The Film (5/5)
The Evil Dead at this point really does need no introduction. Within the nearly 30 years since its initial release, it has spawned 2 popular sequels, a series of video games, and an endless legion of fans. Anchor Bay Entertainment has held the license for the Evil Dead movies for over a decade (recently the rights to Army of Darkness have reverted to Universal), and have released countless editions of the films from the initial special editions, through to the gimmicky “Book of the Dead” editions for Evil Dead and Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn to the recent 3 disc “Ultimate Edition” of the first film. Now, Anchor Bay has treated us to another Evil Dead release, the first Blu-ray release of the original film, and the last film of the trilogy to be released in HD.
The Evil Dead for the 2 people who may read this that haven’t seen it tells the story of 5 friends who take a short vacation to a cabin in the secluded woods. On the first night of the trip Scotty, one of the two guys on the trip (The other being Bruce Campbell’s Ash) finds a tape recorder, an odd looking book, and an ever stranger looking knife. He sets up the recorder and plays the tape, which is a recording of an archaeologist who recently excavated the ruins of a medieval castle, and discovered the fabled Necronomicon, which he had taken back to this cabin to study. The tape contains a recording of the Professor reciting the passages from the book. This recording awakens the dark spirits in the woods, who begin to possess the 5 friends, who now must be prepared to kill each other to survive.
It’s a pretty basic scary things happen to college kids in the woods set up, but the execution courtesy of director Sam Raimi elevates this far above other similarly themed horror films. When people think of the Evil Dead movies, many think of the splatstick comedy of the latter 2 films, and while the original does have its share of humour, this film is plain scary. Raimi’s camera frequently takes the spirits POV, and these spirits are of the fast and angry variety, which makes the film feel at times like a haunted roller coaster ride. Even during the few moments when the dead aren’t shaking these up, the camera almost never stops moving. While in some films non-stop camera movements would be considered intrusive, however, the way Raimi handles it never does. It adds a liveliness to the proceedings that makes it feel more like the horror version of the Looney Tunes or 3 Stooges (a frequently acknowledged influence on the film).
The Evil Dead is also quite the shocking film. I have seen the Evil Dead literally dozens of times since my first viewing 15 years ago (jeez it’s been that long?), and some of the scenes still have the ability to make my cringe(pencil. ankle. ouch.), maybe more so now that they are expected. The film is grounded by the performances of its 5 leads, with the standout performance going to Bruce Campbell who plays the role of Ash with a well-balanced mix of humour and drama. Of course, Evil Dead in the end is not a film that lives or dies by the performances; it is a horror film that feels like it is channeling visual horror in its purest form. Like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, the cabin (and the woods surrounding) feels like another living breathing character in the film. If that wasn’t enough, the Evil Dead has some of the best gore effects (courtesy FX Artist Tim Sullivan) of the era. And while some of them have dated, others have held up very well to this day, and are as cringe-worthy as ever.
Literary horror legend Stephen King called The Evil Dead “The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror” upon seeing it the first time. This quote has graced the packaging of probably every release of the film since its initial theatrical release. And even 30 years on it still feels true. The Evil Dead is a truly intense horror experience that is built around the manic intensity crafted by the film’s director Sam Raimi, the buckets of blood and gore courtesy of Tim Sullivan, and a group of actors who knew how to bring these characters to life, and inject them with a good mix of silly and seriousness. The Evil Dead is an undying horror classic for a reason.
When Anchor Bay announced the Evil Dead for Blu-ray I’ll admit I did not know what to expect. Their prior Blu-ray release of Evil Dead 2 was plagued with compression artifacts, and intermittent edge enhancement. It appears that the people in charge of the original films remaster learned from the mistakes in the prior transfer, and created something that while not perfect is absolutely the best Evil Dead has ever looked on home video (or possibly EVER). We have 2 viewing options for the film the original 1:33:1 fullframe aspect ratio, and a 1:85:1 director approved widescreen transfer. Both versions are presented in an absolutely mindblowing 1080p transfer.
The Evil Dead was originally shot and framed for the 1:33:1 ratio, and in my opinion the film looks best when viewed that way. However, Raimi nowadays champions the widescreen format for the film, and thus they are both featured here. The only negatives I can find in the transfer are a few minor instances of print damage, that could not be fixed these are minimal are far from a distraction. The transfer has a healthy bit of film grain, that helps recreate the feeling of watching an actual print of the film. The flesh tones are accurately realized, and black levels are excellent. The level of detail on this transfer is greatly increased from prior DVD editions. Some of you may be on the fence about picking up another Evil Dead edition, however, let me assure you that this edition just on image quality alone blows all other transfers completely out of water.
The Evil Dead is presented in a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless track, that is nothing but impressive. The soundtrack is practically perfect, no audio distortion, or background noise. All dialogue, effects, and music are mixed excellently. The Evil Dead is a film that has always sounded good, but this track is nonetheless a real step up. The effects audio really shines, during the more FX heavy sequences.
While not all the extras from prior editions have been ported over to this release, this Blu-ray is seriously not lacking in the extras department. This is a 2-disc set with the first Disc being the Blu-ray of the film, the only extra on this disc is a new commentary recorded in 2009 featuring actor Bruce Campbell, director Sam Raimi, and producer Rob Tapert. The conversation is detailed, yet easy going, and as usual when these guys are brought together is a lot of fun. They each have a lot of anecdotes in regards to the film, its production, and the chaos that ensued making it.
The 2nd disc of the set is a DVD, and is fully loaded with new and archival extras. The most substantial of which if a 54 minute documentary called One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of the Evil Dead. This documentary is pretty damn extensive covering the film from pre-production through the films reception. Following that is a short piece called Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor that runs close an hour in length, it features a large amount of deleted scenes, making of footage, and alternate takes. The next extra is The Ladies of the Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell which runs about 30 minutes in length, and features Bruce discussing the film with the 3 female leads. We then have Discovering the Evil Dead which details how Evil Dead got its fan base.
I’m getting sort of exhausted just typing this…
The disc is wrapped up with Unconventional, a 20 minute featurette which brings the cast together to discover the convention scene. A short featurette called At The Drive In, a 31 minute Reunion Panel Q & A which took place at a Flashback convention. Finally, we have some make-up test, a deleted scene with Bruce going through the entire book page by page, trailers, TV Spots, and a photo gallery.
It’s the Evil Dead; it’s on Blu-ray. It looks and sounds amazing, and is loaded with extra features. The only excuse you have for not getting this is not having a Blu-ray player. This disc is nothing short of amazing, it is Extremely Highly Recommended!