Evil Dead II is a very similar movie to the first in terms of its setting and plot. It opens with a bit of backstory on the Book of the Dead—which would not be referred to as the Necronomicon until Army of Darkness. It then recaps the events of the first film. The recap does not use footage from the original and is slightly different than the events depicted in the first installment. Because of this, most casual viewers assume that Evil Dead II, despite its title, is a remake. All of the other characters besides our hero Ash and his girlfriend Linda have been wiped out of the recap but none of this was done with the intent of wiping The Evil Dead out of continuity.
The location remains the same as the first film, but that does not make Evil Dead II a retelling of that story. While the recap of the first material is somewhat different, it ends exactly where the first film does and the story simply carries on from that moment. It might not seem like much, but having Ash on his own represents a very different dynamic than having him surrounded by friends in the original. For nearly half the movie, it’s just him in the cabin being plagued by the evil forces that took his girlfriend. And we get to witness his battle with said evil forces as they try their best to drive him insane. This is where Evil Dead II really comes into its own.
While there were moments of slapstick humor in the original, the tone of Evil Dead II is pushed dramatically in that direction. It is just another way in which this feature is a progression of the first.
The Ash character has progressed as well. He was a nervous, quiet type in the original, not the sort one generally expects to survive. In the first half of the sequel, he seems just as surprised as anyone else that he managed to live. Ash spends the first 60 minutes of the second movie in a cocoon of hysterical panic before being able to finally emerge as a hero in the third act. It’s a natural progression given the amount he has been through and doesn’t work as well without having the first film to set it up, as Ash was not nearly as hyper-masculinized in Evil Dead as he becomes in the second and third installments.
Make no mistake: I do not mean to say that Evil Dead II doesn’t stand on its own, because it does. It is a self-contained story and doesn’t require viewing the first in order to appreciate it. However, for maximum enjoyment, one should view the films back to back to see just how well Evil Dead II works together with its predecessor. The second installment in the Evil Dead franchise does what every great sequel should, it works as both a follow up and a standalone effort. The antics at the cabin and the retelling of Linda’s possession are not in any way an attempt to remake the first movie. As perplexing as it is, there are people who actually believe that Ash returned to the cabin with a different girl. This is so strange to me because, even though the actress is different, the character’s name remains the same. For whatever reason, the opening of this feature doesn’t sit right with most viewers and leads them to view it as something other than what it actually is. However, the reasons for the opening sequence are very simple.
Director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and company made Evil Dead II at a different production company than the first and did so for virtually no money. Different distributors had come in to release Evil Dead in both theatrical and home video formats and Raimi simply didn’t have the rights to any footage of the first feature. Therefore, they had to reshoot it. Bringing back all of the characters from the first would have not only been expensive, given that they would be hiring the actors for a very short amount of time, but would have been convoluted as they would have had to retread the whole story beat-for-beat in a span of roughly seven minutes. So they decided only to use Ash and Linda and focus on the major emotional highpoint of The Evil Dead, which was Linda’s possession. This is the sole explanation for the film’s reshot opening, and it is far from the first sequel to have to reshoot footage because the rights to the original feature had been lost. Nearly all of this is explained on the commentary track of Evil Dead II.
The story we are treated to after the recap might be similar to the first movie and there are several scenes that are meant as an homage, but the rest of the characters around Ash are completely different than those in The Evil Dead and they make for a completely different story. Evil Dead II is mindful of what worked in the first film, but has a tone and style that is unique unto itself. These considerations help make Evil Dead II one of the best and most highly regarded horror sequels ever produced.