Evil Dead II: Randomised by Dawn

[See also The Evil Dead Randomised]

And so the randomisation continues. The 1987 sequel to The Evil Dead is something of a system reboot, a kind of remake with an expanded budget; although it continues from where it left off, with Bruce Campbell’s Ash having survived the events of the previous night in the demonically possessed cabin, it restages and amplifies the key motifs of the first episode. We are still in a cabin in the woods, and Ash is still forced to battle frothing-at-the-mouth nasties, this time armed with chainsaw and shotgun. The sequel addresses an audience it has already selected and wooed – it misses the first film’s element of surprise, but compensates with a hyper-kinetic and hysterical visual style that speaks for an accelerated race through genre conventions and the systematic brutalisation of its long-suffering hero.

If you need to know how these “randomised” posts work, take a look at some of the earlier entries here. This time around, the randomiser has coughed up the 2nd, 40th and 59th minutes of the film. Let’s hope that gives us a good spread, and that the 2nd minute isn’t just opening titles:

Ash and his girlfriend are getting settled in the cabin in the woods. This is the calm between the storm of gore and power tools. Ash (Bruce Campbell) plays some elaborate classical piano, while Linda (Denise Bixler) pirouettes wildly behind him. There is a heavy dose of foreshadowing here. Later, a decapitated Linda rises from the dead to dance again as a stop-motion puppet, while Ash will end up chainsawing his own hand off (presumably hampering his ivory-tinkling talents in the process). The blue-grey palette, as in the first film, is the perfect undercoat for the bloody gloss that will create gouts of high contrast in subsequent scenes. Ash’s face is serious, concentrated, his brow furrowed in acknowledgement of how awesome he is. This is, of course, the set-up for the revelation that he is in fact a complete douche. Boneheaded and arrogant, he is ill-equipped for heroism, ultimately resorting to firepower and weaponry, the least artful defences against evil. Maybe that’s unfair – he is assailed by more than most of us ever have to deal with. The attack is not just from demonic things – it comes from the film’s director, who subjects Campbell to a carnival of abuse at every stage. Campbell’s schtick has long involved painting himself as a sophisticated renaissance man while simultaneously puncturing the pomposity of such a concept (see for example the image of him in a cravat and smoking jacket, holding a pipe, that greets visitors to his website) with knowing hamminess and an awareness of his mastery of b-movies and monster-slaying. The sudden, unexpected discovery of his expert pianism plays to this aspect of his persona, even as it seems to establish him as the impossibly gifted, suave male lead.

With your permission, I’m going to take the unusual step of analysing the next two frames together, since I can’t help noticing some obvious similarities between the moments which fate has selected for me. Above, Ash is pressed to the floor, fighting to contain a demon that continues to pound on the cellar door. Below, Annie (Sarah Berry), struggles with stock redneck stereotype Jake (Dan Hicks), whom she has just stabbed in the chest with a long dagger, believing him to be a deadite. In both shots, expressions are those of pain and anguish, muscles strained and hands clutching for purchase. In both shots, the action is horizontal, bodies tumbled onto the floor and wracked with the pain of impact, Ash trying to hold on while the floorboards rattle beneath him, Jake pinned down by a blade. In each case, the same muted palette of blues and greys prevails. Only skin, blood and Annie’s shirt can break the pattern. The film stages a battle between unexpectedly upright possessed corpses, bodies that refuse to maintain the customary horizontality which we (quite reasonably) demand of most stiffs. The dead, in their turn, threaten to knock our human protagonists down, to de-limb, hobble or otherwise lay them low. They erupt from the ground, the cellar or in tree form (see how victim Bobby Jo is dragged laterally along the ground until she is dashed against a massive trunk), vertical exclamation marks of shock and terror.  The woodenness of the cabin (see the floorboards in each shot) offer little protection  from attack, transforming the place into a cuckoo clock of pop-up scares that could come through any wall or floor at any time.

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