In the summer of 1979, a group of Detroit friends with $375,000 raised from local investors headed for a cabin outside of Morristown, Tennessee to make a film about five college students possessed by an ancient Book of the Dead. The filmmakers' goal was to create the ultimate experience in grueling terror, a movie so relentless that it would stand forever as a landmark in modern horror history. When it was released in 1982, it was immediately recognized worldwide as one of the most ferociously original films ever made.
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.
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.'
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 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.
The standard definition disc in broken into three categories: "Featurettes," "Trailer & TV Spots," and "Photo Gallery."
'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.