Face-Off: The Evil Dead vs. Evil Dead II

EVIL DEAD hero Ash is coming back, and the Halloween premiere of the Ash vs. Evil Dead TV series is, for me, the most exciting event going on in the horror genre in the foreseeable future. I have been rewatching the EVIL DEAD movies in preparation, and there was no question that this week's Face-Off would have something to do with the series. After weighing the options, it came down to this one.

There is a split among EVIL DEAD fans; those who prefer the intense horror of the original and those who prefer the over-the-top comedy of the sequels. "THE EVIL DEAD or EVIL DEAD II?" is a question that often comes up in the horror community, so let's see how things turn out when these masterpieces are pitted against each other in a Face-Off.

Far from the demon-killing loudmouth braggart he'll have evolved (or devolved?) into by ARMY OF DARKNESS, Ash Williams is just your typical nice guy when he's first introduced. He awkwardly romances his girlfriend, looks out for his sister, and is utterly worthless when his friends start being attacked and possessed by evil forces. Other characters stand out as potential heroes and heroines before the group is whittled down to just him, and it isn't until he's the last person standing that he proves he has some fight in him.
Bruce Campbell did a fine job in the original, but his performance in the sequel is what boosted Ash into the ranks of horror icons (with ARMY securing him his place there for all time.) On his second night in the cabin the evil forces have nearly succeeded at driving him insane, and because of his mental state his reactions to things tend to be hysterically over-the-top. But he's also being hardened by battle, becoming a more capable monster fighter, willing to do whatever it takes to stay alive - even cutting off his own possessed hand and replacing it with a chainsaw.
The standout of the characters Ash goes on a cabin getaway with is his sister Cheryl, who picks up on the supernatural entities in the surrounding wilderness before anyone else. Other films probably would have made her the final girl, but here she is the first to turn bad. Ash's friend Scotty is also a strong presence, but too much of a jerk to last. Ash's girlfriend Linda is very sweet, Scotty's girlfriend Shelly displays a cynical edge, and they are both obvious victims from the start.
Ash is alone at the cabin for a good portion of the running time before four new characters show up, led up Annie Knowby, the daughter of the professor who brought the demon-summoning Book of the Dead to the cabin in the first place. Annie is a good ally whose knowledge helps Ash deal with the situation, while the other three are designated victims: Annie's bland pal Ed, who's more memorable as a demon than a person, and cartoony redneck locals Jake and Bobby Joe.
Once the characters are inhabited by demonic spirits they become some of the scariest beings ever put on film, as far as I'm concerned. These "deadites" are bloodthirsty, shrieking lunatics who will attack a person relentlessly with any weapon they can get their hands on and torment them with mind games between assaults.
The Deadites aren't as scary this time around, but the monster designs are incredible to look at. Evil Ed, an Evil Ash, a living tree called Rotten Apple Head, a headless Linda doing a stop-motion dance in the forest, Ted Raimi in a full body suit as a possessed old lady whose neck can inexplicably elongate... this movie is a slice of creature feature Heaven.
Director Sam Raimi was advised to "keep the blood running down the screen" and did his best to do so. Sometimes literally. Body fluids of various colors spew all over the place as deadites are hacked to pieces (the only way to stop them) and the cabin itself even bleeds. The deadites become more hideous and disgusting to look as the film goes on, ultimately melting down into claymation, stop-motion puddles of goo.
Like its predecessor, EVIL DEAD II was released unrated, and the multi-colored blood continues running down the screen and flooding the cabin, this time courtesy of the special effects artists who would officially become KNB the following year. It still seems a bit tame in comparison to the original, though. If the MPAA hadn't been cracking down so hard on horror at the time, this should have been an easy R.
The first EVIL DEAD was a low budget movie made by college-age amateurs who lost most of their cast and crew midway through production, yet the results are still stunning. The film has a rough, DIY quality to it, but with the energy of the direction and the innovative camera moves it was clear even then that Raimi had a hell of a career ahead of him.
With a higher budget and a set built inside a school gymnasium, Raimi had complete control over the look and atmosphere of the cabin and the area around it. It's an otherworldy haunted house picture, beautifully lit, filled with fog, and packed with evil spirits. The description Raimi coined for DRAG ME TO HELL also fits EVIL DEAD II quite well: it's a spook-a-blast.
These movies are both classics of the genre and personal favorites of mine, but when they're dropped into the cellar for a showdown, it's the scrappy original that conjures up the victory, even if the sequel does have the better version of Ash.

Do you agree with this outcome, or do you think this is one of the occasions when a sequel beats what came before? Let us know in the comments section, and if you have an idea for a Face-Off you'd like to see, send it over to me at [email protected]



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