The Evil Dead: The Book Of The Dead LE

The Evil Dead: The Book Of The Dead LE (1982)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Documentaries, Featurettes, Outtakes, Gallery, Trailer & TV Spots, Talent Bios

This time, it’s all about the book.

It amazes me to find that genre champion Anchor Bay Entertainment has found yet another way to serve up the phenomenally successful "The Evil Dead," this time seeking to wrest away upwards of $40 from Evil Dead-Heads with unflinching aplomb. So, with this new "Book of the Dead Limited Edition," "The Evil Dead" further enjoys dominance of the home video market with – if I’m not mistaken – it’s ninth DVD incarnation (that’s counting the Elite Special Edition, the five cover variants and the newest non-book edition from Anchor Bay – are there more?). But, heads off to the marketing whiz kids who stitched this limited edition together as it truly raises the bar in the category of creative packaging.

Coming to us by way of a revoltingly squishy latex cover sculpted by original Evil Dead makeup wizard Tom Sullivan, this one looks almost like the fabled Necronomicon, bound in human flesh and eking a funky smell. The interior features reproductions of the wicked illustrations and evil incantations, inked in blood (actually, the interior is a bit too polished looking and subverts the effect of the terrific exterior). There’s also a removable booklet, ‘Bringing the Dead Home for Dinner,’ which outlines the genesis of the home video evolution of the film. The single disc is neatly tucked into a clear sleeve on the last page of the book, similar to those found in PC manuals.

Oh yes, there is a DVD to be found in this wonderfully gruesome package. This one sports a new <$PS,widescreen> transfer, <$16x9,anamorphic>ally enhanced and framed at 1.85:1. "Evil Dead" purists and hard-core fans may now begin to frown – "<$PS,widescreen>?" "Evil Dead" was originally shot on 16mm film in a <$PS,fullframe> aspect ratio, so how can this version be presented in <$PS,widescreen>? A few years ago, while working on the release of "Army Of Darkness" director Sam Raimi approached Anchor Bay with the idea to matte and reframe the movie to create a <$PS,widescreen> presentation. The result of this idea can be seen here on this DVD and in all honesty, in my opinion, it gives the film an even more sinister and claustrophobic feel that perfectly suits the subject matter. On a sidenote fans may also be interested to learn that Raimi initially planned to produce the entire DVD for Anchor Bay but given his engagement with "Spider-Man" he could not make time for the project and as a result passed off the duties to Bruce Campbell.
The image quality on the disc is very good, especially considering the movie’s origin, ultra-low budget and the use of 16mm negative film stock. Given these limitations, the image appears a bit soft at times and colors are not quite as vibrant as they could be, and strangely enough, I found this transfer slightly inferior in quality than some of the previous releases by direct comparison. Not overly so, and certainly not enough to be disconcerting.

Audibly, though, this is a superior disc to what I’ve experienced in the past. The newly created <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> EX track is quite nice and the new <$DTS,DTS>-ES track is better still. The mix absolutely envelopes you in the misty, murky, dreadful goings on at that deplorable cabin. While the shortcomings of the original soundtrack are somewhat evident at times (especially the dialog has a very limited frequency response and as a result sounds occasionally "tinny"), the added audio separation and directional effects are extremely well done. The low-end gets some use but, again, given the original audio source, don’t expect to be bounced off your sofa. In all, though, this is the most foreboding presentation I’ve heard to date.

The extras are, in essence, a rehash of much of what we’ve gotten from the Elite Special Edition, beginning with the same two commentaries, one with star Bruce Campbell, the other with Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert. The behind-the-scenes outtakes are also the same as we’ve seen from the Elite disc, making this appear to be an honest-to-goodness real resurrection of the dead. At the same time, there is new material on the release as well, though, in the form of Bruce Campbell’s documentary, "Fanalysis." It is Bruce’s very own look at the Evil Dead fan phenomenon and fandom in general. What are fans? What makes them tick? What makes some of them become so extreme? These are only a few of the questions the actor explores in word and images in this highly entertaining featurette, and also takes us on the road with him on his recent book signing tour – naturally, you already have a signed copy of ‘If Chins Could Kill,’ don’t you?. There’s another somewhat interesting yet less glamorous featurette, "Discovering Evil Dead." This featurette traces the film’s acquisition and distribution history, showing the way the idea and concept of the movie took shape until it was finally possible to be presented on the big screens of the world. Finally, you’ll find the theatrical trailer and some newly uncovered TV spots.

If you’re a fan of all things Evil Dead, well this edition is a must. Admittedly, it’s unique and interesting to behold (and fun to hold, too) and will likely serve as a controversial conversation piece. And while I’d prefer to see the transfer look a bit better than what’s to be found here, I would not hesitate to grab a copy of this new edition while it’s still available.

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