The Open Man’s 31 Movies of Halloween: Evil Dead 2

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Throughout the month of October, The Open Man spotlights its favorite horror movies to set the mood for the season.

I walked through my local Target the other day when I saw a man who, in profile, was a dead (pun intended) ringer for Bruce Campbell. Now, one of the core tenets of being a professional journalist is the understanding that no matter how accurately a person shoots the 3-pointer, nor how much clout she or he yields, we’re all still people. The only aura that exists around individual is the aura we assign them.

But for that brief second that I thought Bruce Campbell was patronizing the same Target where I purchase diapers, I felt a fluttering in my chest. I was prepared to go full-on fanboy.

Such is the aura of Bruce Campbell among horror and B-movie aficionados. The man’s an iconic of his genre, a veritable Leonardo DiCaprio of gore and goofiness. Sure, he has blockbuster credits on his resume; the man gave Spider-Man his name, for crying out loud.

But it’s his performances as Elvis Presley in Bubba Ho-Tep, Jack Forrest in Maniac Cop, and — most importantly — Ash Williams in Evil Dead that made Campbell a legend.

Campbell’s so popular among a certain base still today that the strength of his endorsement was enough to get an outstanding, three-season television series based on the character that launched him three decades earlier.

Ash Williams debuted in 1981’s Evil Dead, the micro-budget supernatural horror movie that first put Sam Raimi on the map. The follow-up film, however, showcased the full potential of both Raimi as a director, and Campbell’s acting chops.

The 31 Movies of Halloween installment on A Nightmare on Elm Street notes that oftentimes, the first installment in a series is the best. A bigger budget rarely equates to a better film. Evil Dead 2 is the exception.

Evil Dead 2 isn’t exactly a studio blockbuster, though its $3.6 million budget is about 10 times greater than its predecessor. It shows.

Practical effects wizardry from Gregory Nicotero is one of the film’s two stars. The other is Bruce Campbell. Evil Dead 2 is essentially a one-man show, with Campbell’s Ash returning to the cabin from the first installment, seeking retribution for the murder of his friends. Campbell’s maniacal performance as he descends further into madness amid the battle with demonic Deadites deserved an Academy Award.

The horror-comedy genre existed prior to Evil Dead 2‘s 1987 release: The Friday the 13th series briefly went in that direction a year prior with what I consider the most entertaining film in the franchise, Jason Lives. Night of the Creeps also hit theaters in 1986, as well as Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. However, Evil Dead 2 set the standard for horror-comedy. Movies that followed such as Night of the Demons, Popcorn, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Cabin in the Woods and especially Raimi-made Drag Me to Hell all owe a debt to Evil Dead 2.

Raimi and Campbell found a successful formula with Evil Dead 2 that still packs enough laughs, screams and gross-out moments to resonate today. And what’s even more impressive is that the follow-ups to Evil Dead 2 completely deviated from the formula, in the same way the sequel to 1981’s Evil Dead took a new approach. Army of Darkness is a comedy-fantasy-action-adventure with elements of horror woven in, while Ash vs. Evil Dead is an ensemble horror-comedy driven by character development and a wholly original fantasy backdrop.

Indeed, the portal that opens at Evil Dead 2‘s conclusion — sorry, no spoiler tag, it’s been 31 years — opens up an entire universe. The whole series is worth watching this Halloween season, but Evil Dead 2 is the perfect entry point.