I saw The Evil Dead about seven months ago and loved it: the tension, the gore, the low budget and high level of commitment by cast and crew - very much an outstanding and precedent-setting little horror movie.
I saw Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn just a few minutes ago and liked it very much. Director Sam Raimi's budget was substantially bigger for this 1987 flick, although not actually big, as evidenced by much fancier special effects like ghostly apparitions, a naked and decaying headless ballerina and a forest of monster trees that uprooted themselves and thrashed a house to death. The gore is still there too, with gushing geysers of technicolor blood and ichor; when the hero has to cut his own possessed right hand off with a chainsaw in the first half hour, you know it's just going to get bloodier and bloodier.
The story is largely the story from the original ED movie. Bruce Campbell, reprising his role as "Ash," brings a girlfriend to a cabin in the woods where they find a tape recording of a professor reading aloud from the Necromicon. This, of course, allows the girlfriend to be possessed by the demons and subsequently hacked to pieces by Ash. By the time the professor's daughter ("Annie"), her boyfriend and two local yokels (the girl yokel is played by Kassie DePaiva who has been "Blair" on One Life to Live for the last fifteen years) arrive, all hell has broken loose in the woods. Everyone gets picked off one by one until just Annie and Ash are left; with her dying breath Annie reads a passage from the Necromicon which opens a vortex, sucking the demon - and poor Ash - into another world. EDII closes with an incredulous and very unhappy Ash surrounded by armored soldiers who cheer his arrival in their world as their savior - thus setting the stage for the final movie in the trilogy, Army of Darkness.
Raimi did a little bit more than add some dollars to this second ED movie: he added a whole lot of "splatstick" humor as well. EDII is definitely a horror-comedy hybrid: not as suspenseful and a whole lot sillier, including ripping off plenty of physical gags from Raimi's favorites, the Three Stooges. Which is not to say that the horror is not present - there are plenty of jump scares and gore galore.
I did have two nitpicks that detracted from my enjoyment of this movie. One is a quick error of continuity: when Ash is searching the cellar, he picks up some of the lost pages of the Necromicon with his right hand and tucks them into his breast pocket ... and in the next scene, the chainsaw is back on his right stump as it should be. That's a pretty big gaffe.
The other thing that kept me from fully committing to EDII is how the movie fits in with the original one. The cabin Ash brings his girl to is clearly the same cabin from the first movie - in watching EDII, is the audience to pretend that the first movie never happened? Because surely Ash would never go back there after having to hack his demon-possessed sister and friends to tiny, sticky pieces in The Evil Dead. I now understand that Raimi says in the Army of Darkness DVD commentary that if the recaps from the second and third films were not included, all three movies could be watched back to back as one saga. Fans are apparently divided about this alleged intention, however, with some seeing EDII as a remake of the original, and others seeing it as a sequel. I of course didn't know any of this going into EDII, thus my confusion.
Regardless, Evil Dead II is a classic horror movie. And when Ash straps on his new chainsaw prosthetic and prepares to kick some demon ass, it is clear that an iconic character has been born. Bravo, sirrah, bravo.
6 hours ago