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The ‘Ultimate Experience in Grueling Horror’ finally makes its way to high definition disc, and I’m sure the only question on any reader’s mind is ‘is it worth buying this movie… again?’ Well, I’ll get to that in a second. Or better yet, skip this malarkey, and check out the Video section of this review, because I’m just copying and pasting my already unfocused personal story. If you want to read it again, be my guest.

 Evil Dead: Limited Edition
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, Halloween and Phantasm, these are all films I’ve struggled to review in the past, and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is yet another horror pop classic to add to that pile. There’s already more than one book on the shelves at your local neighbourhood Borders on the subject (God only knows how many more available on Amazon), horror magazines re-cover the movie almost every year, the film’s star (Bruce Campbell) has more fan-sites than any other actor on the internet, and DVD reviewers have to write something up every couple weeks when Anchor Bay releases a new collection. There is nothing I have to offer at this table, especially since I love the film. If I was lucky enough to hate The Evil Dead I might have something to say. Since no one’s going to read this part of my review anyway, I’ll take the time to tell my The Evil Dead on video story. Again.

Not to say that The Evil Dead doesn’t deserve its cult status, but its continued popularity on video defiantly stems from the fact that it wasn’t easy to find in the beginning. In the greater Tucson area there were probably only three or four copies total, and statistics state that the VHS release was the most commonly stolen tape in the entire country, so I didn’t even see the film until I was in High School. Collecting horror video was hard at the time because only popular and new tapes were put up for sale new, and used stores were regularly scouted by rabid collectors (I should know, I was a vulture myself). I could find Body Melt, I could find Manhattan Baby, I could even find The Mutilator, but Raimi’s original film eluded me for some time. The good news was the tape was easy to bootleg satisfactorily because the Thorn EMI release came in a clamshell and the inset was easy to photocopy, unlike full-box videos, which never looked right on the shelve when bootlegged. Of course, by the time I found a rental copy with an undamaged inset, Anchor Bay studios was releasing their own clamshell ‘special edition’ tape versions of various genre classics and not-so-classics. Their remastered The Evil Dead release actually sold out, and I had to special order one from a Suncoast.

 Evil Dead: Limited Edition
The Elite Laser Disc release was out of my league because I wasn’t able to afford a player, but as the story goes, DVD wasn’t far behind. Anchor Bay’s initial DVD release came without extras, but there were several different picture disc possibilities, but just before I bought the affordably priced disc Elite released their sought after Laser Disc on the new format. It took some searching, but I found a copy, and expended $30 bucks to buy it. Thanks to a later re-release, that disc is now worthless as a collectable. Then, following years of redistributing Army of Darkness on DVD, Anchor Bay realized they could probably do the same with the original film, and released the ‘Book of the Dead’ version, which had all of the Elite disc’s commentaries, plus two featurettes, one directed by Bruce Campbell himself. But the real selling point was the packaging, which was sculpted out of rubber to look like the monstrous Necronomicon by the book’s original designer. Then, realizing they had a bulk of documentary footage from the Chicago based Flashback weekend attended by most of the film’s actors, and that they hadn’t used the most common re-release DVD titling term yet, Anchor Bay released the three disc ‘Ultimate Edition’ release, which featured less impressive looking, but more sturdily built box.

 Evil Dead: Limited Edition

Video


Why would you ever want to own a no-budget, 30 year old, shot on 16mm film horror flick on Blu-ray disc? Because you need to own another copy of The Evil Dead, duh. Oh, and it is an improvement over the already pretty spectacular DVD release, if that’s the kind of thing that matters to you. Both the matted 1.85:1 and original 1.33:1 versions are included, and outside of framing they look pretty much the same to me. There is a slight overall clarity enhancement, but the major advantages are found in the colour vibrancy, and total lack of digital compression artefacts. There is a whole lot of grain on this transfer, and there should be as 16mm is a grainy format. That said, the granules are finer than they ever were in standard definition, and film artefacts are almost entirely absent from the image (I think I noticed one tracking line). Colour and light balance is similar to the most recent DVD version, which was a bit darker, and higher contrast than older versions. The black levels are perfectly deep, but not at the expense of the overall detail levels. Detail really aren’t much more impressive than the DVD versions, and consistency of detail is an issue, but again, there’s really nothing that can be done to make this material look any sharper. All the soft bits have always been soft. I’m pretty sure it’s just bad focus. Overall, this is as close as we’ll ever get to going back in time and watching the film its first time through the projector.
 
 Evil Dead: Limited Edition

Audio


Already gussied up with a THX certified DTS ES soundtrack for the last DVD release,, there isn’t a lot of room for improvement in the realms of lossless Dolby TrueHD. Technically speaking this track is louder and sharper, but not enough for most folks to notice. Raimi and crew did put a lot of effort into the film’s sound design, including entirely abstract effects (those ceiling beams are always killer), and an extremely professional Joe Laducca score, so the 5.1 remix isn’t entirely ridiculous, but it does seem a little overboard considering the revamp probably cost half the film’s entire budget. The loudest moments on the track are the demon force P.O.V.s, which will just about blow out the rear speakers and LFE if you aren’t careful. The directional effects aren’t particularly impressive, but stereo movement is effective, and the bass throbs without warbling. Incidental effects and dialogue sound a little canned, and generally lack on the fidelity front. I suppose we can’t expect such things to sound brand new without a redub, and redubs are inherently bad, so realistically complaining about such things is a little unrealistic. It’s actually refreshing to not have to deal with the artificial feel some surround revamps suffer, but don’t expect The Evil Dead to sound like Saving Private Ryan.

 Evil Dead: Limited Edition

Extras


We’ve got one new extra here guys—a brand new audio commentary featuring Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell all together in one room. Unfortunately it’s pretty much the same as the older Raimi/Tapert track, and not as fun as the original Campbell solo track, or the similar group track that went along with Evil Dead 2. Things start pretty dry, as the boys run through the difficulties of the business, and tell all the same stories they’ve told a million times before, but with a little less enthusiasm. Campbell starts to pick things up after about fifteen minutes, and starts acting as a much needed moderator, and a more detailed story of the production process develops. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard another commentary end this strongly after starting so dryly. Still not quite a replacement for those older tracks.

From here we move on to the DVD, which features extras from the previous Ultimate Edition DVD. ‘One by One We Will Take You’ (53:40) is a fine, entertaining and fast paced making of documentary. The doc tells the story in mostly chronological order using various cast and crew interviews and raw behind the scenes footage. After years of hearing about the film through its director, producer and star, it’s actually quite refreshing to get a different perspective on the behind the scenes tale. Obviously missing from the doc’s participants are director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell (oh yeah, and Hal Delrich, or whatever his real name is), but their presence isn’t really necessary considering the commentary tracks, and their places are filled by directors Eli Roth and Edgar Wright, and schlock movie expert Joe Bob Briggs. Briggs is an especially intelligent commentator, and points out the film’s historical and critical relevance, including the fact that Ash is one of the only successful male protagonists in modern horror. Roth and Wright don’t just gush; they critically point out what makes the film special, and take us through the film’s Video Nasty problems, including Raimi’s obscenity charges.

 Evil Dead: Limited Edition
This is followed by ‘Evil Dead: Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor’ (59:20), almost an hour of raw production footage, about twenty minutes of which was previous seen on the Elite disc, all anamorphically enhanced. Most of the footage is just outtakes (not blooper) and alternate takes, but some bits could be honestly considered ‘deleted scenes’. Only huge fans will have the tenacity to sit through nearly an hour this stuff without getting a little droopy-eyed, but having this stuff in one place is why digital media is a great archive system. The final minute look behind the stop motion effects is worth fast forwarding to if you find yourself bored.

The ‘Ladies of the Evil Dead’ featurette is nowhere to be found, but the counter featurette ‘The Ladies of Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell’ (28:50) is included. This is a sit down interview with Bruce and the girls that affords them the excuse to warmly complain about the Evil Dead experience. I laughed out loud repeatedly while watching it, even though some of the stories were already told on the commentaries and documentaries. ‘Discovering The Evil Dead’ (14:00) is a holdover from the ‘Book of the Dead’ collection. The little featurette covers the film’s British video sales, and the subsequent ‘Video Nasties’ problem. The story is a fascinating one, and probably should have been included as part of the disc’s more encompassing documentary

 Evil Dead: Limited Edition
This is followed by ‘Unconventional’ (19:30), a sort of ‘round table’ with all five actors and Ted Raimi (for whatever reason). There’s no interviewer here, though Campbell and Raimi, being the two biggest personalities in the room, tend to act as moderators. The groups musings on the convention process and its attendees is positively hilarious, and reminds me of Campbell’s short film on the subject Fanalysis, which appeared on the ‘Book of the Dead’ DVD release. The featurette was filmed at the Chicago Flashback Weekend a year I did not attend (bummer). ‘At the Drive-In’ (12:00) is Q and A with the cast from that same Flashback Weekend. It isn’t the kind of Q and A as you might think; the cast actually asked the audience questions about the film and gives them copies of the then latest version of the DVD. Campbell and Raimi again rule the roost, but the ladies and pseudo-Hal get a few lines in. Man I wish I would’ve gone in 2005. The panel Q and A, which was filmed the next day, called ‘Reunion Panel’ (31:20), is good fun because the actors handle the largely inane fan questions with fervour, piss, vinegar, and bitter sarcasm. The feature drags on a little long at thirty minutes, and there are a lot of repeated elements, but once you start the reunion based extra features you kind of want to finish them off. Campbell and Raimi’s dueling Ronald Regan impressions are the best bit.

 Evil Dead: Limited Edition
Oops, my bad, there’s one more new extra in this set, ‘Book of the Dead: The Other Pages’ (02:00). This is simply a raw reel of every page drawn for Campbell’s thumb-through. This is followed by some cool effects test (2:00), a trailer, four TV spots, and a poster and stills gallery. And once again angry fans will already know that Within the Woods, the original short Raimi, Tapert, Sandweiss and Campbell produced to drum up money for the feature is still missing. Campbell and Sandweiss make it clear that we will never see the short on a DVD release, though most of us have probably caught it in pieces on YouTube anyway.

 Evil Dead: Limited Edition

Overall


So do you really need another copy of The Evil Dead on your shelf? Do you? Really? This new release is worth a purchase for three kinds of people—those that don’t own the film at all, in any form, rabid fans that must own every single copy on the market, and those that really enjoy documentary features. Well add to that an unmatched improvement in 1080p video, and TrueHD audio. The extras are roughly the same, excepting a moderately entertaining new commentary, and a glimpse of the extra pages created for the Book of the Dead prop. Don’t trash that Book of the Dead edition just yet, if you want a copy of the Bruce Campbell directed Fanalysis makes no appearance here, and those that liked the ‘Ladies of the Evil Dead’ featurette will want to hang onto their Ultimate edition.

 Evil Dead: Limited Edition
* Note: The above 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. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps.

PS: Some readers may notice how far behind this review is. I'm still hulled up in the hospital away from my home entertainment system, but as soon as I get back I promise dozens of similarly outdated reviews, leading up to something more normal over the next couple weeks/months.


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