Evil Dead, The (Blu-ray)
Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker
Directed by Sam Raimi
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
When The Evil Dead was released in 1982, it began to slowly generate a small but loyal audience of devotees that couldn't get enough of the film's madcap camerawork and outrageous gore effects. For years it was one of horror's best kept secrets, its reputation increasing with each and every passing year.
Hard to believe it’s been around thirty of those since a troupe of low budget filmmakers went into the woods to churn out one of horror’s ultimate experiences. It’s such a wild ride because the strength of The Evil Dead lies firmly within its execution. This relatively simple story of five vacationing college students in the Tennessee mountains besieged by Candarian demons would’ve been nothing without a master director calling the shots. Sam Raimi might’ve been honing his craft on Super 8 flicks long before making this sucker, but it’s astonishing to note this was his debut feature. Most genre directors work their whole lives without making something this good.
Lots of people seem overly familiar with the sequels these days, and while Evil Dead 2 is perhaps my third favorite horror film of all time, it’s the ferocity of this one that really dropped everyone’s jaw. There are moments of pure horror such as when Ash’s possessed girlfriend sits Indian-style on the floor mocking him as he aims a shotgun at her face. And when The Evil Dead isn’t being especially scary, it's never boring. Raimi moves things along so fast it’s as though his life is dependent on it. When the final credits roll, 84 minutes have gone by like two. It’s so quick I once watched it three times in a row. Granted it was the late 80’s and I was ten years old, but my mind was blown, baby!
One thing that distinguishes this from other genre gorefests of the 80's is Raimi's inimitable style. It’s brimming with unique camera tricks and clever shots but never feels masturbatory. Instead Raimi fully embraces the devious nature of his demons, ratcheting up the kinetic camerawork so we’re as disoriented as our main character as he tries to hold out until dawn.
Considering the shoestring budget, the special effects created by Tom Sullivan are quite impressive (if the stop motion work at the climax isn't the most convincing, it's still absolutely awesome). The film’s most warped bits (tree rape, thumbs through the eyes, etc.) have always had gore hounds salivating for more while the squeamish cover their eyes and peek through their fingers in sheer disbelief. Yep, The Evil Dead goes there time and time again. From a possessed victim gnawing off her own hand to a decapitated corpse spewing gallons of blood from its neck, it never stops. Describing this one as the bloodiest funhouse you’ve ever wobbled your way through may sound like faint praise, but it’s easier said than done and describes this ultimate experience in grueling terror to the letter.
Made on a budget of less than $400,000 and shot over the course of about a year, this film is one supreme example of a real labor of love from the core group of cast and crew (consisting of Raimi, Bruce Campbell, producer Rob Tapert and multi-tasking soundman Josh Becker), who practically lived, ate and slept the film for some time. Long after the cast's schedule had expired, these guys stuck it out – even once the production ran well over budget. Excessively long shooting schedules, flaring tempers and script troubles were only some of the obstacles in their way, but they pulled it off with aplomb. There’s no question that Raimi and co. weren’t 110% committed to making the best possible film, despite being among the worst possible conditions.
Today The Evil Dead is perhaps more popular than ever. Those of you who were there from the beginning can attest to what an experience it has been watching this little horror film that could climb its way from the bottom shelf of every Mom and Pop video store to become arguably the greatest horror flick of the 1980s.
Wow, Anchor Bay! That’s all I can say after sitting down to experience The Evil Dead in high definition this weekend. Having watched this film countless times over the years, I have to say you have never seen this film look so good! One of the common misconceptions I hear from horror fans about their favorite films is that they like the grain and the grit. Let me be the first to assure you that this one does not loose a single drop of grit or grime on Blu-ray. Taken from the 16mm elements and supervised by Sam Raimi, this restoration will turn heads. Detail is simply staggering on this disc while black levels are strong and without crush. You’ll notice depth and detail to the shadows that I just didn’t think would be possible while even the colors pop with more hue than we’ve ever seen before. And like I said, all of this comes behind a healthy little layer of beautiful film grain. The end result is a perfect, film-like image - one you’ll want to double dip for.
On the audio front I was equally impressed. This Dolby 5.1 TrueHD track is among the most impressive remixes I’ve ever heard. From the get-go I was astounded by the pitch-perfect clarity on display. In the opening scene when the demons take control of the kids’ car, I never realized that Ash was screaming ”turn!”. It always sounded like a muffled scream, nothing more. The audio here doesn’t only offer crystal clear dialogue (and, frankly, this is a first for this film), but it boosts the atmosphere so that rear speakers are always cracking with FX work and musical stings. The end result is seriously like experiencing this film for the first time all over again. God help you when those demon hands burst through the door to grab hold of Ash. I knew it was coming and still jumped out of my seat. It’s a fantastic lossless mix and another reason to pick this sucker up.
On to the extra features! The only new goodie included is a brand new commentary track with director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and some guy named Bruce Campbell. It’s a terrific commentary because these guys are always a good time, even as it deals mainly with the most technical aspects of the production. The rest of the stuff included here has been slapped onto a bonus DVD. It’s all material that has shown up on previous editions so while it’s nothing new, it’s nice to have a good chunk of it collected on one disc. The hour long making-of documentary, an extensive collection of deleted scenes and alternate takes, an interview with the female cast members conducted by Bruce Campbell – we’ve seen all these goodies before, but they’re simply as their title implies: extras. The superior A/V presentation is what is going to sell discs, and that is where Anchor Bay has excelled.
I know The Evil Dead has been re-released more times than any of us can count, but guess what. This is the one you need with its flawless picture and sound quality and TWO aspect ratios (you have your pick of the original 1.33:1 or 1.85:1). Of the two, I’d recommend going with the full frame presentation as the 16x9 features a few moments where the zoom is a bit hazy. Whatever poison you choose, however, know that you’re in good hands. As a fan I’m thrilled that Anchor Bay has done this one justice. Now they simply need to go back and do a proper restoration for Evil Dead 2.
5 out of 5
5 out of 5