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Default Evil Dead, The: Special Edition




Reviewer: Styx
Review Date: October 18, 1999

Released by: Elite Entertainment
Release date: March 30, 1999
MSRP $14.95
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1



Cult director Sam Raimi may be directing Hollywood features now (good ones mind you) but to his fans he's best known for directing the cult horror Evil Dead trilogy. The Evil Dead films the first two in particular are an excellent example of low budget horror filmaking done right. In 1982 Sam Raimi and friends Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert, with a shoe string budget of $50,000 set out to make the "The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Horror". Shot in Detroit, Michigan and Morristown, Tennessee the film takes place in a cabin in the woods in which 5 Michigan folk are trapped inside by the evil forces that seek to possess them.

Shot in 16mm and inspired by films like Night of the Living Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Sam Raimi and friends created a film that is still going strong with a devoted cult following. The film has recently undergone a major video re-release explosion on VHS, laserdisc and DVD.

The Story

inline Image A group of friends Ash (Bruce Campbell), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), his sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), his friend Scott (Hal Delrich) and his girlfriend Shelly (Sarah York) are heading up to a cabin in the woods to spend the night. This is no ordinary cabin though; it seems an archeologist once lived there in isolation to study an ancient relic known as the "Necronomicon" or "Book of the Dead". Translating and recording the text of the necronomicon the professor inadvertently unleashed the evil spirits that exist in the dark shadows of man's domain. It's not known what happens to the professor, but in the cabin the necronomicon and his recording still remain.

inline Image Ash and his friends arrive at the cabin and begin to settle in and have some dinner. Suddenly the door to the basement bursts open seemingly on it's own. Scott followed by Ash enters the basement to investigate. There they find an old book (the necronomicon) and an ancient dagger along with a tape recorder. Ash and Scotty bring their newfound treasures upstairs and play the recording. On the tape they hear the Professor translating passages from the necronomicon what they don't know is the recording stirs the evil spirits in the woods and awakens them once more. One by one Ash's friends fall victim to the evil spirits who through the recitation of the Necronomicon's passages have the ability to possess the living. Ash who hesitates at first must now kill his friends or be killed by the demonic hosts all the while avoiding the spirits of the woods that try to possess him as well.

inline Image It's not easy to pick a film that is your favorite. What does one base their criteria on? How well it's made? The acting? Storyline? Well there's no doubt in my mind that Evil Dead is my favorite. It's simply a fun horror film that I have enjoyed watching since I was a kid renting horror movies from the local video store. One of the things that originally attracted me to the film is the gore. There's plenty of it and much of it is exaggerated to the point where it becomes humorous which is something Sam Raimi would use in the sequel to better effect. In fact there's a line in the film which has become pretty famous which is the line Ash is listening to off the tape recorder "I fear that the only way to stop those possessed by the book is through the act of bodily dismemberment". That alone should clue you into the gore ride this film will take you on.

inline Image As I got more experienced with the genre I learned to value other things besides gore. One of the things I think really gives The Evil Dead its flare is Sam Raimi's energetic creative camera work. Sam debuted the "evil Cam" or "shaky cam" as I've heard people call it. It's basically a P.O.V of "the force" that chases Ash's helpless friends through the woods smashing through trees and setting up some suspenseful moments. My favorite scene from the film is probably the sequence where Ash has just stabbed possessed Linda. Ash then drags her body over Scott who's in the foreground dead and then drags Linda's body out of the cabin and in the background is Ash's possessed sister in the cellar trying to get out. The film is filled with those kind of inventive scenes and camera angles.

inline Image The camerawork is most impressive around the last 15 minutes of the film when things start to get a little crazy. Sam shot a magnificent sequence of the film at a 45-degree angle. In addition the shots are very frantic and really give one the feeling that Ash is perhaps losing his mind or that the evil has taken control of everything. It's a very cool sequence of shots and definitely gives the film an energetic last 15 minutes. Another thing I love about The Evil Dead are the effects and "deadite" make-up. The first film in my opinion has the most best looking deadites. Although the ones in Evil Dead 2 were more sophisticated, I think the original were more effective especially Ash's sister.

Given that this is more a horror film than a black comedy like the sequels I think that worked to the deadites advantage, as they appear more menacing. They're not zombies and not demons, but somewhere in between and they are very fun to watch. Last but not least is Bruce Campbell. Bruce became a cult star based on his performances of Ash in the Evil Dead trilogy and it's fun to watch both the character of ash evolve and Bruce Campbell as an actor evolving through the sequels. The Evil Dead is a fun horror film, it's not perfect and Sam & Bruce would be the first to tell you that, but I believe it succeeds in what Sam wanted to make which is an entertaining movie period.

Image Quality

inline Image Elite Entertainment presents The Evil Dead full frame in it's original 1.33:1 ratio. This is probably the best looking 16mm film I've ever seen on a home video release. If you've ever seen the original VHS release you know that it was quite grainy and very dark. Anchor Bay released several video incarnations that were very good, but the DVD with the added detail and clarity of the format is the best way to see the film. That said the transfer is extremely sharp save for a couple of softer looking shots mostly in the early parts of the film. The colors are very strong this is most notable on the clothing worn by Ash and his friends, which is well defined with no bleeding or oversaturation.

inline Image The nighttime scenes look very good with hardly any grain or breakup with solid blacks and great detail. Contrast is dead on and shadow detail is surprisingly good. The transfer is exceptionally clean with minimal amounts of scarring and speckling. Authoring is top notch I didn't notice any compression artifacts. This is an excellent transfer by Elite Entertainment very high marks.

Sound

This is a pretty amazing 5.1 remix which proves practically any film no matter the age or budget can get a great 5.1 mix. Overall it's a great sounding mix given the limitations of the source materials. I wasn't blown off my couch, but to say this is the best the Evil Dead has ever sounded is an understatement. There is also a 2.0 stereo track.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Well it's not exactly as extensive as say Elite's Texas Chainsaw Massacre LD, it's still impressive and will definitely satisfy fans of the film. When you first pop in the disc a clip from the film plays which is the scene where Ash discovers the necronomicon after turning a few pages of the book a page appears which becomes the DVD's main menu. It's very nicely done and was definitely a surprise when I first saw it. It's also very long and plays for a good minute or so. I'm not talking about the actual animation just the background clips that play behind the main menu.

inline Image The disc's feature supplements have to be the dual commentaries by Director Sam Raimi, Producer Robert Tapert and Actor Bruce Campbell. The commentary with Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert is a little dry; Sam seems not that informative which is surprising since he directed the film. Bruce Campbell on the other hand is excellent. His commentary is one of the best solo commentaries I've ever heard if not the best. Bruce practically never stops and shares tons of anecdotes and behind the scenes info. Bruce clearly remembers the films shooting well or he did his homework before doing the commentary. Bruce enjoys making fun of the film and his acting and talks about the actors and the production. Bruce Campbell does excellent commentaries he's very natural and relaxed and you get a sense he knows what he wants to say for every scene beforehand.

inline Image To be fair it's been awhile since I've heard Sam and Rob's commentary, but I can remember not being impressed by it as I was by Bruce's. The second major supplement is most definitely the "Bits and Pieces" segment which consists of alternate takes and one or two deleted scenes which is mainly a dialogue scene. Some of it is also behind the scenes as you can see various crewmembers prepping the actors for the scenes. There's also a great still gallery and a theatrical trailer. The supplements are all excellent and as I said in a previous review I did for the disc "it's the Evil Dead fans holy grail."

Final Thoughts

If you're a fan of the film don't walk run to your nearest dealer that carries Elite DVDs or get it online as I'm not sure anyone will be able to top this disc in terms of supplements for the film. I'd like to thank Elite Entertainment for their devotion to the Evil Dead films and putting together kick ass discs of Evil Dead 2 and 1. Bravo.

Rating

Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - A

Technical Info.
  • Running time - 1 hour 25 minutes
  • Color
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • 16 Chapter Stops
  • Newly Remixed English Dolby Digital 5.1 Soundtrack
  • Newly Remixed Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Soundtrack

Supplements
  • Audio commentary track featuring Director Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert Additional Audio Commentary by Bruce Campbell
  • Still Gallery Including 150 Still Photos
  • 20 Minutes of Alternate Takes and Behind the Scenes Footage
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Animated Menus
  • Scene Selection
  • Color Insert Featuring Liner Notes by Bruce Campbell

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