Mumbo Jumbo at the Movies: Evil Dead II

Chain Saw Yer Girlfriend

By KKUURRTT and Tex Gresham

Columnists

Evil Dead II is a brutal bloodbath. Ash (Bruce Campbell) shows up at a cabin with his girlfriend and inadvertently summons a series of angry and vengeful deadites after recklessly hitting play on a translated version of the Necronomicon Book of the Dead. It was directed by some guy named Sam and stars his childhood best friend. It’s got an autonomous severed hand, floating demonic presences, gallons of vibrant blood, and nonstop Three Stooges style gags for the film’s slick-as-shit 84 minute runtime. This is the definitive “must-watch” nexus of horror and comedy. If you haven’t seen it, you should. If you have, you already know. This is our attempt at Valentine’s Day counterprogramming. Dead by dawn y’all.

KKUURRTT: When I wrote my horror movie there were scenes in the script that called for deluges of blood. And when we went into production the best they could do was like a really big bucket. Evil Dead II set an unreasonable standard for how much blood could come out of a thing.

TEX: You should see my asshole.

K: Please change that.

T: No, that’s staying. Don’t care how you feel about it. I think we’re both aligned in that we see Evil Dead II as the best of the series and one of the greatest horror films ever made, yes?

K: Fourteen year old me and thirty-four year old me definitely agree for sure. 

T: And a large part of what makes Evil Dead II superior to the ED1 and Army of Darkness is that it leans so hard and so far into the realm of slapstick surrealism.

Via YouTube

K: The moment that stays ingrained in my brain probably more-so than any other is the possessed laughing desk lamp. Ash starts mimicking its movement, demonstrating his own complete loss of mental faculty as this thing that’s horrifying, but also worth laughing at. I’ve been consistently watching this movie for probably 15 years now and there are all of these small moments that still make me laugh every time.

T: See, that moment sticks with me too because it’s both funny and fucked up––it’s Ash giving in and connected to that deadite-ness that lives in him now. So it’s this acceptance of being part of the horror that’s terrorizing him. Had Bobbie Jo not interrupted him, Ash might’ve become that Evil Half in a way that was unreturnable.

K: I was always bored by this film having other characters—like c’mon why don’t you just let it be a centrepiece for Bruce’s amazing comedic abilities, a true Leslie Nielson of his time (same era)—but now I’m sure I was wrong. The film just goes so lightning quick and then all of a sudden BOOM Ash is in the basement and Henrietta is trying to swallow his soul and it’s not so funny anymore. Except it is because Henrietta’s eyeball pops out, flies across the room and lands directly into Bobbie Jo’s mouth.  

T: That’s what works for me––the introduction of other characters. Giving us a moment to see the world outside the cabin, a balance of normal to the insane, really heightens the balls-out absurdity of Ash’s night in Hell. There’s only so much stick you can slap Bruce Campbell with before it becomes retread. Which is why I think having these new characters come in works. More fodder for us to laugh at when their heads get cut in half or when they get sucked into the basement and turned into a bubbling blood geyser. Though, to bring her up again, I do always feel bad for Bobbie Jo. She’s the one character in the film who didn’t deserve to be at the mercy of the Evil Dead.

Henrietta (via YouTube)

K: Or like Henrietta. At least the others go quick thanks to Ash’s quick-thinking with a chainsaw and/or shotgun.  But this sweet old lady has been down in the basement suffering, possessed by a deadite, for who knows how long. Do the deadites take people over completely? Or is that really them shining through in those moments of humanity? We’ve seen Ash just REVERT back to normal Ash. Who’s to say that doesn’t happen to all of them? A hard reset every time daylight hits? Yikes. And she had been stuck down there for probably weeks before her corpse got all bloated and distended transitioning between deadite and person with the cycle of sun and moon. That is genuinely horrifying. Everything is played so straight, even in the face of pure batshit impossibility.  

T: And because of the absurdity and surreal aspect of the horror, the horror never feels horrifying. Like, it almost seems fun. But if this were to play seriously, it would be punishing and grueling in a way that wouldn’t work and wouldn’t play well. This movie needs that unstable ground, needs to have the goofy heroics and dumbass deadite terrorism. It’s what this movie is all about––really. And I think the intro (with the description of the book and the weird animations) helps ease you into that absurdity.

K: Steeped in Lovecraft, right? Necronomicon straight lifted from that racist fuck’s work. Something that’s always made me laugh about At the Mountains of Madness is that it’s just a bunch of scenes of people explaining how unexplainable what they saw was. That the madness associated with such horrors wouldn’t allow them to even find the words. Beyond anything we can experience in our known world. But this movie does it as if channeling Looney Tunes. That a real breakdown of mania is more like a fucking cartoon.  

T: This movie’s definitely giving a big middle finger to Lovecraft by saying You can’t name it? Well then here, bitch, lemme show you. And then gives us Rotten Applehead––the ending Kandarian demon. The unseen force that has chased people for two goddamn movies is made physical in order to defeat it. And it’s terrifying. But it’s also really really stupid looking. Again, if this were played seriously, that situation would be epically terrifying. But here, with the tiny heads that pop out the demon’s flesh and with the chomping, gurgling noises it makes (and with Ash ramming a chainsaw in its eye), the moment reverts to the absurd, the surreal, the stupid.

K: Only then to pivot to Medieval times, channeling Twain (hmmm . . . another classic satirist) with his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Wear your influences on your sleeve, huh? Only to cut off the arm of that fake shemp in a battle for the fate of humanity’s survival.  Stakes are so fucking high, it’s ridiculous.

T: Which is such a hard left turn for the rest of the film––though it is set up very nicely. But to have this absurdist horror film end with the hero falling through time and ending up trapped in the Middle Ages is another middle finger. Like you said: it’s satire. And I think satirical films sometimes have the opportunity to be better than the films they’re satirizing––Return of the Living Dead 1&2, Shaun of the Dead, Slither, Scream, Cabin in the Woods. The list goes on and on. And in some way, all these films that touch on this satirical element are reminding us that we have seen these films before and that they are self-aware. And that, for me, is like a deep-level surrealism that goes beyond the individual film and cascades into an entire category of films, existing outside and all around and everywhere all at once, like the unseen force chasing us through the woods. Too ominous? . . . Sorry.

K: Remake culture, man. 

T: Which Evil Dead II kind of is.

K: Weird. 

Evil Dead II also stars Ted Raimi, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley DePaiva, and Richard Domeier. Tex and KKUURRTT are frequent collaborators. Together they host a postmodern movies podcast with the same name as this column.


KKUURRTT is glad you read his thing. His novel Good at Drugs is forthcoming. He can be found on Twitter at @wwwkurtcom.

Tex Gresham is the author of Heck, Texas (Atlatl Press). His work has appeared in Hobart, F(r)iction, The Normal School, BOOTH, and Back Patio Press. He lives in Las Vegas with his partner and kid. He’s on Twitter as @thatsqueakypig and online at www.squeakypig.com.