The Evil Dead Blu-ray Review
Anchor Bay have released this film so many times over the years, but this is The Evil Dead's hi-def debut. Overseen by Sam Raimi, Ash's first encounters with the Kondarian Demons come with not one, but two 1080p AVC transfers. For not only do we have the the now familiar 1.85:1 alternative, but the original director-composed 1.33:1 version, in which the image is opened-out and not slightly cropped for widescreen and, in my possibly lone opinion, all the better for it. The original frame that Raimi shot for has never seemed particularly cramped to me, but the widescreen image that he endorsed, as well, definitely loses some headroom from a lot of shots. Just look at Cheryl's initial metamorphosis for a start - the view of Ash and Linda and the others over against the fireplace barely fits Campbell's head into the frame. However, on the flip-side of the aspect coin, shots such as the Cheryl-eye-view from under the trapdoor just a little while later on seems to reveal a greater depth, and the composition can often be just as comfortable and dynamic-looking in the blown-up image. Raimi had his reasons for utilising the two aspects, and at least we have it both ways - and both versions do look spectacular. For me, the 1.33:1 version was the one that I tried to stick with, but, hey, it was fun flicking between the two.
Rest assured, despite the incredible lack of actual damage to the print, this restoration has had no overt DNR applied to it. Texture is rich and consistent and The Evil Dead looks like film. Grain and softness is inherent to both versions transferred here. Raimi shot on 16mm and then painstakingly blew the film up to 35mm. Some of the earlier shots that are struck in the daylight, or occur in better light, actually offered up a sort of similar frozen grain pattern to that witnessed on Blue Underground's BDs of City Of The Living Dead and Django - considerably lesser, I should point out, but the sight of it did cause me to catch my breath for a second and pray that it just went away. And, thankfully, it did ... to a large extent. Even if the overwhelming majority of the subsequent movie takes place at night, and mostly under artificial light in the cabin, there are fine, bright and colourful close-ups that could have revealed this effect again, but the grain remained far more consistent and less sharp and shiny. Naturally, there are numerous shots that look soft and indistinct, though these are all part and parcel of the original photography. On the whole, this is a distinct improvement over every other version released on home video, with a brighter, sharper and more detailed presentation that offers depth and a fine level of three-dimensionality - the logs being tossed into the fire, the beating on Linda with the wooden beam, Ash leaving Cheryl behind in the car to go and investigate the bridge, etc. Plus, we no longer have the sight of Robert Tapert over on the right-hand side of the image as they cross the bridge - he's now been removed from the picture!
You know, I've seen this film too many times to count, but I'll be damned if I ever spotted the fact that when Cheryl's hand becomes possessed and performs some automatic writing, it is also physically transformed into a deathly, blue veined hag-witch hand. Now, I can't argue with that. Just like the sight of the fire simmering beneath the floor of the Norwegian camp in The Thing, I'm sure this has always been there, but it took a hi-def transfer for me to actually notice it. For this element alone, this MPEG-4 makeover deserves plaudits. But detail, right across the board, is now far greater than you will have seen it before. This image reveals more of the tangle of wires and twisted steel, stone and timber in the clawed hand of the busted bridge. The famed close-ups are intensely more clinical in their rendering of pores, sweat, hair, wounds and skin texture. Finite detail on wood - and there is a lot of examples of this on display, from floorboards and stairs to chairs and trapdoors - reveals levels of depth that make this seem like a new film at times. Check out the shot when, his back to the door, Ash pulls the little necklace from his pocket - look at the detail on his cords, his leather belt and his hand. You have not seen The Evil Dead look this sharp and revealing before, that's for sure.
The only downside of the higher resolution is the clarity afforded to where the skin appliances end and the real flesh begins - which we can now discern a lot more readily. Stuck-on mutilations and wounds now look quite artificial at times, whilst other effects - some of the actual stabbings, rippings and loppings that are doled-out with such merry madness - now seem to look better with the boosted colour and the sharper detail. You have to admit, though, that Raimi cuts away from the pencil-gouged ankle just in time before the whole fake foot comes apart at the seams.
Colours are unarguably brighter and certainly better saturated than I have seen them before. Not only the primaries - ie, the red blood - but the autumnal shades of the leaves and the trees and the distant mountains that we see at the start. Raimi's car and all the clothes, even away from the gore, all benefit. When things begin to go extreme, the gaudy EC-style palette comes into play and, if anything, this transfer provides a greater vibrancy and a more garish appeal to the slaughter. Black levels are certainly the strongest that I've seen for this movie, although they still aren't always excellent by many other standards. But there is no element of crushing taking place, that's for sure. Shadow delineation is keen and detail is never sunken or lost amid the darker portions of the image. Sometimes the blacks are absolutely spot-on - another minor miracle for a film using such low-stock - and there is no irritating slide-off to grey, or much of that washed-out look going on. Midnight blues are nicely rendered, and contrast, for the most part, is extremely good. The only lapses are witnessed when the original photography has encountered problems, or produced some of its own - that shot of Scotty stepping up to the cabin when they first arrive, for example, and the long shot of Ash and Linda on the couch during the necklace scene.
If I had to complain about this incredibly arresting transfer, then I would say that some minor aliasing occurs from time to time, although I only really noticed this during the first quarter. And I don't think that there's any bothersome edge enhancement either. The times when we see some haloing taking place - I saw some around Scotty's parka on a few occasions - tend to be a result of the original photography and the lighting silhouettes. Lens flare-lovers take note - there's still a couple of them on show.
Clearly, Anchor Bay has taken a pride in delivering their most cherished and oft-released title on Blu-ray. I've said some bad things about them in the past, but for their treatment of one of my favourite horror movies of all time, I can do nothing but salute them.
The Evil Dead gets a massive thumbs-up from me on BD. Troublesome source material ... it'll never stand up against some big new releases on the format ... but so what? This looks awesome for what it is. 9 out of 10.
When The Evil Dead first came out theatrically, many critics were keen to remark upon its sound design - with most of them labelling it as “unbearable”. Of course they are referring to the endless screaming, sudden jolts, chainsaws and, especially, the rather unique conjunction of the music with the sound effects for the possessed as they go on the rampage, but also to the actually low-rent and amateurish presentation that was unavoidable. Well, despite many remixes over the years, you'll be pleased to know that this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track actually maintains those little discrepancies, such as muffled voices, pitch changes and odd dislocations of placement that would have been even more noticeable on the original mono track - which, by the way, Anchor Bay have elected not to incorporate as an option for this release. However, there can be no doubting that this still sounds very good, excellent, in fact, considering that the source is not the best around.
Personally, I was amazed by this audio experience in “gruelling terror”.
Well, there's plenty of good things to discuss here. The effects are definitely not overdone, and the surround channels are used effectively and discretely throughout and actually add to the experience without flooding the design with bugaboo bogus steerage and fake signal placement. The score is electrifyingly clean and crisp, and remarkably well-detailed right down to instrumental level. The frenzied strings have terrific range, for instance, really sizzling at times. Quite the best I have ever heard it, to be honest, and I have several versions of this score on CD. Bass levels are terrific. They bolster the sound of the demons rushing through the forest, they add weight to every impact, and their presence is all-enveloping. Listen to the force of Cheryl's fist coming up through the trapdoor now! And the grinding power of the chainsaw! The film is lent a whole new dimension of energy with this mix, all right.
Dialogue has often been a problem with this film. Sometimes dialled too low, sometimes massively shrill. Usually submerged and muddy throughout. Well, this mix goes a long way to rectifying this. Speech is far more uniform - there's still some discrepancies, you couldn't possibly eradicate them all, but they seem a lot fewer and further between. Positioning and steerage is given some fine attentions. That stereo spread across the front is wide and well used. The ghostly voices that Ash hears (possibly in his own mind) down in the cellar when getting more shells for the gun now carry a tremendous little echo to them, really adding another supernatural aura to an already off-kilter scene. The sound of the gunshots is meatier, especially the one that Ash fires out of the bathroom window that ploughs through Cheryl's shoulder.
Even early on when the group is driving through the woods, the sudden roar of the wheels during the near-collision with Lazy Mary's truck and the surround effect of the drive onto the rickety bridge, as the supports give way beneath it, are well mixed and delivered with a surprisingly detailed and naturalistic sound. The occasional thunder and lightning strikes also reach around the back, but does so without sounding intrusive or in the least bit bogus - something of a coup for Anchor Bay. The crunching gasps and snarls that move from right to left across the front as Cheryl stupidly investigates the woods on her own. The booming collapse of trees as the big demon pushes them over. The pendulum swinging crazily in the grandfather clock now features a mightier and more “mechanised” clang as heaves itself from side to side. The thumping heartbeat is smooth and loud and clear, and the little rush that we hear as the ceiling beams slide past us above Ash's head is more acute. The banging of the swing-seat outside the cabin is a touch more forceful, even sounding clearer during the gang's otherwise silent drive up to the place at the start.
Few would argue that the sequence when Shelly goes Deadite on us features one of the most unpleasantly skin-crawling sound-mixes ever produced. Well, you ought to hear it in lossless surround. Her hissing, warbling, rasping and growling is utterly infernal. The detail on her chewing through her own wrist is vivid and disturbingly clear. The great clout as Scotty thunks the axe into her and immediately drops her to the deck has always been quite satisfying, but just you listen to the clarity of the juicy body-parts jittering messily on the floor now!
Despite some elements of the track still bearing that amateurish, low-budget quality, this is an extraordinarily well put-together mix that consistently blew me away with clarity, depth, strength, detail and the sort of wraparound ambience that actually works with the film. The Evil Dead was always a very ambitious sounding movie, but it has been hampered with either restrictive, uninterested or fake remixes all of its life. Until now. A majestic and well-earned 9 out of 10 from me, all things considered. This one will definitely awaken you from any “ancient slumber”.
A good selection of extras adds meat to the Deadite's bones with this limited edition double-discer from Anchor Bay.
For a start, we've got another commentary from Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell to add to all the other ones that they've done for this trilogy. Although renowned for their spectacular spontaneity and sheer hilarity on other tracks, the trio, here, are far more restrained. They spend a long time discussing the genesis and the marketing of the film, and the struggles low-budget independent horror products would encounter. The tone is subdued, but informative, yet we are still sitting there just waiting for the funny stuff to arrive. This chat-track, so far down the line and, of course, not the first occasion that they have sat down to talk endlessly about The Evil Dead, has an often dry and sort of grandfatherly air to it of people who have clearly “grown up” and seen the film in question far too many times now, though this does not deter them from a lull-less conversation. Rarely scene specific, it takes quite some time before the trio begin to loosen-up and have some fun. But when the amusing moments come, the laughter is still as infectious as it always was. The important thing though, is that they are providing lots of background to how it all came about from a fresh perspective, and delivering yet more information that we actually didn't already know about putting the film together. It does seem as though they had a specific agenda to go through with this one, rather than just a glorious free-for-all.
On the second disc, a DVD, we find a healthy roster of special features. I'm not sure why they went with a DVD, or why this release is only available for a limited time ... but here goes.
One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Story of The Evil Dead is the magnificent 53-minute retrospective from 2006 that features interviews with Tom Sullivan, Robert Tapert, Ellen Sandweiss (looking good), Theresa Tilly (Shelly - aye, still looking good, billed as Sarah York in the credits for various reasons that she explains here), Betsy Baker (Linda) and various crew-members such as FX-man Greg Nicotero (who worked on both sequels) and contains praise and opinions and insight from the likes of Eli Roth, Edgar Wright and Texan genre-writer Joe Bob Briggs. The documentary is liberally interspersed with on-set and location footage, goofs and rehearsals which reveal the fun and the antics, as well as the sheer bloody hard work that went into making the film. The anecdotes come thick and fast, firmly supporting a lot of the legends that fans have always known about and refuting virtually nothing at all. Particularly interesting is the section on the film's second coming with its triumphant impact on videotape, but this whole thing is thoroughly entertaining, perfectly frank and fun-but-fascinating. This would be retro-documenting at its best ... if we had had some participation from Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, though.
The Evil Dead: Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor is an hour-long, folks, and one heck of a lot of the movie told again from different camera angles, alternate takes and extended footage. Basically a lot of outtakes strung together in a seamless montage, replete with clapperboards snapping. Now, hang on a moment, isn't that the naughty tree branch violating Ellen Sandweiss on-location - the very thing she says happened in post-production and she wasn't even aware of until she saw the premier ... with her mum? Hmmm. All in all, more great stuff that fans will surely lap up.The Ladies Of The Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell lasts for 28 minutes and features the cast, sans Scotty, sitting and chatting in a very cordial and interesting group reminiscence. Lots of fine stories brought to light here. And I'm definitely liking those ladies - well two of them - more than I ever did in the film itself!
Discovering The Evil Dead goes on for 13 minutes and is a chronicle of how Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell from UK's Palace Pictures first encountered this soon-to-be cult phenomenon and agreed to take it on-board. This offers a smart insight into how low budget independent horror films find distribution and the gambles that are made and the tricks that are pulled. Great imagery of the UK poster and video artwork, plus we get to see that wonderful old Palace Video Presents logo-clip. They discuss the audacity of releasing the film theatrically and on video at the same time, and, obviously make reference to the horrendous Video Nasty farrago in which Palace actually went to court, Sam Raimi flew over to the UK to defend his film against allegations of obscenity ... and Great Britain, fuelled by the tabloids, went collectively mad. Boy, I remember this period like it was yesterday. And, as bizarre as it sounds for a horror-junkie like me, it was fantastic. There was nothing like getting your hands on a banned video or, better yet, the fully uncut version of a film from abroad. The DPP even gave you a list of the nastiest, grimmest things out there for you to go out and collect. Cheers, chumps!
Unconventional is a 19-minute relaxed discussion between the cast, this time including Scotty (Hal Delrich - yay!) and Ted Raimi, as they sit and ponder on the convention circuit and the fan-base that they, as well as many other fantasy personalities, have to endure in their capacity as screen icons. This is another terrific little featurette because it deals with something that has become, especially in America, a force to be reckoned with - the retro publicity machine that won't let old and possibly forgotten stars, movies and TV shows fade away.
At The Drive-In (12 minutes) is yet another panel for the cast and crew of the film as they endure a Q & A session in Chicago. Man, I'm liking both Ellen and Theresa - great MILFs there, fellers! This is a frothy and amusing little session that tells you zip about the film, but offers a bit of that convention fun that they were all discussing earlier.
Reunion Panel (31 minutes) is, yep - you guessed it - another panel of Q & A and reminiscence overtaken by impromptu frivolity and complete irreverence. This one is from 2005 and is hosted, rather dumbly, by AICN's Capone.
The Book Of The Dead: The Other Pages (1.57 mins) is an extended version of Ash exploring the ancient, flesh-bound tome revealing more crazy and disturbing illustrations for our delectation, including a ghastly looking double-page spread covered by the peeled skin from a human hand. Now that's what I call a bookmark!
Make-Up Test lasts for just over a minute and shows us a try-out for a stop-motion head disintegrating. Nice.
The Still Gallery contains a host of behind-the-scenes shots, make-up tests and a couple of conceptual sketches. I expected a little more, to be honest, but this is still good to have.
Plus we the Theatrical Trailer and four TV Spots
Overall, this is a wonderful collection for fans, but the nagging thing is still the lack of input from Sam Raimi. Other than the commentary - which is brilliant, of course - and frequent footage and stills from the film's production, he is completely absent.
One of the most infamous horror films of all time gets its long-awaited Blu-ray release, and in a real turn-up for the books (of the Dead), we receive a director approved transfer that genuinely will be a crowd-pleaser. Authentic, grain-retaining, well-detailed and more colourful, The Evil Dead looks marvellously film-like and faithful. Plus, contention-aside, the cropped widescreen transfer is not an improvement on the original 1.33:1 full-frame image, although it still looks great, so all those initial reservations about Anchor Bay can be swept away. Even the sound-mix is a delight. Nothing too controversial added and nothing taken away, the lossless surround track adds greatly to the atmosphere and helps render some of those stingers that we all know so well with much greater emphasis, and any remix that can make this lunatic sound design fun has just got to be applauded.
The film remains an absolute classic. Inventive, imaginative, bravura and ferocious, Raimi's obsessive horror-homage is all these things and more. He may have refined the idea considerably for the sequel, inarguably maturing as a filmmaker in every aspect, but the rawness and ramshackle nature of the original guarantees a barbaric and remorseless attitude that utterly refuses to play by the rules. He may only have wanted to splash blood all over the screen, but he ended up creating a genre icon and an entire mythology to boot. Infectious thrills and chills, giddy levels of gore and violence, and a performance from Bruce Campbell that actually grows as the film rockets along - you are seeing a star in the making - The Evil Dead is the out-and-out “horror” film of the series ... and it still packs a helluva punch.
It is easy to sit here and say that seeing the film in hi-def and with lossless sound is like experiencing it for the first time - and, of course, it isn't as devastating as that - but, man, it comes close! “The Ultimate Experience In Gruelling Terror” is still just as gruelling as it ever was ... but now it looks and sounds much better. The Evil Dead comes very highly recommended, folks!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.33
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