Filming took place in Michigan and North Carolina in 1986, and the film was released in the United States on March 13, 1987. It was a minor box office success, achieving just under $6 million. It garnered positive reviews in which critics praised Raimi's direction and Campbell's performance. Like the original, Evil Dead II has accumulated a cult following. The film was followed by a third installment, Army of Darkness, in 1992 and a television series, Ash vs Evil Dead, in 2015.
The film begins with a simplified recap of the events of the first film. Ash Williams and his girlfriend Linda take a romantic vacation to a seemingly abandoned cabin in the woods. While in the cabin, Ash plays a tape of archaeologist Raymond Knowby, the cabin's previous inhabitant, reciting passages from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (or Book of the Dead), which he has discovered during an archaeological dig. The recorded incantation unleashes an evil force that kills and later possesses Linda, turning her into a "deadite". Ash is then forced to decapitate his girlfriend with a shovel and bury her near the cabin.
The film then picks up where the first film left off, where a spirit is seen throwing Ash through the woods. Ash briefly becomes possessed by the demon, but when day breaks the spirit is gone, and Ash returns to normal. Ash finds little chance of safety, however, as the bridge leading to the cabin has been destroyed. Linda's revived head attacks Ash, biting his hand. Ash brings Linda's severed head to the shed, where her headless body attacks him with a chainsaw. Ash gains the upper hand and slashes the relentless deadite Linda to death, killing her a second and final time. Then Ash's possessed right hand tries to kill him, and Ash is forced to sever his hand with his chainsaw. Ash then attempts to shoot the severed hand hiding in the wall of the cabin. The hand mocks him and ultimately gets away.
While Ash deals with this force, Knowby's daughter, Annie, and her research partner, Ed Getley, return from the dig with more pages of the Necronomicon in tow, only to find the destroyed bridge. They enlist the help of locals Jake and Bobby Joe to guide them along an alternate trail to the cabin. The four of them find an embattled Ash, who is, seemingly, slowly being driven insane by the demon, such as hallucinating that the room comes to life with objects in the room laughing hysterically at him.
The four new arrivals meet Ash at the cabin and listen to a recording of Knowby detailing how his wife Henrietta was possessed by the Evil Force, forcing him to kill her. They find Mrs. Knowby, now a deadite, in the cabin's root cellar, and it attacks and possesses Ed; Ash dismembers him with an axe. Bobby Joe tries to escape but is attacked by the demon trees and dragged to her death. Annie translates two of the pages before Jake turns on them and throws the pages into the cellar, holding them at gunpoint to force them to go look for Bobby Joe. Ash is possessed once again and turns on his remaining companions, incapacitating Jake. Annie retreats to the cabin and accidentally stabs Jake (mistaking him for the demon) and drags him to the cellar door, where he is killed by Henrietta in a gory bloodbath. Deadite Ash tries to kill Annie, but returns to his normal self when he sees his girlfriend Linda's necklace.
Ash, with Annie's help, modifies the chainsaw and attaches it to his stump, where his right hand had been. Ash eventually finds the missing pages of the Necronomicon and kills Henrietta, who has turned into a long-necked monster. After Ash kills Henrietta, Annie chants an incantation that sends the Evil Force back to its origin. The incantation opens up a whirling temporal vortex/portal which not only draws in the evil force, but nearby trees, Ash's Oldsmobile Delta 88, and Ash himself. Meanwhile, Ash's severed possessed hand stabs and kills Annie.
Ash and his Oldsmobile land in the year 1300 AD. He is then confronted by a group of knights who initially mistake him for a deadite, but they are quickly distracted when a real one shows up. Ash blasts the harpy-like deadite with his shotgun and is hailed as a hero who has come to save the realm, at which point he breaks down and screams in anguish.Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams, a man who travels to the cabin in the woods to spend the weekend with his girlfriend Linda. As the story follows, he must defeat the evil powers around him that keep growing. After enough attacks, he decides to take the evil head-on equipped with a shotgun and a chainsaw and sets out to face the enemy.
Sarah Berry as Annie Knowby, Professor Knowby's daughter who travels to the cabin looking forward to share her discoveries of the Book of the Dead with her father. She thinks Ash murdered her parents at first, but when the evil spirits unleash against them, she realizes the truth and finds out her only way to survive is to help Ash defeat the spirits.
Dan Hicks as Jake, a white-trash guy who freaks out before the evil spirits. When things turn bad, he thinks they have to escape before they all get killed. He is accidentally stabbed in the chest by Annie when trying to escape a possessed Ash. Badly wounded but still alive, Annie tries dragging him to safety in the living room near the trapdoor to the fruit cellar, where he is attacked and eaten alive by Henrietta.
Kassie Wesley as Bobby Joe, Jake's foul-mouthed, self-centered girlfriend. She tries to escape the cabin, only to be killed by the woods themselves (in a similar fashion to how Cheryl was raped in the first film).
Ted Raimi as Possessed Henrietta, Annie's possessed mother who uses her memories to lure her in order to kill her and everybody else, but is killed when Ash stabs her through the chest with his chainsaw.
Denise Bixler as Linda, Ash's girlfriend. She gets possessed, then tries to kill Ash. In a desperate effort, he beheads her with a shovel before burying her. Later on, her corpse rises from the grave and resumes her intentions to kill Ash with both her severed head and her body acting separately. He finally gets rid of her by chopping her up with a chainsaw. Bixler replaces Betsy Baker, who portrayed Linda in the first film.
Richard Domeier as Professor Ed Getley, Professor Knowby's associate and Annie's boyfriend. After being attacked by the possessed Henrietta, he gets possessed by another spirit. He meets his doom when Ash dismembers him with an ax.
John Peaks as Professor Knowby, the archaeologist who found the Book of the Dead. When he took it to his cabin to translate it, he accidentally unleashed its evil spirits. His fate remains unknown, since he only appears as a floating head from another plane of existence.
Lou Hancock as Henrietta Knowby, Professor Knowby's wife. She gets possessed when her husband accidentally unleashes the evil spirits of the Book of the Dead. According to the Professor's recordings he was forced to kill Henrietta when she became demonically possessed and attacked him. He then buried her body in the fruit cellar where she reanimates and remains a recurring villain (portrayed by Ted Raimi) through the second half of the film.
The concept of a sequel to The Evil Dead was discussed during location shooting on the first film. Raimi wanted to toss his hero, Ash, through a time portal, back into the Middle Ages. That notion eventually led to the third installment, Army of Darkness.
After the release of The Evil Dead, Raimi moved on to Crimewave, a cross between a crime film and a comedy produced by Raimi and Joel and Ethan Coen. Irvin Shapiro, a publicist who was primarily responsible for the mainstream release of The Evil Dead, suggested that they next work on an Evil Dead sequel. Raimi scoffed at the idea, expecting Crimewave to be a hit, but Shapiro put out ads announcing the sequel regardless.
After Crimewave was released to little audience or critical reaction, Raimi and Tapert, knowing that another flop would further stall their already lagging careers, took Shapiro up on his offer. Around the same time, they met Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis, the owner of production and distribution company DEG. He had asked Raimi if he would direct a theatrical adaptation of the Stephen King (written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym) novel Thinner. Raimi turned down the offer, but De Laurentiis continued to be interested in the young filmmaker.
The Thinner adaptation was part of a deal between De Laurentiis and King to produce several adaptations of King's successful horror fiction. At the time, King was directing the first such adaptation, Maximum Overdrive, based on his short story "Trucks." He had dinner with a crew member who had been interviewed about the Evil Dead sequel, and told King that the film was having trouble attracting funding. Upon hearing this, King, who had written a glowing review of the first film that helped it become an audience favorite at Cannes, called De Laurentiis and asked him to fund the film.
Though initially skeptical, De Laurentiis agreed after being presented with the extremely high Italian revenue for the first film. Although Raimi and Tapert had desired $4 million for the production, they were allotted only $3.6 million. As such, the planned medieval storyline had to be scrapped.
Though they had only recently received the funding necessary to produce the film, the script had been written for some time, having been composed largely during the production of Crimewave. Raimi contacted his old friend Scott Spiegel, who had collaborated with Campbell and others on the Super 8 mm films they had produced during their childhood in Michigan. Most of these films had been comedies, and Spiegel felt that Evil Dead II should be less straight horror than the first. Initially, the opening sequence included all five of the original film's characters; however, in an effort to save time and money, all but Ash and Linda were cut from the final draft. The film went through several other drafts, including a group of escaped convicts holding Ash captive in the cabin while searching for buried treasure.
Spiegel and Raimi wrote most of the film in their house in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, California, where they were living with the aforementioned Coen brothers, as well as actors Frances McDormand, Kathy Bates, and Holly Hunter (Hunter was the primary inspiration for the Bobby Jo character). Due both to the distractions of their house guests and the films they were involved with, Crimewave and Josh Becker's Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, the script took a long time to finish.
Among the film's many inspirations include The Three Stooges and other slapstick comedy films; Ash's fights with his disembodied hand come from a film made by Spiegel as a teenager, entitled Attack of the Helping Hand, which was itself inspired by television commercials advertising Hamburger Helper. The "laughing room" scene, where all the objects in the room seemingly come to life and begin to cackle maniacally along with Ash, came about after Spiegel jokingly used a gooseneck lamp to visually demonstrate a Popeye-esque laugh. Spiegel's humorous influence can be seen throughout the film, perhaps most prominently in certain visual jokes; for instance, when Ash traps his rogue hand under a pile of books, on top is A Farewell to Arms.
While Raimi and Campbell have stated that Evil Dead 2 was intended as a direct sequel, there are continuity issues between the two movies – for example, the Necronomicon is destroyed in a fire by Ash during the conclusion of The Evil Dead, yet is intact in Evil Dead 2. There are also no traces of the bodies of Ash’s friends from the first movie, and Ash attempts to escape via driving over a bridge which had previously been destroyed, which he appears not to remember. The cabin itself appears intact, despite having been ruined during the events of The Evil Dead (e.g. the cellar trapdoor, having been ripped off its hinges by Ash's possessed sister, is now back in place).
With the script completed, and a production company secured, principal photography began. The production commenced in Wadesboro, North Carolina, not far from De Laurentiis' offices in Wilmington. De Laurentiis had wanted them to film in his elaborate Wilmington studio, but the production team felt uneasy being so close to the producer, so they moved to Wadesboro, approximately three hours away. Steven Spielberg had previously filmed The Color Purple in Wadesboro, and the large white farmhouse used as an exterior location in that film became the production office for Evil Dead II. Most of the film was shot in the woods near that farmhouse, or J.R. Faison Junior High School, which is where the interior cabin set was located.
The film's production was not nearly as chaotic or strange as the original film's production, largely because of Raimi, Tapert and Campbell's additional film making experience. However, there are nevertheless numerous stories about the strange happenings on the set. For instance, the rat seen in the cellar was nicknamed "Señor Cojones" by the crew ("cojones" is Spanish slang for "testicles").
Even so, there were hardships, mostly involving Ted Raimi's costume. Ted, director Sam's younger brother, had been briefly involved in the first film, acting as a fake Shemp, but in Evil Dead II he gets the larger role of the historian's demonically-possessed wife, Henrietta. Raimi was forced to wear a full-body, latex costume, crouch in a small hole in the floor acting as a "cellar", or on one day, both. Raimi became extremely overheated, to the point that his costume was literally filled with liters of sweat; special effects artist Gregory Nicotero describes pouring the fluid into several Dixie cups so as to get it out of the costume. The sweat is also visible on-screen, dripping out of the costume's ear, in the scene where Henrietta spins around over Annie's head.
The crew also snuck various in-jokes into the film itself, such as the clawed glove of Freddy Krueger, the primary antagonist of Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street series of slasher films, which hangs in the cabin's basement and tool shed. This was, at least partially, a reference to a scene in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street where the character Nancy Thompson (portrayed by Heather Langenkamp), dozes off watching the original Evil Dead on a television set in her room. In turn, that scene was a reference to the torn The Hills Have Eyes poster seen in the original Evil Dead film, which was itself a reference to a torn Jaws poster in The Hills Have Eyes.
At the film's wrap party, the crew held a talent contest, where Raimi and Campbell sang The Byrds' "Eight Miles High", with Nicotero on guitar.
Evil Dead II opened on March 13, 1987 to a weekend gross of $807,260. At this time, it was only in 310 theatres, resulting in its smaller gross. However, after spending a little over a month in theatres, the film ultimately grossed $5,923,044 domestically.
Rotten Tomatoes reports that 98% of 53 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 8/10. The site's consensus reads: "Evil Dead 2's increased special effects and slapstick-gore makes it as good – if not better – than the original." On the similar website Metacritic, it holds a score of 69 out of 100, based on 12 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Empire magazine praised the film, saying "the gaudily gory, virtuoso, hyper-kinetic horror sequel uses every trick in the cinematic book" and confirms that "Bruce Campbell and Raimi are gods". Caryn James of The New York Times called it "genuine, if bizarre, proof of Sam Raimi's talent and developing skill." Leonard Maltin originally rated the film with two stars, but later increased the rating to three stars.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four, describing it as "a fairly sophisticated satire, that makes you want to get up and shuffle." He praised the film's sense of surrealism, comedic timing, and "grubby, low-budget intensity." Ebert states that "if you know it's all special effects, and if you've seen a lot of other movies and have a sense of humor, you might have a great time at Evil Dead 2." Richard Harrington of the Washington Post wrapped up his review stating that "the acting is straight out of '50s B movies. The exposition is clumsy, the sound track corny, the denouement silly. Then again, who said bad taste was easy?" Conversely, Pat Graham of Chicago Reader disliked the mix of horror and comedy, writing in his review that "The pop-up humor and smirkiness suggest Raimi's aspiring to the fashionable company of the brothers Coen, though on the basis of this strained effort I'd say he's overshot the mark."
Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #19 on their list of "The Top 50 Cult Films".
Sight and Sound ranked it #34 on their 50 Funniest Films of All Time list. In 2008, Empire magazine included Evil Dead II on their list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, ranked #49.
J.C. Maçek III of PopMatters wrote, "Equal parts remake and sequel, the second film brought back Bruce Campbell as Ash and was every bit as gory and horrific as the first film with more tree rape and dismemberment and blood splatters than ever. On the other hand, Evil Dead II is also an absolutely hilarious and uproarious intentional comedy."
In 2016, James Charisma of Playboy ranked the film #12 on a list of 15 Sequels That Are Way Better Than The Originals.
The film was released on VHS by Anchor Bay Entertainment on February 17, 1998. In a similar fashion to the first Evil Dead film and Army of Darkness, there have been numerous DVD releases of Evil Dead II. The film was released on DVD by Anchor Bay on August 29, 2000 in the form of a Limited Edition Tin, and was re-released by Anchor Bay on September 27, 2005, designed to look like the Necronomicon. On October 2, 2007, the film was released on Blu-ray, and on November 15, 2011, it was re-released on Blu-ray and DVD by Lionsgate Home Entertainment in the form of a 25th Anniversary Edition. On September 13, 2016, the film was re-released on Blu-ray by Lionsgate.
The film was released on DVD in the UK in 2003 as part of a region 2 Evil Dead trilogy box set. In 2013, the trilogy saw another UK release on Blu-ray, released by StudioCanal. A 25th Anniversary Wood Edition was released in Germany by StudioCanal in 2007. The film was released on Blu-ray in Australia in 2014 alongside The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, and the 2013 reboot, as part of an Evil Dead Anthology box set. The film has been released together with the first Evil Dead film by Green Nara Media in South Korea in region A.