Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
3.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
4 Stars
High-Def Extras
1 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Evil Dead

Street Date:
August 31st, 2010
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
August 30th, 2010
Movie Release Year:
1981
Studio:
Starz/Anchor Bay
Length:
85 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

The best way, really, to describe 'The Evil Dead' and the entire series which followed ('The Evil Dead II,' 'Army of Darkness') is as a hysterical and ferocious funhouse of the macabre and the gorily grotesque. Equal parts slapstick comedy with genuinely scary moments, Sam Raimi's directorial debut is a testimony to what can be accomplished with a limited budget, a great deal of imagination, and an intense passion for making movies. It serves as proof that atmosphere and mood can yield a truly fun and frightening experience, not just blood and guts alone. Granted, the film obviously doesn't shy away from the gore and graphic violence. But with ambiance and tone established early on, 'The Evil Dead' makes for a great and exciting horror feature.

With less money than it would cost to draw robot scrotums for Michael Bay's next blockbuster, Raimi gathered a group of friends and acquaintances to the backwoods of Tennessee and made movie history. At least, it's history to genre fans. In many respects, the film is experimentation on unbridled style and technique, full of fanatical, manic camera movements and extreme angles that work on disorienting and terrifying audiences. This is made more surprising by the fact that the director was only 21-years-old at the time of filming. Whatever amateur mistake or approach can be pointed out in the movie — of which there are plenty — is easily overlooked for the sheer enthusiasm and exuberance put on display. The filmmakers clearly love what they are doing, and they're sharing this zeal and mania with their audience.

Following the same general story structure of Raimi's short film, 'Within the Woods,' the film follows five college students traveling to an isolated cabin for the weekend. While exploring the basement, Scotty (Richard DeManincor) and Ash (Bruce Campbell) find "The Book of the Dead" and a tape recorder with the voice of a man reciting an incantation that resurrects malevolent demons. One by one, they are possessed, starting with Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) in the famous vine scene that caused quite the controversy and made 'The Evil Dead' one of the first films to be included in the infamous video nasty list of the UK. After Shelly (Theresa Tilly) is also taken and later hacked up to pieces, Linda (Betsy Baker), too, becomes a deadite and sings one of the creepiest nursery rhymes around.

After principal photography ended, it took still another year to complete the entire project, which led to several reshoots with stand-ins, or what's now known as "Fake Shemps" thanks to Raimi's obsession with 'The Three Stooges.' It's actually quite amusing to catch the changes in body types and gestures as the film progresses, especially a slight age difference in Bruce Campbell towards the final moments. But it's to the credit of the editing process, which the Coen brothers assisted in, that Raimi's unique and imaginative visual style is turned into an organized and intelligible 85-minutes of brutal, blood-soaked lunacy. Look at the sequence when Ash contemplates dismembering his girlfriend with a chainsaw to see the collaborative efforts come together in terrific, fluid synchronicity.

And lest we forget, who knows where the whole series would be without Bruce Campbell's brilliant and "chin-tastic" performance as the enduring, Ash Williams of S-Mart Housewares. Fans continue to revisit the series, and its other incarnations, partly because it's a Raimi movie, but also to revel in the next adventure of this pessimistic, accidental superhero. We just can't get enough of him and his bitterness towards his fate. What it ultimately boils down to is that 'Evil Dead' deserves some considerable appreciation. Not only for its immense influence to future filmmakers, which Eli Roth's 'Cabin Fever' admittedly owes a great deal to, or that its director now carries some pull within Hollywood, but also for its achievement as a long-standing favorite in the horror cinema universe.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Anchor Bay Entertainment finally brings 'The Evil Dead' to Blu-ray as a "limited edition" two-disc set, where one is a BD50, Region A locked disc and the second is a DVD containing all the supplemental material. They're housed in a blue eco-case that holds each disc on opposing panels. At startup, owners are greeted with skippable trailers for ' Frozen,' 'After.Life,' 'The Crazies (2010),' and 'Pandorum.'

Once at the very cool menu selection with full-motion clips of the movie, viewers are given the choice of watching Sam Raimi's horror classic in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio or the enhanced 1.85:1 version. I go into further detail of describing their differences below, but needless to say, as a life-long fan, this is a brilliant and much appreciated feature for this Blu-ray release. For those who wish to experiment with which version is preferred, you can switch between ratios while watching the movie by pressing the pop-up menu button and scrolling to the "Scene Selection" option.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

After so many countless viewings on various formats, this is the definitive video presentation fans have been waiting for. Culled directly from the original 16mm elements and supervised by Sam Raimi, 'The Evil Dead' looks absolutely terrific on this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The film will never attain the level of reference due to the negative format used, or ever compare to other catalogue titles shot on better stock, but this high-def transfer of the 80s horror classic is appreciably consistent and looks excellent on Blu-ray. Only so much could ever be done with the source without having to digitally manipulate and alter the picture. With that in mind, this is by far the very best the film has ever looked — a leaps and bounds improvement from previous incarnations.

Blacks are incredibly deep and accurate, while delineation in the shadows is much stronger than initially expected. Whether inside the cabin or outside in the dark woods as Cheryl runs from some ravaging trees, there is a great deal of definition in the foliage or random objects littering the cottage. Contrast is nicely balanced, though not very impressive, and whites are cleanly and brightly rendered. The grain structure is understandably thick, but it never takes away from any of the visible detail and gives the image a wonderfully gritty, cinematic appearance. The video also comes with excellent saturation of the color palette, especially reds and greens. Although resolution levels can drop significantly in several sequences, the overall quality of the presentation is first-rate and brilliant with a few splendid moments of high-definition goodness. It's a prime example of what can be accomplished when a studio takes the time to create a proper HD master by revisiting the original camera negatives. And by also putting forth respectable restoration efforts, like digitally removing Robert Tapert at the beginning of the movie.

As an added bonus, the filmmakers have decided, in their immense wisdom and genius, to give fans a choice between two aspect ratios. And to be perfectly frank, including this feature on the Blu-ray is freaking awesome! The quality difference in the two presentations is miniscule and negligible, coming down ultimately to the preference of the viewer. For this devoted fan, the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio (technically, intended OAR is 1.66:1, but that's a different argument for another day) is the ideal method for watching this wacky horror debut. It provides an ever so slight improvement over the 1.85:1 aperture favored by Raimi, but this is only due to the obvious zoom-in used for accomplishing this new frame. On the other hand, I have to say those involved in this process did an excellent job and newcomers will be none the wiser. In either case, it's a much appreciated aspect of the disc, and I wish more studios would follow suit. I'm looking right at you 'French Connection' and 'Last Emperor.'

The Audio: Rating the Sound

And things only seem to get better with this Dolby TrueHD soundtrack which, as with the video, is also the best the film has ever sounded. Vocals are wonderfully precise and clear, never overwhelmed by the sudden burst of loud action.

The rest of the front soundstage is the track's most impressive aspect, displaying plenty of off-screen atmospherics that give the film a bold and energetic presence. Imaging is marvelously wide and immersive, showing terrific fidelity and resounding separation as movement between the channels is smooth and convincing. Though not very extensive, the mid-range is shockingly sharp and detailed, and an endless array of ambient effects fills the screen with crystal clarity. The low end is practically non-existent, which is understandable given the source, but there are a couple of choice scenes with audible and amusing bass response. Rear activity is also fairly quiet, except for some mild discrete sounds and lights bleeds from the musical score, extending the soundfield attractively. For fans, this 80s funhouse of horrors has never sounded like such a blast.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

'The Evil Dead' has been released countless times on various home video formats. For this Blu-ray edition, Anchor Bay debuts the favorite 80s horror flick with a wealth of supplements on a separate DVD disc. Most all of them can be found on previous versions, but at the same time, there are a few others mysteriously missing from the package. This is arguably a minor grumble and far from a reason not to purchase, but for fans, this is obviously a sign that this is not the last we've heard of the deadites.

Disc Two

The standard definition disc in broken into three categories: "Featurettes," "Trailer & TV Spots," and "Photo Gallery."

  • Documentary: 'One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead' (54 min) — With interviews of cast and crew, the doc is an all-inclusive and widespread look at Sam Raimi's low-budget classic and its unexpected impact on the horror genre. While behind-the-scenes footage is shown throughout, viewers learn a great deal about the production, its history from short film to public reaction, and much about the work that went into making the movie. Some of the conversations offer amusing insights into the trilogy and their unique style. The best part is listening to thoughts about the movie's lasting influence and its continued admiration by modern horror fanatics.

  • "The Evil Dead: Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor" (59 min) — This is probably one of the most extensive assortment of alternate takes and deleted scenes I've ever come across. Although most of the footage has aged badly, and there's little explanation of what we're seeing, this intimidating piece shows some great material fans are sure to love and enjoy watching.

  • "The Ladies of the Dead Meet Bruce Campbell" (29 min) — The star of the 'Evil Dead' series sits down to chat with his female co-stars about their experience on the film. With film clips interspersed throughout, the conversation is very entertaining and Campbell makes an amusing interviewer.

  • "Discovering The Evil Dead" (13 min) — Made by the fine folks at Blue Underground, this is a great piece that gives a quick overview of how the movie made history and its reception in the United Kingdom.

  • "Unconventional" (19 min) — Another cool featurette that has the cast reminiscing about the film. Only this time, they are joined by Ted Raimi and Robert Tapert to discuss the group's career in the horror genre. The friendly banter is enjoyable with some great insights.

  • "At the Drive-In" (12 min) — This was filmed at a special Chicago screening where the cast gives away free DVD copies to a fanatical crowd.

  • "Reunion Panel" (31 min) — This is merely an extension of the previous featurette, showing cast and crew in a Q&A session at the "Flashback Weekend" convention.

  • "The Book of the Dead: The Other Pages" (2 min) — Essentially, alternate takes of Ash looking through the book.

  • Make-Up Test (1 min) — Exactly as the title implies, viewers can watch raw footage of early make-up work and effects.

  • Trailers — A small collection of TV spots and the original theatrical preview are available in their appropriate category.

  • Photo Gallery —This is a large compilation of production stills, poster art, and behind-the-scenes photos.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

As far as I can gather, the only exclusives to the Blu-ray edition are the choice between aspect ratios as well as a new Audio Commentary recorded in 2009. It would have been nice to include the other commentaries from previous versions, but this new track with writer/director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert, and Bruce Campbell is a welcome addition. On the other hand, the highly informative track just doesn't compare to the gusto and interest displayed in prior conversations. This is not to suggest that's it's not worth listening to, because it's highly recommended, but the discussion revolves heavily around the technical aspects, from casting and make-up effects to any shooting difficulties and the film's marketing. It's all good stuff to be sure, but for devoted fans that have collected many different editions over the years, the men are starting to show that they don't have much more to talk about since a majority of the info is fairly well-known material. Nonetheless, neophytes should give it a whirl.

Final Thoughts

'The Evil Dead' is Sam Raimi's feature film debut about a small group of college friends wanting to spend a quiet weekend in an isolated cabin. Instead, they inadvertently awaken a faction of malevolent demons which possess their bodies, one by one. The classic 80s horror feature is a great funhouse thrill ride, full of enthusiasm and manic excitement to entertain its audience. Nearly thirty years later, the film still holds up, providing plenty of frightening scares along with the comedy. This Blu-ray edition is without a doubt the very best audio/video presentation of the movie ever released for the home market. Loyal fans won't want to miss out on this latest version of a long-time favorite in the genre, especially since it's being billed as a limited edition, which is likely in reference to the bonus DVD with all the supplemental material. Whatever the case may be, this is a must-own for any enthusiast of horror cinema, and it is highly recommended for neophytes spending the weekend alone in the woods.

Technical Specs

  • Two-Disc Set (Blu-ray + LE DVD w/special features)
  • BD-50 Dual Layer Disc / DVD-9 Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region A Locked

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.33:1 (OAR)
  • 1.85:1 (Director Preferred)

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround Sound
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • Spanish

Supplements

  • Featurettes
  • Alternate & Deleted Scenes
  • Still Gallery
  • Trailers

Exclusive HD Content

  • Audio Commentary

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