Lionsgate // 1987 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 21st, 2011
If Evil Dead II were a human being instead of a movie it would finally be old enough to get a break on car insurance. In that strange time of 1987, making a sequel to an independent horror film whose biggest claim to fame was an endorsement from Stephen King (and a small appearance in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street) probably seemed like a fool's errand. With little to lose, writer-director Sam Raimi and his merry band let it all hang loose and changed things up by incorporating even more of their beloved slapstick influences. I doubt anyone who suffered through the nights of filming in small-town North Carolina would have guessed that over two decades later Evil Dead II would be one of the most popular home video releases of all time, at least based on the number of different editions on the market. We've seen four DVDs, and Evil Dead II (Blu-ray) 25th Anniversary Edition is the second high def release. It's not quite the definitive edition (which I doubt we'll ever see), but fans can upgrade with confidence knowing they're getting a strong audiovisual presentation, the best extras from previous releases, plus some decent new ones to sweeten the pot.
The story is simple: Ash (Bruce Campbell, returning from The Evil Dead) is stuck in a cabin in the woods where demons have been awakened by a reading from the Necronomicon. He's had to kill his girlfriend. Meanwhile, the daughter of the archaeologist who uncovered the Necronomicon arrives with a research partner and enlists some locals in helping her get to the cabin with freshly translated pages that could help Ash. Once the group is assembled they are beset by a series of demonic attacks.
Evil Dead II is still significant 25 years later because fans still support it. Because fans support it, companies have no problem releasing version after version. We should ask why this scrappy little indie film has earned such loyalty. The answers are numerous, but significant.
At the time, Evil Dead II was utterly unique. Well maybe not utterly. Troma was doing some of the same stuff with their splat-stick shtick. However, where Lloyd Kaufman and crew went as broad as possible in their comedy (often sacrificing the horrific elements if it meant a laugh), Raimi and his collaborators kept all the dark horror implied by the term "evil dead" and tickled the audience's funny bone at the same time. No other horror-comedy hybrid I can think of does as good a job balancing the two sides as this flick.
Evil Dead II is the scrappy underdog. 1987 was the year of Lethal Weapon, RoboCop, and Wall Street. Compared to the competition it's easy to like Evil Dead II's underdog status. More importantly, the whole film has a skin-of-the-teeth glee about it that's infectious. Sure, it's a little more polished than the first film, but Raimi was still young and hungry enough to try some crazy things, and he had someone like Bruce Campbell in front of the camera to contort himself for our delight. Who needs big budgets when you can let Bruce beat himself up in reverse?
Evil Dead II hasn't lost its charm. Like another 1987 alum (The Princess Bride), Evil Dead II is a film that grows up with the viewer. Most people probably see it in their teenage years and fall in love. Yes, there are a lot of adolescent pleasures to be found in Evil Dead II, but watching it now I can appreciate the debt it owes to earlier films and just how much technical wizardry went into some of the scenes.
Evil Dead II is a classic, and I don't need to waste anymore words defending it. Those who've seen it know why it's good, and those who haven't are missing out -- but it's the former category that this release is aimed at, and they'll be pleased.
I'm of two minds about this Blu-ray release of Evil Dead II. On the one hand this 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfer looks amazing. The film is never going to look blockbuster-pristine, but skin tones are spot on, blacks are impressively deep, and detail is strong throughout. On the other hand, part of the charm of Evil Dead II lies in its low-budget charm, and this version looks so good it's hard sometimes to believe it's the same movie. Really, complaining about too good a transfer is a wonderful place to find yourself as a fan of this film. The DTS-HD soundtrack is equally impressive. Raimi knows that sound is as important as image, and this track uses the surrounds effectively throughout. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and the use of silence is impressive.
The extras include all the old stuff we're used to seeing. There's still the amazing audio track with Raimi, Campbell, effects guy Greg Nicotero, and writer Scott Spiegel. I'm not the first one to notice that this is by far one of the best commentary tracks ever recorded. In the best sense it's like watching the film in one of these guys' living room. They share stories, tell jokes, and by the end the viewer knows pretty much everything they could want to about the making of the film. Strangely, the commentary doesn't make the rest of the extras redundant, partly because everyone is so enthusiastic about the film. From the previous releases we also get the behind-the-scenes "The Gore, the Merrier" which gives a solid overview of the production using behind-the-scenes footage. Also carried over is "Behind the Screams," which looks at the film's visual effects.
The new stuff starts with a 91-minute documentary broken into seven parts. "Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead II" that uses behind the scenes footage and new interviews to cover the film's production and reception. Raimi doesn't appear, but otherwise the usual suspects are interviewed and look back on the film fondly. Also new to the disc are a tour of the film's location in the twenty-first century that's kind of fun, and a 30-minute reel of behind-the-scenes footage shot by Nicotero. Finally, there's a still gallery with all kinds of promo material for the film, including ads and lobby cards.
I love Evil Dead II, and I remember devouring the extras on the Anchor Bay DVD back in the day, but at this point there's just not that much left to uncover. I enjoyed the new extras just fine, but I think anything after this will be beating a dead horse. Fans who owned the previous DVD will be comforted knowing that they can upgrade with confidence for the better audiovisual quality without losing any significant extras. Those who purchased the previous Blu-ray might want to upgrade since this is a newer and (slightly) better transfer.
If you don't like Evil Dead II, then nothing on this disc will convert you. It's still a low-budget gore flick that's also designed to tickle the funny bone.
I doubt we'll ever see a "definitive" version of Evil Dead II, but unless you have a pristine 35mm print sitting in your basement, then this is as good as it gets. The transfer and extras on this Blu-ray are the best the film's ever seen, and unless we find out that the actors really were possessed by demons there's very little that new extras could add to the story of the making of the film. So Evil Dead II fans, buy this edition (no matter which previous one you own) and know that you'll never have to upgrade again.
Not guilty. Now get me my chainsaw...
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Galleries