EVIL DEAD 2: A Live-Action Looney Tunes Horror Comedy

EVIL DEAD 2: A Live-Action Looney Tunes Horror Comedy
Evil Dead 2 (1987) - source: Renaissance Pictures

To keep in the spirit of celebrating anniversaries in film and television, this year marks the 30th, yes 30th, anniversary of Evil Dead 2. The film continues to entertain viewers since its debut in 1987, thanks to the success of the original 1981 film. A third film, Army of Darkness, came in 1992 to complete the Evil Dead trilogy. The year 2013 saw the release of a remake to the original film, and there is currently a television series and a stage musical based on these films. What is the appeal of this series? In the case of Evil Dead 2 – its cartoonish nature.

Though classified as a horror film, Evil Dead 2 is a dark comedy with twisted laughs in lieu of gasps of terror. Sure, there are demons, ghosts and other types of ghouls, but as mentioned, the viewer will find themselves laughing more than shrieking. Well, laughing and for some, averting their glance during one of the copious gory scenes.

Bruce Campbell plays our hero, Ash, a young man on his way to a cabin in the woods (hey, that’s also a movie title!) with his girlfriend. While getting some wine to set up the mood, he notices a tape recorder and presses play. The recording is a dictation of the Necronomicon (the Book of the Dead) and from that point until the end of the film, Evil Dead 2 transforms into a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon.

Inanimate Objects Come Alive

In these classic Warner Bros. cartoons, characters such as Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny or any other iconic character from their catalog live someplace where the appliances come to life. Bathtubs, toasters and other objects have eyes, whistle and do other actions not found in real life. The same could be said about talking anthropomorphic animals. As Ash fights Deadites (the monsters unleashed through the recorded dictation), his cabin takes on a life of its own.

EVIL DEAD 2: A Live-Action Looney Tunes Horror Comedy
source: Renaissance Pictures

One particular scene involves different household items laughing at him. In particular, a mounted bust of a deer and a lamp. He laughs along with these objects in a combination of laughing at his unfortunate circumstance and not batting an eye that household items are laughing at him.

Like a cartoon, any object has the ability to take on a life of its own. It is an accepted part of that particular world’s reality. Unfortunately for Ash, the deer bust and other things won’t sing to him, but want to steal his soul.

Weapon Levels

Story-lines in Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons were, in the simplest terms, paper thin. The coyote chases the roadrunner and tries to capture it through any means necessary. Each time the coyote fails, it tries a newer, stronger weapon, but fails again. Every episode with these two characters repeats this formula. To protect himself and fight off the undead, Ash becomes a human Wile E. Coyote by leveling up his arsenal through the progression of the story.

`source: Renaissance PicturesWith each Deadite (his possessed hand, his girlfriend and body under the floor), Ash has to constantly upgrade his tools for defense. He goes from a knife to an ax to a chainsaw to a sawed off shotgun and finally a shotgun in one hand and a chainsaw attached to the other. For the latter, he had to chop off his possessed hand, but that loss was a weapon’s gain.

Like the coyote, when Ash thinks he will succeed in stopping the evil, the result is negative. The coyote failed with the first trap, so must plan a more elaborate or dangerous one. Ash thinks he killed something with a kitchen knife, but something stronger and bigger comes back. He must ditch the kitchen knife and get a weapon that will cause more damage.

Moments Of Slapstick

Regardless of age, slapstick comedy is made for everyone. A character slipping on a banana peel (to use a cliched gag) can make a toddler and a grandmother laugh. Looney Tunes filled their stories with characters falling down stairs, have acme dynamite blow up in their faces and hurt themselves for an audience laughter. Though Evil Dead 2 is full of dark comedy, the comedy comes from slapstick, of a gruesome sort.

To reuse an earlier Deadite, Ash’s hand comes to life and attempts to kill him. The idea of death is horrifying, but the method the hand attempts is what makes it so comical in the school of slapstick. It punches him in the stomach, in the face, chokes him, bashes his head with dinner plates and when Ash is down, the hand crawls toward a knife to try and stab him. Then again, the fact that a hand is trying to kill him is in itself funny.

When not attacked by his own hand, Ash gets caught by a Deadite wind force (unseen by viewers, just a POV shot) and gets thrown around the woods, he gets knocked out by strangers who come to the cabin and when he thinks he won, Ash gets sucked through a time portal. Ash takes repeated beatings for laughs at the expense of the audience, but keeps getting up for more hits. He is a real-life cartoon character, complete with wide eyes that never seem to blink.

Evil Dead 2: Final Thoughts

Evil Dead 2 continues to entertain viewers year after year, or in the case of people like me, through repeated viewings. The gags and weaponry used continue to delight, and one final element that makes this a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon is that the obstacle of the protagonist comes back repeatedly to pester them. Elmer Fudd thinks he succeeds at getting Bugs Bunny, but doesn’t. Bugs keeps coming back to bother him. Much like Ash’s Deadite girlfriend, he thinks he got rid of her, but she keeps coming back to attack him.

The film succeeds in finding the dark, twisted humor within the horror genre, and shows the audience how ridiculous some of these kills and attacks can be. It shoots up to farcical levels, and makes the film a memorable exercise of cartoonish entertainment.

Do you agree that the film is a live-action cartoon? Are there other films that fit this category? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Zac Hestand

BA in Film from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. MA in English from the University of Sheffield. All-around fun guy who wants to make the world a better, and more interesting, place.