31 DAYS OF HORROR #3: Graham Hughes on EVIL DEAD II (1987)

Graham Hughes – director of found-footage modern classic Death of a Vlogger – reads the Latin with Sami Raimi’s mad-cap horror sequel. Groovy.

I didn’t watch a full horror film until I was about 15. Scratch that. I couldn’t watch a full horror film until I was 15. Everything scared the shit out of me: Gremlins, Labyrinth, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. At a particularly humiliating sleepover I left the room when A Nightmare on Elm Street was put on and instead stared at a wall, or looked for mis-matches in the wallpaper for 91 minutes… whatever it was that people did before phones.

In spite of this terror, once my dreams of being a stuntman had worn off I knew I wanted to make films for a living. At Uni my exposure to cinema was expanded exponentially, beyond my usual scope of action films and badly-dubbed Jackie Chan imports. I learned the true power of cinema: the emotional catharsis, the life-changing viewpoints, the mastery of craft, the spectacle.

Enter: Evil Dead II.

It was one of those films that was extra cache to the weird kid every school has, whose parents let them watch everything and anything (note: my Grandad would let me watch almost anything, but legendary video nasties like Evil Dead II and its ilk were neither welcomed nor permitted).

But the time had come. I was on my cinematic awakening, and I needed to push the boundaries. This film had been lauded as a classic. Who was I to ignore those 5 beautiful Empire stars. I bought the DVD and strapped in, a tactically chosen mid-afternoon screening, ready to switch off or take breaks if it got too scary.

It blew my tiny little mind.

It terrified me. But I was laughing as much as I was jumping out of my skin. More than that though I watched Raimi throw every tool in his employ at the screen… and crucially, with purpose! This was not style over substance, this was style to create substance.

It’s maximalist in the most surgically precise way. Everything landed. Every moment, every gag, every scare. I was exhausted by the end of it. I’ve rarely had cinematic experiences that shock me to my core like that (here’s looking at you, Gravity, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, The Usual Suspects, City of God).

I have heard Sam Raimi being described, at the time of making this film, in two ways that I think sum up why Evil Dead II is so good.

The first is that he was a “hungry filmmaker”. The idea of a young man looking to prove himself, craving filmmaking as a sustenance to life itself really hit home with me. He needed to make the film.

The second is that he wasn’t sure if he would be able to make another film. The statistics for directors that go on to make a second feature are shocking. Some sources say that 85% of filmmakers in the UK never go on to make a sophomore film. That number becomes even more depressing if you’re not a white man. Raimi had his chance, and he wanted to make sure he put absolutely every last drop of himself into it.

The craft of the film is so beautiful, the way they use old-school camera tricks and lovingly staged set-pieces. Bruce Campbell has never been better. The pace is frenetic when it needs to be, and excruciatingly suspenseful when scares are in order. The love of the creators oozes into the frame, and you can tell the people making it (at least Raimi) are having a blast.

It’s unfortunate that Raimi seems to have had the life sucked out of him by studio filmmaking. A return to lower budgets and horror routes seemed to invigorate him back to good form with Drag Me to Hell, so here’s hoping that the seemingly less-punishing MCU framework – as well as a return to horror with Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – re-energises one of my favourite filmmakers.

Regardless, if my career were ever able to manifest a film even half as good as Evil Dead II, I’d die happy. It’s a masterpiece, and it showed me that some of the best cinema out there is horror.

Graham Hughes

Death of a Vlogger is currently available on Amazon Prime.

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