) is once again headed for those proverbial deep, dark woods with his girlfriend (Denise Bixler). Trouble appears the moment they sneak into the remote cabin of a professor who in the previous film had been translating "Necronomekon -- The Book of the Dead," inadvertently unleashing the spirits of the dead, who must then inhabit living bodies in order to escape an eternity in Cleveland (or something like that).

It doesn't take long for the plot to sicken: First the Dead claim Bixler, who spends the rest of the film trying to claim Campbell and the other folks who eventually show up at the cabin (including the prof's daughter, who may save the night). Bixler gets help -- from other ugly dead folk, from mighty oaks that stalk the cabin and from Campbell's own right hand, which has become possessed. The long scene in which the hand that once fed him does some terrible, terrible things to Campbell is typical of Raimi's slapstick horror. (Finally solving his problem with a chainsaw, Campbell imprisons the wayward hand under a trash can weighed down with a copy of "A Farewell to Arms.")

There are lots of similar bits scattered through the movie, including a wild Ray Harryhausen skeleton dance, a particularly nasty dismembered head, flying eyeballs, animated furniture and clever digs at films as disparate as "The Wizard of Oz," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Rambo," "Aliens" and "Altered States." Special mention must be made of Mark Shostrom's prosthetic makeup and the camera work of Peter Deming and Eugene Shlugleit. Early on, there's a scene in which the Wood Demon or Whatever It Is chases Campbell, first in his car and then on foot, and as he and the camera play dodgem, it's truly breathtaking, in a "Bullitt" kind of way.

The acting is straight out of '50s B movies. The exposition is clumsy, the sound track corny, the denouement silly. Then again, who said bad taste was easy?

"Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn" is unrated but clearly unsuitable for children.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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