Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Give Me Back My Hand! 20 Years of EVIL DEAD 2

You probably don’t know this, but tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN, and as far as I’m concerned that’s a cause for celebration. You don’t find the films that shape your movie going life, they find you and it was on that fateful opening weekend that EVIL DEAD 2 found me and pretty much screwed up my life for good. Funny thing was, I was never the biggest fan of the original film. THE EVIL DEAD was only the second film I’d ever rented on video when my family got its first VCR and oddly enough I wasn’t quite impressed. I was excited for the sequel I think more for what I had seen about in the latest issue of Fangoria and the fact that I was hungry for pretty much everything horror those days. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 had just opened 2 weeks earlier and I just fucking loved it (I was a teenager then, so I was allowed) and EVIL DEAD 2 seemed like the natural progression. Odd thing was, I had no idea it was a comedy; the only review that I read was a trashing from the local paper (opening with the very insulting put-down “Since horror fans don’t know or care much about reality…”) and I didn’t so much read the Fangoria set visit as skim through it, so I was in for a rather unexpected surprise. The first couple of laughs caught me totally off-guard, as if I was laughing at the film instead of with it. Once I realized it was intentional I was in seventh heaven, because not only was this a film that was funny and scary, it was also endlessly inventive and freshly innovative. Even though Raimi and company had used some insane camera tricks on the first film, once the Evil Dead take Bruce Campbell through the air and all over the woods I felt like I was in film school and that I damn well better start taking notes. 20 years later, I still consider it one of the most astonishing sights I’ve ever seen in a movie. And I’ve seen a lot of movies since then.

I feel in my heart of hearts that EVIL DEAD 2 is a masterpiece, one of the greatest pieces of pure cinema ever created and I’m not budging on that. It’s the quintessential Raimi film, the one that he’s made his name on the most and the one that most of his longtime fans wish he’d make again. The things he did with the camera, the wild POV shots and whatnot that Raimi perfected may be commonplace now, but in 1987 it was a major eye-opener and watching EVIL DEAD 2 today it’s all still perfect. I suppose that if you were around when EVIL DEAD 2 was new then you’ll always have that on any other generation of viewer since then, but you never realized how much you needed EVIL DEAD 2 until it was sitting there right in front of you. Let’s forget about all the spin-offs (the video games, the off-Broadway musical, ARMY OF DARKNESS) and rip-offs and wannabes this film has inspired and just look at the film on its own. Even though it was a sequel, there really was nothing like this film before it and nothing has lived up to it since. That, to me, is the mark of a classic. Maybe EVIL DEAD 2 doesn’t have things like “depth” and “meaning”, maybe it spawned a movie culture where how cool your shot looked was more important than its subtext (if there was one), but who really fucking cares? It works like a goddamn motherfucker and doesn’t need any sort of emotional content to be the masterwork it is. It has Bruce Campbell giving one of the most remarkable physical comedy performances since Keaton (and truly suffering for his art) and delivering lines as the definitive movie wiseass of his generation (why he hasn’t had a bigger career I will never understand) and that should be enough. You can say that it’s the definitive fanboy movie and you’re probably not wrong, but you have to acknowledge that even those types of movies have the potential for greatness. EVIL DEAD 2 is pretty god damn great.

I should also mention that this week also marks the 20th anniversary of RAISING ARIZONA, and considering that the two films have plenty in common (the early Coen Bros. style was more or less lifted from Raimi, as Joel Coen was the editor on THE EVIL DEAD and the three have been friends for years). What was so interesting was that at the time, EVIL DEAD 2 got some relatively kind reviews, while critics couldn’t praise RAISING ARIZONA enough, but now, while ARIZONA is still an audience favorite, EVIL DEAD 2 probably has a bigger fan base. And this is not intended as a knock on RAISING ARIZONA, an excellent film in its own right, but it proves that people who love movies eventually find their way to EVIL DEAD 2 and don’t ever want to leave. You don’t see RAISING ARIZONA lunch boxes and action figures out there, do you? While I’m happy for the success that Raimi has had with the SPIDER-MAN films, one can’t help but feel he’s turned his back on the style of film that he not only made famous but perfected, as well. He’s been making much more sedate and self-serious films since A SIMPLE PLAN (also an excellent film, don’t get me wrong) but boy, do I wish he’d go back to his roots. I’m not asking for an EVIL DEAD 4, but just get crazy again, Sam. DARKMAN was fantastic, too, and these films are still unlike most of the other crap out there because you make them so damn good. Hell, even the Coens did the likes of THE BIG LEBOWSKI and OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? after FARGO and proved that they haven’t lost it. Those early Sam Raimi films remain the best because there is a joy behind the filmmaking that helps them transcend their supposed limitations and I suspect that Raimi can rediscover that joy inside him some day if given the chance. You don’t have anything to prove anymore, Sam. It’s time to have fun again.

1 comment:

Jesse Hammer said...

Amen, Brother. I'm so glad someone's keeping track of these things or I might have let the day pass with nary a "Groovy." In the interest of full disclosure and geeking the hell out, I must confess to sporting an Ashley tattoo on my forearm and spending $150 on a French Evil Dead subway poster. And I totally agree with that whole forgetting the spin-offs thing. i know 'Army' has reached absurd cult status but it never came close to ED2. Nothing ever will, I'm afraid.