(The twenty five is an examination of the twenty five films that made me a cinephile. These aren’t necessarily what I consider best movies, nor are they necessarily my favorite. Though in some cases they are both. Instead these are the films that made the biggest most indenialable impression on me. Films that if they hadn’t hit a certain way at a certain time I would not be the same film goer that I am today. They’re the twenty five.)
A couple of days ago, I posted this picture and said it was my ideal of cinematic bliss:
That was no exaggeration.
Nor is it an exaggeration to say that out of all the movies I’ve covered in the 25 and all the movies I will cover, none have been more significant to the development as a film goer and fuck it, the development of my life as Evil Dead 2.
Once again I have to stress. I’m not joking. You can draw a clear line between my life before I saw Evil Dead 2 and after it.
I was just starting to get interested into what I guess you’d call cult cinema, whetted by early forays into stuff like the Hong Kong cinema so popular at the time, and subculturally popular films like The Crow. Evil Dead II was a whole different beast though. I sat down with the battered VHS to watch a movie; and instead Sam Raimi and his merry band of Pranksters shot me in the face with one.
There's a beautiful moment in Scott Pilgrim, of Knives watching Sex Bob-omb practicing. Wright keeps it as simple as possible, a slow dolly in as the realization dawns on Knives face that there is an entire world she knew nothing about, and she wants in in the worst way.
Once again, this movie.
So what is it then about this movie? What about this maniacal mashup of Three Stooges, looney tunes, gore bomb, and demonic mayhem unlocked something so massive in me in me?
It wasn’t just the way that the movie moved at approximately the pace of a pixie on speed. It wasn’t just the insane style, the careening camera and canted haunted house angles that looked like nothing I had remotely seen before. It wasn’t just the fact that the movie had me convinced that literally anything could happen at anytime and the world was governed by rules the likes of which were more usually found in black and white cartoons from the thirties (the mounted deer head suddenly finding Ash’s predicament too fucking hilarious to contain itself, is still for my money one of the greatest “What... the... fuck is going on.” moments in film. Topped only by the hand duel and the climax's fantastic fake out).
Part of it the way that Evil Dead II seems to literally have creativity to burn. There are moments film fans use to talk to eachother like hobo signs left carved into door posts. Moments so beautifully themselves that no true film fan can forget them. Evil Dead II is made up of nothing but those moments.
It’s the living embodiment of Second Cities’ motto “Something Wonderful All The Time.” Ash possessed by the invisible force is immediately surplanted by the ghoulish ballet his girlfriend's torso and severed head perform. Which is surpassed in shock by her rotted corpse bursting through the door wielding a chainsaw, which is followed by Ash's reflection grabbing him and asking him if things are really “fine”. This is before Ash’s hand attacks him, and the entire houses gets a case of the giggles.
And that’s when things are still a one man show. Though that one man, is of course Bruce Campbell, who hits his role with the famous dedication that made him worth a dozen men and chins.
But at the end of the day, even the fact that it was one of the most inventive, twisted, creative, FUN movies I had ever seen, wasn’t what impressed me about Evil Dead II.
What was so special about Evil Dead II was not just that someone had made it, but a specific someone had made it. This clearly wasn’t the work of the factory line studio that my mind at the time could only fuzzily grasp. This was the work of individuals working outside of that system. Individuals for whom all I knew could be somewhat like me. You could see the finger prints, sometimes literally on the film’s lovingly crafted stop motion. I didn’t really know who Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Robert Tapert and his crew were… yet. That would change as soon as the film ended, aided by the invaluable Evil Dead Companion. I just knew I wanted to be like them more then anything.
Because it’s not just that Evil Dead II made me want to make movies. But Evil Dead II made me realize that I could make movies. The cinema would be a part of my life, not just as an inactive side to it, but a central part. Making it, talking about it, showing it*. Anyway I could. By any means necessary.
No greater gift.
*(Ironically the film became one of my first experiences as a programmer as I took my VHS tape from class to class every Halloween in High School and conned a surprising amount of teachers into letting me show the hand or Henrietta sequence in honor of the holiday)