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THE EVIL DEAD
Blu-Ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bruce Campbell, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Ellen Sandweiss, Sarah York
Director:  Sam Raimi
Audio:  Dolby True HD 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1, Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review
Length:  85 Minutes
Release Date:  August 31, 2010

“Her eyes…what about her eyes…for God’s sake, WHAT HAPPENED TO HER EYES?!”

Film ***1/2  

The Evil Dead is one of the quintessential cult horror films, and also one of the best.  It’s the kind of movie that proves that small budgets and major duress can’t stand in the way of a few dedicated people with great imaginations, a lot of faith, and the chutzpah to make a unique mark in a genre that often fails to get respect.

Sam Raimi was 18 when he conceived and wrote the film, and 20 when he started filming it.  Raising money was a consecutive string of headaches, shooting went on much longer than expected, as did editing and sound work.  It took four years for the film to finally find distribution, and even more years to find its loyal audience.  Stephen King praised it, and censors feared it.  Success (and sequels) followed, but there’s just something about the first one that keeps attracting horror fans generation after generation.

The simple plot has two guys and three gals heading off to a God-awful shack in the middle of the woods for a little vacation.  The creepy setting gets positively spooky when Ash (Campbell) finds the Book of the Dead in the basement, along with a tape recording of translations from it.  When played, the quintet awakens a horrible presence in the woods that wreaks deadly havoc on their best laid plans.

The story isn’t the attraction so much as the style.  Campbell’s book includes some of Sam Raimi’s ingenious yet simple diagrams for his camera tracks:  how they could smash through windows, track smoothly without steadicam technology, and even race through the woods at high speeds, over obstacles and through doors…it created one of the genre’s most menacing presences, essentially putting us in the point of view of the evil stalking force.

As the film builds, so does Raimi’s visual style.  The final stretch with Ash is a hodgepodge of clever imagery.  His movements are tracked from the ceiling, or in rotating arcs that make every shot askew.  The final shot is a horror movie landmark, which I won’t spoil for you.  But if you’ve never seen the movie before, chances are you’ll back the disc up at least once to see it again before you stop it.

Raimi, of course, parlayed his humble beginnings into an impressive career as a Hollywood A-list director.  But I’ve never personally believed his heart was as much in pictures like For the Love of the Game.  I have to think it’s still out in that ramshackle cabin, where lack of money, time and resources only served to fuel his creative fire.  Not many artists could create what he did under those conditions.  The Evil Dead is a standard every young, poor hungry filmmaker can try to shoot for.  Raimi and crew proved it could be done.

Video:  Full Frame ***1/2, Anamorphic Widescreen **1/2

Anchor Bay allows viewers a choice here...watch in the original 16 mm 1.33:1 format, or an enhanced widescreen.  'Enhanced' seems to mean just blowing the normal frame up until the edges reach the side of your HD TV.  As such, A) you lose some of the intended image on the top and bottom of the picture, and B) the artificial increase in size means a lot more grain, texture and flaws are made apparent.

Full frame is the way this movie was shot and intended to be seen, and the high definition transfer done for it is quite remarkable.  I've seen this movie many, many times, and this is the best presentation I've come across.  The low budget and now quite old movie looks very good on Blu-ray, with clearer images and more solid coloring and definition.  There is some unavoidable grain here and there, especially in dark scenes, but nothing you haven't seen from this movie before, and certainly never on top of images this well-presented.  Very high marks!

Audio ***1/2

I'm not even sure what the original audio track for this movie sounded like, but I'm sure it was nothing like what's presented here in TrueHD sound.  WOW.  You can say some creative liberties were taken with the mixing, but all for the good.  In the early going, the film sounds about what you would expect...a bit thin in the dialogue department, nothing really happening on the rear stage or .1 channel, but wait until the evil awakes, then it's an all out assault on your ears.  The subwoofer rumbles and roars with menacing undertones, and the terror comes at you fast and full from every direction.  Kudos to Sam Raimi for creating a vision that so easily supported future audio technologies long before they ever existed.  This is a potent, dynamic and thoroughly fun listen.

Features ****

There have been many commentary tracks associated with this movie over the years, and for this Blu-ray release, we get a brand new one.  Yes, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell team up once again to discuss the film that launched all three of their careers.  They've said so much about the movie over the years that this time around, it's a bit less informative and a bit more like listening in on a reunion of old classmates.  For more details, you might want to seek out an earlier release commentary, but this one is still plenty fun.

Strangely enough, that's it for the Blu-ray disc.  Despite the storage capability of the format, for some bizarre reason, all the extras are placed onto a bonus DVD.  I wish I didn't have to switch back and forth, and there was really no technical reason for it, but there it is. 

Still, the features package is good, starting with a terrific documentary "One By One We Will Take You", a thorough look at the making of the film with the likes of Tapert and the three female leads, plus a bevy of modern fans including Eli Roth, Edgar Wright and more.  Curiously absent were Bruce and Sam.

There is also an 18 minute collection of unused footage, plus two featurettes, the first being “Discovering Evil Dead”, featuring the two men responsible for introducing the movie in England (on film and home video at the same time!), and how it grew from there.  The second is a group discussion with the ladies of the movie with Bruce Campbell. 

There is also an original trailer and 4 TV spots, each ending with a listing of the local Michigan theatres where it was playing 20 years ago (mostly drive-ins…go figure).  There's a panel discussion after an anniversary theatrical showing of the film featuring Rob Tapert and actresses Sarah York and Betsy Baker, other pages from the Book of the Dead, and a short effects and make-up test. 

Rounding out is a poster and stills gallery and some talent files.

Summary:

The Evil Dead is a welcome addition to my Blu-ray library.  This perennial fan favorite that put Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell on the map gets a very solid high definition makeover from the loving hands at Anchor Bay.  Enjoy!

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