Evil Dead, The (UK - BD)
Evil Dead virgin Chris takes a look at the new Blu-ray release of the classic horror
When five Michigan State University students—Ash, Cheryl, Scott, Linda and Shelly—decide to venture into the Tennessee hills to spend the weekend at an isolated cabin, they could never have suspected the terror that lay in wait. While investigating the cabin the group stumble upon a collection of tape recordings and an ancient Sumarian text known as the Morturom Demonto (roughly translated as the Book of the Dead), which is bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. The curious students play the tapes, which contain recordings of demonic incantations read from the book, unwittingly awaking the slumbering demons that inhabit the forest. One by one the students are possessed by the vengeful spirits, who intend to kill everyone in the most horrific ways imaginable.
Right, I have a confession to make. Before this review I had never seen The Evil Dead, so I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint anyone looking for an in-depth analysis. I’ve seen the sequels numerous times, but for some reason I never got around to watching the original movie. It’s probably because I’m not really the world’s biggest horror fan, so I don’t go out of my way to seek out genre classics, but I was still interested in watching it to complete the Evil Dead experience. Now that I’ve had the chance I’m pleased that I did, because although it’s not really my cup of tea it was fascinating to see where Raimi started and how he evolved as a filmmaker through the series and beyond.
Truth be told my favourite of the bunch is probably the immediate sequel, largely because I first saw it projected on a huge screen at a Guns ‘n’ Roses concert in 1991 where its mad slapstick horror made quite an impression. The Evil Dead, on the other hand, is a more straightforward horror film that manages to be genuinely unsettling at times (I’m thinking of Linda's demonic child-like laughter and singing). There’s also plenty of gore and splatter on show, which is still effective (not to mention gross) despite showing its age and low budget origins, and one has to admire the creativity of all involved. Sure the film has its shortcomings, including the relatively amateurish performances from the cast, but it’s a testament to all involved that it succeeds in spite of them and its enduring popularity speaks for itself. In any event I don’t think my opinion is going to alter the views of the film’s legions of fans, so here’s hoping I escape the backlash that’s usually associated with any lukewarm review of a much-loved movie.
The Evil Dead arrives on UK Blu-ray with a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) that is sure to divide viewers. Okay, so let me qualify that rather contentious statement. From what I’ve read, The Evil Dead was shot on 16mm and then blown up to 35mm for theatrical exhibition (they even tried shooting in Super 8, but apparently it had ‘grain the size of golf balls’). This means that the image is somewhat grainier than your average Blu-ray, which as we all know causes a certain section of the buying public to go into a rant about how all films should look like CGI when presented in high-definition. Of course sensible people know that’s not the case, so this review is aimed at those who appreciate the fact that a film can only look as good as the available source materials. In other words, if it was shot grainy please leave it grainy, and The Evil Dead is very grainy.
On the other hand I have nothing against studios removing film artefacts that were not present on the original materials, and the print used here appears to have been painstakingly restored to remove almost all traces of dirt and debris. Colours are generally natural, if a little under-saturated, but I imagine that this can be attributed to the filmmaking process. Blacks are also satisfactory, preserving a reasonable amount of shadow detail. Speaking of detail, well the Blu-ray isn't going to knock your socks off with an ultra-sharp presentation of the film, but there's only so much that can be done with low-budget 16mm movies. Although it looks pretty soft overall, visual comparisons with the various DVD releases (via screen shots on the Interweb) are favourable, indicating that this is the best looking version of the film to date with the possible exception of the US Blu-ray release (which does include the 1.33:1 version). All things considered this is a pretty decent looking release for a low budget 16mm film, and another winner in a long line of Sony catalogue triumphs.
Sony pairs the impressive video with a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (available in English, Italian and Spanish). I’m a big proponent of the inclusion of original audio on Blu-ray releases so it’s slightly disappointing that the film’s original sound mix is nowhere to be found, but the 5.1 effort isn’t the total disaster that some remixes can be.
For much of the running time the sound is anchored firmly at the front of the soundstage, although the score does occasionally find its way to the rears. The track does come alive whenever the demonic forces appear, especially during the POV sequences when the characters are chased through the woods by unseen entities. During these scenes the wind howls, strange voices moan and groan, and the trademark abstract effects (you know, the ones that sound like a hoover) all sound great. Bass isn't massively powerful, but it does add a reasonable amount of reinforcement to certain scenes, such as those involving the chainsaw. Dialogue is clear throughout, although it does sound somewhat canned. In fact lack of fidelity is probably my biggest criticism of the soundtrack, although it's not unexpected and largely unavoidable given the source material. On the whole this is a decent enough audio presentation as long as you don’t go into it expecting something like Transformers.
Audio Commentary from Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert: Apparently this is a new commentary track, but as an Evil Dead virgin I couldn’t tell you if that’s true or not. It’s a pretty entertaining track for the most part, although somewhat drier than I was expecting given the participants. Still, it covers a lot of useful information, particularly from a newbie point of view, with plenty of chatter about the genesis of the production and the difficulties of shooting on such a low budget and in such a remote location (apparently the filmmakers had to sleep on set to prevent the local woodsmen from stealing their tools).
Join Us! The Undying Legacy of The Evil Dead: This BonusView track includes contributions from Alexandre Aja ( Haute Tension), Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna ( Re-Animator), David Slade ( 30 Days of Night), and Don Myrick ( The Blair Witch Project), among others. Like many PiP tracks the footage is spread out far too thinly across the runtime, and I spent much of the film wondering when the next video segment would pop up. The content is okay, especially for an Evil Dead novice like me, but it’s not one of the better PiP implementations I’ve seen.
One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead (53:45 SD): This lengthy making-of documentary does a fine job of introducing a newcomer like me to the world of The Evil Dead by way of cast and crew interviews and raw on-set footage. Raimi and Campbell are conspicuous by their absence, but the participants all do a great job of providing interesting and informative anecdotes.
Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor (59:22 SD): The best I can tell this is almost an hour’s worth of raw production footage, including outtakes, alternate takes and what could probably be considered deleted scenes. I’m sure long-time, die-hard fans of the film will lap this up, but to be brutally honest I got a little bored.
At the Drive-In (12:03 SD): This is an odd little Q & A session in so much as it’s the cast who ask questions of the audience (in order that said audience might win a copy of the film on DVD). It’s entertaining enough, with Bruce Campbell leading the way with his usual style of humour, including a nice comment about it being the seven-hundredth time he’s appeared to talk about the film.
Discovering Evil Dead (13:04 SD): This featurette concentrates on the British distribution of the film in the early eighties and how it became embroiled in the ‘video nasties’ debate, with Sam Raimi even appearing at a UK court to defend the film. It makes for interesting viewing and brought back some fond memories of the period.
Make-Up Test (01:06 SD): This is about as self-explanatory as it gets. It’s basically just footage of several gloopy stop motion test shots.
BD-Live: As is usual for Sony titles, The Evil Dead is BD-Live enabled. As is also usual, there’s no film-specific content, which is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
While I'm probably not the person best qualified to review this title for the site, I think that it’s beneficial to offer a fresh perspective rather than yet another fanboy love-fest. If I’m being completely honest The Evil Dead isn’t really my sort of film, but I did enjoy it and can appreciate its place in cinematic history. Technically the Blu-ray is audio-visually capable beyond my initial expectations, and although the extras aren’t quite as enjoyable as I’d hoped they are still better than those found on the majority of discs that land on my doorstep. Fans of the film will undoubtedly lap this up, and people who don't own one of the five million previously released versions should definitely chose the Blu-ray as a starting point.
* 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.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 11th October 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Italian, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish
Extras: Audio Commentary, BonusView PiP, Documentary, Featurettes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly
Length: 85 minutes
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