Where the original Evil Dead was a juggling act of film-school antics and genuinely evocative creepiness, Sam Raimi's sequel/remake is full-on gore slapstick, more Tex Avery than Dario Argento. All of the first film is wittily telescoped into the opening five minutes, recapping how Ash's (the inimitable Bruce Campbell) weekend getaway in the woods got interrupted by evil forces unleashed by the Book of the Dead, right down to the ominous final tracking shot straight into a screaming mouth. Daybreak gives the hapless hero some much-needed time-out, but, since the film is shaped as a wide-eyed comedy of bravura kineticism, it doesn't take long for the frenetic splatter gags to kick off again. Indeed, for the most part, Evil Dead 2 places Ash as straight man to Raimi's delirious camerawork, with no prankish stone left unturned—winking setups, rotating sets, disorientating lens tricks, forced perspectives, and blood geysers erupting from shotgun blasts. Raimi delights in using sinister movement to suggest unseen menace: In one showstopper, the demonically skittering camera chases Ash from room to room inside the cabin, crashing through door after door, then losing him along the way and retreating back into the woods. A new batch of victims (including Denise Bixler, Dan Hicks, Kassie DePaiva, and Richard Domeier) eventually turn up, donning monstrous make-up and blank eye-caps, though Raimi, despite the picture's pricier budget, remains dedicated to the original's brand of guerilla ingenuity and retro-chintz. The hero's decapitated beloved rises from her grave to provide a little stop-animation ballet, trees crush houses like beer cans, and a skull-faced demon's neck stretches to the sound of shrieking chimpanzees—fond Ray Harryhausen shout-outs all, but my favorite is Ash facing a chortling deer-head trophy. (A literalization of the title of Pupi Avati's underrated chiller The House With Laughing Windows, maybe?) Yet Raimi's resourceful restlessness ultimately pushes the movie beyond gooey genre pastiche and into uniquely absurd farce. Ash may lose limbs as he chainsaws his way through the installment, but Evil Dead 2 holds together as the giddiest treatment of viscera this side of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive.
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Raimi may have never intended his down-and-dirty early opus to look this good, but Anchor Bay's enhanced transfer does a commendable job of bringing out the vivid colors and unnerving movements of the images without digitally softening their overall sense of roughness. The Dolby sound is even more impressive, capturing the creaking of trees as viscerally as the ominously whooshing growl of the tracking camera.
Fans who already got Anchor Bay's earlier edition of Evil Dead 2 will see too many of the extras as merely recycled, but, one way or another, this is a snazzy package. "Here comes the flying eyeball," Campbell jokes on the audio track, setting the relaxed, infectious tone of the group commentary with Raimi, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and make-up guru Greg Nicotero, which ranges from the varying colors of gore to the director's love for the Three Stooges and "tormenting" the audience. The only new extra, the "Behind-the-Screams" featurette, is a rather sedate flipbook of production stills, although "The Gore the Merrier" is still a keeper, with the F/X team looking back at the mechanics of severed limbs, puppeteering in a sweltering set, and much behind-the-scenes wackiness (check out "Evil Dead Baby"). Talent bios and trailers (including the first Evil Dead, Man with the Screaming Brain, and Dead and Breakfast) round out the extras.
Raimi's splatter-slapstick classic gets the deluxe treatment. In Ash's immortal words: "Groovy."