[Spooky Saturday Flashback] 'Return of the Evil Dead' is a Familiar Yet Inventive Sequel in the 'Blind Dead' Franchise
In 1973, one year after Tombs of the Blind Dead, the skeletal Templars rose once more for director Amando de Ossorio's Return of the Evil Dead. (yes, this time they’re Evil, rather than Blind)...
...The sequel opens with their origin story, showing the medieval Templars being hounded to death by a torch-wielding mob. We then cut to a contemporary setting, and it becomes immediately clear that the film is balancing medieval Gothic and fashionable seventies trappings more successfully than Tombs of the Blind Dead did.
The bulk of the story takes place in a festival celebrating the historical destruction of the Templars, and the mood is just right for the past to encroach into the present: just witness how the prologue's scene of a Templar having his face burnt off cuts immediately to a shot of a Guy Fawkes-style Templar effigy, ready to be burnt as part of the cheery modern celebrations.
A good chunk of what follows is familiar from the first film, but Return of the Evil Dead manages to make everything just a little bit tighter. Again, we have a love triangle between the central characters; but this time the romantic exposition takes place amidst Gothic ruins, with a strange hunchbacked individual hiding nearby. We are a long way from the carefree swimming pool prologue of the previous movie.
The sequel expands upon the lore of its central monsters. While Tombs of the Blind Dead showed the Templars rising from their graves apparently whenever they felt like it, this time around they are awakened when their hunchback acolyte performs a virgin sacrifice. Instead of having their eyes pecked out by crows after being hanged, as described in the first film, the Templars are shown to have been blinded with burning torches. The Templars’ blindness, which was an easily-overlooked plot detail in the original film, now plays a larger role in the plot: it’s made clear that the protagonists can survive a close encounter with the Templars, so long as they avoid making a sound.
But while Return of the Evil Dead shows a tighter grip on its Gothic subject matter than the first film, the production values have not necessarily improved. Continuity errors abound, leading to curious sequences where it's night-time during the festival yet still twilight at the Templars' nearby ruins. Genuinely evocative scenes of the Templars marching house to house in a Herod-like hunt for victims are sat alongside regrettable shots of horse-mounted skeletons bonking people with plastic swords. And then we have the sub-Carry On comic relief involving women's underwear.
Return of the Evil Dead often threatens to collapse into nonsense, yet it still manages to pull itself together for the climax – albeit through the tried-and-true method of cribbing from another film. The final act sees the characters both likeable and unlikeable banding together in a building to survive the attack, in a clear lift from Night of the Living Dead. The crucial detail here is that, while the film is borrowing from its predecessors, it still manages to bring a touch of inventiveness and imagination.
One of the most successful scenes of character-based drama has the corrupt mayor sending a little girl outside, promising that she will be reunited with her parents – when, in reality, he is simply using her as a decoy. The shots of the terrified child toddling her way past the Templars will stick in the mind long after the film has ended. This is Return of the Evil Dead’s main strength: somehow, no matter how far into the depths of tawdriness it sinks, it always finds a way to redeem itself – as, indeed, did Tombs of the Blind Dead.
For its finale, the film takes the opposite path to its predecessor (the apocalyptic conclusion to which, incidentally, is never acknowledged in the sequel). Instead of a gleefully over-the-top ending where the Templars come out on top, Return of the Evil Dead finishes with a comparatively understated sequence in which the skeletons are given a satisfying send-off. They would not stay dead for long, however: the Blind Dead series was still only halfway finished...
Currently, you can stream Return of the Evil Dead on Amazon Prime.
By Doris V. Sutherland
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