The Evil Dead

The Evil Dead (1982)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentaries, Featurettes, Clips, Interviews, Photo Gallery, Trailers

Nearly 40 years ago now, 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 "The Evil Dead" and became an instant worldwide cult classic; one that made all of them successful, well-known contenders in the horror genre. After countless DVD incarnations, "The Evil Dead" is now arriving in high definition for the first time.

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 "The 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." "The 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 "The 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 "The 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, "The Evil Dead" will always remain a truly remarkable film.

The high definition transfer of the film presented on this Bly-Ray Disc is simply remarkable, to say the least. Initially I was concerned how a 16mm low-budget film could possibly live up to viewer expectations in the high definition 2st century, but I have to tell you that this new transfer, coming form the original negative and supervised by Sam Raimi, is nothing short of mesmerizing. It does show the format's limitations – it would be odd if it weren't – but never in a way I would have expected. The level of detail and definition in the transfer is far superior of what we've come to see on DVD before, instantly making this presentation the best in a long line of releases. Clear and without defects, the colors are amazingly vibrant and rich throughout, bringing out the best the movie has to offer in every little nuance. Even the black levels – which no doubt have been corrected digitally – make you forget that you are looking at a film made on home equipment 40 years ago. "The Evil Dead" always looks like a glorious full-blooded monster flick that will keep you on engaged from the first second.
In addition to presenting a stellar transfer of the film itself, Anchor Bay has also solved one of the issues surrounding the film – that of the proper aspect ratio – by allowing viewers to see the film in either its original 1.33:1 fullframe version of the Sam Raimi-approved presentation ratio of 1.85:1. Kudos to Anchor Bay for pulling this off and making it seem so effortless.

A DTS HD audio track for "The Evil Dead?" You have to be kidding, right? No, not really. Anchor Bay really has included a newly remixed version of the track in full high definition glory on this release, making sure that the film exceeds all expectations on every front. The result is an audio presentation that belies its 40 years of age, sounding fresh, crisp and balanced throughout. While the frequency response is still somewhat limited, especially in the lower registers, one can only admire the effort that went into this track and the resulting quality.

Over the years, so many supplements have been produced for this film and for all these different DVD versions, that it has become its own investigative field that can be studied at Yale University. All joking aside, however, what I am trying to say is that it is nearly impossible to keep track of all the material that has been produced, evaluating their actual value, particularly in the light that much of the material kept overlapping. One can only imagine how hard it must have been for Anchor Bay to make selections for this Blu-Ray Disc. Clearly unless they had included everything they ever produced on the subject, there will always be a certain tidbit someone is missing. Be that as it may, overall, Anchor Bay has made sure that the bonus materials on this release are well balanced and thoughtfully put together.

A new commentary track has been added to the release, featuring Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell. While it is nice to have a new track, it is evident that the shared enthusiasm is not at its peak, no doubt a result of the countless viewings, previous commentary recordings and appearances they have made on the subject over the past 40 years. Still, informative and entertaining, the track is well worth checking out.

The rest of the bonus materials as culled from previous DVD versions, including the documentaries "One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead" and "The Evil Dead: Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor." Also included is the roundtable discussion "The Ladies of the Dead Meet Bruce Campbell" and the featurettes "Unconventional" and "Discovering The Evil Dead" along with a number of shorter features and clips.

I am not sure if there's anything else I can add here. "The Evil Dead" is a cult classic that certainly every horror fan has in their collection. However, available in high definition for the first time now, I do have to advise you to go out and buy this new release because you have never seen the film quite like this!