“Someone’s in my fruit cellar! Someone with a fresh soooul!”
Sam Raimi wasn’t really interested in making a horror movie. Weaned on The Three Stooges, comedy was really more his style, but he could only find interested investors if he made a horror movie. So he and his filmmaking partner, Bruce Campbell, made the short film Within the Woods and with it secured funding for their first feature length movie, The Book of the Dead. When it was pointed out kids might not see a movie with book in the title, the name was changed to Evil Dead. With help from Stephen King proclaiming the movie as “the most ferociously original film of the year,” it became a moderate box office success (in short it made money even if the cast and crew didn’t). The uncut version which then circulated the video market elevated it quickly into cult status.
Raimi’s teamed up with the Coen Brothers to make his follow up film, Crimewave. It met all the criteria for the kind of comedy he really wanted to make. Goofy, kinetic and experimental, the movie’s dailies so shocked Embassy Pictures studios they took control away from Raimi, re-edited and released the film to an extremely limited number of theaters. Of course it totally bombed.
Pretty much against his will, Raimi was convinced by his team he needed to make a sequel to Evil Dead, but if he had to do it, he decided this time he would make the movie he wanted to see. Since all the characters pretty much died in the first film, the follow up would be more of a remake than a sequel. He amped up the humor quotient well past over the top, but never pulled any punches with the shocks and gore, and thus he invented the genre of Splatstick. The result was Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, arguably the greatest horror comedy of all time.
The story goes like this… Ash (Bruce Campbell) and Linda (Denise Bixler) are spending the weekend in an isolated cabin they rented. They discover a tape recorder and listen to the recordings of an archeology professor (the cabin’s previous inhabitant) reciting passages from an ancient Sumerian text, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (or “Book of the Dead”), discovered during a recent archaeological dig. The recorded incantations release evil Candarian demons. Linda is possessed first and attacks Ash; the resulting wounds spread the demonic disease to his hand. As he battles to resist possession, he is joined by the professor’s daughter, Annie (Sarah Berry), her boyfriend Ed (Richard Domeier) and their reluctant redneck guides Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Kassie Wesley DePaiva). Together they must find a way to banish the demons before everyone ends up dead by dawn.
Now let’s be clear. Sam Raimi made a wonderfully inventive low-tech movie. The acting is more in line with a Chuck Jones cartoon than anything realistic, but this is intentional and adds to the chaotic anything goes spectacle which elevates this movie to more than just a cult classic. By today’s standards the effects may seem quaint and dated, but this is the charm of Evil Dead II; the pure inventiveness Raimi employs to take you on his wild ride is nothing short of brilliant.
As is Bruce Campbell’s performance. Growing up with Raimi and making movies with him since they were kids gives Campbell and Raimi a shorthand connection shared by other great directors and actors like Akira Kurosawa and Toshir? Mifune or John Ford and John Wayne. Under Raimi’s often sadistic direction, Campbell achieves such an extreme physical performance it is a wonder he didn’t kill himself. It really must be seen to be believed. The possessed hand sequence alone is a cinematic treasure.
Evil Dead II: 25th Anniversary Edition comes with a new MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 mastered to a BD-50 disc and running an average of 28 Mbps. This is easily the best this movie has ever looked, perhaps even better than the original release prints. Colors are bright and really pop. Details are amazing, especially in fine object and textural scenes. Just look at the goop on Ash’s face and you can even see flyaway hairs. Blacks are rich and stable for the most part, but can be a bit crushed during some of the exterior night scenes. However, being a low-budget project it is still incredibly grainy. Some softening is evident, primarily during some of the effects shots. There is a slight degree of noise reduction and color banding, but considering the sources it is a wonderful re-master.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack offers some dynamic immersion into the surround channels and abundant LFE. Some of the SFX gags are brilliantly integrated into the surround, and the dialog is crisp and well captured. Balance is decent between SFX/music and dialog. Due to the nature of the sources, some of the dialog sounds a bit thin, betraying a bit of crackle and distortion.
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Sam Raimi, Actor Bruce Campbell, Co-Writer Scott Spiegel and Special Make-Up Effects Artist Greg Nicotero. This previously released commentary track is a riot. Raimi and Campbell really spark it up and will keep you laughing throughout. Nicotero’s technical details are fascinating, but they are mostly all repeated in the subsequent materials.
- Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead 2 (1:38:00; HD]). An excellent group of featurettes digging deep beneath the surface to examine the insanity that was the making of this film and its lasting cultural impact.
- Cabin Fever – A “Fly on the Wall” Look Behind the Scenes of Evil Dead II (30:22; HD) camcorder documentation featuring Special Make-Up Effects Creator Greg Nicotero’s personal behind the scenes video collection. Includes on-set videos of legendary deleted scenes.
- Road to Wadesboro: Revisiting the Shooting Location with Filmmaker Tony Elwood (8:00; HD) the film’s special effects props master takes us back to the locations.
- Evil Dead II: Behind-the-Screams (17:07; SD) Tom Sullivan narrates a slideshow of production stills.
- The Gore the Merrier (31:51; SD) an archival makeup behind the scenes EPK.
- Theatrical Trailer (1:29; HD)
- Still Galleries Advertising & Memorabilia, Behind-the-Scenes, Special Make-up Effects and Stop Motion Animation.
I remember laughing so hard in the theater I was asked to keep it down or leave by an usher. Then, the next moment I was pinned to my seat with tension and grinning every minute of it. I love this film, but it may be an acquired taste for some. I humbly submit it is the gold standard for horror comedies. This is probably as good as the transfer is ever going to get, so if you have been waiting for the right HD package, pick this one up.
“Then let’s head on down into that cellar and carve ourselves a witch.”