Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell
Anchor Bay has a stable of films they just seem to keep finding reasons to reissue in slightly updated form. Some examples are Halloween, Hellraiser, and the Evil Dead films. We get different boxes and some different bonuses features and on occasion new transfers of the films. Many critics have said that Anchor Bay has taken advantage of the rabid fan base for these films and those critics are probably right. The question is how is that different than most other distributors? I will say that there have been a fairly excessive number of versions of the Evil Dead series. This one however makes sense as it is a true upgrade in the audio and video presentation of this film.
What is it that has elevated this little low budget horror film from the 70’s to this mega cult status? It’s that there’s more to this little film than the limitations of the budget and the expectations of the genre. If you haven’t seen this film where have you been?
The plot is simple; a group of young people take a vacation trip to a remote cabin and they discover “The Book of the Dead”. Of course the guys in the group decide to read from the book and demons are called forth to take over the bodies of the group, everyone except Ash (Campbell). The film is completely over the top and super gory. The special effects are cheap but the film is shot in such a way that they work for the most part.
Things get interesting when Ash finds himself fighting against demons that were once his friends. Campbell carries this film on sheer charisma and quirky humor. Raimi also shoots the film in a quite innovative ways that are still being emulated today both in low budget films and Hollywood blockbusters. When you see the low shots of the demons moving through the forest you won’t be able to tell me you haven’t seen similar scenes in movies that came after. There’s also a classic scene than pans across the group from above inside the cabin and a whooshing noise occurs for no reason every time a rafter passes across the screen. There’s no reason for the noise other than building suspense and it works.
The Evil Dead came at the end of an era of humorless and dark horror such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist. As much as I like the humorless atmosphere and sociopolitical commentary that was heavy in 70’s and early 80’s horror films like Night of the Living Dead I appreciate how The Evil Dead strips all of that away in favor of a completely visceral experience with an infusion of black comedy something that became more popular in the genre after this film was released.
I saw this film on VHS when I was growing up and loved it, and was disgusted by it for one reason; every big gore explosion hit Ash square in the mouth and inevitably his mouth was open. It was completely gross and hilarious. Few films have ever been this well made on this low a budget. It’s highly stylized and aggressively directed and paced making it feel extreme and exciting along with funny, scary, and gross. Some critics have said there’s no character development and the plot is nonexistent. They might be right. but this film happens so quickly it just feels like there was no time to get to know any of the characters. Usually I would complain about a lack of character development too but for this film it’s just unnecessary. No horror fan should be without this film in their collection in some form.
There are two versions of the film on this blu-ray, a full frame and an anamorphic presentation. I just don’t understand why Anchor Bay bothered with the full frame version. Right away the 1080p HD video looks worlds better than any previous version of the film released to home video. That’s not to say it’s perfect because the HD presentation actually makes some of the print damage stand out a little more than it did but it also makes the colors pop without blooming and the detail that is present in this low budget film stand out better than ever before. Skin tone and detail are excellent and black levels are their most solid in this version. This is still a very old very low budget film so you can only expect so much from it. With that said 1080p does help the overall look of the film making this version easily the best looking home video presentation yet.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 presentation here is surprisingly well executed. Dialogue, score, and fx are well balanced and clear of hiss and distortion. The audio has always played a big part in this film and the way it is applied to the surround stage is very solid. The whooshing sound of the camera flying through the woods is bolstered by nice sub woofer use and directional fx. The audio experience is taken from mono materials so only so much can be done with it and Anchor does everything they possibly can here. The quiet moans sound great and the purposefully shrill bits are effective but never excessive. Again, considering the age of the film and the lowbudget nature of the source this an exceptional presentation.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
As I mentioned earlier Anchor Bay loves to double and triple dip this one and they’ve set up this release for multiple aversions. The move to blu-ray makes sense because it’s a true upgrade for folks with HDTV’s. The set up I’m talking about is how they’ve purposefully left out some bonus features from previous releases of this film to DVD. They even left out some of the bonus features from the recent Ultimate Edition DVD release. Now I could understand it if they were putting out a simple value priced movie only version of the blu-ray and were planning to later release a premium packaged, and premium priced version. The problem is that only hardcore fans buy this movie and others like it and they won’t gove up the current version they have infavor of a new one with no extras even if the video and sound are better. So, Anchor Bay has to drop some bonus features on the release to get it selling. The problem is that fans know they’re getting screwed because of the missing extras that Anchor Bay did not include that will be added to some other version coming out later. On top of that most of the extras in this release are on a bonus DVD, so they are not in HD.
At any rate, the first and most attractive extra in this set is the all new audio commentary with director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell. These three have done a lot of shilling for this film including multiple commentaries and you can tell they’re all a little bored with discussing it. There is some new and good information in the commentary but it’s much more dry than previous chats these three have had about Evil Dead.
The first featurette on the SD DVD is One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead. This is the highly detailed documentary that this film ahs deserved for years. All of the actors that appeared in the film other than the star Bruce Campbell appear in the documentary to discuss the film as does the producer and nearly every crew member. Just about anything you want to know about the film is revealed in this documentary.It is ridiculous that Bruce Campbell is nowhere to be found in this highly detailed document of this classic film. I interviewed him a while back for his direct-to-SCIFI Channel films and he was a pretty grumpy dude when it came to all things Evil Dead. It was a pleasure to see new generation filmmakers Eli Roth (Hostel) and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) sharing their stories about seeing Evil Dead and discussing how the film has influenced them.
Disc two features an hour of extended scenes, behind the scenes footages, and outtakes called Treasures From the Cutting Room Floor. The scenes are tied together and just put out there with no interruption for fans to watch. I loved seeing the behind the scenes stuff because you really get a feel for what the working conditions were like during the making of this film.
The Ladies of Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell is a half our featurette where bruce Campbell sits down with his three leading ladies and discusses their experiences working on Evil Dead and even in some cases before the classic film.
Discovering The Evil Dead is a brief but surprisingly interesting discussion of the bumpy distribution history of the film. I found it really intriguing to hear what Raimi and Co. went through to get this film out to the public.
Unconventional is a 20 minute interview session with all of the cast of the film and Ted Raimi who actually is a stunt double in the film and the young age of 14. The interview actually happens in a ball room at a horror convention, probably after they all did a panel together. There is Evil Dead discussion but the focus is more on convention experiences. Again Campbell seems the most jaded about the convention circuit.
At the Drive-In is an odd featurette that runs around 13 minutes and features the cast at a special drive-in screening of the film giving away an early DVD release of the film. There’s really not much to this other than watching the cast give away DVD’s.
There’s a 30 minute recording of a panel discussion from a convention called Reunion that features most of the cast. The actors don’t really seem to take the fans to seriously in this panel, which in a way is understandable but hey these people did pay to come to this event. There’s nothing here that we didn’t already learn from the other featurettes.
Make Up Test is so short if you blink you’ll miss it running just over a minute. It shows some very brief special effects footage. Other than that there’s a brief additional scene of Bruce looking through the book of the dead, some stills, a trailer, and some TV spots.
All of this stuff is great and also available in standard def on the previous release of Evil Dead along with one additional lengthy and worthwhile Ladies of Evil Dead documentary. There are other commentaries from previous releases and some additional featurettes. All of these will eventually see the light of day on blu-ray but the question is when they do which of the bonus features listed on this disc will be left out? I own two or three different versions of Halloween and that’s dumb but I do because I want all of the bonus features. That’s exactly what Anchor Bay is doing with Evil dead here.
These bonus features are great, but they are the exact same ones as were on the previous release not even up-converted to HD. So we get a new commentary with three guys that are a little tired of discussing the film over a previous one where they were cracking jokes and having a good time sharing stories about the film, rereleased previous bonus features, and some of the really good stuff purposefully left out. As good as what’s here is I have to take points from the score because this feels like a plceholder for what will hopefully be a better packaged and more complete blu-ray to be released at a later date. If you ahven’t seen these interviews then you are in for a treat though.
Evil Dead looks and sounds fantastic on this blu-ray better than it has ever looked or sounded before. The only problem is that not much care was put into the bonus features. It feels like some of the previous “Ultimate Editions” were unboxed and one of the bonus discs from that set was taken out and slipped into these blu-ray cases along with the movie. Fanswho love this movie really love it and they support it with their dollars so they should be shown a little respect and not be constantly double and triple dipped just to make a buck. Even with these complaints the movie just looks so freat here and the extras, while rehashed and in SD are still really good. If you just can’t wait for that premo edition that’s sure to come this is a solid release in every way.
Overall (Not an average) 8/10
The Movie 9/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 8.5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7.5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10