Blu-ray
Recommended
4 stars
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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
2 Stars
High-Def Extras
2.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn: 25th Anniversary Edition

Street Date:
November 15th, 2011
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
November 15th, 2011
Movie Release Year:
1987
Studio:
Lionsgate
Length:
84 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

After the disastrous (though still weirdly amusing) 'Crimewave' proved an embarrassing box office flop, Sam Raimi returned to the small, independently-financed horror flick that brought him recognition: 'Evil Dead.' Though he never really intended to do a sequel, the pleas from fans, and a nice sum of money from Dino De Laurentiis's DEG production company, finally convinced him to develop another creepy tale set in the mysterious backwoods cabin. The result is a continuation of Raimi's funhouse approach to gory horror, essentially exposing the exaggerated absurdity and nonsense within the genre.

The original script idea was to pick up where the firstfilm left off and saw our inadvertent hero Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell in his obviously most memorable role) time-traveling to the middle ages. For budgetary reasons, the wacky concept was soon tossed, but of course, later revisited for the third installment in the series. In a strange stroke of genius, Raimi, along with Scott Spiegel, instead came up with an ever wackier script, one which not only provides a follow-up story but also serves as a logical bridge leading into 'Army of Darkness.' It's a move rarely seen in films and television, where the continuity of a storyline is altered to create a new one — as in the 'Star Trek' universe, most recently in J.J. Abrams's 2009 reboot.

Such changes are often referred to as retroactive continuity, and it's the primary reason 'Evil Dead II' cannot and should not be seen as a remake — a common mistake made by many viewers of this movie. In the series' Companion book, Sam Raimi explains that obtaining the rights to the first movie for a quick intro was considered too much of an effort. So, he decided to reshoot and condense the events with only Ash and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) going to the cabin, awakening the unseen evil force and fighting off malicious, taunting demons.

Essentially, the first few minutes of exposition are simply a slightly different take on part one, and provides the basic groundwork from which the sequel logically works. 'Evil Dead II' actually picks up moments after Linda is buried and Ash is violently hurled through the air by the evil force, crashing into a tree and being momentarily possessed. The next day sees him trying to survive a second night at the cabin, all the while introducing audiences to a new cast of characters caught in this alternate storyline.

This time, the Book of the Dead was discovered by an archeology professor, who recites passages from it onto a large tape recorder. When Ash listens to the incantation, he unwittingly unleashes a horde of malevolent spirits. Annie (Sarah Berry), the professor's daughter, and her boyfriend (Richard Domeier) show up with a hillbilly couple (Kassie Wesley and Danny Hicks) serving as another element of comic relief. In fact, changing the storyline's continuity also provides Raimi the freedom to really play up the slapstick aspect of his madcap creation, transforming the series into more of a comedy horror.

While still somewhat scary, much like its predecessor, 'Evil Dead II' can never really be taken seriously as a straight terror flick. It's a terrifically entertaining movie, to be sure, but the whole exploit is so over the top silly with a ridiculously excessive emphasis on the gore that one just has to laugh instead of cringe from fright. This is made quite evident in the sight-gags meant as homage to 'The Three Stooges' and the stop-motion animation action sequences that bring to mind the movies of Ray Harryhausen. And more importantly, this hilarious sequel paves the way for an equally uproarious third installment, featuring Sam Raimi's original story idea of Ash Williams battling the undead in the Middle Ages.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings 'Evil Dead II' to Blu-ray as a 25th Anniversary Edition. The Region A locked, BD50 disc comes inside a blue eco-case with cover art taken from the original VHS design. At startup, viewers are greeted with a series of previews from the Lionsgate catalog. Afterwards, the screen shows the normal menu selection with music and full-motion clips.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

According to internet buzz over the summer, Lionsgate promised an improved Blu-ray release of 'Evil Dead II' to commemorate the movie's 25th anniversary. Having just watched it, I can say with confidence the studio has kept to that promise and given fans a much improved 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) that puts the previous release to shame.

Admittedly, it's not a complete knockout or up to the level of the first 'Evil Dead,' showing some age-related blurriness, mostly in the optical effects shots, and the grain structure isn't always consistent. But compared to the previous release, this is a definite upgrade with better resolution and contrast levels. Fine object and textural details are fairly distinct with excellent visibility of background info, even in the dark shadows. There is evidence of light noise reduction applied to clean up the image significantly — a couple scenes show it more than others — but it's nothing so drastic as to discourage buyers or ruin the movie's overall enjoyment. Blacks are deep and intense for a majority of the picture, providing a decent amount of depth. The color palette is certainly brighter and more animated, really playing up the story's comedic element.

Fans wanting a superior version of Sam Raimi's cult classic will not be disappointed with this new high-def transfer.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

On the audio side, the differences are not quite as apparent or obvious, though I would give this new DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack the slight edge. The reason being a fuller and more potent low-end which gives the lossless mix a more resonant impact during several of the action sequences. The entire dynamic range, in fact, does seem slighter sharper and a bit more expansive with strong clarity detail in the upper frequencies. Of course, this can be attributed to the studio's remastering process of the source and not evidence of the codec's superiority. Otherwise, both high-rez tracks sound pretty much identical, with excellent, well-prioritized dialogue reproduction within the center of the screen. The front soundstage produces a fantastically broad image with fluid movement and terrific channel separation. The rears are employed to brilliant effect and great directionality, not only enhancing the soundfield but also enveloping the listener satisfyingly.

All in all, 'Evil Dead II' is loads of fun on Blu-ray and makes for a spooky, fun movie night.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Lionsgate is nice enough to port over a few of the same supplements from previous home release and also includes a new collection of bonus material.

  • Audio Commentary — This hilarious conversation features Bruce Campbell, director Sam Raimi, make-up effects wizard Greg Nicotero and co-writer Scott Spiegel. This is simply one of the best commentaries around because the four men have such an amazing, easy-going camaraderie that we can't help but feel we're part of the gang joining the fun. Campbell does most of the talking, which consists of funny remarks and jabs at everyone else, especially Raimi, but at the same time, the group does great at dissecting the movie and offering lots of insightful anecdotes surrounding the production. This is not only for fans. The track is an awesome listen for all!

  • Evil Dead II: Behind the Screams (SD, 17 min) — Narrated by Tom Sullivan, who worked in the special effects department, this featurette is essentially an assortment of stills of the creature and make-up work done in the movie. It's interesting stuff, but not wholly exciting.

  • The Gore the Merrier (SD, 32 min) — A much better short doc about the production from the point of view of the special effects crew: Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero. While offering some praise to Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Mark Shostrom, it's an enjoyable piece from three men with very fond memories of working on the film.

  • Trailers (HD, SD) — Along with the original theatrical preview, the disc concludes with a series of trailers from the Lionsgate catalog.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

For this 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition of 'Evil Dead II,' Lionsgate has put together a very nice assortment of exclusive features fans will love.

  • Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead II (HD, 98 min) — This comprehensive but utterly fantastic documentary brings back just about everyone who was involved in the original production. Broken into seven chapters, the retroactive piece terrifically sums up what it must have been like to be a part of such a fun movie. Featuring cast & crew interviews mixed with tons of BTS footage, a majority of the information is really nothing new to devoted, hardcore fans, like the segment on the special effects, but the anecdotes shared, most of it praise, make the whole thing worthwhile and simply awesome to watch. The discussion on the many visual effects is really great, and like any good film doc should do, it all ends with excellent comments on the movie's legacy and continued popularity.

  • Cabin Fever — A "Fly on the Wall" Look Behind the Scenes (HD, 30 min) — Five separate segments that can be watched sequentially take a closer look at the special make-up effects and show how the creatures were made. Although upscaled to HD, it comes from material originally shot on a VHS camcorder, so the quality is pretty shoddy. The last piece, entitled "Deleted Scenes," is actually footage while on set of sequences which never made it to the final cut, scenes otherwise believed lost forever except on here.

  • Road to Wadesboro: Revisiting the Shooting Location (HD, 8 min) — Filmmaker Tony Elwood, who worked in the special effects department of 'Evil Dead II,' gives viewers a tour of the shooting location as it stands today.

  • Still Galleries (HD) — Four collections of photo galleries make up this section: "Advertising & Memorabilia," "Behind-the-Scenes," "Special Make-Up Effects" and "Stop Motion Animation." I'm not all familiar with most of the stills and photos shown, so it's safe to assume this is new, exclusive stuff. Either way, it's an awesome collection for fans to sift through.

Final Thoughts

Twenty-five years ago, Sam Raimi broke new ground with 'Evil Dead II' by further exploiting the macabre funhouse appeal of the first movie. The genius of this cult classic is the way in which it subconsciously reveals the ultimately silly and over-the-top nature of the horror genre. To this day, it continues to please and maintains an incredibly devoted fanbase. Celebrating its 25th Anniversary, Lionsgate delivers this special Blu-ray edition of 'Evil Dead II' with greatly improved picture quality and an excellent audio presentation. Some of the supplements are ported over from previous releases, but the studio also offers a few new exclusives for fans to enjoy, making the package very much recommended for all.

Technical Specs

  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region A Locked

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • Spanish

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Featurettes
  • Trailers

Exclusive HD Content

  • Documentary
  • Featurettes
  • Still Galleries
  • Interactive Bookmarking Function

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