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Is it Tuesday already? I guess that means it’s time to buy the latest Anchor Bay Evil Dead release, doesn’t it?

Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, Halloween and Phantasm, Evil Dead is a budget classic horror flick that’s damn hard to write about. There’s more than one book on the shelf at your neighbourhood Borders and Barns and Nobel about the movie, horror ‘zines cover the movie almost every year, the film’s star 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 disc. There is nothing I have to offer at this table, especially since I love the film. If I was lucky enough to hate 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 Evil Dead on video story.

Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition
Not to say that 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 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 experience in gruelling terror 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 Evil Dead release actually sold out, and I had to special order one.

Evil Dead: Ultimate 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 came Anchor Bay’s ‘Book of the Dead’ release, 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. The gimmick was the perfect hook to whet a collector’s appetite. Unfortunately, something about the packaging also thrilled my cat, who ripped it from my shelf and tore it asunder. So much for getting it autographed by Campbell when he came to my local book store to hock his book, ‘If Chins Could Kill’.

Video


Here’s the part of my review were I tell the hopeful to pack it in, because this is the same transfer as the Book of the Dead release. To prove this, please have a look:
Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition
Anchor Bay Ultimate Edition: 1.85:1


Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition
Anchor Bay Book of the Dead Edition


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 transfer is about as clean as we should expect from the original source footage. Seriously, blown-up 16mm just can’t look immaculate no matter how hard you try to polish it. Thankfully blacks are solid and rich, and the overall print is darker then some older DVD releases, which brightened everything and entirely missed the point of the film. The clarity already ruins too many less then spectacular make-up effects, brightening things just makes it sad. I’m sure Anchor Bay will decide to put this out on Blu-Ray disc sometime next year, which is a little ridiculous, but should clean up some of the prints overall compression issues.

The hard matted widescreen transfer, which was championed and approved by Sam Raimi himself, is a huge bone of contention with purist fans. Though a slightly looser 1.78:1 probably would’ve been better, I admit I’ve come to like the tighter display. There are only a few bits of deleted footage on the top and bottom of frame that really make any kind of difference. However, if you disagree with me (which I’m sure many of you do) you’ll be happy to know that disc two of this set features the original full frame version of the film, and the transfer matches the widescreen transfer in overall picture quality almost exactly. This is a big plus for the purists because the Elite release was way too bright, as seen below.
Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition
Anchor Bay Ultimate Edition: 1.33:1


Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition
Elite Special Edition


Audio


Dressing up the Evil Dead with a THX certified DTS ES surround sound track is kind of like dressing up a donkey in a pink prom dress with ten diamond tennis bracelets on each limb, but I’ll admit it sounds pretty grand. Raimi and crew did put a lot of effort into the film’s sound design, including entirely incongruent effects and a rather professional Joe Laducca score, so the remix isn’t entirely ridiculous, but it does seem a little overboard considering the revamp probably cost half the film’s entire budget.

Anyone owning the previous Anchor Bay releases will recognize every track here (DTS ES, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Surround) was already available.

The biggest moments on the track are the demon force P.O.V.s which will just about blow out the rear speakers 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 Evil Dead to sound like Transformers.

Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition

Extras


Disc numero uno starts with everyone’s favourite Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert commentary track, as heard on several other releases. Sam and Rob aren’t quite as funny together as they are in the presence of Bruce Campbell, but the track is amusing enough and a good track for budding filmmakers, or at least it was in the pre-digital age. Some of the lessons still stand.

‘One By One We Will Take You’ 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 what ever 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: Ultimate Edition
Disc two starts with the same old Bruce Campbell solo commentary, the one that’s been skating from DVD to DVD since the Elite release, and it’s just as great as it was the first time. Campbell plus Raimi is always the best, but Campbell alone is still pretty great, and his commentary is pleasantly self deprecating. The commentary is followed by 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 outtake material, but some bits could be honestly considered ‘deleted scenes’. You’ve got to be a huge fan to sit through all fifty some minutes without getting a little bored, but having this stuff in one place is why digital media is great.

Then there’s a third disc, which the disc’s producers have entitled The Ladies of the Evil Dead for good reason, it mostly pertains to the female cast members and their current whereabouts. The disc is cut into several sections, so we start with ‘Life After Death’, which is a fifteen-minute glance into the lives of the Evil Dead ladies (Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, and Theresa Tilly). All three actresses more or less ignored the film for decades, but recently decided it was time to check in on the whole phenomenon, and started touring various horror expos and conventions. The featurette is just about the most adorable thing ever filmed. A day in the life of a suburban housewife who juggles soccer mom and scream queen is a fun viewing, and truthfully I think the material is there for a feature length documentary. Curiously, there’s mention of a cast commentary track, which is not on any of the three discs.

Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition
‘The Ladies of Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell’ 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.

This is followed by ‘Unconventional’, a sort of ‘round table’ with all five actors and Ted Raimi, which is even funnier. 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 a blast, and reminds me of Campbell’s short film on the subject Fanalysis, which appeared on the previous ‘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’ (the name of a band I opened for when I was in high school) is a twelve-minute Q and A with the cast from that same Flashback Weekend. It isn’t the kind of Q and 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 the youngest again rule the roost, but the ladies and pseudo-Hal get a few lines in. Man I wish I would’ve gone in 2005.

Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition
The panel Q and A, was filmed the next day, called ‘Reunion Panel, 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 duelling Ronald Regan impressions is the best bit.

‘Discovering the Evil Dead’ 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 it’s interesting that the DVDs producers left most of this stuff out of the first disc’s more encompassing documentary. This is followed by some cool effects test, a trailer, TV spots, a stills gallery, a poster gallery, and some other Anchor Bay trailers.

Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition
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.

Overall


So do you really need another copy of 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 for, rabid fans that must own every single copy on the market, and those that really enjoy documentary features. The new extras here are nice, and I might even find myself re-watching them someday down the line, but the commentaries and A/V are nothing new. If you hate the widescreen version, you may want to get this release just for a decent looking full-frame transfer, but don’t trash that Book of the Dead edition just yet, as the Bruce Campbell directed Fanalysis makes no appearance here.


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