The second of three films in writer/director Sam Raimi's now-legendary 'Evil Dead' series, 'Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn' was released six years after the original film, and only after 'Evil Dead' had developed a worldwide cult following on home video.
The film itself once again stars Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams, an S-Mart Superstore clerk who takes his girlfriend (Denise Bixler) on a romantic getaway to a secluded cabin in the woods. While there, Ash discovers a tape of incantations that have been translated by a professor of ancient texts and archeology. As he plays the recording, Ash unwittingly unleashes a horde of demonic entities that possess Linda and ultimately force him to kill the woman he loves. Trapped in the cabin with no hope of escape, our reluctant hero is driven dangerously close to insanity but survives to fight another day. When the professor's daughter Annie (Sarah Berry) and her three companions return to the cabin, they themselves become pawns of the possessive demons. With his trusty boomstick in one hand and a chainsaw mounted on the stump that was the other, Ash decides to destroy the evil force before it consumes everything in its path.
If this sounds more like a remake than a sequel to the original 'Evil Dead,' don't be fooled. The opening scenes are intended to be a quick recap of the first film. Legal woes forced Raimi to reshoot each flashback scene, while budgetary constraints made it impossible to include all the old actors. As such, the recap has been watered down to its simplest elements (much like the changes made between Robert Rodriguez's 'El Mariachi' and its follow-up, 'Desperado').
Once you get past these opening hiccups, strap yourself in for a load of fun. 'Evil Dead 2' may not have invented the horror-comedy subgenre, but it did set the bar quite high. Twenty years later, the film still has a manic intensity that builds momentum without ever taking itself too seriously. As Ash, Bruce Campbell is nothing short of a godsend, charging through each scene with a fervor that isn't often found in Hollywood, and even more rarely from a B-movie actor. His comic timing and dramatic abilities work hand in hand as he delivers a performance that elevates the entire movie.
Then, of course, there’s the horror. Even though I’ve watched 'Evil Dead 2' more times than I care to count, the film still boasts some truly scary moments that continue to send chills down my spine upon each viewing. The sequences that immediately pop to mind include the Deadite in the cellar, the possessed hand, the "laughing room" scene, and Ash's inability to keep demons out of his body. On their own, these moments may not amount to much, but combined with Raimi's signature silent tension, they become startlingly effective parts of a terrifying whole.
For the uninitiated, I should warn that ‘Evil Dead 2’ does border on camp at times. In particular, a few questionable supporting actor performances, and some dated makeup and special effects may induce some belly laughs, but overall Raimi keeps a tight leash on the tone, and manages to deliver an otherwise masterful genre classic.
Of all the horror movies hitting high-def this month, 'Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn' may not be the best of the bunch, but it’s is definitely the most fun. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell deliver a one-two punch of horror and comedy that has influenced countless other genre flicks over the last twenty years. If you've never seen this classic, do yourself a favor and catch it this Halloween -- you won't regret it.
'Evil Dead 2' isn't the sort of film that will ever be able to compete visually with more modern high-def video presentations, but given the limitations of the source material, Anchor Bay has done a decent job with this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer.
The film’s bleached palette is more robust than it has been in previous DVD editions, and includes strong uses of red that often dominate the screen. Likewise, detail is sharper than ever, often revealing minor elements in the background that I hadn't noticed before. Contrast is improved with dark blacks and clean whites, and overall the transfer gives the image a nice sense of depth.
Unfortunately, there are several lingering problems from Anchor Bay’s most recent DVD release of the film that mar this Blu-ray edition of 'Evil Dead 2.’ For starters, the darkest areas of the screen are hindered by drastic crushing, soft edges and spiking grain fields. I also noticed a fair amount of noise reduction and edge enhancement; the actors occasionally look as if they've been cast in plastic and digitally inserted into the film. To top it all off, the print itself is beset by minor scratches, blemishes, and contrast wavering.
In short, while there are certainly some slight upgrades afforded by this high-def transfer, be sure to set your expectations accordingly. This one’s far from stunning.
Although this Blu-ray edition doesn't include the film's original mono mix, it does feature a lively PCM 5.1 surround track (48 kHz/16-Bit/4.6 Mbps) as well as a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (640 kbps).
Surprisingly, dynamics are quite solid for a twenty year-old film, leaning on a powerful LFE presence to add a hearty boom to every shotgun blast, chainsaw rip, and explosion. Likewise, treble tones are stable, dialogue is rarely plagued by pitch problems, and pans are swift and smooth. A complex assortment of ambient effects and directional sleight-of-hand makes immersion a cinch (I even found myself turning in excitement as the sounds poured from my rear speakers). My favorite moments are the ones in which the evil entities attack their hapless victims -- it is in these scenes that the soundfield truly comes to life, hurling elements around the cabin to create a bombastic and believable space.
The only downsides are once again inherent to the material itself. Dialogue is sometimes lost in crowded portions of the mix, accuracy is occasionally questionable (especially during action beats), and the music occasionally overwhelms the sound design. These minor issues aren't too distracting on their own, but when they overlap, the audio does lose a bit of its sparkle. All in all though, I found this sound package a significant upgrade over the film’s previous DVD editions and it should still please fans.
This Blu-ray release of 'Evil Dead 2' contains most of the significant extras included on the "Book of the Dead" DVD edition. MIA are several supplements from previous Laserdisc and DVD editions including some additional documentaries, photo galleries, and biographies. As a longtime fan of the film, the only thing I personally found myself missing was the fleshy Necronomicon case that accompanied the "Book of the Dead" edition DVD.
First up is a hilarious, fan-favorite commentary that features Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero, and co-writer Scott Speigel. The four men are battle-weary friends at a point in their careers where they can freely discuss the movie without fearing any repercussions. From on-set anecdotes to the range of the film's influence, Raimi and crew provide a rat-a-tat-tat commentary that combines factoids with some fun, good-natured ribbing. Campbell steals the show and sets the tone -- he trades a lot of playful criticism with Raimi and constantly works to bait the other participants. This engaging track is well worth your time regardless of what you think of the film itself.
Next up is "The Gore, The Merrier" (32 minutes), a behind-the-scenes documentary that explores the film from the perspective of the special effects technicians and makeup artists. Also included are interviews with the director and his cast as they discuss the original inspirations for signature scenes, the on-set atmosphere, and Raimi's affection for classic slapstick comedy.
To my disappointment, "Evil Dead 2: Behind the Screams" is not the half-hour documentary of the same name that appeared on the Elite laserdisc edition. Instead, it’s a 17-minute slideshow of behind-the-scenes photos narrated by Tom Sullivan (a special effects artist who worked on the film). Although it pales in comparison to the earlier feature, this one is still a fun glimpse at the film's complicated practical effects.
Wrapping things up is the film’s theatrical trailer, which (like all of the other video-based supplements listed above) is presented here in 480i/p video only.
A genre titan that continues to entertain audiences twenty years on, 'Evil Dead 2' should adorn the shelf of any true horror junkie. Although this Blu-ray release can’t compare to the best next-gen catalog releases, both the audio and (to a lesser extent) the video offer a upgrade from the film's most recent DVD release, while a nice set of supplements round out the package. This one won’t stand out from the high-def crowd, but it can offer you a great time this Halloween.