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EVIL DEAD 2 – Joseph Lo Duca


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In the wake of the unexpected success of the low-budget horror movie The Evil Dead in 1981, writer/director Sam Raimi was given $3.5 million by producer Dino Di Laurentiis to make a bigger-budget sequel, which both re-made the original film with better special effects and more professional production values, and continued the story. The result is 1987’s Evil Dead 2, in which the hapless hero Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) continues to do battle with the terrifying ‘deadites,’ re-animated corpses possessed by the evil power of an ancient book who prevent him from escaping the ‘cabin in the woods’ and returning to civilization with all his extremities intact. With it’s spectacularly gory blood-splattered special effects, overblown humor, and frenetic visual style, Evil Dead 2 quickly became a cult hit, almost doubling its budget at the box office, and initiating a franchise that continues to this day. The film co-starred Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, and Richard Domeier, and had an original score by Michigan-born composer Joseph Lo Duca.

Having scored the original Evil Dead as a favor to his friend Raimi, who had been a fan of his work as a jazz composer, Joseph Lo Duca never really capitalized on the success of the first film. Between 1981 and 1987 Lo Duca worked on just one other film, the ultra-low-budget action-thriller Thou Shalt Not Kill Except, which was co-written by Bruce Campbell, and was directed by Raimi’s childhood friend Josh Becker. As such, Evil Dead 2 can basically be considered Lo Duca’s sophomore effort, but despite the composer’s comparative lack of experience in the world of film music, the score is unexpectedly sophisticated. For a start, Lo Duca’s writing makes use of a great number of unusual, challenging compositional styles which reference some classic horror scores of the past. Furthermore, unlike its predecessor, which due to budgetary constraints had to be cobbled together using a handful of live musicians augmented with synths, guitars, and backyard percussion items, Lo Duca was afforded the luxury of a larger symphony orchestra on Evil Dead 2, resulting in a score which has a much bigger, richer, and more satisfying sound entirely.

The only real recurring thematic idea in the score is an imposing, six note theme which emerges out of the Gothic grandeur of the opening cue, “Behemoth,” which is awash in dark, portentous brass fanfares, swirling strings, cymbal crashes, and rolling percussion. Stylistically, Lo Duca appears to be channeling several of the big orchestral 1980s greats; there are hints of both James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith in some of the way he phrases his instruments and progresses his chords, with special attention being given to the sound of scores like Krull. The Horner influences are very apparent in the second cue, “Hush Lil’ Baby/Pee Wee Head,” which begins with a twisted, nightmarish version of the classic children’s lullaby for 1980s synths and chimes, and which is not at all soothing. However, as the cue moves into its second half, a James Horner-esque rising string figure begins to assert itself, forming the core of a brooding, menacing action sequence filled with powerfully thrusting brass, shrill woodwinds, chaotic rhythmic ideas, and more creepy interjections from the lullaby motif.

Lo Duca’s creative dissonances and talent for bold orchestral mayhem are what allow Evil Dead 2 to really stand out. Every subsequent cue has something interesting to offer, either by way of a new instrumental combination, or a new rhythmic device. “The Book of Evil” opens with a set of undulating string figures, accompanied by harp glissandi, offering a sense of dark anticipation and foreboding. The heraldic brass suggests the imminent arrival of something terrible, while the subsequent clanging metallic percussion, explosive brass flourishes, and staccato piano rhythms leave us with no doubt that the terrible thing has actually arrived.

The 80s synth ideas from the second cue return in “Ash’s Dream,” combining with a sampled choir, and revealing themselves to be a semi-recurring idea related to sleep and dreaming. The pretty and soft jazz piano sequence in “Dancing Game/Dance of the Dead” initially seems absurd, almost mockingly out of place, but is musically excellent, especially when it picks up a florid classical waltz-time string section towards the end of the piece. The Horner influence is clear once more in “Fresh Panic,” during which a series of ominous horror chords explode into an urgent, thrusting action sequence filled with snare drums and brass fanfares straight from the score for Aliens. The subsequent “The Other Side of Your Dream” is a celebration of vivid out-and-out terror filled with bombastic orchestral dissonances; the strikingly rhythmic chase sequence beginning at 3:13, which passes a repeated ostinato around from brass to strings to woodwinds, is very clever, as is the tragic-beautiful coda, a deconstruction of 6-note Behemoth theme.

“The Putrified Forest/Under Her Skin” sees Lo Duca’s influence change from James Horner to Jerry Goldsmith by way of Alex North and Dragonslayer, and sees a writing style of emerge where warmer horns are offset by stark, punchy outbursts from the rest of the brass section, accompanied by shrill woodwinds. “The Evil Begins Anew/Sunrise/Ash Attacks” is by far the most challenging cue, a brutal combination of harsh, guttural woodwind sounds, deeply unnerving string phrases, all manner of clattering percussion, and vicious, throat-rattling brass. Some of the stingers in the string writing actually feel somewhat Herrmannesque, while the militaristic snare riffs really set a stormy tempo.

“Love Transforms,” the middle section of the penultimate cue, is the only part of the score that offers Lo Duca the chance to write warmer, more lyrical music, and he doesn’t disappoint, impressing with a lush, searching, sweeping sequence for strings and harp that is sadly all too brief. The score quickly returns to horror mode in “Mirror, Mirror” and “Bad Fingers,” another sequence of creative action and dissonance, with a skittery, insect-like conclusion. The conclusive “Hail He…/End Title” sees Ash travelling back in time to the Midde Ages – and setting the scene for Army of Darkness – amid a set of rumbling, tribal piano clusters, and brass fanfares. The Krull-like chord progressions briefly return to enliven the brass section, heraldic and important-sounding, before launching into a tempestuous chase and action sequence with a jazzy piano line, pizzicato strings, wild brasses, and chaotic woodwinds, before concluding with several bold statements of the Behemoth theme.

Oddly, the soundtrack for Evil Dead 2 was never released on CD in North America; Varese Sarabande put out a vinyl LP in 1987 to coincide with the release of the film. Meanwhile, over in the United Kingdom, the independent label That’s Entertainment Records found themselves ahead of the game when it released a shiny silver compact disc some months later, when the film opened in Europe. For many years this was the only digital release of the score, but since then two Japanese box sets have been released: one in 1993, combining the score for The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, and another one in 1998, with music from The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and the third movie in the series, Army of Darkness. The score is available on its own as a digital download from Amazon and iTunes, but physical copies remain hard to come by; nevertheless, the score comes recommended for fans of classic orchestral horror. The sound recording quality may be a little poorly rendered for contemporary ears, but the strength and inventiveness of the composition itself more than makes up for it.

Buy the Evil Dead II soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Behemoth (2:42)
  • Hush Lil’ Baby/Pee Wee Head (3:21)
  • The Book of Evil (2:49)
  • Ash’s Dream/Dancing Game/Dance of the Dead (3:33)
  • Fresh Panic/The Other Side of Your Dream (4:36)
  • The Putrified Forest/Under Her Skin (4:16)
  • The Evil Begins Anew/Sunrise/Ash Attacks (2:56)
  • Hand and Mouse/Love Transforms/Mirror, Mirror/Bad Fingers (4:53)
  • Hail He…/End Title (4:58)

Running Time: 34 minutes 34 seconds

Varese Sarabande STV-81313 (1987) – LP
That’s Entertainment Records TER-1142 (1987) – CD

Music composed and conducted by Joseph Lo Duca. Orchestrations by Dennis J. Tini. Recorded and mixed by Sheldon Newmann. Edited by Chris Rabideau. Album produced by Joseph Lo Duca, Richard Kraft and Tom Null.

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