Evil Dead

Evil Dead (1982)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Bruce Campbell
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Nearly 30 years ago, a bunch of college students decided to shoot a series of cheap horror flicks on their Super-8 equipment, planning to show them on the campus and to make a few dollars on the side. Little did they know that they were about to create one of the most lasting and shocking films of the genre. The students were Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, and when they dropped out of college one and a half years later, they hooked up with Bruce Campbell to work on a project they called "The Book Of The Dead". Soon the film was renamed "Evil Dead" and became an instant cult classic world wide, one that made all of them successful, well-known contenders in the horror genre. Anchor Bay have now prepared a new transfer of this frenetic film, supervised by director Sam Raimi himself.

The film begins with a group of five college students on their way to a remote cabin in the forest to spend the weekend. Soon after they settle in the run-down hut, they find a tape recorder and a weird book bound in human flesh. When they start the tape to listen to its content, they unknowingly summon a demon of the woods, intent on possessing and destroying them all. Soon, the hut is littered with body parts and pools of blood.

There are a number of noteworthy elements that have made "Evil Dead" the success it is, despite its liberal borrowing from such films as George A. Romero’s "Dawn Of The Dead" or Lucio Fulci’s "Zombie". "Evil Dead" has a visual style unlike that of any other film before. Because the film was a completely self-financed project, without any studio attachment, the filmmakers had complete artistic freedom and made good use of it. Radical camera moves and viewpoints make this film a gem for cineasts – a number of these unconventional moves were later adopted by renowned filmmakers like Frederico Fellini, among many others. The 360-degree round-about shot and the upside-down-rotational shot are perfect examples for this film’s inventiveness. The most important visual effect, however, is the "Sam-Ram-A-Cam" low-angle shot that was used to convey the illusion of an on-racing monster. This infamous shot was created by screwing the camera to a two-by-four so that the team could easily carry it around at ground level.

Apart from these highly imaginative, practical approaches – which included burning props to keep the freezing set warm – the film also exhibits a remarkable sense of pacing and editing. Even the special effects hold up well, despite the production’s financial limitations, and I am sure everyone who has ever seen the film vividly remembers the scene where one of the demons rams a pencil into one of the student’s heel, twisting it mercilessly. All these elements eventually helped to make "Evil Dead" a cult classic among horror film lovers, despite the low production values and campy acting.

There’s yet another, completely different aspect about "Evil Dead" that helped make it such a long-lasting success. The film was highly controversial at the time of its release because many people did not exactly know what to make of it. The film contains some extremely over-the-edge, off-beat humor that clearly indicates that the filmmakers tried to make fun of the genre in their own way by vastly exaggerating many of the film’s horrific elements. Sadly, this humor went unnoticed by many viewers, who understood the film to be a dead-serious gore movie and found it almost too dark, too horrific, and too serious to enjoy. Interestingly, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference, because no matter how you perceive it, "Evil Dead" will always remain a truly remarkable film.

The new transfer of the film used on this DVD is breathtaking. Never has "Evil Dead" looked so good! The image is absolutely clean, sharp, and perfectly clear with well saturated colors and deep blacks. Shot in 16 mm, the original film has a 1.37:1 aspect ratio, which is presented as a <$PS,full frame> transfer on this disc. The compression is extremely well done – there are no artifacts and only very little dot crawl. The latter being a result of the film’s age and the intrinsic limitations of the original 16 mm negative. Considering the film’s age and limited budget of roughly 350,000 dollars, this DVD reveals an amazing amount of detail in the picture – details that have never been visible in any other version of the film.

The disc also contains a Stereo <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack that is well converted to this DVD. The orchestration of the film is rather sparse but used with a ferocious intensity when applied. The well-placed sonic cues and elements help build the tension and horror in this film to a truly unsettling level. Sound effects and dialogues are well produced, although it does not exhibit the sonic range of the latest Hollywood blockbusters (for obvious reasons). "Evil Dead" comes in its original English version and, sadly, does not contain any other language tracks or subtitles. Elite Entertainment will also be releasing a Special Edition of "Evil Dead", including two <$commentary,commentary track>s with director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and the film’s star Bruce Campbell. Unfortunately we haven’t had the chance to take a look at this version yet, but it will most likely feature the same, new transfer used on this disc. It will also contain some "behind-the-scenes" footage and a photo gallery. If you are simply interested in the film itself, Anchor Bay’s no-frills version is definitely the way to go, but serious "Evil Dead"-heads will most likely want to get the Special Edition from Elite that comes at a $10 premium over this great Anchor Bay release. Interestingly, Anchor Bay have decided to release "Evil Dead" with five different covers, just as they did with the film’s extremely successful VHS re-release last October. Take a look at the selection of covers, which will also be printed on the disc’s surface in true Anchor Bay picture disc manner, and decide for yourself which of the five covers you would like to own before you go out to buy this disc.

"Evil Dead" is a cult film in the horror genre and as such is a must-have for every horror film lover. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which can also be seen in the two sequels "Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn" and "Army Of Darkness". Both sequels are available on DVD as well from Anchor Bay and Universal Home Video respectively, and take on a much more humorous note than the dark, foreboding original. If you have never seen "Evil Dead" before, this disc is a must-buy. It offers the best video transfer of the film to date and it is a good way to see whether this off-beat film is for you. Fans of the "Evil Dead" series certainly don’t need my advice, because, I am sure, they are already standing in line to get their hands on this "little" masterpiece as soon as it is on the shelves.