In a world that typically solely considers highbrow art as the greatest of any given medium, it’s time for the wake-up call that the world needs – Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is one of the greatest films of all time. We’re not just talking about one of the greatest horror movies, one of the greatest comedies, or one of the best movies of the 1980s. In a world where movies continue to become more and more safe and by the numbers, it’s time that we properly celebrated a movie that’s anything but that. Is Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles the greatest film of all time? That’s up for you to decide, but what’s not debatable is that if we’re going to have a slow, drab film about the mundanity of life, it is of the utmost importance that we include its opposite. A picture so vile, disgusting, breakneck in its pacing, and innovative in its filmmaking that it would go on to change the face of movies forever, more than most even realize. Film publications like Sight and Sound are out here releasing lists of the top movies of all time, and while they seem to be getting most things right, their greatest omission is Sam Raimi’s 1987 masterpiece – a movie that belongs on the Mount Rushmore of cinema.
Keep Dreaming, Buddy
Many people might wonder, in what world could a blood soaked, genre-hopping, madhouse horror comedy like this be considered one of the greatest movies ever made? After all, when looking at a number of the “greatest movies of all time” lists, the genre that most often makes up the body is drama – namely the classics. Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Casablanca, you’ve heard them all rattled off many times, I’m sure. This isn’t some sort of takedown of our set in stone, classic film canon. Think of this more like a plea for expansion. In recent years, the critics, historians, and filmmakers who make up these lists have been thinking “bigger” by including newer films, films from female filmmakers, foreign films, and some genre pictures. It’s a step in the right direction, but each of the pictures chosen are still a bit… obvious. Is Parasite one of the greatest movies ever? Of course, no doubt about it. What about Moonlight? For sure. Great film. Mulholland Dr.? Well, that’s not a hill worth dying on, at least not today. But why not have a real curveball thrown in there? One way out of left field? Why not Evil Dead 2?
Unlike Anything Else
In the entire history of film, there is not one single picture that has the feeling of Evil Dead 2, and even those that attempt to carry the same tone still end up walking away as a pale imitation. Watching Sam Raimi’s 1987 masterpiece is like watching magic happen in real time. It’s an absolute miracle, a film that would not be the film it was without every star in the sky aligning. A flash in the pan. Lightning in a bottle. It improves upon its predecessor, an A+ film in its own right, by looking at the knobs that film already dialed up to 10 and chainsawing them to bits, becoming its very own, hilarious beast of a picture. The film has a visual language that never stops reinventing itself.
In a cinematographic sense, things start out fairly tame, but by the time the film’s final showdown rolls around, Evil Dead 2 is shot unlike any movie you’ve ever seen. It’s not visually incredible in the way that 2001‘s Stargate sequence is, but more so like a “capital C” Cartoon come to life. Raimi outdoes himself, shot after shot, finding new ways to shoot what might otherwise be a by-the-numbers horror picture, matching the plot’s ridiculous nature with its visual language to a T. The goofy yet disturbing nature of the creature designs in this film also perfectly matches the film’s tone. There is never a monster that looks so creepy or funny to the point of sidelining the film’s tone. Any time a Deadite appears on-screen, it’s just as laughably inventive and fun as it is terrifying. Not only is this a visually immaculate film, its performances are all delivered by actors giving this monster mash absolutely everything they’ve got, with one in particular standing out.
The Film’s Not-So-Secret Ingredient
One of the primary things that ties every one of the greatest films of all together is having a captivating lead, and Evil Dead 2 absolutely fits this bill. It’s hard to think of an actor that meets their movie where it counts as much as Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams. Ever since this film’s release, any time someone has been cast in a B-movie or a big budget blockbuster with a hammy tone, they have pulled from Campbell’s performance in Evil Dead 2, whether they know it or not. Bruce Campbell set the tone not only for those making direct-to-TV SyFy Channel horror movies in the 90s, but even for a large chunk of our leading actors in today’s blockbusters. The smart-ass, charming-yet-arrogant leads of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or dimwitted, reluctant, comical players in the Stranger Things cast would be nowhere to be found if it weren’t for the character Ash Williams, let alone the man playing him.
Campbell delivers what feels like the most exhausting performance of all time, but in doing so, provides the most fun leading man performance you could ever imagine watching. Anyone playing a quippy and comedic, yet cool leading figure in a film today has seen Evil Dead 2 and been inspired by Bruce Campbell’s performance as Ash Williams to some degree, guaranteed. He flips, slams, hurdles, and mangles his body throughout every corner of the film’s cabin and woods, absolutely destroying himself for the sake of art. Bruce as Ash in Evil Dead 2 is an absolute masterclass in physical comedic performance art, yet Campbell fully delivers in the badass action-lead frontier as well. He always does so in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, but any time Bruce gets the chance to strap on his chainsaw-arm, square off against a Deadite, and slash up some scenery, it’s downright riveting. He’s as cool as he is comedic, demanding the attention and laughs of anyone and everyone that watches Dead by Dawn.
This Thing Rides Without the Brakes
Just like any of the other greatest films of all time, Evil Dead 2 has a plot that cannot be improved upon, whether you attempt to add or remove any elements or scenes. It’s a freaking blast, beginning to end. Dead by Dawn has some of the greatest use of exposition ever in a film in its opening and during any scene featuring the reel-to-reel tape recorder. The moments in which we learn more about the Book of the Dead and the evil forces haunting the cabin’s surrounding woods are the only scenes that the film provides the audience to breathe. Otherwise, Raimi delivers a Looney Tunes-esque ride of comedy, action, and horror all blended into one. Clocking in at an hour and 25 minutes, Evil Dead 2 stands as one of the fastest-paced films of all time, doing so in a way that benefits the picture, never hindering it. Either the movie has you leaning on the edge of your seat, awaiting a monster to pop out from a corner of the screen, laughing in confusion at the film’s bonkers twists and turns, or jumping out of your seat for Ash to pull through and make it through another round of Deadite assaults. It’s so much fun – like the greatest, sweatiest, grimiest rollercoaster you’ve ever been on.
A Neverending Influence
So okay, Evil Dead 2 is a lot of fun, but how influential is it? Well, without the comic book-y, entertain-or-die nature of this film, it’s hard to believe that Raimi would ever land the job to direct Spider-Man. Raimi’s Spider-Man forever reshaped and recontextualized a large part of modern blockbusters, specifically superhero movies. This likely means without 2002’s Spider-Man, there would be no MCU, the most influential modern film franchise that there is. The MCU and an unknown amount of other modern movies rip their comedy-action-filmmaking style straight from Raimi’s 1987 playbook, with quick zooms, handheld cameras running around, and enough goofy cool-guy poses and one-liners to fill out their runtimes. It’s a case of tracing back our steps all the way to Evil Dead 2, a film so gutsy, fearless, and bent on giving audiences a ride that it would be impossible to discredit the picture for its efforts.
As stated before, this is also a film that didn’t only shape modern blockbusters, but also the B-movies in its wake. If you’re a low budget filmmaker, it’s likely that you want to make your own Evil Dead 2, in some way, shape, or form. That was the case for Peter Jackson, Edgar Wright, Eli Roth, and many more. It’s a project that proved you could make a fun, entertaining, violent, relentless ride of a movie for little money. Where you have The Godfather for A-movies, you undoubtedly have this for B-movies. While movie lovers are happy to continue celebrating Persona and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, there are other movies that we enjoy basking in – movies like Evil Dead 2. Your vitamins and nutrients are necessary to live, but do your top 100 favorite foods ever consist primarily of vitamin C, zinc, and maybe brussel sprouts with a little bit of salt thrown on to help you feel a little risqué? No! In your top 100 favorite foods, there’s gotta be a good cheeseburger in there somewhere, and that’s what this movie is. Evil Dead 2 is a visual and tonal masterpiece, spearheaded by one of the last 50 years’ greatest genre filmmakers and featuring one of the most entertaining leading man performances ever put to screen, inspiring the film landscape and those behind the camera for the decades to come. In short, it’s one of, if not the, greatest films of all time.