PictureSadly, there isn't a vast amount of improvement over the earlier THX approved SD edition that Anchor Bay put out. The film is often flat and gritty, the image softened and often quite grainy - all things that would be hard to remove convincingly from the transfer. Encoded with MPEG-4, the 1.85:1 image is a bit of a mixed-bag, to be honest. I definitely prefer it to the previous releases, mind you, and for several reasons. The colours are more vivid - the blood, the slime, the earthy hue of the cabin and the work-shed, the clothing etc all posses a deeper, richer level of saturation. Ash's long-suffering blue shirt seems more striking; the cuts on his face have a keener, more glistening sheen; Annie's ghostly father pushing through from another dimension achieves a more startlingly pale blue effect. Check out the fountains of frothy blood issuing from the cellar door after Jake gets dragged down there, or the incredibly livid green grue from the axe-ventilated Ed that splats over the stag's head. The scenes of the blood smothering the light-bulb and suffusing the shed an inky thick scarlet and later on of the gore spraying into Ash's anguished/ecstatic face as he severs his own rogue hand reveal two tremendously presented levels of red-rendering - respectively eerie and garish, and then horribly deep and thick. The opening montage recounting the history of The Book Of The Dead is beautifully vivid too, and look out for the two little flame-balls that flick past - now much brighter and sharper.
Detail is certainly better than before, though this is quite inconsistently presented by a transfer that alternates between spot-on, crisp-clear close-ups - Ash's face primarily, whether normal or possessed - and softened, less defined background or group shots. The Blu-ray trailer that Starz have at the front of their discs show tantalising snippets of Halloween, Dawn and Day Of The Dead, but one of their shots from Evil Dead II was a real eye-opener that I couldn't wait to see properly within the film. The scene in question is when a battered Ash awakens in the woods after his pond-plunge-and-possession bout, when his eyes suddenly open and the camera whistles up and away from his mud-spattered face. Improvements over the previous versions become immediately apparent with this shot. Even the wisps of mist receding back into the earth, fleeing the sunlight, have a sharper look and feel to them. Detail is clearer in the shed and the cabin, the nice (if you like that sort of thing) texture on the latex bodysuit for Henrietta and upon the cellar walls much more visible too. Even those huge ghostly eyes that appear over the cabin's windows as the immortal tease “Join us!” fills the air look sharper than before. But there are problems within some individual shots. The camera and the transfer obviously favour Bruce Campbell because he nearly always looks sharp and defined, often whilst other characters in the same shot appear hazy and softened. There are many incidences of this, such as when the group hears the noises coming from the other room - Ash and Annie on the left looking much better detailed and crisper than Jake and Bobby-Jo on the right.
Exterior daylight shots suffer too. But then again, they always did with this film. Here, though, the soft indistinctness of Ash and Linda driving to the cabin and, at the end, Ash finding himself in a medieval quarry (left over from Doctor Who, presumably) is a little more jarring when compared to some of the good stuff on display. Well, I complained that the image looked flat, but there are some areas where the higher resolution manages to enhance the depth. Moving through the woods during the night looks more atmospheric and open now, and Ash's stunned glance around at the trees he has just levelled near the start benefits from more convincing depth and shadow, it's just that this really isn't as consistent as you would have liked.
Another highpoint are the terrific blacks on display. Checking against my THX tin-edition, the black level now is deeper and stronger and doesn't swallow up too much detail within. The disc copes admirably with light and darkness, with virtually every scene being a test for its contrast rendering, although there is still a degree of fluctuation that even this edition is unable to stabilise. The muted lighting within the cabin allows for a vast array of pockets of shadow and the transfer presents them extremely well. The ill-fated walk in the woods to look for Bobby-Jo; the torch-lit traipse to the cabin for the newcomers; Ash burying Linda as lightning rips the sky above him; the cackling Henrietta viewed through a triangle of light amid a sea of shadow beneath the trap-door all benefit from the great new density of the blacks.
So, all in all, this is a fair representation of the film. Nothing much altered and nothing taken away. Grainy, soft and lifeless in places ... but lit with flashes of terrific colour fidelity and some occasionally tremendous high-definition instances to remind that this is, indeed, in 1080p.
SoundFirstly, Evil Dead II is well-known for having some poorly recorded dialogue, making the film look as though it is occasionally out-of-synch. The bit where a battered and put-upon Ash is having plates smashed over his head and his face bashed into the kitchen-sink suffers some terribly submerged speech that was clearly mixed badly - “My teeth! You broke my teeth!” - and this, as well as a few other moments of muted or vaguely dislocated voices is hardly rectified with any new audio transfer. But these elements are part and parcel of Evil Dead II. I would have liked them to have been magically repaired, but c'est la vie. Whilst the original mono track has not been incorporated, the disc sports the DD 5.1 mix that adorned the previous releases and a brand new PCM Uncompressed track that pushes things out only a little further but sure packs a much meatier bass extension.
To be honest, there isn't a whole lot to discuss even with this new mix brought onboard. The film is loathe to step out from the front and centre realm that it dominates. Much of the proceedings lack the true energy to leap from the speakers and the stereo spread across the front doesn't even convince me all that much. LoDuca's score has fleeting moments to shine, but I would really have been more impressed if the eerie sound of the wind had been more pronounced from the rears. As it stands there is little in the way of fireworks going off behind you. But, and this is a big but, I was quite impressed with some elements of directionality that the PCM track just had to explore with the greater clarity and steerage that a lossless track should provide - such as the whip-around whooshing and swooshing when Prof. Knoby's spirit breaks through from the Other Side to warn the cabin's new occupants, and the vortex at the end during the tree and demon assault. Both feature good use of steerage around the speakers and carry a satisfying degree of oomph that go some way to making up for the lack of immersion elsewhere.
Of course, Evil Dead II cannot be judged on its realism of sound reproduction either. Its design is as totally over-the-top as the visuals it accompanies, therefore things like the sounds of Ash bolting and assembling his strapped-on chest-rig and cutting down the barrels of what, in Army Of Darkness, would become his “Boom-stick”, are hugely enhanced and wonderfully satisfying in a completely fictitious, larger-than-life, cartoonic kind of way. It is worth remembering, at this point, that there is nothing in the two films that sandwich this one that sounds realistic, either ... so it would be fruitless to expect any new audio mix to interfere with this trilogy too much. Therefore, it actually seems quite churlish to mark the film down in this regard. Afterall, there is definitely more discrete channelling than before, it sounds a little more involving and the bass sure adds some bombast that wouldn't have been present on any previous incarnation. Therefore, this is still a step-up from the THX edition, as far as I am concerned.
ExtrasRight, 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.
The Gore The Merrier 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.
As with the other Starz releases, Evil Dead II also features some “pop up” trivia Film Facts that add a little more detail to the film as you watch it. Nothing too revelatory, but ok for a one-off. The theatrical trailer looks very ropey indeed and, I'm afraid, this rounds off the lot. By now, I would have expected a much more comprehensive “making of” to have been put together, boasting newer interviews with the main players ... but then again, Sam Raimi has been a bit busy of late, hasn't he? Anchor Bay will almost certainly be releasing this again at some point - possibly an all-singing, all-dancing trilogy boxset on Blu-ray that will possess more documentaries. I wouldn't put it past them. For now, though, this is still a nice little selection of added value. The commentary is pure gold.
VerdictOne 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 like this. 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 arrival on Blu-ray, expectations for its look and sound probably ran a little too high, but 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 made the journey across the high-resolution divide as well, making this a package that is definitely worth picking up if you are a fan of the film and have 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 looked and sounded, just 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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