Sam Raimi’s debut feature The Evil Dead (1981), produced on a pittance and financed by local businesses, developed a reputation and cult status that revelled in its imaginative use of technique even as censors the world over were struggling to ban it, or impose cuts as least as severe as the titular evil dead instigated on their victims. In the UK it became one of the most renowned films to be caught in the ‘video nasty’ scourge of the 1980s and it would be many years before it was finally issued intact. A re-make is due out in cinemas imminently. Evil Dead 2 took as its premise the horror of the original but also added copious Three Stooges style humour. The censors had fewer problems with it and it has now been restored and released on Blu-ray. Does the restored print live out its fully dead glory? Is it fine? As lead protagonist Ash himself declares, ‘We just cut up our girlfriend with a chainsaw. Does that sound fine?’ Fortunately yes…

Part sequel (same named central character starring the same actor but different set up), part reinterpretation, Evil Dead 2 reintroduces us to Ashley ‘Ash’ J. Williams (Bruce Campbell in the cult role that would define much of his career) as he takes Linda (Denise Bixler) to a cabin in a strange forest. If that were not enough they have multiple issues to contend with on arrival as, because they are in the pre-digital age, they discover a professor’s tape recorder, MP3 free, which has the recitation of readings, not from the Kindle of the Dead but the Book of the Dead. Since time immemorial (or at least the beginning of cinema), reciting deadly verses from arcane evil literature is bound to have terrifying consequences… and it does. Linda transforms into a demonic entity that will assault all and sundry, including the good professor’s daughter who later comes to visit. But Ash has possession issues of his own, as demonic spirits ensure that he becomes increasingly unable to control his own body from instigating horrendous actions, even against himself. Maybe it will be he who will be ‘dead by dawn’…

Evil Dead 2 is a scream from start to finish from a comedic as well as gore viewpoint. The additional special effects budget enjoyed by the sequel sees monstrous attacks that prefigure the Ray Harryhaussen aspects of Evil Dead III, aka Army of Darkness (1992), with sprays of crimson showering the set whenever the malevolent entities manifest themselves. Whereas the original film was dark and intense (and contained scenes that were really unacceptable), with some comic elements, horror-humour is most definitely the focus in the sequel. Bruce Campbell pulls off one of the performances of his career as Ash confronts his own possessed hand, beating himself up with it, smashing plates over his head, before finally capturing it and sawing it off with a chainsaw. ‘Who’s laughing now?’ he cries, as he realises that he has just mutilated himself. Details, such as a copy of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway on the bookshelf, add subtle humour to proceedings in addition to the laugh out loud slapstick moments. Another aspect from the first film that re-emerges here is the use of excitingly expressive camera movements that track evil entities’ points of view and the blindingly swift journeys of horrified protagonists, sometimes through the forest, sometimes crashing through the walls, doors and windows of the cottage, demonstrating Raimi’s innovative approach to his craft.

A welcome return for Evil Dead 2, even if it declares often that it wishes to ‘swallow your soul’, that now includes a number of DVD extras including ‘making of’ documentaries that are especially welcome. Bloody good fun then.