Evil Dead II

Evil Dead II (1987)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Bruce Campbell
Extras: Audio Commentary, Still Gallery, Featurette, Trailer, Video Game Preview, Talent Files, THX Optimode

Let me start this review by saying that "Evil Dead II" is one of my all-time favorite films, so it’s a pleasure to get to review it. Further, "Evil Dead II" is also one of the most misunderstood films of the past twenty years, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight on several points. The new DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment replaces their old pressing and comes in two different packages — a standard Amaray case, and a limited-edition tin. The tin will include a 40-page booklet and be limited to 50,000 units. Both versions will contain the same DVD, which boasts an excellent new <$THX,THX>-approved transfer. I’m sure that those of you who already own Anchor Bay’s previous DVD or the Elite laserdisc are anxious to know if this new version is a must-have.

Let me start off by making one thing clear. "Evil Dead II" is not a re-make of "The Evil Dead". The film is a true sequel and picks up right where the first film left off. Also, many people assume that at the beginning of the film, that Ash (Bruce Campbell), the only survivor from "The Evil Dead" returns to the cabin in the woods. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You have to understand that while "The Evil Dead" is a monumental achievement in the hearts of horror fans, it was, in actuality, a small film that hadn’t been seen by very many people. So, the beginning of "Evil Dead II" had to summarize, or re-cap, the first film, so that audience members who hadn’t seen "The Evil Dead" would know what was happening. However, the makers of "Evil Dead II" couldn’t get the rights to any footage from "The Evil Dead", so they had to shoot all new scenes to re-cap the first film. So, the beginning does not show Ash returning to the cabin to fight a second round with the demonic forces. It merely shows what happened in "The Evil Dead"… minus Scott, Sheryl, and Shelly.

Having said all of that, "Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn" opens right where "The Evil Dead" left off. Ash (Campbell) has survived the night of horror and defeated the Candarian demons who possessed his friends. But, as Ash leaves the cabin, he is attacked by the unseen force in the woods. The sun rises before Ash can become completely possessed, and the evil is forced to return to its hiding place in the forest. Exhausted, Ash sleeps through the day, and when he awakes at nightfall, he again finds himself battling the forces of evil, which is beginning to drive him to the edge of madness.

Meanwhile, Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry) the daughter of the owner of the cabin, and her colleague, Ed (Richard Domeier) have returned from an expedition and Annie is anxious to get to the cabin to see her father. (Who we see in the prologue and assume to be dead.) Annie and Ed find that the route to the cabin has been cut off and they hire Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobbie Joe (Kassie Wesley) to guide them to the cabin. Arriving at the cabin, they find the blood-stained and nearly psychotic Ash, and assume the worst. However, the four newcomers soon learn of the demonic powers that are assaulting the small cabin. The Candarian demons soon begin to wreak havoc and it is once again up to Ash, our unlikely hero, to save the day.

Thirteen years later, "Evil Dead II" continues to pack a wallop. When the film debuted in 1987, it instantly singled itself out as a unique film. Not many films can combine the over the top zaniness, gore, humor, and scares that are found in this film and make it work. Even today, you still hear filmmakers speak of attempting to get an "Evil Dead II" feel from their films. This film was very influential and proved that Sam Raimi is one of the greatest directors of his generation. Raimi’s whirling dervish camera tricks combined with his sly sense of humor creates a spectacular roller-coaster ride. It takes talent to make a film that has chainsaw wielding corpses, flying eyeballs, and violent trees, and still infuse the whole thing with a sense of fun.

However, one shouldn’t discount the horror factor of "Evil Dead II". When most fans speak of the film, they usually refer to the humorous or "Three Stooges"-like aspects. While the film doesn’t contain the visceral shocks of "The Evil Dead", I’m here to say that there are some genuinely creepy scenes in "Evil Dead II." For example, when Ash and Annie creep into the bedroom to confront the strange noise there, a great deal of suspense is created. The "laughing" scene, while funny, is definitely a bit disturbing. And any scenes featuring Henrietta (except for the finale) have an unnerving quality. While Raimi definitely went for a lighter feel with "Evil Dead II", he seems to have remembered the elements of horror that made the first film work and sprinkled them throughout the sequel.

While Sam Raimi works his magic behind the camera, it’s the work of Bruce Campbell that holds the onscreen action together. Not to dismiss the rest of the cast, but Campbell gives a tour-de-force performance here. Campbell endures an incredible amount of physical abuse (most of which is dished out by Raimi) and spends the majority of the film with a chainsaw stuck to his wrist. Campbell gives 110% in his role and culminates it all by beating himself up and then forcing himself to cut a flip. It’s truly hard to imagine what this film would be like without Campbell.

With all of the history and hype surrounding the movie, Anchor Bay Entertainment has pulled out all the stops in order to make the "Evil Dead II" DVD a great one. The audio and video transfers have gone through the rigorous THX certification program. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. In order to review the new DVD, I compared it to the Elite laserdisc of "Evil Dead II". The image on the DVD is very crisp and clear, and unlike the laserdisc, there is no grain or defects in the source print evident. While the image on the laserdisc seems overly bright at times (this isn’t the most cheerful movie ever made), the DVD gives the film a darker look, which fits the tone of the film much better. Also, this new look shows that Raimi gave many of the nighttime scenes a soft blue look, which is certainly echoed when Professor Knowby makes his appearance. Also, this softening of the image gives the movie the look of a film with a much higher budget. The framing of the film appears to be accurate, as there is no apparent squeezing of the image. Also, the colors on the DVD are very sharp and crisp, compared to those of the laserdisc, where some over-saturation was evident, and flesh tones are rendered very faithfully, while the DVD keeps all the details intact, even in the most difficult circumstances. The compression of the material is almost flawless and no distracting artifacts are visible in the transfer, making this version far superior to the previous DVD release, the laserdisc or any other video incarnation you may have seen of this movie.

The primary audio track on the "Evil Dead II" DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1. (There is also a Dolby 2-channel surround track included.) This audio mix sounds great and adds a new dimension to the film. The dialogue and sound effects are all very clear and audible and never compete with one another. The familiar sound of the "evil force in the woods" sounds awesome as it fills the surround sound speakers. While the Dolby Digital soundtrack on the laserdisc offers more dynamic range at times (the thunder on the laserdisc sounds great), the sound is also muddy at times and there is an audible hiss that you don’t get on the DVD.

Besides the film itself, the highlight of the "Evil Dead II" DVD is the <$commentary,audio commentary>, which features director/co-writer Sam Raimi, star/co-producer Bruce Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and special effects make-up artist Greg Nicotero. From the first second, this commentary is absolutely hilarious. The commentary on "Army of Darkness" only prepared you for the way that Sam and Bruce rib each other on this track. Of course, we learn a great deal about the making of the film, many of the recollections coming from Spiegel and Campbell, but it’s the comedy that make this commentary a keeper. When Sam and Bruce aren’t attacking one another, they’re roasting the absent producer Rob Tapert (that’s right, Mr. Xena!), who is, to believe these guys, very lascivious. I’ve been hyping this commentary ever since I started writing for DVDReview.com and I’m so glad that all of you will now be able to experience it.

There is a 30-minute behind the scenes featurette entitled "The Gore, The Merrier." This includes video footage that was shot on the set by Greg Nicotero. This footage shows the creation of many of the film’s elaborate special-effects, such as the Henrietta costume and "Evil Ed". Nicotero reports that he shot six hours of footage on the set of "Evil Dead II." Some of the best of this footage is presented here, including several things that have never before seen – but I won’t spoil them for you. However, there are some things that were included on the Elite laserdisc that aren’t shown here, the best being the scene in which Linda’s disembodied head attacks Ash with her tongue (!). This scene was cut from the film, but it’s very intriguing to see how it was done. As with the "Men Behind the Army" featurette on Anchor Bay’s "Army of Darkness" DVD, "The Gore, The Merrier" features interviews with the members of KNB — Nicotero, Robert Kurtzman, and Howard Berger. These interviews are intercut with the behind the scenes footage. Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen more of the video footage and less of the interviews, but it’s still great to get the behind the scenes peek at one of my favorite films.

The DVD contains several other special features. There is a still gallery which has over 90 images, some being production stills and the others being behind-the-scenes photos. The theatrical trailer for "Evil Dead II" is also included, as well as a preview for the upcoming video game "Evil Dead: Hail to the King". This game is being produced for the PC, Sony PlayStation, and Sega Dreamcast, but we aren’t told which system this Full Motion Video preview was taken from. There are biographies for Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. The DVD also includes the THX Optimode program (the same one that was included on "Fight Club") to help insure that your video and audio system is correctly calibrated.

As usual, Anchor Bay has done everything that they could to give us the optimum presentation of a film, and with the DVD of "Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn", they’ve succeeded admirably. The DVD offers the best transfer of this film that we’ve seen so far and some great bonus features as well. I can’t stress enough how everyone needs to hear the awesome <$commentary,audio commentary>. ("Is that not true?" "Yes, it’s not.") For fans of the film, the only decision that you have to make is which version of this great disc do you want to pick up. For those of you who aren’t familiar with "Evil Dead II", I have two words for you: JOIN US!