Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition
December 11, 2007 - Jim Howard, Jr. and Peter M. Bracke, DVDFile.com
Another release of this film? You bet your Ash! About a previous release, Peter M. Bracke wrote:
“Coming at the tail end of a dying '70s horror cycle, The Evil Dead is probably the very definition of cult classic. Though such a term seems so commonplace today, back around the time The Evil Dead first premiered, the VCR and late-night cable mega- channels had yet to permeate the planet, so achieving "cult" status was a hard-won victory, earned via the trenches of midnight theatrical distribution and regional release patterns.
“One must look at the cycle of the horror film to see the significance of The Evil Dead. '70s horror by my definition started with Night Of the Living Dead in '69, then brought us through the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and The Exorcist, before arguably ending with A Nightmare On Elm Street in '84, the film which paved the way for the rebirth of horror via the postmodernism of Scream. The Evil Dead was a small masterpiece of dementia that capped off this waning horror revival in 1983 by combining kinetic and energetic camerawork by one Mr. Sam Raimi, but tempering it with abrupt shocks, tempo changes, extensive gore and dollops of perverse black comedy.
“The influence of The Evil Dead is far reaching and obvious to any horror fan. Though horror arguably lost steam as the '80s progressed, eventually succumbing to the dreaded horror comedy disease (see such dismal affairs as CHUD II for proof) the post-Evil Dead magic did influence other '80s horror classics like Dead Alive, the first Return Of The Living Dead, and The Re-Animator films. And certainly, its uneasy (at times) mix of comedy and scares was trendsetting if overlooked as farce. Indeed, the you could say that The Evil Dead was well ahead of its time.
“The premise is simple. Five friends retreat for a weekend in the woods, but unfortunately their vacation getaway spot happens to be a haunted, er, possessed cabin. Something to do with the Book Of The Dead, the Necronomicon, and lots of ghastly ghouls, demons and hair-raising horrors. Some argued that all of this was damn near pointless and plotless, but I'd argue that all horror films essentially reside in that place between dreaming and waking, the dead zone or twilight zone or whatever you want to call it. They are about the subconscious more than the conscious, and the rules of logic and meaning do not apply. The Evil Dead captures the syntax and structure of a nightmare with impeccable skill.
“While many wrote off the film as schlock, it is very well directed and edited on a surprisingly low budget, and the performances are appropriate to the material. Lead Bruce Campbell has emerged as quite a cult star since its release, and why he never broke into the mainstream is a mystery. He's a very skilled physical actor and comedian, which becomes more apparent with the subsequent Evil Dead flicks, and it is his energy, along with Sam Raimi's go-for-broke filmmaking style, that pulls off the picture. If there is no big moral or lesson, well, it is a visceral ride, and though admittedly a bit more emotional payoff or engagement may have been nice, it is about being scared and horrified, no more, no less. And on that level, Evil Dead delivers.
"By the way, I should mention if you are a horror fan or just curious, this is a pretty gory film and not for the weak of stomach - I wouldn't order a pizza or anything before sitting down with this one! But if you are a horror fan, you definitely have to check this out.”
Jim’s thoughts: Pete nailed the Evil Dead with its place in horror movie history and effectiveness. Ghastly and sometimes crude as it is, this hard-driving horror film apologizes for nothing. Literally filmed at an abandoned cabin in the Tennesee hills, the set and ambiance are authentic and effective. Raimi applies many creative and interesting scare tactics throughout the filming – in many ways the film is carefully constructed. The gritty tone is certainly reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (a film that Raimi and producer Robert Tapert acknowledge as the inspiration for The Evil Dead) including a short scene that pays homage to Massacre when Scott is investigating a peculiar back room.
And while some of the demonic make up can resemble a felt-tip pen to the face (the Linda and Shelley characters) and can even be campy and laughable, most of the bloody manifestations remain unnerving. However, Ellen Sandweiss as Cheryl is by far the most horrifying and memorable; her naturally hooked nose and strong chin enhance intensity. Sandweiss’ raging and infamous scenes of being locked in the cellar and lifting the partially chained cellar lid up and down is one of the film’s potent visuals that is hard to shake. And the dissonantly plucked violin music by Joe Loduca remains wickedly attentive and chaotic. But I’ve always claimed it’s mostly the hand-to-hand fighting against the mocking, murderous demons that gives this film a muscular, sweaty engagement that can leave you holding your breath.
The Video: How Does The Disc Look?
In the context of a 16 mm slam-it-out horror film, the care given the transfer is impressive. Sometimes the pasty make-up is obvious in the clarity. This Ultimate Edition, while not the THX, director-approved transfer from Anchor Bay in 2002, appears to be more consistent; Elite’s release as a clean, respectable full-frame transfer (here on disc two) as noted by Peter:
“Though I didn't expect it, this disc really blew me away. Presented in its original 1.37:1 filmed aspect ratio, the image popped of the screen for me. I'm used to seeing old crap VHS transfers of this, so the DVD here is a revelation. The image, while still dated in appearance, is incredibly clean and detailed, with solid color saturation and even fleshtones. Black level is very strong, though maybe a tad beneath some newer transfers. Image detail is very sharp.
“However, again, we are talking about a low-budget 1983 production [Jim: principle photography was in 1979 and 1980]. There are some scratches and specs on the original film elements, and you can tell this isn't a brand-new film. But, really, this is a impressive transfer, and fans of the film may just fall off their chairs when they see it.”
The first disc offers a 1.85:1 matted presentation presented in anamorphic video; evidently, there is a history of the film being presented theatrically in different ratios. The widescreen version’s quality mirrors that of the full frame version as Pete noted above. Yes, this version lops off the top and bottom of the screen to give a widescreen appearance (the same way that all flat- shot films are matted for the theater), although comparing a few scenes, the 1.85:1 shows slightly more information on the right and left as the examples show. For the most part, the compositions consistently look well balanced. I’m not sure if Raimi had this widescreen theatrical aspect ratio in mind while filming, but it feels comfortable.
For those of you with 16:9 (1.78:1) monitors, the 1.85:1 images will certainly fill out more of the screen and add improved detail for that portion of the image shown in the anamorphic transfer. If you haven’t seen the film in a long while or have never seen it and you have a 16:9 monitor, I’d recommend the anamorphic transfer for the most intense experience.
The Audio: How Does The Disc Sound?
Of a previous release, Pete notes:
“If someone ever told me that one day The Evil Dead would get new Dolby Digital and DTS remixes, I just wouldn't have believed them. But you gotta hand it to Anchor Bay, who else would think to remix this film in matrixed DTS 6.1 ES!? Admittedly, given the poor source material to work with, this isn't going to rival the likes of an Armageddon as demo material. But despite the deficiencies in the master recording - dialogue is still often muffled, high end shrill, and dynamic range cramped - this is a pretty aggressive and enveloping mix.
“Perhaps the most pronounced improvement in the soundtrack is the sense of separation among all the channels. While the music still sounds a bit flat, the sound effects really stand out. Though harsh, the shock stingers and droning industrial sounds get a nice little workout in the rears, with some noticeable discrete effects and fairly good panning. Low end is strong but sometimes feels artificially pumped up.”
This new DVD release also includes a Dolby Digital EX mix in addition to the DTS 6.1 ES mix from the previous release. However, going back and forth, I found the DTS 6.1 ES mix is notably superior in dynamic range with more discernable highs and a bit more bass. Dialogue and the plucked violin strings in the score also sound more persuasive in the DTS mix. With either mix, I didn’t notice discrete activity from the center surround speaker short of walking up to it, although the surrounds are consistently active and definitely open up the landscape nicely. Go with the DTS mix.
An English Dolby Surround 2.0 track is also included on disc one (widescreen). On disc two (full-frame), only an English Dolby Surround 2.0 track and a French 2.0 Dolby Surround 2.0 track are included; it’s disappointing that the Dolby EX and DTS 6.1 ES tracks are not included on the full frame version. English Closed Captions are included. Unfortunately, the film's original mono mix is not included (purists take note), nor are there any subtitle options on either disc.
Supplements: What Goodies Are There?
This edition ports over some old stuff and includes some new material.
The first disc includes the old audio commentary by writer/director Sam Raimi and Producer Robert Tapert and disc two includes the old commentary with actor and executive producer Bruce Campbell. As Pete has already described:
There are “…screen-specific audio commentaries by director Sam Raimi, producer Ron Tapert and star Bruce Campbell. These guys are quite the characters, and thankfully, they are anything but dull. Mr. Campbell especially is full of passion and energy for the production, and I can honestly say these are two of the better commentary tracks I've heard. Note that the first commentary is with Raimi and Tapert, with a second solo Campbell commentary on a separate track. Both are very good, and it is unique to get such different perspectives on the film, one from the production/direction side, the other from the actor's side.”
It should be noted that the film’s principle photography was shot from the fall of 1979 to the winter of 1980. The film couldn’t find a distributor for a few years, but finally caught on in 1982 and 1983, aided by home video.
Disc One includes a new 54-minute featurette called One By One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead. This includes back-stories from producer Ron Tapert, Bruce Campbell, and the ladies of The Evil Dead. Also included are some outtakes from the film. Other new filmmakers weigh in on their being inspired by The Evil Dead including huge fan and successful horror director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel). Sadly, Sam Raimi is not included, but it was noted that he was knee deep in Spiderman III during the production of these 2006 interviews.
Disc Two includes a new 59-minute featurette called From the Cutting Room Floor. This is a motherload of extra footage that fans should love! The producer of this featurette wisely keeps many of the outtakes and extended scenes in the same sequence as the feature film. Watch the actors hurt themselves, come in and out of ghastly demonic character, and listen to that obnoxiously loud fog machine go on and off. Sometimes there is no audio, but when there is audio it's usually raw with no effects. This featurette is just back-to-back footage. The young performers and filmmakers are clearly working very hard, but also having a great time with little bits of joking around with a very giddy Sam Raimi.
Disc Three mostly includes interviews with the Ladies of The Evil Dead. After filming, the ladies moved on, got married and “became soccer moms.” For years, some were embarrassed by their participation (Ellen Sandweiss), and one was suspended by the Screen Actors Guild for changing her name for this independent project and not reporting her participation in this film (Sarah York). But the women got together and decided to have some fun with the cult legacy of the film and start going to horror conventions. They mostly note the kindness of the fans. The ladies even have their own website.
The first featurette, Life After Death: The Ladies of The Evil Dead (15 minutes), interviews each of the ladies; they talk about their involvement and the struggles during the making of the film.
Next up is the featurette The Ladies of The Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell (29 minutes), which continues the interviews and brings them all together for more stories, especially noted by the affable Bruce Campbell.
Following that is the featurette Unconventional (20 minutes). This includes the whole cast after hours at a horror convention (including Hal Delrich “Scotty”) cutting it up, so to speak.
Then there is the featurette At The Drive In (13 minutes) that has the ladies of The Evil Dead and Bruce Campbell giving away copies of the Elite release of the DVD to a crowd of fans – and not much else. It is kind of odd and definitely not very informative – but ya gotta watch it if you’ve come this far, right?
Reunion Panel is another featurette (31 minutes). As the title suggests, it is with most of the cast. Frankly, most of them turn the questions into jokes, which made me feel like they kind of disrespected the fans and the film. There was one question I always wanted to know that Ellen Sandweiss asks Campbell: Why didn’t they use one of the cast for the famous coverart of the woman half in the ground with a hand clasping her throat? Campbell names the actress who did that, but keeps mum about why. Of course, Sandweiss then claims, “you were probably sleeping with her.”
Discovering The Evil Dead (13 minutes) featurette discusses distribution deals of The Evil Dead in Europe. This is an informative, interesting featurette about the movie business, even if it was twenty-five years ago.
Make Up test featurette (1:06) isn’t much. Half of it is the projector scene with blood streaming down (used in a latter scene with Ash), and then the second half shows a combination of matting with stop motion.
Inside of the fold out case is a flap that holds a 19 inch by 15 inch mini poster of the film. One side is the natural picture of the girl half in the ground, desperately reaching up while a dirty hand is coming out of the ground clasped around her throat. The other side is the more famous painting of her pose, which, of course, is the infamous and original cover art of this DVD (and the original VHS release).
About forty behind-the-scenes shots are included in the Still Gallery courtesy of Tom Sullivan and Ellen Sandweiss. Poster and Memorabilia Gallery includes about twenty pictures including some monster diagrams with notes also courtesy of Tom Sullivan and Ellen Sandweiss. Evil Dead’s trailer and four TV Spots are included. Other Anchor Bay trailers include Hatchet, Behind the Mask, Phantasm, Hellraiser, and Re-Animator.
85-minute film is organized into twenty-five chapters.
Exclusive DVD-ROM Features: What happens when you pop the disc into your PC?
There are no DVD-ROM features on this DVD.
So far I’ve discovered three easter eggs and they are easy to find. The first one is on disc two in the special features section. Move your curser to the right and there will be this…well, kind of like a bloody thumb-print. Anyway, it’s an extended scene of Bruce Campbell looking through every single page of The Book of the Dead down in the basement. Some of the pages are creepy. The scene includes post-production sound.
The second and third easter eggs are on the third DVD. About half way down the list of features, you can move your remote’s cursor to the left and you’ll see two red, blood-like spots. The first egg is from Halloween 2001 when Anchor Bay screened a new print of The Evil Dead to a capacity crowd at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood California. Afterwards there was a discussion with a moderator, producer Robert Tapert, and actresses Betsy Baker and Sarah York. It’s this discussion that is the featurette clocking in at slightly over seven minutes. The third easter egg has a game Ellen Sandweiss going back to the high school where she, Sam Raimi, and Bruce Campbell had the same drama teacher. She talks to him in the parking lot for about four minutes as he recounts a few stories and his admiration of the film (he has the skin encrusted special edition DVD of The Evil Dead). It’s cute featurette.
Back in the 1980s, I somehow got away with renting tons of horror films before I became an of-legal-age teenager. The Evil Dead was one that stood out and shocked the daylights out of me and has gone on to become this amazing cult classic. The film still maintains its bulldozing, visceral ferocity and is not for the weak of heart. The transfers look good in both widescreen and full screen renditions on separate DVDs. The sound is probably about as good as it’s going to get (on the widescreen DVD), save for a future high definition release (which could provide a higher-bit rate or lossless audio). The hefty amount of supplements include many new (well, 2006-new) interviews with the women from The Evil Dead, and a few interesting easter eggs. Even as an Ultimate Edition 3-disc release, yes, this is yet another release of this horror film. But it does offer an interesting package with new content that fans will want to examine. If you are a horror fan and have never purchased The Evil Dead, this makes for a great, recommended deal.
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