Directed by Sam Raimi
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Every once in a while it falls upon us to review a film about which there simply isn’t much left to say. This may read like a cop-out in the eyes of some, but a quick glance around the Interwebs reveals a whole lot of Evil Dead II reviews that are content to regurgitate the same information over and over again. By now everyone knows why Sam Raimi’s sequel opens up like a condensed version of the events in number 1, has heard the reasons behind Renaissance Pictures’ return to the horror property that put them on the map and understands exactly why this is an enduring classic.
Twenty-five years have passed since I first remember seeing the infamous skull poster hanging on the wall of my favorite (and long defunct) video store. Having already seen the original Evil Dead at a much-too-young age, I was ready for whatever was next in store for that ill-fated cabin in the woods. At the time, it was every bit as scary as the first battle with Candarian demons (give me a break, I was eight), and quickly became an obsession of mine. After a year or so of patient waiting, my father begrudgingly ordered me a VHS copy to sit alongside Ghostbusters and Raiders of the Lost Ark as the only three titles I owned (and subsequently wore out).
And damn, these last twenty-five years have been kind. Whereas cracks in the armor are visible in plenty of other childhood favorites, Evil Dead II is every bit as delightful as it was back in ’87. If anything, it’s helped strengthen the popular sentiment that they just don’t make ‘em like they used to. Although, where Sam Raimi is concerned, it’s perhaps unfair to infer that anyone else ever made films like this. Breakneck, kinetic, outrageous, hilarious: all sufficient adjectives to describe this one. In the days before Internet hype built – and subsequently dashed – expectations, it was a rush to stumble across something as special as Evil Dead II. I think I subjected just about everyone I knew to this sucker and the consensus was unanimous: a work of mad genius. Unquestionably.
I don’t mention the positive reactions of others as a way of reinforcing my opinion, but rather to illustrate the surprisingly diverse appeal of this sequel. Yes, this slice of ‘splatstick’ appeals to genre fans first and foremost, but there’s a whimsical nature about this carnage that makes it so likeable. Even my mother (who hasn’t been able to watch a horror film since seeing Psycho in theaters) couldn’t help but guffaw when the re-animated (and headless) corpse of Ash’s girlfriend comes at him with a chainsaw.
Sam Raimi has never really had any illusions as to the kind of filmmaker he is. Dating back to his earliest interviews, his goal has been to take his audience on a ride. To thrill and excite. And there’s what’s happening in virtually every frame of Evil Dead II. It’s the world’s goriest rollercoaster ride and, twenty-five years later, there’s nothing that’s ever managed to rival it.
I want to be blunt: If you have Anchor Bay’s Evil Dead II Blu-ray disc, throw it away. Now. Lionsgate has gone to great lengths to ensure their “anniversary edtion” of the horror classic serves as THE definitive release for the foreseeable future. And it starts with a superb 1080p high definition transfer. Everything that was horribly wrong with Anchor Bay’s disc (read: excessive DNR) has been rectified here. This is a very attractive, film-like transfer that offers plenty of detail and textures where available. Daylight and brightly lit shots flourish the most, with some of the optical effects shots suffering a bit (it goes without saying that this was a low budget production, yes?) – but that’s to be expecting considering the source. Trust me, as someone who has owned every home video incarnation of Evil Dead II (from the Vestron tape to the Elite Laserdisc and the various DVDs), this is the best I’ve ever seen this one look. By a country mile.
And the DTS HD 5.1 lossless audio really rocks. It’s a constant ruckus (in the best possible way), with powerful sound effects humming through your speakers, good dialogue clarity/separation and finely textured music. Cranking this version of Evil Dead II will really make you feel like you’re hearing it for the very first time. Incredible.
And then we move onto the extras. I’m not mincing words here: the 98 minute documentary is the main reason many of you are going to be looking to snag this release. It’s really worth its weight in gold. Not only is the participant list staggering (only Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert are missing in action), but the information presented here is dense and delightful. No stone goes unturned in this epic making-of chronicle: the genesis of the film, actor experience, special effects, cultural impact and so on. The behind-the-scenes stuff scattered throughout is reason alone to see this, and that’s just one small part. This documentary is so damn great that I ended up watching it twice (I only intended to review parts of it, but I got sucked in all over again). Probably my favorite supplementary documentary since the one found on Universal’s DVD of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
There’s also a thirty minute documentary called Cabin Fever – A “Fly on the Wall” Look Behind the Scenes of Evil Dead II. It’s a collection of home movies from Greg Nicotero that showcases the film’s various FX in different stages of design. Awesome stuff. Beyond that we have a brief look at the sequel’s filming locations. Carryovers from previous Anchor Bay releases include the commentary with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Scott Spiegel and Greg Nicotero. A hilarious and informative commentary if there ever was one. There’s also the Behind-the-Screams featurette in which Tom Sullivan offers a ‘tour’ of various FX work. The Gore the Merrier documentary is an older making-of, while the inclusion of a trailer and still galleries round out the set.
I think every horror fan has felt a little bit of Evil Dead II fatigue at one point or another. But Lionsgate has really gone above and beyond here, ensuring this is a Blu-ray that should be added to any HD horror collection. For right around $10 bucks you’re getting a spectacular A/V presentation and one of the best supplementary documentaries of all time. You’d be crazy not to get this. Highly recommended.
5 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5