In my time, I've shown an incredible number of friend a vast quantity of cult and horror films (sometimes the two combined). My experiments mostly met with gleeful excitement, though some where abysmal failures (I still find it hard to believe no one else enjoys Rock 'n Roll Nightmare). Both usually elicited the same response: "What the hell did I just watch?"; though in each case the tone of voice was drastically different. There was one film which would be a guaranteed crowd pleaser. My "break glass in case of emergency" flick was Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn.
What is it about this gory black comedy that creates such high demand and is it really a gateway drug into the world of horror and cult cinema? I've first hand experience with the demand side of the equation; as a host of 35mm horror screenings, Evil Dead 2 is easily the most requested film. It frequently makes me stop and wonder: Could we show it every month and draw a big crowd and would they start shouting back at the screen ala The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Friends of mine have been in the horror screening business for fifteen years now. If my rusty memory serves me correctly, they've run it a total of seven times over that span (they're more worn out on it that an octogenarian marathoner's knees). They've only continued to showcase it as a way to bring folks in to see other, incredibly rare horror fare, such as The Asphxy: a creepy little number from 1973.
The draw Evil Dead 2 holds over horror crowds forms an inescapable riptide; you can't over power it, you can only hope to swim along it's parameter until the credits roll. But why do we love it so much? I'll totally include myself among the masses here, having watched this flick hundreds of times. On display within its frames we find chiseled chin nerd super hero, Bruce Campbell, doing what he does best: being abused by Sam Raimi for our perpetual amusement. Along the way, possessive demons are given free run of hapless cabin dwellers, time portals are opened, Oldsmobiles are dropped, limbs are removed (to puns aplenty) and swimming pools full of blood and gore are sprayed with reckless abandon (the cleaning bills must have been astronomical).
The secret sauce here is that this truly isn't a horror movie to the same tune it's predecessor, The Evil Dead is. The back (side?) story is that Stephen King loved the original so much that it was he who convinced Dino De Laurentiis to fund a sequel. Instead of a straight laced, gruesome sequel, Raimi gives us equal measures of gore comedy and black satire. He puts Ash (go to buddy Campbell) through a hellish ringer of physical and mental anguish. Of course, Ash is a charismatic and lovable goof, so we're with him from the outset; we're invested. So when shit takes the leap from weird to insane faster than a 60's Batman spinning dissolve, we're ready to Rambo up right next to our hero. Bringing an obvious love of Three Stooges physical comedy to the table only expands the sample size of potential cult devotees; the scene where Ash battles his own possessed hand really showcases' Campbell's physical comedic range. That he never made Hollywood leading man status is both frustrating and infuriating. It's a subject he tackles satirically in his second book, Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way (which I highly recommend).
As I mentioned, there's splatter action aplenty here to keep the heavy horror aficionados' attention rapt. The cool and enabling factor here is that it's all done tongue in cheek, in a laughable manner, which allows even the uninitiated a chance to giggle to the gore core. Perhaps this is why Evil Dead 2 worked for my non horror friends when fuller Fulci fare such as The Beyond left them confused and grossed out. In an almost unthinkable way, Evil Dead 2 is horror with kid gloves on; the satire is a shield for those who haven't experienced as much horror and thus haven't developed more morbid senses of humor. Maybe today's horror crowd got their start when a friend introduced them to a taste of the macabre, Raimi style.
This weekend's horror homework is to check and see just how many copies of Evil Dead 2 are in your home, between VHS, DVD and BLU-Ray (bonus points for any beta or laser disc copies). Then give someone else the gift of horror by lending out your spares. Let's spread the splatter far and wide!
Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions
Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service (most of which are FREE!).
Netflix - American Scary - Documentary on the history of horror hosts(2006)
Crackle - Moon - Sci-Fi/Mystery (2009)
YouTube - I Dismember Mama- Horror/Slasher (1972)
Archive.org - Night Fright - Horror/Monster/Sci-Fi (1962)
And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking outTuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist for Mania writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema.You can delve further into his love of all things weird and campy on his blog, The Midnight Cheese or hear him occasionally guesting on eminent podcast You've Got Geek.
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