Judge Clark Douglas learned an important lesson from The Evil Dead: Never take a weekend trip with Bruce Campbell.
Our reviews of The Evil Dead (published February 5th, 2000), The Evil Dead (Blu-ray) (published August 31st, 2010), and The Evil Dead: Book Of The Dead Edition (published February 28th, 2002) are also available.
The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror
Oh, come on, give me a break. Just how many times are they going to release The Evil Dead on DVD? I mean, we've had the regular edition, and the special edition, and the funky "Book of the Dead" edition with the rubber cover…Well, if they think they're going to get away with it yet again, they've got another thing coming. Just who does Anchor Bay think they are, trying to fleece me with…hey, whoa, hold on, check it out, it's the three-disc The Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition! Well, that's a different matter entirely.
Facts of the Case
During the making-of documentary, one of the crew members notes that "if you try to explain the plot of The Evil Dead to someone, it will sound like a typical, boring, clichéd horror film." That's very true, because The Evil Dead is about style, not substance…but regardless, here's the setup:
A group of five college kids (Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, and Teresa Tilly) are taking a weekend trip. Their destination is a creepy old cabin in the middle of the woods, but they figure it's as good a place to get drunk and party for a couple days as any. Things are going along just fine until the gang accidentally unleashes an ancient curse. Suddenly, these five friends find themselves doing bloody battle (both internal and external) with some foul demonic beasts. As the night rages on, can anyone survive The Evil Dead?
A lot of notable directors began their careers working in the horror genre, partially because they were creative enough to make a genuinely scary movie on a very low budget. Steven Spielberg made Duel, Peter Jackson made Bad Taste, and David Lynch made Eraserhead. However, the king of directorial debut gore flicks is arguably Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead, a fast, furious, frightening, and fiendishly funny exercise in over-the-top horror.
Watching this film, you can feel Raimi's passionate desire to make a name for himself. This is undoubtedly the work of a young and hungry filmmaker who is bursting at the seams with creative energy. Raimi takes a typical and rather mundane horror setup and breathes new life into it with high-voltage direction. The dialogue is bad, the story has no substance, the special effects look incredibly cheesy and dated…but somehow, the film still works like gangbusters. It's still a genuinely frightening movie, no doubt about it. However, you can't help but notice Raimi's joyful love of directing shining through every pore of The Evil Dead. This isn't the high-powered studio man in the suit and tie giving us "Spider-Man" sequels; this is pure, unadulterated Raimi creativity from head to toe.
Raimi begins by effectively setting an ominous mood, using simple but nonetheless spooky camera movements. As the film progresses, he begins to stage one terrifying set piece after another, growing increasingly over-the-top and wild with each one. While many horror fans count some of the early scenes of terror in the film as the best (the infamous tree scene, the cringe-worthy ankle scene), I find myself more drawn to the Grand Guignol theatrics of the final act. This is partly due to the superb leading performance of Bruce Campbell as "Ash," the hero of this film and two Evil Dead sequels. Campbell runs the full gamut of emotions over the course of the film, and is exceptionally good in the later scenes when he is pushed to his breaking point. These scenes are even more impressive when you consider the fact that Campbell is quite frequently battling with some unknown off-screen force, thus forcing him to generate all the emotions of the scene on his own. As you watch The Evil Dead, especially today, you get the sense that you are witnessing the birth of the ultimate B-movie hero.
The film was at the center of a lot of controversy upon its initial release, being banned in several parts of Europe during the theatrical run and later being considered a "video nasty" once it entered the VCR market. It's interesting to look back at the film some twenty-five years later and note how much less offensive everything seems, particularly in comparison to a lot of what is being released today. While The Evil Dead is unashamedly gory and violent, it's so over-the-top and wild that you finish the film feeling wonderfully entertained, not dirty. Too many modern horror films such as "Hostel," "Captivity," and some of the "Saw" films tend to revel in ugly, brutal realism, attempting to shock and repulse in a very mean-spirited and cruel manner. Despite the sometimes startling levels of violence and blood in The Evil Dead, it's all presented with a very cheerful wink. I miss the days when it was fun to get scared.
The film looks and sounds as good as it's ever going to look or sound, considering that it was a low-budget film shot in the woods with fairly cheap equipment. Anchor Bay has done a fine job of restoring The Evil Dead, and pleasingly offer the widescreen and full-frame versions on two separate discs. "Who would want to watch a full-frame version," you ask? Well, as some of you may know, "The Evil Dead" was originally released in a 1:33:1 (full screen) format, so that version is actually closer to Raimi's original vision. However, a few years back, Anchor Bay decided to work with Raimi to produce a widescreen transfer, attempting to give the film a more "theatrical" look. Some people liked this, but many fans were quite unhappy with this alteration. Anchor Bay has finally put the matter to rest by simply including both versions here. Both versions are presented in Dolby Surround 2.0, but only the widescreen version also features Dolby Digital Surround EX and 6.1 DTS-ES. On the other hand, while the full-frame version offers subtitles in English and French, the widescreen version only presents English subtitles. Odd, but at least you can get pretty much everything on one version or another here.
Some of the special features here have are double-dips, or even triple-dips. If you own just about any DVD version of The Evil Dead, you probably have all ready heard the two commentaries offered here. The widescreen version of the film gives us the fairly dry and quiet commentary from Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert. While this isn't the best commentary, it's the only time you're going to hear from Raimi over the course of this entire three-disc set. Much more entertaining is the commentary from Bruce Campbell, who is a genuinely hilarious guy. You can access this commentary on Disc Two with the full-frame version.
Disc One offers a new documentary, "One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead." Raimi and Campbell are both frustratingly absent here, but the rest of the cast and crew participate, along with directors Edgar Wright (huzzah!) and Eli Roth (boo!). The doc runs nearly an hour long, and features a few interesting notes about the technical aspects of making of the film. However, the most interesting portions feature observations the difficulties surrounding the film's release, the effects it had on horror cinema in general, and personal reflections on how it affected the lives of those involved. Lots of little clips of footage from the film's production are sprinkled throughout this feature, and those clips can be seen in their complete, uncut form on the second disc. It's a feature called "The Evil Dead: Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor." This feature also runs about an hour long and has lots of deleted scenes, alternate takes, and general goofing around by the cast and crew.
The bulk of the new special features are on Disc Three, and it's a pleasantly entertaining batch. "Life After Death: The Ladies of the Evil Dead" gives us 15 minutes with the three leading ladies of the film, all of whom are ordinary soccer moms these days. They have each embraced their brief turn in the spotlight as scream queens, and love talking about their experiences. Bruce Campbell sits down with the ladies for a half-hour during "The Ladies of The Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell." It begins as a conversation between all four individuals, but quickly becomes a series of hilarious stories from Campbell that everyone else just laughs at and listens to. Ted Raimi and Rich Demanincor join in the conversation during "Unconventional," a riotous 20-minute discussion about what it's like to participate in a horror/sci-fi film convention. This same group spends 13 minutes answering audience questions and giving away free DVDs during "At the Drive-In," and there's another 30 minutes of fan Q&A during the "Reunion Panel." Watching these two hours or so of special features is a lot of fun, and the informal mood of everything makes you feel like you've actually been hanging out with these people. There's a lot of neat trivia about the film, but there's a lot of very funny diversions and peculiar stories along the way. The disc wraps up with a series of odds and ends. "Discovering the Evil Dead" is an older featurette featuring interviews with Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell (both from Palace Pictures). A makeup test, trailers, TV spots, a couple of small stills galleries, and previews of a half-dozen other horror pictures available on DVD fill out the rest of the disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I used to think I was a big fan of The Evil Dead. I now realize that I'm not, thanks to the interesting portrait of such fans presented by the cast and crew over the course of this DVD. However, if I were a really big fan of The Evil Dead, I would be kind of irritated at all seemingly endless definitive special edition versions of the movie that I had been forced to purchase. There's reason to suspect they're not done milking this franchise, either. During one of the featurettes, the three female stars mention that they have just finished recording a DVD commentary for the film. Suspiciously, that commentary doesn't appear anywhere in this "Ultimate Edition." So what's up? Is Anchor Bay saving it for the four-disc "Ultimate Ultimate Edition"?
I recognize the fact that The Evil Dead has been double-dipped to death by this point. That's why I'm a little bit ashamed to say that I heartily recommend this new "Ultimate Edition" of the film. In addition to finally having both versions of the film available to choose from, the four hours or so of brand-new special features are really exceptional and entertaining. However, those who all ready own one or two versions of The Evil Dead on DVD should make a note of all the stuff they all ready have from this edition before they determine whether the new material is worth spending money on. As for the actual film, it's as groovy as ever, and if by some chance you don't own The Evil Dead yet, this is by all means the best version available.
Anchor Bay is guilty of double-dipping too often, but the court will grant probation thanks to the significant quality of the new material provided on this "Ultimate Edition." The film itself is absolutely not guilty, though we request that the mysterious tape player that started this whole mess be locked away in that giant warehouse where we hid the Ark of the Covenant back in 1981.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• "One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of the Evil Dead"
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