Plot: What’s it about?
Five friends. One cabin. Acres of wooded land. One tape recorder. These elements are the core of this storyline. Five friends take a little time away from the hustle and bustle of life to relax for the weekend in a remote cabin. The cabin is located deep within the woods, and is as spooky as they come. One of the friends finds a tape recording machine, and curiosity forces them to listen to the message on the reels. What they hear is the voice of a man who believes he has located the book of the dead, also known as The Necronomicon. The voice on the recorder proceeds to read passages and incantations from the book, which seems harmless to the group. But in truth, the reading of the passages alone is enough to awaken the evil that permeates the forest around the cabin. This is where things begin to turn sour, and the vacation becomes more of a battle for survival for the friends. One by one, the evil overtakes the friends, until only Ash (Bruce Campbell) is remaining. With time running out on him and the evil closing in, can Ash manage to survive the onslaught and escape?
The Evil Dead, the first movie in the classic Evil Dead trilogy, which is one my favorite series in all of movies. While there was a plethora of low budget horror movies in the late 70s and early 80s, this is one of the few that left a permanent mark. When you discuss cult classics, this is a film that is bound to find its way into the conversation. Despite the lack of funds, the movie manages to pack a mean punch, delivering large doses of gore, thrills, and humor. The last of those elements is what really sets this movie above others in the genre, as The Evil Dead is able to use humorous bits well, while the attempts from other horror movies seem to fall flat most of the time. Sure, the comedy is cheesy, but it’s hilarious, and that is what matters, right? While not as polished as the two follow up films, this movie has everything it needs to provide top notch horror/comedy entertainment. This movie has a steady flow of blood and gore, so be prepared if you’re of weak stomach. This movie is a must own for even casual horror fans and this Book of the Dead edition is awesome, without a doubt. But I think fans will want to own both this release and Elite’s previous collector’s edition, to cover all the bases involved.
This movie was the first directorial effort from the now established Sam Raimi. Raimi’s directing is excellent for this type of movie, with a frantic pace and energy. We see the early attempts at unique camera angle and movement, which he would later turn into a true tool in the later Evil Dead movies and other efforts. While Raimi is best known for his work on all three films in the Evil Dead trilogy, he has now proved himself to the critics, but movie goers have shunned his recent non horror efforts. While critics loved A Simple Plan, audiences avoided it at the theaters, and both critics and ticket buyers kept clear of his baseball flick, For Love Of The Game, which I thought was very good. Bruce Campbell, with his insane physical humor and drastic facial expressions, steals the show in this movie. Campbell (Running Time, The Hudsucker Proxy) has performed in many other projects, but fans still remember him fondly as the man behind Ash. The supporting cast for The Evil Dead includes Betsy Baker, Hal Delrich, Ellen Sandweiss, and Sarah York.
Video: How does it look?
The Evil Dead is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is where things get a little complicated, as two different concepts clash. This is the first widescreen home video edition for the film and this is supposed to be Raimi’s intended rendition, but fans have become used to the full frame version, assumed to be the correct format. Now, I happen to think the compositions look better in the full frame transfer, as the widescreen one cramps the image and sometimes even hacks off important information. I don’t mean like in open matte either, where unneeded image is covered, I mean stuff we should be seeing, without a doubt. The result is still filled with Raimi’s unique visuals, but I still prefer the full frame version, as it lends the images to a better, more natural overall presence. The real bite of this release is in the actual quality of the image however, as it fails to even match Anchor Bay’s previous release and of course, this means fans will less than thrilled with the picture. I found black levels to be less defined, which is not good in such a dark movie, while grain is increased throughout also. The image here is not unwatchable, but it simply cannot compete with the prior DVD installments.
Audio: How does it sound?
I never imagined I’d own The Evil Dead in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX or DTS 6.1 ES, but low and behold, the day has arrived. This is still a low budget movie however, so even these high end tracks can’t work miracles, though both tracks sound excellent. The surrounds are used often and provide ample atmosphere & power, while even bass is deep and powerful, very impressive indeed. The limits of the material are still obvious, as dialogue & music come off as less than stellar, but these tracks are as good as it gets, hands down. You’ll also find a French 5.1 option, as well as English & French 2.0 surround tracks. I do wish the original mono track and some optional English subtitles were included, but aside from that, no complaints here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This new special edition from Anchor Bay includes all of the extras from Elite’s previous version, as well as some new goodies. Returning from the prior version are two, count ’em, two audio commentary tracks. One features director Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert, while the other has the comments of actor Bruce Campbell. The tracks are both worth a listen to fans of the movie, but they cover different angles on the subject, so choose the track you prefer. If you want technical information, listen to the Raimi/Tapert track, but if humor is your goal, the Campbell commentary is hilarious. Together, the tracks offer a comprehensive look into the film. If you’re a more visual person, the disc has a wonderful still photo gallery, that has over one hundred and fifty stills to gaze upon. The stills cover every topic you can think of, behind the scenes, character shots, even pictures of Raimi hard at work. For this edition of The Evil Dead, Raimi personally selected about twenty minutes of behind the scenes footage and alternate takes, which gives a little look at the production. The final carried over supplement is the theatrical trailer, which is always nice to have. Now on to the exclusive content, which includes a thirteen minute retrospective featurette titled Discovering Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell meeting & greeting series fans in Fanalysis (26 minutes), four television promos, and some talent files.
But discussion of this limited edition would not complete without talking about the package, which adds infinite worth to the release, if you ask me. The disc is encased within a latex book, fashioned to look just like The Necronomicon, complete with hideous face on the front and ear on the back. Inside you’ll find a booklet filled with liner notes and photos, but the pages of the book itself also have content, which is cool. You’ll read some notes from various folks, view some concept art, and be able to browse some cool stuff, awesome work from artist Tom Sullivan in putting this strange & unique Book of the Dead together. I commend Anchor Bay for letting this all happen also, it reminds me of the laserdisc days, when you could not only get some cool extras, but an awesome total package also, let’s hope we see more of this approach soon…