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EVIL DEAD II
Book of the Dead

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Richard Domeier, Denise Bizler
Director:  Sam Raimi
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review
Length:  84 Minutes
Release Date:  September 27, 2005

"THERE'S SOMETHING DOWN HERE!!"

Film ****

Has there ever been a more perfect Halloween party movie than Evil Dead II?  I can't think of one.  When writer/director Sam Raimi and star/co-producer Bruce Campbell re-teamed for further adventures of the beloved but inept Ash in a haunted wood, they really seemed to go for the gusto, creating a masterpiece of terror and comedy with an amazing and relentless sense of energy and fun.

Evil Dead was made for a few thousand dollars, was more of a straightforward horror flick, and became something of a must-see cult classic in the early 80s, and remains one to this day.  It garnered enough attention that Raimi was able to raise $3 million for a sequel.  Unable to use footage from his first movie to recap the story, Raimi chose instead to re-imagine the story a bit.  When the movie starts, there isn't a group of five kids heading into danger...it's just Ash and his doomed gal pal Linda (Bixler).

They arrive at an old cabin for a romantic getaway, but when Ash finds a tape recording of recited passages from the ancient and evil Book of the Dead and plays it, it awakens a bloodthirsty presence in the forest.  Soon Linda is gone, but not for good.  Actually, for worse...she comes back and begins Ash's frantic nightmare of horror.

The spirits of the dead start to torment Ash in furiously frightening and funny ways, leaving the hapless hero often scrambling through terrifying situations with recklessness and clumsiness.  If the Three Stooges had ever made a comedy where the screen ran red with blood, it might have looked like this. 

In the meantime, the daughter of the explorer on the tape Annie (Berry) and her boyfriend Ed (Domeier) are on their way to the cabin to help her father with their work.  They join up with Jake (Hicks) and his gal Bobbie Jo (Wesley) when the road to the cabin gets a little deconstructed, and arrive to find Ash, the story of what happened to Annie's parents, and an unwelcome visitor in the cellar.

Annie happens to be carrying some pages that could vanquish the evil...but the relentless assault of the evil dead will make you wonder if she can possibly get to them before they get to her and her band of rapidly decreasing friends!

I was quite excited when I first heard Sam Raimi would man the helm of the Spider-Man movies, and that was largely because of this movie.  Despite a low budget and not much in the way of studio resources if any, Raimi managed to create an unforgettable visual style with energy and style.  His camerawork is stunning...watch the way it mimics the 'force' in the woods, and chases Ash at top speeds, going through the back window of a car and through the front, into the cabin, from room to room and back out again.  The movement is exhilarating...it's like being on a virtual roller coaster.

Bruce Campbell really became a cult fave with his turn at Ash in this film.  His skill at physical comedy is impressive, as is his willingness to endure the outrageous at the hand of his friend and director Raimi.  Ash's ability to go from cowering and screaming to tall and heroic says something about the everyman in all of us, even if we'd never dream of delivering the cheesy kiss-off lines he spews forth!

This is a true horror classic...imaginative, scary, hilarious and unforgettable.  It's the film that cemented Sam Raimi's reputation and put him on the road from a B movie king to an A list Hollywood director.  And it paved the way for an even more outrageous installment in Army of Darkness...but that's a story for another time.

Video ***1/2

"Chainsaw...?"

This new high definition transfer was supervised by Sam Raimi, and is the best I've ever seen this movie look, even with a pair of previous DVD incarnations.  The main difference is everything just seems a little cleaner, as though the restorers took one more swipe at getting spots and residue off the negatives.  The images are brighter than before, and the detail level is strong in both light and dark scenes.  Very little grain or aging artifacts are apparent...another top-notch effort from Anchor Bay.

Audio ***1/2

"Let's go down into the cellar and carve ourselves a witch."

Anchor Bay does the best job of remastering older classics for modern digital sound technology, and this is an explosive 5.1 offering.  Spoken words and quieter moments are focused through the center channel, and sound a bit thin here and there, but the actions sequences are dynamic, expansive and make full use of all of your speakers.  One sequence has an unseen entity making horrific sounds while the casts' eyes dart from corner to corner...they're following the sound as it jumps around from channel to channel.  Smooth, clean, and great fun.

Features ***1/2

"GROOVY."

The best extra is the commentary track with Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, co-writer Scott Spiegel and make-up artist Greg Nicotero.  It's an absolute hoot to listen to, and informative as well.  Bruce Campbell has to be the clown prince of the DVD commentary.

There is also a "Behind the Screams" featurette, which is essentially a collection of production photos narrated by special effects man Tom Sullivan.  "The Gore the Merrier" looks back at the film through the eyes of the effects and make-up guys.  Rounding out is a trailer, stills gallery, and talent bios, but that's not including the package...a rubbery, eerie replica of the Book of the Dead complete with pages of original artwork and an eye that screams when you poke it!  The only complaint about these "book" passages is the little plastic envelope in the back to hold the disc...my disc was already scratched the first time I took it out.

Summary:

Evil Dead II is not only the rare sequel that surpasses its original, but also a bona fide classic for anyone who likes to scream til they laugh or laugh til they scream.  This Book of the Dead edition from Anchor Bay is the best way to enjoy Sam Raimi's maniacal masterpiece in your home.  Enjoy...or we and old double-barrel here will blow your butts to kingdom come.  See if we don't.  ;-)

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