Our reviews of The Evil Dead (published February 5th, 2000), The Evil Dead (Blu-ray) (published August 31st, 2010), and The Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition (published December 18th, 2007) are also available.
"The most ferociously original horror film of the year!"
Now known as one of the best horror films ever made, director Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead has had many incarnations on VHS, DVD, and laserdisc: a few releases on VHS, a great laserdisc from Elite Entertainment, then with the advent of DVD came an edition by Anchor Bay, a superior edition by Elite Entertainment, and now in 2002 a "Book Of The Dead" edition from, once again, Anchor Bay. A one-of-a-kind item, this new version of The Evil Dead comes in a cool looking latex Necronomicon sculpted by original Evil Dead effects guru Tom Sullivan. Stocked with drawings and images from the film, as well as a newly created widescreen transfer, DTS and Dolby 5.1 audio mixes, and a ton of extra features, Anchor Bay has outdone themselves with this new Evil Dead DVD.
Facts of the Case
When a group of teenagers (led by the talented, superhero-like Bruce Campbell) venture into the woods for a solitary, relaxing weekend in an old cabin, evil awaits, and not just any evil—The Evil Dead! The teens set up shop in the old creepy cabin and snoop around (as well as "mess" around). In the basement, Ash (Campbell) and Scott (Hal Delrich) find an old book bound human in flesh and inked in human blood: the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, roughly translated the Book Of The Dead. Inside this book are passages and incantations for evil, death…and demon resurrection. Foolhardily, Ash, Scott, and their girlfriends sit around one night and listen to passages from the book recorded on an old reel-to-reel tape deck by an elderly professor. As the tape plays, it awakens something deadly in the woods, a demon that rages with fury and possesses the living! One by one, the teens are taken until only Ash is left to fight off the force that is the evil dead!
So much has been written about Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead that it's hard to say anything freshly insightful. Like dissecting The Godfather movies or Star Wars, The Evil Dead and its two wildly popular sequels (Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn and Army Of Darkness) have been criticized and lavished over by almost everyone who loves or reviews movies. That being said, I will attempt to add my own two cents into the critical history of one of the coolest horror movies ever made.
The best thing about The Evil Dead is its freshness. The Evil Dead was released at a time when slasher films were all the rage—stuff like Friday The 13th, Halloween, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were the main films showing in multiplexes around the nation. Upon arrival, The Evil Dead faltered and made a swan dive to VHS, a then-booming market that was allowing people to rediscover certain cinematic gems in the comfort of their own home. Then came DVD and…well, you all know the rest of the story. Now we have the new and improved version of The Evil Dead.
I became a fan of The Evil Dead series at a young age. Hyper and exhausting, The Evil Dead is a movie that entertains from the first to the very last reel. Sam Raimi fashioned an instant classic with some of the most amazing camera work ever pulled off in movies. That statement may sound like B.S. to those who haven't seen this movie; if so, I urge you to take look at The Evil Dead, for its influence is far reaching, including the films of Peter Jackson (Dead Alive, The Lord Of The Rings), the Coen brothers (Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski), and Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow). Heck, the movie evens shows up in other horror movies, like Wes Craven's A Nightmare On Elm Street and the newly released Donnie Darko.
The cast is made up of mostly amateurs, though as the years went on it was clear that Bruce Campbell was the true star of the film. While he plays Ash more for laughs in the sequels, Campbell's Ash in The Evil Dead is serious and scared; he is an everyman trapped in terror to the worst degree. Campbell has made a name for himself in the cult circuit for parlaying his chiseled good looks into offbeat and humorous roles (including the failed series The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. and films like McHale's Navy and The Majestic). However, like many before him, Campbell will probably always be known as Ash, the whimpering, bullheaded hero of Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy.
I refuse to prattle on endlessly about The Evil Dead. Just see it. Criticism and praise mean very little unless you have something to gauge it by. If you're sickened by things like melting heads and demonic decapitations, stay far away from The Evil Dead. But if you're in the mood for something wildly original and exciting, then rest assured that The Evil Dead will perfectly fit that bill!
The Evil Dead is presented in a newly created THX-certified 1.78:1 matted anamorphic widescreen transfer. As most fans know, The Evil Dead's original aspect ratio is 1.33:1 full frame. However, for this disc Anchor Bay has worked with the director to produce a replication of what it was like to see The Evil Dead in the theaters in widescreen (so there is merit to why Anchor Bay decided to produce a widescreen edition instead of a full frame one). Basically, for those looking for the original full frame version, you'll want to stick with Elite Entertainment's special edition. For those desiring a widescreen version, this new Anchor Bay edition is the way to go. That being said, the newly created widescreen edition looks fairly good. Looking at both the Elite versions and this new Anchor Bay version, I noticed a fair amount of grain in both prints (which isn't surprising due to its age and budget). However, this is a fairly clean transfer with little to no edge enhancement. If there is any true difference in the Elite and Anchor Bay transfer, it's that the Anchor Bay transfer looks a bit darker and washed out than the Elite version. Keep in mind that this isn't the best looking print even at its best—but for what Anchor Bay has done, it looks pretty darn good.
The audio is presented in a newly created DTS 6.1 ES mix (say what?) as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX. While I'm all for new 5.1 remixes, I'm not sure I understand why The Evil Dead was given such hearty treatment (sadly, the elements are from poor source materials). But, here they are in all their full blown glory. There isn't a heck of a lot of difference between the Dolby 5.1 and DTS soundtrack. Anchor Bay has done a very nice job of channel separation and utilizing directional effects in both the front and rear speakers. When the "force" comes roaring through the woods, you can hear it through all the speakers (a very nice touch). Other little nuances like ambient sounds and background noises are also used productively and generously. The soundtracks do include a bit of distortion in some of the screams and effects, though overall they're kept to the bare minimum, and there's a lack of fidelity and depth. I couldn't really tell much difference between the Dolby 5.1 mix and the DTS mix, so either one should do the job. This is probably the best The Evil Dead will ever sound, with no small thanks in part to Anchor Bay. Also included on this disc is a 2.0 soundtrack in English and French, a 5.1 soundtrack in French, and English closed captions.
Now we get to the good stuff. Anchor Bay has done a lot of work on this disc, starting with the coolest packaging I've ever seen. The Evil Dead arrives inside a latex-bound book that is a replication of the Necronomicon from the film. Sculpted by original effects artist Tom Sullivan, this is a great collectible for fans of the series. Included inside the book are some liner notes and original reproductions of drawings from the original book used in the film. The DVD is held in a slipcase in the back of the book, and an extra booklet is included with liner notes about the VHS, laserdisc, and DVD release history by Michael Felsher. For those who originally spent $75 on a cruddy VHS copy of the film ten years ago (like myself), you'll get a kick out of this history.
Starting off the extra features are two commentaries held over from the previous Elite Entertainment release. The first commentary is by director Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert, and the second by actor Bruce Campbell. Both commentaries are extremely funny and informative. Raimi and Tapert's track tends to lean more on the camera/technical side, while Campbell's is more in front of the camera information. I laughed like a silly little school girl at Campbell's comments, and was deep in pondering at Raimi and Tapert's indulgences and reminiscing. Both of these tracks are well worth the time if just to hear Bruce make fun of Sam and Robert during his session.
Next up is an almost half-hour filmette titled "Fanalysis," directed and produced by Bruce Campbell. Campbell shot this film at many different comic book conventions to discover just what the root cause is for rabid fan's desire to meet, greet, and be like their favorite stars. This is a very funny piece that includes everyone from freakish Xena wannabes (a woman actually got plastic surgery on her face to look like Xena!) to guys who just want to kiss Bruce on the lips because they're his "biggest fans." This is as much a love letter as it is a thumbing of the nose to those who consider themselves diehard "fans."
"Discovering Evil Dead" is a 13-minute featurette on the whole Evil Dead phenomenon. Featuring interviews with Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell of Palace Pictures, as well as "The Evil Dead Companion" author Bill Warren, this is a really fascinating (though brief) look at the financial history of The Evil Dead. A must-see for anyone who wants to know more about where the film came from. Eighteen minutes of behind the scenes footage is included (most of which is also a holdover from the Elite Entertainment special edition DVD). This footage is featured in a rough form and, while fun, is ultimately somewhat repetitive. The movie may be a lot of fun, but by the looks of this footage is wasn't a ball to make.
Finally, there are four full frame TV spots, a theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen, a poster and still gallery with a ton of images from the film and its advertising campaign, and some talent bios on director Sam Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, and producer Rob Tapert.
Okay, so we've got yet another DVD edition of The Evil Dead. So what? Anchor Bay has thrown a lot of work into this title, and have come up a winner. Fans will surely be disappointed to see the exclusion of "Within The Woods" (the original promo film Raimi made for investors), but that shouldn't deter them from mulling over this purchase. While the price tag is a little high (around fifty big ones), serious fans will want this disc come hell or high water. Let the splatter-fest begin!
Join us…and Anchor Bay for this new (and last?) edition of The Evil Dead!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• "Fanalysis" Documentary by Bruce Campbell
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