"The Evil Dead" arrived on the scene at just about the time when the home video revolution was really starting to kick off in the early Eighties, and seems to have undergone something of a resurrection with the emerging DVD revolution. Twenty years since Sam Raimi unleashed "the ultimate experience in grueling horror" on an unsuspecting world, this much-loved film and it's two sequels continue to spawn a seemingly never ending series of revamped DVD editions--and now Anchor Bay U.K. attempt to give us the definitive Evil Dead DVD experience with a cool-looking box set containing all three films of the trilogy plus a disc-full of new extras (along with many of the old ones). Have they delivered? Read on and find out!
First up - the original Evil Dead movie. Everybody has their favourite entry in the trilogy but I must admit the "grungy" original is still my favourite. The film sets up a simple scenario involving a group of friends staying in a deserted log cabin in the woods who unwittingly unleash a malevolent evil spirit which possesses them one by one, turning them into cackling zombie killers. Once this basic scenario is set up it's non-stop nerve jangling tension all the way! Full of inventive camera acrobatics, lots of traditional jolts and an incredibly spooky sound design, the film is a master-class in horror cinema and like "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" utilises humour without it detracting from the relentless roller coaster ride of horror one bit.
We actually have two versions of the film included with this box-set: First of all we have the disc from The Book Of The Dead Edition. This is the matted 1.85:1 widescreen version with Dolby 5.1 surround, Digital Surround 6.1 DTS-ES and 2.0 Dolby Surround (French and English).
All of the previous extras are include here:
- Commentaries with Raimi, Tapert and Campbell
- Talent bios, trailers and TV spots
- Outtakes and stills gallery
- Two featurettes: Bruce Campbell's "Fanalaysis", in which Mr. Campbell does his best Louis Theroux impersonation: interviewing various obsessed fans at conventions and signings; and "Discovering Evil Dead", a featurette on the release of the movie in the UK by Palace Films.
If you didn't like the fact that the film was matted to create a widescreen anamorphic transfer for the Book Of The Dead edition then your troubles are over, since Anchor Bay U.K. have included a bonus disc which, besides including a ton of brand new extras (which we'll come to later), also includes the unmatted full-frame version of the film while retaining all the audio options from the widescreen version. You'll be glad to hear that the transfer looks just as sharp as it does on the widescreen version.
The Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn was Raimi's comeback vehicle after the disappointment of "Crime Wave". The film continues the story where the last one left off but adds a new ten minute intro to make the film work as a "stand alone" picture for those multiplex customers who never experienced the original. With a bigger budget at his disposal Raimi is able to bring even more energy and inventiveness to this entry in the series, but slapstick humour is the most noticeable ingredient to be added. In fact, it's hard to think of another film which combines scares and humour in quite the same way as "Evil Dead II". There are still many moments that make you jump out of your seat but it is the scenes of absurdist slack-stick that are the most memorable: Ash running around with the severed head of his girlfriend clamped to his fist; Ash's possessed hand smashing plates over its owners head; and, after it has been chain sawed off ("Who's laughing now!!"), the impish hand giving Ash the finger ... only to get it's self caught in a mouse trap! The humour here is pure cartoon farce and in one scene in particular — where the entire furnishings of the log cabin come to life — the film actually seems to become a living cartoon. The film still plays well some fifteen years later and confirmed Raimi's incredible talent for those who had doubted.
The version originally released by BMG appears in this box-set thanks to a sub- licensing deal between them and Anchor Bay UK. It contains the trailer, a half-hour Making Of Featurette and an audio commentary with Raimi, Tapert and Campbell.
For the third installment of the trilogy, Army Of Darkness, Raimi took the Evil Dead experience in an entirely new direction. The film is a humorous, Sword-and-Sorcery, fantasy adventure that picks up where the second film left off -- with Ash stranded in a Medieval England which is being terrorised by the same evil spirit that tormented him and his friends back in that infamous log cabin in the previous movies! To get back home Ash must find the Necronomicon, which contains a passage which can send him back to his own time-period. But before he can do that he must battle the hoards of deadites and a macabre army of living skeletons ... an army of darkness!
For A long time I resisted "Army Of Darkness" -- rather simple-mindedly, I wasn't happy with the non-horror turn the series had taken and wasn't particularly desperate to see this film. So much so that this is the first time I've actually sat down and watched it! Of course, it turns out to be great fun! I still wouldn't place it on a par with the previous two movies but the comedy and fantasy elements no longer grate with me (I've mellowed in my old age!) and there turns out to be much to admire in Raimi's energetic ode to his beloved slapstick comedy. Despite the (for the time) amazing special effects, the film is another great vehicle for Bruce Campbell's "cool idiot" persona and is filled with some incredibly surreal scenes of absurdist comedy such as the scene where Ash is tormented by a group of "mini-Ashes" and the scene where an evil Ash grows out of our hero's shoulder! The whole movie is a star turn for Campbell who gets to dominate every scene -- he's even doing battle with the evil incarnation of himself for most of the movie!
The version included in this box set is the same version of the director's cut as was included on the recent UK two-disc edition. You get the commentary track with Raimi and Campbell; some deleted scenes (with optional commentary); Director's storyboards which can be accessed at any point in the movie; and some artwork designs. Although quite watchable, this is where some people may feel this box set is lacking because the transfer used for this director's cut is the one that was assembled from work-prints which were not always of the best quality. Recently MGM released the film on a Region 3 DVD which turned out to offer a much better quality print and also 5.1 sound. Unfortunately, Anchor Bay UK couldn't get the rights to use this print and so have used the older one from their own previous release. Also, we don't get the original ending of the theatrical version of the movie included in this box-set. That aside, I didn't find this transfer to be as bad as I had expected from reading about it. It is still quite watchable -- although you can easily tell when scenes have been inserted from those below par work-prints!
Now, it is pretty much a dead cert that all you Evil Dead fans already own all three movies on DVD already. So is it worth paying out again for this box set? Well, the obsessive fan will buy it anyway just because it looks so cool! But for the rest of you it will come down to the quality of the new extras included on the bonus fourth disc. Beside the already mentioned un-matted version of the original Evil Dead film, this is what you get:
- "The Living Love The Dead": A half hour documentary made by Nucleus films featuring appreciations of the Evil Dead trilogy from such luminaries as Darkside editor Allan Bryce, Alan Jones, Emily Booth and many others.
- "Dead Good Marketing ": A featurette examining the UK marketing campaign for Evil Dead 1 and 2 featuring interviews with those involved. Includes the UK TV spot for Evil Dead 2 featuring Jonathan Ross and Sam Raimi.
- "Bruce Campbell: Geek Or God": The same contributors from the previous features discuss the enduring appeal of Bruce Campbell and the development of his portrayal of Ash over the three Evil Dead films.
- "The Incredibly Strange Film Show": This is an episode from the 1988 Channel Four series written and hosted by Jonathan Ross. The episode features an interview with Sam Raimi and contributions from Bruce Campbell and Robert Tappert. There is also behind the scenes footage from the making of Scott Spiegel's "The Intruder", in which Raimi starred, and on-set interviews with Spiegel and Raimi.
- Antihero music video: A video inspired by "The Evil Dead".
If you never got around to getting any of the Evil Dead films on DVD then purchase of this box set is a no-brainer, since it offers a great bargain. If you have got them all already then it depends on how much you value extras: The new stuff included here makes entertaining viewing — there probably isn't much new information to add about the making of the film because it's all been covered on previous releases, so these features tend to concentrate on personal reminiscences from various people involved with reviewing or promoting the films at the time they came out in the UK. They fill in a lot of colour to the background behind the release of the first two films in the UK and should be of interest to most fans.
This is a great set then — but slightly let down by not including the very best print of "Army Of Darkness" available, which means it isn't quite the definitive set of all three films... but it is darn close!