Having seen the remake of the first film, then re-watched the original film, I decided it was time to give this one a go. Many people say this is just a remake of the first film but with an emphasis on comedy, but despite some situational similarities, this one goes off in several new directions, many of which are outright slapstick.
We have an opening narration laying out the history of the book of the dead and featuring some endearing stop-motion animation. Then we join Ash and his girlfriend Linda on their way to the famous cabin, traveling over a much larger bridge this time, accomplished with an adorable model, and arriving at the cabin within two minutes of the film. Ash seems to be the same character, but makes no mention of being at the cabin before, and it's as if the first film never happened. They find the book, and a tape recorder, sitting out in the bedroom. Ash plays the recording, and soon we're having the familiar rushing through the woods, which comes through the window and snatches Linda.
SPOILERS > > >
He steps outside and she attacks him, now in her demon state, and he decapitates her. So there's a difference from the first film: Ash decapitates his girlfriend by a mere six minutes in. So where is this movie going to go if it has rushed us this far, so fast? First Ash is picked up by a wind and blown about a mile through the woods. Then he's possessed by a demon, but the sunlight cures him and let's him return to human form. Note how the music changes to wholesome strings and gentle guitar when he returns to the human. He tries to drive out, but the bridge has been destroyed, accomplished with a charming series of matte paintings. The effects budget here has clearly increased greatly (though not too much) and the majority of it is used to flesh out effects that now look quite homemade and charming. You'll note that the wreckage of the bridge resembles a skeletal hand holding Ash back.
Now there's a super-fun sequence as the camera, as an onrushing demon, rushes to the cabin and follows Ash inside and follows him twice around the entire cabin in a long unbroken sequence, then out the door and a long way into the woods. It's fun to watch it and try to see the few edits in what is made to look like a long continuous shot. By now you realize that this movie is just having fun, throwing in everything it can think of with no further goal than to be amusing. Bruce Campbell is your emcee, and throws himself into hilarious one-man sequences like when the piano starts playing itself, and provides swooning romantic accompaniment to his weepingly mourning his deceased girlfriend. Then Linda's headless corpse comes out of the grave--stop-motion again--and does a creepy dance before Ash. Then her head bites his hand, and Campbell has to execute a long solo sequence in which he throws himself around, trying to get her severed head off of his hand. It must have been a pip to see this in the theater when first released and have the slowly dawning sense that this thing is really just plain ol' GOOFY. Campbell also goes for it wholeheartedly in a scene where he gets attacked by his own hand. There should be some kind of special Oscar category.
Okay, so by 22 minutes in, Ash has sawed his girlfriend's head in half, so you might be wondering: WHERE does this movie have left to go? Well, it smartly bucks the structure that has everyone arrive at the cabin, THEN unleash horrors, to have the horrors unleashed, THEN introduce new characters. Annie, daughter of the couple who found the book before the movie started, meets up with a redneck couple, Jake and Bobbie Jo, and they all repair to the cabin. From there, it's horror-comedy setpiece after horror-comedy setpiece, using every trick in the book, not holding anything back. One source of perhaps less intentional humor is that we'll see a massive bloodletting with fluids spewed all over the walls or floor, then a second later, it'll all be reduced to a few discreet bloodstains. You'll also notice the several different shades of blood and other body fluids here, because they just couldn't show that much red blood. Anyway, the ending is, um... quite a departure! And it sets up neatly for part 3, Army of Darkness.
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Well, super fun! A bit silly, sure, perhaps a tad tedious by the end, depending on how high you are, but what steamrollers over all criticism is just how inventive, creative and enthusiastic it all is. These filmmakers are just having the time of their lives and throwing in every little thing they can think of, all in the service of showing you a fun time. You have to appreciate that.
An essential extra feature on the disc is a little documentary about the special effects, which introduces three guys that were responsible, and shows how they achieved each of the key effects with an emphasis on their ingenuity and the sheer fun they had going about putting it all together. It includes lots of footage from the set showing them, Raimi and the actors having a ball as they enact each effect, and reveals Raimi's love of The Three Stooges, largely responsible for the slapstick nature of everything here. It really informs what you just saw and helps you appreciate the sheer ingenuity and fun that went into creating this film.
So there you are: a winner! A fun horror comedy freak-out that wants everyone to have a good time, which is more than you can say for most movies these days.
You sure should.