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The Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition
Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/18/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/12/2007
In this day and age, we rarely see much truth in advertising. However, I have experienced this twice recently. On Thanksgiving, my sister warned that the turkey was dry, and it was. The other incident concerns the press release for The Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition. It took a very tongue-in-cheek approach to this product with statements like "The Evil Dead on DVD...again?" and "Another Evil Dead DVD release? You bet your Ash!" Yes, Sam Raimi's 1981 classic The Evil Dead has graced DVD several times and now Anchor Bay Entertainment has brought us what they claim is the final word in DVDs for this title. But, how can it be when the one extra that the fans really want still isn't available?
The Evil Dead tells the story of five college friends -- Ash (Bruce Campbell), Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), Scott (Hal Delrich), Linda (Betsy Baker), and Shelly (Sarah York) -- who travel to a remote mountain cabin for a weekend of fun. The cabin is small and old, but the group makes the best of it. They soon find a tape recorder, an old book, and an odd looking knife. Playing the tape, they learn that the cabin once belonged to a historian who was studying ancient Sumerian demons and the recording contains incantations translated from the old book. The words on the tape cause a dark force to arise from the forest which can possess the humans in the cabin. Soon it's every man and woman for themselves as their possessed friends attempt to kill them, and the only way to stop the possessed is bodily dismemberment. Trapped in the cabin, will anyone survive?
Brief history lesson: My family got our first VCR for Christmas in 1982. (That's a videocassette recorder for you younger readers.) I was immediately set free in the video store and the first movie that rented was The Evil Dead, as I'd read about it in Fangoria. To put it mildly, I was struck by this film, as I'd never seen anything like it. I chalked that up to the fact that most of the horror movies that I'd seen had been the more mainstream fare which I caught on HBO. But, I soon learned that I wasn't the only one fascinated by The Evil Dead. (I also rentedThe Burning, but it didn't have nearly as much of an impact.)
Raimi's film may be the ultimate example of style over substance. The plot, as you can tell from my synopsis, is wafer-thin. But, the point of this movie isn't the story, it's the visuals. Then 20-year old Sam Raimi inhabits the film with a restless camera which never sits still. Through the use of odd angles and P.O.V. shots which travel over water and through the woods, the movie is filled with interesting images and the viewer never gets bored with watching them. Interestingly, later in the film when there's basically only one character left alive, Raimi introduces even more visual tricks to distract the viewer that there isn't much happening in the way of story. The look of this film influenced a generation of filmmakers, most notably The Coen Brothers, as Joel Coen served as assistant editor on the film. (Just look at Raising Arizona and you'll see a lot of "Raimi-cam" happening there.)
The Evil Dead also pushed the limits in terms of on-screen viscera. The movie starts out quietly enough, and for a while and it seems as if the movie may only included talking. But, once the first character becomes possessed, The Evil Dead is off and rolling. The fact that the forest rapes a character is the first indication that this movie is playing for keeps, and that feeling persists with all of the stabbings, eye-gougings, beheadings, and dismemberments. The second half of the film is literally covered in blood and it's clear to me now that I was much to young to see this movie.
For all of its positives, The Evil Dead isn't perfect. The movie was made on a shoe-string budget (over several years) and at times, it shows. The acting ranges from OK to wooden. Again, the storyline is nothing to brag about. And seeing the film today, some of it looks quite dated. Yet, the overall kinetic energy of the film is still there and the movie still packs a punch. (Look at the "ankle" scene without wincing.) The movie would spawn two sequels and Sam Raimi would go on to be one of Hollywood's most sought-after directors, but The Evil Dead, the little film that could, still proves to be a horror classic.
The Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition commands you to join it on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. This 3-disc set contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. Why full-frame? For years, I've heard arguments that Raimi didn't shoot the film widescreen. Thus, watching the film in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio may be OK. However, I still prefer the widescreen version. This transfer shows adequate colors, but the grain is very noticeable. As for the widescreen version, the film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. When viewing The Evil Dead, one has to remember that this movie was made over 25 years ago, and was shot on 16mm film by a crew that didn't really light most scenes. Therefore the video quality doesn't look like today's highly polished films. The good news is that a very nice print was used for this transfer, as a white circle on one frame at the 44:17 mark is the only overt defect from the source material. As for the image itself, the colors are good, most notably the blues and reds. But the picture shows a noticeable amount of grain and the image looks somewhat washed-out at times. The picture is also somewhat dark in some shots. Having said all of that, this version is probably the best that this movie is going to look. The widescreen version contains both a Dolby Digital Surround EX audio track, as well as a DTS-ES 6.1. As with the video, these tracks have their pros and cons. The dialogue is clear and audible on both. Each has a smattering of surround sound and subwoofer effects. But, for the most part, the audio is limited to the center channel with the fronts coming into play at times. This is the result of taking a mono soundtrack and trying to make it fill 5 or more speakers. The full-frame version has a Dolby 2.0 surround track, and while it doesn't have the clarity or some of the more dazzling effects of the EX or DTS tracks, it's still adequate.
Each of the three discs in this set contains some bonus features. Please keep
in mind that some of these extras have appeared on other releases of The Evil
Dead. Disc 1 starts with "One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of
The Evil Dead" (54 minutes) which contains comments from Robert Tapert, Tom
Sullivan, David Goodman, Josh Becker, Ellen Sandweiss, Theresa Tilly, and Betsy
Baker. Please note that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell appear here only in the
film footage. They aren't interviewed. This also contains comments from Joe Bob
Briggs, Eli Roth, Greg Nicotero, and Edgar Wright. This piece is loaded with
extra footage from the shoot -- not necessarily deleted scenes, but footage from
the beginning and ends of shots. The participants give a very detailed account
of the film's production, talking about releasing the film out into the world,
and their favorite scenes. Hardcore fans will have heard some of these anecdotes
before, but the comments here are some of the most frank that I've heard about
the making of the film. The only other extra on Disc 1 is an AUDIO COMMENTARY
from Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert. This is a good, occasionally great talk. Sam
isn't as animated without Bruce around, but it's full of great stories about the
making of the film. I've heard this commentary several times and still found
myself listening to most of it.
Disc 2 has "The Evil Dead: Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor" (59 minutes). This is simply a series of shots and scenes cut from the movie with no introduction or narration. There are no new ideas or deleted scenes here, it's simply takes which were cut from the film. Actually, watching this is like watching a condensed version of the movie, as the shots run in the same order as the movie. This disc also has an AUDIO COMMENTARY by Bruce Campbell. As with any of Bruce's commentaries, this one is a ton of fun, but it also shows that he needs other people to play off of. He talks at length about the making of the film, and, as usual, he's very frank about the torture that he received at the hands of Sam Raimi.
Disc 3 carries the moniker "Ladies of The Evil Dead". In "Life After Dead: The Ladies of The Evil Dead" (15 minutes) Tilly, Baker, and Sandweiss talk about their feelings about the film, coming to terms with being in a classic horror movie, and how they decided to embrace the movie. "The Ladies of The Evil Dead meet Bruce Campbell" (29 minutes) is a conversation with Campbell, Tilly, Baker, and Sandweiss. They share anecdotes about the making of the film. It's amusing, but many of these tales were shared on earlier extras. "Unconventional" (20 minutes) is a discussion with Campbell, Ted Raimi, Sandweiss, Baker, Tilly, and Delrich shot at a convention (of some sort). They talk about attending horror conventions and their feelings/experiences with them. "At the Drive-In" (13 minutes) has the same crew as the last extra attending a screening of the film in Chicago. We get to watch them talk to the audience and give away DVDs. The "Reunion Panel" (31 minutes) is taken from the Flashback Weekend Horror Convention in July, 2005 in Chicago. Campbell and co. answer questions and discuss the movie. The above extras on Disc 3 are somewhat interesting, but they feature many of the same comments over and over, so it may be best to simply sample them. "Discovering The Evil Dead" (13 minutes) is an interview with Stephen Wooley and Nik Powell who discuss their experience with purchasing the home video rights to the movie. (Presumably in the U.K.). "Make-up Test" (1 minute) is a brief shot of blood running down screen and a stop-motion head. The remainder of the extras contains a "Trailer" (which is 16 x 9), four TV SPOTS, a STILL GALLERY, and a "Poster & Memorabilia Gallery".
I will now answer the question which is no doubt plaguing die-hard fans of The Evil Dead: No, the "Within the Woods" short is not on here. It's discussed in several places and there are stills from it in "One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead", but the short itself doesn't appear here. Many fans have been waiting 25 years to see this piece and we are snubbed yet again.
On August 31, 2010, Anchor Bay Entertainment brought The Evil Dead to Blu-ray Disc, marking the millionth home-video edition of the movie. Following a recent theatrical run of the film, Raimi's long-time editor Bob Murawski went back into the vaults and did a lot of technical work to make the movie look as good as possible. This Blu-ray Edition is very similar to the Ultimate Edition DVD. The Disc offers both the 1.33:1 version of the movie, as well as the 1.85:1 version. Both versions feature a AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 26 Mbps. If you've ever wondered what a 30 year old movie which was shot on 16mm and then blown up to 35 mm would look like on Blu-ray, here's your answer. It's no surprise that the image doesn't look perfect, but it's still pretty good. As one would expect, there is some grain here, and it's more pronounced in the 1.85:1 version. Otherwise, the image is fairly sharp and, in a nice touch, shows very limited defects from the source materials. The image is a bit dark at times, but that's to be expected. The colors look pretty good and only look washed out in a few scenes. In a nice surprise, the image has a good amount of depth and there's nice separation between the background and foreground in some shots. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an adequate track, as it has presences and shows no defects. However, the surround sound is very disappointing, most notably during "The Unseen Force" shots. These moments should fill the speakers and they don't. Likewise, the subwoofer is very subtle.
The Evil Dead Blu-ray Disc contains one new extra, a new AUDIO COMMENTARY from Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert. This is a mixed-bag. The three talk non-stop, sharing anecdotes about the making of the film, a few of which I'd never heard in such detail. The problem here is that this commentary is rarely, if ever, scene-specific. While the trio talks the whole time, they're never commenting on what is currently happening in the movie. Still, it's good to see them still excited about the movie all these years later. The Blu-ray Disc comes packaged with a DVD which holds the extras found on the Ultimate Edition. A new addition here is "Book of the Dead: The Other Pages" (2 minutes), which is essentially a deleted scene. In the film, when Ash first discovers the book, we see him flip through it and we see a few pages. Here, the entire scene is intact, displaying all of the macabre art in the book.
Review Copyright 2007/2010 by Mike Long