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In the six years separating the first and second Evil Dead films, the cast and creative crew hadn't had much luck elsewhere in the film business. With only one real asset on their resume, they felt it was time for another Evil Dead feature. If you've been never gotten around to picking up Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II on DVD or you've been holding out for a satisfiable edition, this is your chance to own a definite presentation. If you've never seen or heard of Evil Dead or it's wacky sequels - you're in for a one heck of a good time. Even if you own the Anchor Bay Special Edition from several years ago, you may still want to upgrade.

Evil Dead II: Book of the Dead Edition
Feature
Ashley Williams (Ash from here on) and his girlfriend set out for a peaceful weekend retreat to a cabin located in the heart of a forest. Upon arrival, Ash finds an old tape recorder housing a taped diary of an archaeologist documenting his discovery of the Necronomicon, or Book of the Dead. Unfortunately for Ash, the tape also contains passages of the book read aloud, which awaken an evil presence in the nearby woods. Ash manages to survive his first night trapped inside the cabin by the evil force while his girlfriend does not. The evil somehow manages to surpass the day and jump right back into night again and by next morning, Ash will have come to know the merciless wrath of what he has helped awaken.

If in 1987 someone had proposed to you a sequel to the original Evil Dead that mixed horror and comedy, you probably would've scoffed at the idea. I know I would have. But somehow it comes together here in unforgettable fashion. One minute we can have a sequence lifted out of a Three Stooges short and the next, a scene of horrifying gore and tension. This is the surprising achievement of Evil Dead II.

It's important to approach this film with an open mind because if you're expecting a cookie cutter sequel of the first film, you'll be sorely disappointed. Evil Dead II is a difficult film to classify as it retells the original while losing a few characters and then continues from where the first film left off. If this fairly large breach in continuity will bother you, this might not be a sequel you'll want to acknowledge.

Evil Dead II: Book of the Dead Edition
Bruce Campbell is the main attraction of Evil Dead II, carrying most of the film (and the entire second act) solely on his performance. I find it amazing that ten and twenty minute chunks of a film with one performer (decapitated girlfriends not included) merely reacting to the horror around him are as entertaining as Campbell makes them to be. It's not difficult to see why he's achieved stardom through the Ash character, becoming such a visual icon here using sawed off shotguns and chainsaws as though they were extra limbs. It's because of this film that Ash now ranks high in the pop culture consciousness along with Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers.

Video
Evil Dead II is served up in beautiful anamorphic 1:85:1 widescreen and 1:33:1 fullscreen. This is the third offering of Evil Dead II on DVD and after the previous THX transfer of the Anchor Bay edition, I didn't think it was going to get much better short of some miraculous achievement in video transfer technology. Anchor Bay could've easily re-released that same video package from the THX disc and I would've been satisfied.

They have decided to top the previous release and called on director Sam Raimi to supervise a new high definition transfer and the result? Jaw-droppingly good quality. Anything left over from the previous release is cleaned up and short of a few minor scratches I couldn't find much that needed to be cleaned up. In my opinion, this transfer is just Anchor Bay polishing their own gold. This is how DVDs should be done, plain and simple. Maybe if more directors gave a crap enough to supervise their films DVD presentations, this could become more of a standard.

Evil Dead II: Book of the Dead Edition
Audio
The disc has two options for your ears: a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and Dolby Digital 2.0 track. I found the 5.1 track just as enjoyable as it was last go around. The only test of a good Evil Dead mix in my book is how it makes the evil brooding symphony of voices that chases people through the woods sound on my equipment. The 5.1 passes the test with flying colours as I kept peering over my shoulder to make sure some evil spirit wasn't hovering behind my couch. Score and dialogue are very easy to distinguish, a feat that puts the VHS editions to shame.

I am left with some confusion as to the absence of a DTS track, like the one featured on the first Evil Dead's Book of the Dead edition because it too, sounded magnificent. But I've got no real complaint here, just wondering why the change.

Extras
Aside from the breathtakingly accurate replica of the Necronomicon (or Book of the Dead) packaging that film designer Tom Sullivan personally created, the disc has a host of features that leaves little to be desired.

Evil Dead II: Book of the Dead Edition
I'll begin with the only feature to be found on this disc that isn't included on the previous special edition. A seventeen minute feature called 'Evil Dead II: Behind the Screams' is included to give you a deeper look at the film's production phase. It's really nothing more than series crewman Tom Sullivan narrating a large set of home photos. It's pretty entertaining, although it takes a back seat to an even more low-budget featurette on the disc called 'The Gore the Merrier'. This thirty one minute feature is comprised of mostly of old home movies from the set intercut with interviews. It's so much more effective and fun than an hour long retrospective documentary with talking heads could possibly be. From what's shown here, I would've given anything to be a fly on the wall on this particular movie set. But had I been a fly on that set I'd probably gravitated to the kayo syrup (fake blood) drenched body of Bruce Campbell and enjoyed a massive feasting.

If you regularly skip commentary tracks on DVDs because you just don't find it interesting to hear a director occasionally chime in with a comment like "Oh, the catering was fantastic on this day", don't skip over this one. It's a party with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegal and make up effects guru Greg Nicotero. I challenge you to find a more entertaining and informative (and funny) commentary on DVD (aside from the commentary tracks on the other Evil Dead films.)

Rounding out the extras is the theatrical trailer, a poster and still gallery, talent bios, and a slew of trailers for other Anchor Bay titles (several featuring Bruce Campbell.) This is an amazing example of how if done well enough, one disc is all you need to provide a quality presentation of a feature film and a satisfying look at how it was made. Good job, Anchor Bay.

Evil Dead II: Book of the Dead Edition
Overall
From packaging to technical presentation to supplemental features Anchor Bay has provided us with an ultimate edition of Evil Dead II, a film worthy of such good treatment. If you're still reading this I'm hoping you either already own it or have just returned to this browser window after having ordered it.


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