Evil Dead II

Evil Dead II (1987)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Trailer

"Evil Dead 2" was released in 1987 onto the horror going public amid a little bit of confusion as to exactly what to make of it. For starters, it seemed to be a remake of sorts, since the entire opening sequence, basically recaps the first film, minus a few characters. In reality though, director Sam Raimi had to re-shoot the beginning instead of using segments because of rights issues over the first film – and what a legendary beginning it is.

The film opens with a narrator explaining the origins of the 'Necronomicon' (aka The Book of the Dead) and describing that the book was lost in the Middle Ages. Then, all of the sudden, we are following Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bexler) and the legendary 1973 Oldsmobile that is in every Raimi film, to a remote cabin where they are to have a romantic getaway, one that is about to go as wrong as it could possibly get. I always get a kick out of the hilariously over the top fast pace of this film from the very opening shot we are thrust into this manic and horrifying landscape, very well done, and endlessly re-watchable.

This is a horror film for the ADHD crowd, and director Sam Raimi is very comfortable throwing everything at us. Within the first few moments in the cabin, Ash stumbles upon a reel to reel and when he turns it on all hell breaks loose, quite literally. On the tape an archeology professor describes finding the legendary 'Book of the Dead' and begins quoting from it, immediately releasing an evil force which possesses his girlfriend, forcing him to kill and dismember her. From here this unseen and growling spirit from deep in the woods takes over Ash, who temporarily becomes a 'deadite', but only for a short time, because the spell is broken by the coming of the dawn. Still, our tormented character is so exhausted, he passes out until just before sunset, and the nighttime will bring the same evil force to overtake Ash once again.

After desperately and barely escaping the second onslaught Ash is trapped in the cabin for an entire insane night, filled with hallucinations and horrific attacks from literally everything but the kitchen sink, including, famously, his own hand. The film is a fast paced exercise in insanity featuring one of the most outrageous, over the top and disturbing (not to mention self-abusive) performances in recent horror film history.

Soon Ash's cabin fever is to be alleviated somewhat because some more characters are introduced to the mayhem, the professor's daughter Annie (Sarah Berry) arrives with more pages from the 'Necronomicon', along with her assistant Ed Getley (Richard Domeier). They've been escorted by a couple of hillbillies named Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobbie Joe (Kassie Wesley) around the devastated bridge and certainly aren't ready for the evil they encounter upon arrival. I'll leave the rest for you to discover, if there are still some lucky ones reading this that have yet to discover this film, which is equal parts horror and comedy. Featuring very good special effects and a myth-making performance from Bruce Campbell that has earned him eternal cult stardom, "Evil Dead 2" is a classic horror comedy that you can watch over and over again. This movie is just 100 percent fun from beginning to end, and it deserves its legendary reputation. It's great to see this cult classic arrive in high definition.

Which of course brings us to the transfer itself, which I was actually pleased with. On a BD-50 we have this film in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 perfectly fitting the whole screen in all of its 1080p glory. I've owned this film on just about every format available over the years, most recently in the 'limited' Divimax edition, and this one is a step above all of those, obviously.

I was always impressed with some of the exploitative and fun ways they have marketed and packaged this franchise over the years. You'll be pleased to know that the picture has been sharpened quite a bit and I noticed quite a lot of details I hadn't noticed before – and I've seen this film many times. It also looks very film-like and the film grain is very apparent throughout, as it should since it has been produced on a limited budget and is an older film. In addition, of course, the grain is an integral part of the experience and the movie's creative visual design. It really has a campy roughness to it, and always has, and high definition truly brings out the true look and feel of this film, including some of its imperfections. Some scenes look better than others, as has always been the case with this film.
The dark scenes are handled nicely, perhaps a couple of scenes appear a bit soft, but not very often. Anyone who expects this film to look like a new release should look elsewhere, they are missing the point. I'm in the minority, I think, but it looks better than I even thought it would and is far better than it has ever looked on home video.

The sound is also quite excellent on this disc. While it doesn't contain the original mono mix, this is the kind of film that really has a lot of fun in the surround department, and the subwoofer truly gets a great workout. You'll be happy to know that this is an uncompressed PCM 5.1 track, and it is one of the most entertaining I've ever heard, the sounds of demonic mayhem and ghoulish action truly swirl across the room as Ash gets tormented by these demonic forces again and again. The sound field is very wide and dialog is usually very clear. If you are a fan of this film, you certainly haven't heard it like this before, and you'll be thrilled.

As for the special features, I'm sure everyone will be pleased to know that the legendary commentary featuring Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell , writer Scott Spiegel and makeup artist Greg Nicotero has been included. If you haven't heard this commentary, give it a chance, it is a lot of fun and quite hilarious listening to these old friends reminisce. It's also quite informative, so don't pass it up.

We also have a thirty minute documentary called, 'The Gore, The Merrier' which is really very entertaining and it is fascinating to watch the filmmakers and cast and especially learning some of the tricks behind the wonderful special effects.

Next up is a slideshow that clocks in at about twenty minutes and is narrated by animator Tom Sullivan, who created some of the effects. Some of the pictures are amusing. And to cap it off we have the theatrical trailer.

None of the special features is in high definition. Exclusive to this release is a 'Fast Film Facts' track and I actually love these types of features. It displays some fascinating tidbits of knowledge, and if you've seen this movie a million times, it is kind of refreshing to have this alternative.

Now, I know many will be disappointed by the fact this release isn't obviously the ultimate last word on the film and excludes quite a few extras from previous releases, but that is part of the fun of the series really, the creative and shameless ways they will repackage it in the future for you to buy again. Probably in 3D. Either way, it does have some of the best extras from the previous releases, especially the excellent commentary.

So, we have a very impressive package here for fans of the series, and I for one think it looks great and the sound is truly spectacular, if you love this film as much as I do, pick it up and sell it when a new version eventually comes along. If you are a completist, then you will probably want to hold onto the 'Book Of The Dead' version, since this doesn't include all of those features.

And yes, some may disagree and think this film should look as good as "Spider Man 3", but to you I say, grab a book about filmmaking and you will understand that "Evil Dead II" cannot look like a $258 million Hollywood flick. It looks wonderful and better than it ever has, and it certainly captures the original film elements perfectly and reveals the ultimate limitations in budget and film stock.