Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
If you need to be told just what Sam Raimi’s classic The Evil Dead is about, then just like your mother I’m not angry with you – I’m disappointed. Probably one of the most oft-imitated genre movies in history, The Evil Dead follows a group of five college friends as they head off to a cabin in the woods for some party time.
When spooky events lead them to the discovery of an ancient book in the cellar (the Necronomicon – Book of the Dead) alongside an old tape recorder, the group sit down for a read and a listen. This proves to be a fatal mistake, however, as the ancient rites repeated on the recording awaken an evil presence in the woods – a presence which begins to isolate and possess each of our protagonists one by one. Forced to butcher their now demonic brethren and confined to the cabin by murderous trees outside, will any of them live to see daylight?
The Evil Dead stands as a monolith of modern horror. Made on a shoestring budget by a group of film-obsessed friends, it also stands as perfect proof that you don’t need money to make something special; just buckets and buckets of talent. Not to mention blood. Raimi’s ability to build dread, execute perfect shocks, horrify, excite and plain ignite audiences with some incredibly imaginative camerawork cannot be denied – with the occasional slip into slapstick still managing to keep within the horrific tone of the flick; something that Raimi would dive feet-first into with the sequel/remake Evil Dead 2.
While it introduced the film world to the directorial chops of (now Hollywood heavyweight) Sam Raimi, The Evil Dead also provided the springboard for the acting career of cult legend (and Raimi’s good friend) Bruce Campbell. As the beleaguered hero, Ashley Williams (aka. Ash), Campbell is fresh-faced and energetic – taking a huge amount of punishment that would see many actors storm off a project in disgust. While Evil Dead 2 would take a slightly more knowing and cheesy approach to the material, setting up the type of role that Campbell has since become known for, his performance here is deadly serious and he does a fantastic job. Again, consider a group of friends making a fully funded (even if it wasn’t that much) horror flick for the first time and just try to keep your jaw off the floor.
A straightforward exercise in terror through and through, The Evil Dead carries a gritty, degraded and oppressive aesthetic alongside a wonderfully constructed score which serves to add to the grim sentiment of it all. While the low budget is more than obvious in most of the makeup work and gore effects, it still packs a wallop in terms of splatter (witness the pencil-in-the-ankle that is still wince-inducing to this day) at a level that was sufficiently boundary-pushing at the time. The fact that it was so effective as a horror film and a bloody splatter flick saw it quite quickly becoming the target of censors and the media during the UK’s infamous “Video Nasties” furore. Very few films that ended up on this list of condemned horror output were actually worth devoting any time to. The Evil Dead, warts and all, stands amongst those that are absolutely essential.
In the previous era of DVD, The Evil Dead and its sequels have seen an almost insurmountable number of releases hit shelves; from bargain-bin discs to Special Editions to Collectors Editions to Ultimate Editions to the Super-Duper-Kill-Your-Family-And-Eat-Your-Baby-Daughter-To-Get-It-Edition (okay, maybe not that one, but you get the idea), it seems any little extra that could be added was another excuse to release the film onto a ravenous fan base. Well, now we’re in the era of High Definition and the real question is: Is it worth the double (or quadruple, or whatever) dip?
The answer: Yes. Yes it is; a resounding yes. Sony Home Entertainment’s transfer of the flick is magnificent. Maintaining the gritty, grainy look of the original (let’s face it, considering the source it’s never going to look entirely pristine – and who would want it to?), but adding a level of fine detail that you may not have even thought possible. Scenes such as the initial slow, dread-inducing approach to the cabin are given a more three-dimensional feel and a surprising level of pop. The soundtrack has also been cleaned up some, but most are unlikely to notice it too much beyond some clearer dialogue and a cleaner high-end which really aids the score. I’m not going to get ridiculous about it and claim anything silly such as the high definition experience being like seeing The Evil Dead for the first time, but this is sure as hell the pinnacle of any presentation it’s been given so far.
In terms of special features, I don’t even know where to start. Just go out and buy the damn thing, would you!? Most of the features have shown up previously on DVD releases, but here we have an all-new feature commentary with Raimi, Campbell and producer Rob Tapert. If you’ve listened to commentaries involving this lot in the past, you know what you’re in for. It’s a blast, yet again. Literally hours of extra material is packed into this including a documentary, further interviews, a nifty picture-in-picture accompaniment to the main feature and more. You’ll have a great evening plonking yourself onto the sofa and digging into this one.
If you have the tech, this is an essential release of an essential film. Even if you have multiple versions on DVD, you won’t regret adding it to your Blu-ray collection, and if you don’t even have it on DVD then you have no excuse. Join us. Buy it.
- All New Commentary with Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell
- Picture-in-Picture: Join us! The Undying Legacy of The Evil Dead
- One By One We Will Take You – The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead
- Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor
- At the Drive-In
- Discovering Evil Dead
- Ellen and Drama Teacher
- On-Stage Interview
- Make-Up Test
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
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