Evil Dead II: 25th Anniversary Edition (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits Sam Raimi's manically awesome classic on Blu-ray...again...
Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) take a romantic getaway to a seemingly abandoned, rundown cabin in the woods. On the first night Ash discovers a tape recorder, featuring the esteemed Professor Knowby (John Peaks) reading incantations from Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. While playing the recordings Ash unwittingly unleashes an evil force that possesses Linda, and the cabin itself. Meanwhile, Knowby’s daughter Annie (Sarah Berry) and her research partner Ed Getley (Richard Domeier) journey to the cabin to discuss their latest findings.
Most fans and critics would probably mark Evil Dead II as the Ne Plus Ultra example of Sam Raimi’s special brand of energetic filmmaking. Arguments could be levied in favour of Army of Darkness, The Quick and the Dead, Dark Man and even Drag Me to Hell, but for the most part Evil Dead II is the reigning king. It’s a practically critic-proof film thanks to a built-in cult fan-base, and simplistic and transparent ambition that leaves possible analysis more or less subjectively taste based. But the enduring beauty of Evil Dead II is the manner it successfully transcends fan-bases, leading it to the unlikely position of being loved by a large cross-section of the movie-going public. Squeamish types can usually handle its cartoonish violence a little better than the slightly more gruesome gore of the original Evil Dead, and can agree that the comedy is more obvious this time around. Those that find the Three Stooges extremes of Army of Darkness a little off-putting (most passing fans, and younger fans probably don’t know that when it was released Army of Darkness wasn’t particularly loved by the fan community) usually find the more even mix of horror and comedy of Evil Dead II appealing. Army of Darkness’ one-liners are slightly more quotable, but Bruce Campbell’s stardom (B-stardom, which is occasionally better in the long run than A-stardom) was certainly cemented here, and lines like ‘Give me back my hand’ and ‘Uh huh, that’s right, who’s laughing now’ will almost always get a positive response in mixed company.
Personally, I place Evil Dead II in the middle of a series of ‘80s horror/comedy hybrids. Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator is probably the best of the type, featuring the smartest script, the best one-liners, the most well constructed characters, and a surprising control of dramatic tone as well. Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead has a wonderfully anarchic, often joyously nihilistic attitude, and a fun mythology. Peter Jackson’s Braindead ( Dead Alive), which is a bit of a cheat considering it was actually released in the early ‘90s, fulfills the grossest of the gross-out horror/comedy expectations, and has great romantic comedy elements to boot. Evil Dead II is sort of the ‘id’ movie of the bunch. It works through its unflappable energy, its child-like sense of humour, and its reptilian-brain approach to purely visual filmmaking. It’s not the funniest of the bunch, and it features possibly the weakest screenplay (about a third of the film is devoted to retracing the first film, and from there Raimi and co-writer Scott Spiegel kind of retread the same gags), but even Peter Jackson can’t find the same utter joy in the low-budget filmmaking process. It isn’t the most refined production, but it’s excitable, cheerful, and downright avant-garde, and outside of some of Sam Raimi’s other films there’s very little to accurately compare it to.
It’s possible that the only two films that have been re-released more times on digital format are the first Evil Dead, and Army of Darkness, but thanks to a changeover of rights ownership from Anchor Bay to Lionsgate Evil Dead II is the first film in the trilogy that has seen more than one region A Blu-ray release. The Anchor Bay disc was part of the studio’s first run of Blu-ray discs, and was, by most accounts, just barely an update over the studio’s last DVD release. Lionsgate's disc is apparently a new remaster, but I personally have no real proof of this to go on. The basic format specs for both discs match (AVC, MPEG-4), but there are some minor improvements. Unfortunately I don’t have the ability to take screen caps, so my comparison between the two releases is going to be a bit vague, and based on a quick run-through of both discs on my TV (meaning my memory between images might not be the most trustworthy). Overall Evil Dead II isn’t exactly the best candidate for a massive HD overhaul – it was shot on the cheap, mostly in the dark, and Raimi was likely not all that concerned with the clarity of the image – but this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer represents a decent showing, and is probably the best you’ve ever seen the film look, assuming you weren’t present for first run releases.
My biggest fear is cases like these is always is that the people behind the HD restoration will mess with digital noise reduction, overuse sharpening techniques, and fiddle with the colour timing to make the film appear more ‘modern’. I’m happy to say I noticed no major issues with DNR, colour timing, or other digital tinkering here. The Anchor Bay Blu-ray had some definite problems with mushy backgrounds and over-sharpening artefacts, specifically edge enhancement. This transfer is actually quite clear, and features an uptake in background detail sharpness, but also appears naturally soft and grainy. This softness and graininess is a bit inconsistent, but not nearly as inconsistent as, say, Universal’s Army of Darkness release. The clarity doesn’t do the weaker effects any favours, though I found that the obvious nature of the matte paintings quite charming. Colour quality is improved as well, but this is mostly apparent during the brief daylight scenes, which feature rich blue skies and lush green vegetation. Once the film moves indoors and situates itself in a nighttime palette, only occasional warm elements pop – the orange and blue contrasts as Ash leaves the work shed after chopping up Linda’s possessed body, or the red of the blood and chainsaw butt – but the most apparent improvement here is mostly found in the more solid nature of the hues, and the more natural appearance of stuff like skin tones, along with some of the cooler outdoor set blues. Black levels are a bit muddy in utter darkness, or when Raimi is messing with frame rates, but are generally crisper than those of the Anchor Bay release. The grainiest and generally weakest sequences are those that feature a lot of stop motion animation, which isn’t surprising at all. I’m pretty sure this stuff is shot on smaller format film. There are some noticeable and sizable chunks of dirt on some of these shots, but not a lot elsewhere on the transfer, save maybe some minor jitter issues.
Some fans may be disappointed by the lack of an open matte 1.33:1 option, but unlike the original Evil Dead, this film was really meant to be seen widescreen matted.
This new release features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 codec, which to my ears is a minor improvement over Anchor Bays PCM 5.1 sound, at least in terms of overall volume levels. Though made relatively cheaply, and 25 years old, Evil Dead II is actually a great candidate for 5.1 remixing, despite being originally released in single channel mono sound. From what my ears can tell me this is the same basic mix found on the various Anchor Bay releases, which includes a handful of awkward spreading effects, and is still a centered affair, but for the most part the surround enhancement is well executed, and makes sense for the film. Raimi and his sound designers love playing with dynamic extremes, and the loudest of the loud moments (often accompanying a scare) are heavily layered. The layering leads to some pretty big crowding problems, and some likely unintended reverb. The surround adjustments work best when loudness lasts longer, as heard in sequences of the unseen force charging, the sequence where blood erupts from the walls, or the following sequence where various household items start laughing maniacally. The best use of the stereo and surround channels comes during a rush of abstract noise around the 45-minute mark, and this directional movement works very well. The sound quality during dialogue heavy sequences, specifically those were people are conversing, can be a bit of an issue. The set captured dialogue is a bit tinny, occasionally flat, and incidental sound effects are not always well mixed during such scenes, sometimes overpowering the words with unfortunate crackle. There isn’t much in the way of distortion here though, and I assume there just isn’t much that can be done with original material. My only real complaint pertains to Joseph LoDuca’s musical score, which I’m considering too flat, centered, and generally quiet on the track. I find it hard to believe there weren’t any available stereo musical masters available. I could also do with perhaps a little more LFE involvement overall, but there’s not a lot to be done with a mono master.
Besides minor improvements in video and audio quality, the real reason for fans to double (triple, quintuple) dip on this release is the bevy of new extras. These start with a familiar commentary track featuring director/writer Sam Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and special make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero. This track was recorded way back when for Anchor Bay’s second DVD release, and is still among my personal favourites. It’s not the most informative track (surprisingly enough Campbell is far and away the best historical factoid spewer), or even the most consistent track (there are some uncomfortable silences), but it’s a fun group gathering, and the participants are clearly having a great time watching the film.
The new extras begin with Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead II (98:00, HD), a seven part retrospective documentary. Fans won’t learn a lot that they didn’t already know, but there are interviews with cast and crew that haven’t previously participated in such things, and the overall production of the doc is top-notch. ‘Dead by Dawn’ covers the impact of the first film, the flop that was Crimewave, developing the screenplay, Stephen King’s influence, and problems getting the rights to the footage from the original film for the recap. ‘The Chosen Ones’ mostly covers the acting process (and since it’s such a small cast, every actor gets a piece), including the fun/torture of production, and casting. ‘Dead Effects’ covers mostly the trials and tribulations of film’s make-up and physical effects. ‘Madman Sam’ is a general look at Raimi’s direction process, and allows for everyone’s opinion on the man. ‘Re-Animated’ covers the various stop-motion animation and prop artistries of the film. ‘Method to Madness’ covers Raimi’s silly storyboards, mass firings of the crew early in the production, and some of the more wacky cinematographic practices. ‘Rosebud’ covers the editing process, including not putting the film up for an MPAA rating, which lead to the creation of ‘Rosebud Releasing’, which helped get the film advertising, and the post-release reaction (Richard Domeier rather brilliantly compares it to a classic rock album that future generations will continue to revisit).
Interview subjects include Bruce Campbell, crew member/filmmaker Josh Becker, co-writer Scott Spiegel, studio manager David Goodman, effects artists Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, Aaron Sims, Shannon Shea and the previously elusive Mark Shostrom, stop-motion animators Tom Sullivan, Doug Beswick, Rick Catizone and Brian Rae, miniature supervisor Jim Belohovek, production designer Philip Duffin, DP Peter Denning, editor Kaye Davis, and cast members Ted Raimi, Sarah Berry, Richard Domeier, Danny Hicks and Kassie Wesley. Notably missing are Raimi and Tapert.
Next up is Cabin Fever (30:00, HD encoded, VHS quality), a five part raw look at the film’s production. This footage, which is supplied from Greg Nicotero’s personal stash, is seen throughout the documentary, and is available in a smaller capacity on previous DVD releases. It pertains to the make-up processes, and includes some brief glimpses at deleted effects heavy sequences. Road to Wadesboro (8:10, HD) is a comparison trip back to the original shooting locations with filmmaker/ Evil Dead II propmaster Tony Elwood.
From here we come on to Evil Dead II: Behind the Screams (17:10, SD), a Tom Sullivan narrated photo slide-show, and The Gore, The Merrier (31:50, SD), a shorter behind the scenes featurette culled from the same footage, and interviews with Kurtzman, Berger and Nicotero. Both of these were part of the original Anchor Bay special edition release. Things end with the original trailer (HD), four still galleries, and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
Evil Dead II is fun personified, and it will continue to endure in all the right circles. In another 25 years scholars will let go of the ‘80s horror basics, start comparing it to Marx Brothers films, and their students will write epic papers on the film’s effect on generations of filmmakers. This new Blu-ray release features a decent video upgrade over the Anchor Bay Blu-ray, and a minor sound upgrade (at least on my system, which doesn’t handle PCM as well as DTS-MA), but the major cause for yet another re-purchase is found in the extras, which feature all previous release extras, along with a very well made new 98-minute retrospective documentary. Assuming you can find it at a decent price I highly recommend this release, despite the fact that I’m kind of sick of re-buying the film myself.
* Note: The below images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 15th November 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Director, Star, Co-Writer and Effects Supervisor Commentary, Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead II, Cabin Fever, Road to Wadesboro, Evil Dead II: Behind the Screams, The Gore the Merrier, Image Galleries, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Dan Hicks, Sarah Berry, Kassie Wesley, Richard Domeier, Ted Raimi
Genre: Comedy and Horror
Length: 87 minutes
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