Evil Dead II (UK - BD RB)
Marcus Doidge revisits Evil Dead II with Optimum's new Blu-ray release. Groovy!
Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) is back, for Sam Raimi’s sequel to 1981’s Evil Dead. Evil Dead II picks up straight after the events of the original Evil Dead (with a little seven minute recount of the original) and Ash is still battling the evil force that was unleashed from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (or ‘Book of the Dead’).
Ash is alone after cutting his possessed girlfriend Linda’s (Denise Bixler) head off and burying her body outside the seemingly abandoned cabin they were trying to take a romantic vacation in. There’s no way out of the forest now the only bridge is destroyed and Ash’s battles alone to survive as the evil forces within the cabin as they go into overdrive.
Just as Ash is on the brink of insanity and after he’s had to sever his own possessed hand off with a chainsaw, Annie (Sarah Berry), the daughter of the cabin’s owner, arrives along with her research partner Ed (Richard Domeier), as well as Jake (Danny Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Kassie DePaiva), but more importantly Annie has some more newly discovered pages of Necronomicon that just might be the key to stopping the evil dead.
I hadn’t seen Evil Dead II in what seemed far too long. In fact I don’t think I’d sat down to watch any of the Evil Dead movies for at least ten years, certainly not in their entirety anyway. I didn’t buy into the multiple DVD re-releases over the last few years and I’m not that sure why, considering there’s been so many in pretty boxes or with features that looked interesting. It’s just one of those anomalies that just never happened while I was watching other things.
So getting Evil Dead II on Blu-ray to review, meant the time had finally come to go back to the cabin in the woods and this time with my wife in tow, who incidentally hadn’t ever seen the movie before, despite being a huge fan of Bruce Campbell from recent outings such as Bubba Ho-Tep. Could it be as good as it was in my youth? Would it still work after all this time? Would my wife like it? The answer to all of these questions was a fat resounding yes. Of course, it’s Evil Dead II!!!
Has Raimi ever been this exciting since? I mean I love many of his later movies— Simple Plan and Spider-man 2 are incredible pieces of work and think he’s a director that manages to bring his own ideas to whatever genre he tackles—but with Evil Dead II you have a frantic genius at work. Seriously, he doesn’t miss a trick. Every frame is full of life, every trick in the book is used to full effect, every single prop seems to be there for a reason, every manic moment is followed by an even more manic moments and despite the fact Evil Dead so often falls under the banner of ‘Horror’, have you ever had so much fun in a genre that’s meant to frighten the be-jesus out of you?
The thing is, on the surface and to anyone who goes into this movie not willing to join in with the fun or knowing anything about it, Evil Dead II probably seems like a crude silly mess and unworthy of its cult status, but it’s exactly that which makes it such an incredible piece of work. There have been many attempts to capture the frenzy that is Evil Dead and there have been many failures. They feel too stupid or lose momentum or take themselves too seriously, failing to capture the balance between being going totally out there and still managing to hold your attention for the entire ride. It’s actually incredibly hard to pull off, but Raimi just seems to do it at ease here. Thanks in large part to the one and only Bruce Campbell.
For all the silly faces, the over reactions and slap stick hi-jinks, Campbell keeps you locked in. He smashed through the wall of un-cool into a place that’s all his own and makes the character of Ash shine through as the hero, whilst never losing the feeling that he’s a guy so totally out of his depth. He makes all of this insanity look easy and his performance is as fearless as it is wild. In fact with recent rumours that an Evil Dead remake will be Campbell-less, it’s hard to believe that it can be anything but a failure without him.
Evil Dead II holds up after all these years and it still somehow manages to provide a fantastically no holds barred depiction of what might occur if the dead really wanted to mess with us. It’s manic, it’s messy and it’s borderline insane much of the time but hey, isn’t that why we all love it so much?
So, Evil Dead II hits Blu-ray. What HD goodness can it provide us? Well after the opening seven or eight minutes I was pretty close to concluding that it was absolutely nothing. The image is an absolute mess. Hazy, muddy, dirty, everything you don’t want from an HD upgrade. I was worried that this was going to be pretty much the worst excuse for a Blu-ray release I was yet to see, but then something changes. When Ash comes back around in the sun-lit woods and the bright lighting fills the screen, things start to become noticeable. Skin tones are pretty good, colours come to life and the dirty image just seems to disappear. Not completely, but noticeably.
As the movie moves on, you begin getting used to the SFX shots looking bad like they always have and the transfer still suffers in the dark throughout, but the image still manages moments that impress. The colour and lighting on this Blu-ray really do show themselves off. The bright blue of Ash’s shirt and the pale yellow of Annie’s top make this almost feel like a brightly techni-coloured 60s musical and the lashings of goo and gore that cover our characters all seem to have layers of different thickness and colour and I certainly haven’t seen Evil Dead II looking this good.
Overall this is a tough one to call. I don’t think it is ever going to be a movie that gets awards for being the best looking movie on our TV screens—HD or not. The slow motion shots look bad, the stop motion work is as apparent as it ever was and many of Raimi’s visual tricks still look as messy as they did back in ’87, but overall this doesn’t really matter, it’s what makes Evil Dead II …well… Evil Dead II.
Do I think it’s a good Blu-ray transfer? It has its moments, but generally, no not really. Do I care? No, not really, but then I’m the guy who thinks the pirate copy I had of Return of the Jedi as a kid has the finest depiction of Jabba’s palace that no amount of HD upgrading is ever going to capture, so this one is really gonna come down to what you want and expect from the release.
This is the real let down here. In Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 this is a pretty standard affair. It’s mostly all in the front and the rears are only really used to make some loud noises louder. There are no dynamics to the mix or anything to make the HD jump worthwhile. In fact the only use of realistic surround arrives in the ‘it’s so quiet’ scene, where it bounces around the speakers but this is so forced and quick—not exactly a show off audio spectacular.
Well first up is the commentary with Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, co-writer Scott Spiegel and make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero, which is a blast. There are lots of laughs, lots of fun stories and it really proves to be a worthy extra. Not being a huge Evil Dead II guy, I wasn’t 100% sure if this is commentary from previous releases, but after routing around the net I think it’s the one that came with the latex Book of the Dead edition which I’m told is a fan favourite and I can understand why.
Also, we have the short documentary ‘The Gore, The Merrier’ (31.58), which is also ported over from the latex Book of the Dead. I’d never seen this one and I found it very watchable. Having the special effects technicians and make-up artists telling their stories whilst intercutting with raw footage of the making of the movie was a lot of fun.
It’s a real shame there wasn’t a big retrospective documentary on here with all the faces as that would really have made this a great purchase, but if history has taught us anything, I’d imagine this won’t be the last Evil Dead II Blu-ray release we’ll get. So here’s to hoping.
Evil Dead II isn’t the best Blu-ray around, but with the slight enhancements, which are noticeable and on the whole impressive, this is probably the best Evil Dead II has looked so far.
I’m not sure that anyone outside of the hardcore fan base is going to rush out to get this one, what with the lack of extras and the lack of loving care taken on the upgrade. There are some reasonable prices out there with online retailers but even that might not be enough to contend against the chances of better future editions. Frankly this does sort of feel like a filler before one eventually arrives, once Blu-ray really starts to take off.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 22nd September 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Commentary, Making of
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell
Genre: Fantasy and Horror
Length: 84 minutes
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