Evil Dead II 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review
Well, I guess this is where I hold my hands up and say “Sorry, folks … but I got this completely wrong the first time around.” With warped infatuation for an image that was blisteringly clean and smeary-smooth, and highly colourful to boot, I sang the praises of the previous DNR-ridden release of Evil Dead II with a cavalier disregard for the damage that had been done. I did the same with Patton and The Longest Day. Man, had I missed the AV lecture on noise-removal, or what? In fact, looking back over what I originally wrote I can only presume that somebody leaked a form of hallucinogenic into my beer because it is a woeful distortion of what we now all know to be a tinkered transfer.
Okay, okay. I'm an idiot. But if someone like me, who is supposed to spot such digital shenanigans and trickery can become smitten with a bogusly spruced-up image, then it is no small wonder that Joe Public can fall for such travesties too. Times have changed, though, and so have people's attitudes and understanding of video transfers. And, most importantly, their voices are being heard by the studios (in some cases, at least) and now a few of those appalling hit-and-run releases, their grain removed and their edges enhanced and whatnot, have been re-released with properly supervised and faithful restorations and transfers. To wit, Gladiator. But even Patton was taken back for an authentic overhaul that saw it returned to its former glory. And, of course, Evil Dead II which, as we can see from this splendid 25th Anniversary Edition, has been treated to something approaching the sort of care and attention that it should have had first time around.
Taken from the original camera negative, the film is presented 1.85:1, and is encoded via AVC. The transfer contains a darker image than the Anchor Bay release, with better definition and stronger colours. And it is grainy, folks. Dark, dingy, soft … and far more film-like than it has appeared on home video before. Is it real grain, some people have asked, or is it born out of some kind of digital re-application? Hmmm … I have a feeling that we are getting a bit too wary and cynical about such things now. When the grain is gone, we're upset. When it is there, we now doubt its authenticity. Well, I don't want to make another big mistake with this film, but having studied the image very closely and compared it to both the previous BD and to Anchor Bay's tinned limited edition DVD, I find this to be the most natural looking of the lot.
Grain is much more prevalent in certain shots, and there are instances when the image softens-up quite considerably. Then again, if the film looked sharp, then it would be wrong. But this is down to the source and the photography and the use of effects work, usually the stop-motion material. I don’t see how we can be disappointed with this meshing of clay and live-action, though – after all this is precisely how it would have looked if Ray Harryhausen had made the film and, if anything, this adds to the unique visual flavour that the makers were striving for. Now, if I'm honest, I do happen to feel that the texture of the grain is slightly iffy on occasion … but only very slightly, and then only if you are pressing your nose up against the screen. The grain is mostly well-resolved. It doesn't freeze-up, and it doesn't slide and smear like it did before. Even so, there seem to be times when the detail underneath looks as though it has been scrubbed clean and now exists below a fake veil of noise. But then again, I’ve spent so much time inspecting grain patterns lately – The Guns of Navarone, Zombie, The House By The Cemetery, The Phantom of the Opera etc – that I can’t be swayed either way as to the authenticity of the stuff. But I will say that the grain on Evil Dead II looks infinitely more natural than the glitter that speckles those Italian horror BD’s from Blue Underground or Arrow … and I, for one, am more than happy with it.
Although some people have moaned about them, I don’t think there’s too much of a fault to be found with the black levels. They are tremendous for the most part, although I would have to concede that they are possibly too strong at times, especially during the first third of the film, and this inevitably leads to some crushing going on. The overall cast is more oppressive than I've seen it before, though I think I prefer it this way. But then this is a film that blends shadow and surreal lighting to a perfect comic-book aesthetic. This is EC stuff, heightened from the grubby appeal of the likes of Lucio Fulci into something altogether more stylish. Stuart Gordon went bloody day-glow with Re-Animator and trans-dimensional neon with From Beyond, but even if it is much dirtier than either of those two madcap flicks, Raimi’s film thrives on spectacular contrast, super-deep shadows and a rich variety of colours to decorate the screen with. The reds are glorious, and there is a lot of that on offer. Blood is very deep and dark – although it can also appear pink and green and black too. The midnight blues, which suffuse much of the film, are smooth and atmospheric, and the green foliage of the forest looks great during the daylight shots and the attack on Bobby-Jo. There is some agreeable variance in the browns of clothing, mud and woodwork too. Skin-tones are far more natural than we saw on the Anchor Bay release, and I would say that there is a deeper, surer saturation to the variety of hues on offer, all round.
The caked-on mud that litters Ash's face now reveals even more pockmarks and striations than in any previous edition. The mess that adorns his entire body has finer delineation. The drawn cliffs that a stop-motion version of him stands atop, wailing at the sight of the gnarled remains of the bridge, are also much more apparent now. The gelatine cuts and wounds gleam with glorious theatricality, and we can see far more detail in the possessed faces and teeth (especially Evil Ed), and the renegade hand, too, with its gnarled, zombified skin. Trees yield more texture, as do the shelves, books, leaf-fall on the ground, scattered shards of crockery on the floor and the hideous remains of someone's bones down in the cellar. We can see rust on the chest-rig that Ash straps on, and the writing in the book looks a touch crisper and more defined. Seriously, I doubt that we could ever get to see more detail than we do here. It is not impressive by modern standards – not by a long way – but this looks more solid and three-dimensional and more naturally textured than before.
I noticed that there is some shimmering going on when we have slow-panning shots. For example, when Ash recovers from his first possession and surveys the trail of destruction his body has caused in the woodland in front of the cabin, the trees exhibit slight blurring and drag. But there is nothing to worry about regarding edge enhancement, and I found no banding or unsightly compression defects sullying the image.
All things considered, Lionsgate's Evil Dead II is an undisputable improvement over the previous BD release … which should make a lot of people happy. Just sort out Army of Darkness now, please!
We now get to hear Evil Dead II in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. The results are enjoyable, but hardly revelatory.
For a kick-off, dialogue is poorly reproduced. But then it has always been like this. Human voices are dialled lower in the mix than their monstrous counterparts. You get used to this, but the opening scenes of Ash and Linda at the cabin are frustratingly low, whilst Prof. Knowby's voice on the tape recorder is noticeably louder and cleaner. Throughout the film the dialogue is hit and miss in this regard. It is not a problem for those who are used to it, and it is not a error of the transfer either, just a reminder of the poor prioritisation in the sound mix at the source. Dialogue such as the famous “Work-shed!” and “My teeth! You broke my teeth!” are patently looped, and no amount of lossless remixing is going to alter that. The score can also sound a touch timid and strained, although there are still times when it gathers strength and vitality, though these tend to be geared towards the more outlandish moments rather than the eerily lyrical. Mind you, you've gotta love the bizarre medieval dance-ditty and that little squeal that the zombie Linda gives as she lifts up into the ether.
After the audio maelstrom of the first movie, there is no doubting that the original sound design for the sequel was wicked and ambitious, full of deliberately-constructed and steered whip-around effects, stingers and aggressive bombast, but this is still wrapped-up inside a vintage source and the track will not convincingly take command of the full 5.1 set-up for huge swathes of the running time. During the stop-motion title sequence, we get some slight directionality and rear-support, but this is pretty feebly rendered. The chaotic all-round bedlam that frequently ensues is deliriously good fun of course, but, once again, don’t go expecting the details to get thrown out around you with infernal panning precise enough to make the hair-bristle on the back of your neck. The mix is just too limited for that – and it is a shame, I feel. So long as we kept this original mix in-tow, why couldn’t we have had a full-on, psyched-out, hellzapoppin’ horror broadside created to go along with the visuals? For many people, such meddling goes against the grain, I know, but for something as richly dynamic as Evil Dead II, this sort of approach would be insanely rewarding.
The stereo spread across the front is not very wide, and the effect tends to just get hurled out at you. Thunder tries to travel across the soundscape, but never quite manages it. We have some slight wailing of wind that filters through the rears, but once again, this is really very subtle. A nice attempt is made when Bobby-Jo gets hauled through the forest by her vine-wrapped ankles – listen for the rushing of the undergrowth and erupting showers of muddy puddles as she hurtles through - when we can appreciate the movement from front to back. But where the surrounds really come in is during the terrific Haunting style aural assault on the huddled survivors, with the severe whooshing effects ricocheting very effectively around the room. It is not exactly subtle, but it is hugely entertaining. This extends to when the Professor's spirit breaks through from Other Side to communicate with them. Beyond this, various impacts and sudden “stingers” also benefit from an extra little buffer from the rear speakers too – such as the climactic “Apple-core” assault and the swirling vortex which carry a satisfying degree of infernal oomph - but I would still class this track as more of a front 'n' centre barrage than an all-encompassing attack on the senses. Even so, this is still full of sub-rattling impact and a healthy dose of spooky bombast.
I would have liked a more demonstrative track as an option, but that's just me – and I seriously doubt that anyone is going to complain about how this transfer presents the aural chaos of Ash's finest hour.
To mark the film’s 25th Anniversary, Lionsgate have brought over the features that we have seen before, and even ladled-on a slew of bloody new bits and bobs. Top of the bill is the fabulous commentary track that fans of the film will already be highly familiar with.
Right, let's get one thing straight, right from the word go - any commentary featuring Bruce Campbell is worth its weight in gold. Couple him Sam Raimi and you have one of the most infectiously hilarious chat-tracks you'll ever hear. Folks, I have kicked back and listened to this yak so many times now that I should know the thing off by heart by now. With makeup-man Greg Nicotero and co-writer Scott Spiegel also along for the giddily nostalgic and mickey-taking ride, there are so many standout giggle-bouts that the quartet are like a laugh-riot. Whilst plenty of amusing anecdotes are served up along the way, the best elements of the track are just when they simply ridicule and lampoon their own hero, Ash. Campbell is simply excellent at supplying a new and far more bitter and sarcastic voice for the character and even if the track doesn't exactly delve deeply into the complexities of making a low-budget, fx-ridden sequel to an all-out horror classic, it more than makes up for it with true laugh-out-loud enthusiasm and gusto. The moment when the group lapse into hysterics as, on-screen, dunder-headed Jake is stabbed in the gut by accident, is absolutely priceless and, to date, the only snippet from a commentary that I have replayed over and over again during one sitting. One of the best and most enjoyable chat-tracks that I've ever come across. There were rumours that we would be getting a brand new commentary but, to be honest, you just couldn't improve upon this one.
And we get the vintage featurette The Gore The Merrier that is a half-hour exploration of the colourful makeup effects created by Mark Shostram's crew. The three head-honchos - Nicotero, Berger and Kurtzman - sit like three naughty schoolboys and reminisce about the time they spent sending eyeballs across the room, pasting the lovely nude Denise Bixler up in alginate and pouring the sweat out of poor Ted Raimi's Henrietta costume after a day's shooting in the crippling heat of July in Carolina. This is a great featurette, folks, that incorporates video footage filmed at the time with the younger technicians suffering amid the perpetual larking about from Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. Everyone seems to have had a ball on set and their anecdotes are great to listen to. The reproduction of one of Raimi's storyboards proves that the guy may have a wonderful imagination and a vast reservoir of moviemaking talent ... but he sure as hell can't draw. Be sure to check out the spoof ending segment when the team erroneously re-animate a dead baby, thereby creating a headless Evil Dead Baby that then pursues them around the FX-warehouse.
Behind The Screams is slide-show of production photographs taken by producer Tom Sullivan, who also narrates the feature with a small degree of wit. There are some cool images that he has snapped, including Bruce Campbell on a bench-press having a rest during his bulk-up routine, some images of the Chop-top head, conceptual artwork that he supplied for the likes of the Deadite harpy and the Evil Ash look, and pics of the “wrap party”. We even get to see the final winged Deadite complete with its long tail - something that a faulty matte shot during the climax denied us. This is a curious little feature as you kind of keep expecting it to suddenly segue into live action footage and interviews ... but it never does. Set to LoDuca's score, this is still a nice little addition and Sullivan does his best to supply trivia throughout.
We can return to the location and see how it is doing in Road to Wadesboro: Revisiting the Shooting Location with Filmmaker Tony Elwood, who was the props manager for the movie. Cabin Fever is a collection of footage shot on-set by Greg Nicotero that shows how much fun was had in-between the hard work.
But look at this, folks, a ninety-eight minute making-of!!!!! Wow, that's longer than the actual movie. Well, this exhaustive documentary, entitled Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead II, is the dog's proverbials. Chapterised into handy segments (but with a Play All option), this covers everything, literally everything about the making the film that you could ever hope for … except the music which, curiously, doesn't get a mention. All the cast and crew show up to reminisce – all, that is, except for Sam Raimi, himself, who is only present in the copious on-set footage that was taken during the shoot – and everyone has a right old time of it. Clearly, making this movie was a game-changer for all concerned. The wealth of anecdote is a veritable treasure-trove for all of us Deadite-fans and primitive Screwheads. Funny, informative, incredibly detailed, this chronicle spends a lot of quality time with each participant – actors, producers, cameramen, editors, set managers and, of course, special effects technicians. And it is this last crowd – including Greg Nicotero, Rob Kurtzman, Howard Berger, Mark Shostrom, Tom Sullivan, Rick Catizone and Doug Beswick – who provide the main meat and potatoes for us to get stuck into. We witness antics aplenty as this frat-house mob get together to indulge their crazy passion for latex, foam rubber, blood tubing and gloop on set and off. A chapter is spent with each person wrestling with just who and what they believe Sam Raimi really is. Another thrashes-out how the film arose out of the ashes (ahem) of Crimewave's disastrous failure, and the need to get something off the ground that would make everybody regain their creative mojo … and make them all some money. We also hear about the bogus distribution company that they created in Rosebud. Naturally, some of the same ground is covered in the older featurettes and the commentary, but this is the bigger deal, and one that can be dipped into or just totally indulged in with one mammoth sitting.
Make no mistake, this is awesome stuff and, taken all together, this represents a fantastic overall package.
One of the most fun-packed and downright entertaining horror films ever made, Sam Raimi's triumphant sequel/re-working is the anchor of the Deadite trilogy. Back in 1987, this was a visually mind-blowing experience at the flicks. The years since have been remarkably kind and the film still provides a wild kick that is pure sensory overload. Not many genre movies successfully combine giggles and gore, mirth and madness with as much accomplished showmanship as this. Bruce Campbell became a genre god as Horror's most loveable buffoon. Raimi went on to broader, more mainstream pictures with the awesome Spider-Man series and also some interestingly quirky diversions courtesy of the Coen Brothers, but Evil Dead II is the most kinetic, vibrant and totally off-the-wall entry in his catalogue. A riot of the imagination that is more satisfyingly wacky than a barrel full of slime-covered Will Ferrells.
With its second arrival on Blu-ray, expectations for its look and sound have been understandably high. Coming from the original camera negative and properly supervised, this is a distinct improvement that few will be able to deny. It can't compare with newer fare, and we shouldn't expect it to. The film is grungy yet vibrant, grainy yet vivid. And considering its age and low budget, there are still many moments when this transfer really shines. It is also great to see that the marvellous extras that adorned some of the earlier editions have been retained and even added-to, with that terrific feature-length retrospective making this a package that is definitely worth picking up … even if you are a fan who has dipped your hand in your pocket for it a few times before. And if you are new to it - then where the hell have you been? - it represents the film at the best it has probably ever looked and sounded on home video, just so long as you don't expect anything on a par with more recent movies on the format.
“All hail he who has come from the skies to deliver us ... from the curse of the Deadites!”
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