1981’s The Evil Dead was a landmark piece of petrifying cinema and a triumph of independent filmmaking in general. Made for less than half a million dollars, it saw writer/director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell expand upon their Within the Woods proof of concept with praiseworthy heart and ingenuity, yielding a cult classic scary movie that almost single-handedly popularized cabin-in-the-woods horror.
Although it wasn’t originally planned to follow its predecessor so closely (more on that in a moment), follow-up Evil Dead II ultimately perfected what its precursor initiated. With about 10 times the budget and a larger and better crew — including both returning SFX artist Tom Sullivan and future KNB EFX Group trio Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger — the project ingeniously built upon the lore, carnage, signature camerawork, and surreally sinister vibe of The Evil Dead.
At the same time (and perhaps more importantly), it turned its formerly timid and terrified “final guy” — Ash Williams — into an endearingly machismo pop culture icon amidst implementing the sort of silly jokes and physical gags that the aforementioned creative team grew up with. As a result, Evil Dead II became something even greater than its forebearer: the most influential and essential comedy-horror film of the last 35 years.
Of course, it didn’t exactly start out that way. You see, Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell’s immediate successor to The Evil Dead — 1985’s Crimewave — was a critical and commercial flop. So, the trio decided to revisit their plan to continue the Evil Dead saga by taking it in a less serious direction.
Unfortunately, they were having difficulty getting the necessary funding and distribution — that is, until Stephen King (who championed The Evil Dead as “the most ferociously original horror film of the year”) convinced Dino De Laurentiis to finance it. However, one of De Laurentiis’s stipulations was that they make something similar to the original, so the trio had to save their initial idea — Evil Dead II: Evil Dead and the Army of Darkness — for 1993’s third entry.
(It’s worth noting that another concept involved having Ash and his girlfriend, Linda, journey to the cabin, only to find a crew of escaped convicts hiding there with their buried loot.)