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.
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.
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.
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.
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.