Evil Dead! Evil Dead! Evil Dead! Sam Raimi's fanriffic masterpiece has made it to the one format it feels least comfortable in: high definition. During the batshit-crazy scenes, there's no disruption from the wear and tear done to the videotape after repeated viewings. Sure, that's the exact opposite of what Blu-ray discs represent, but perfection is subjective. If Evil Dead and all of its ridiculous effects were perfect, it would be a classic in a completely different sense. Horror films often lack a fun element, so I wouldn't change this film for anything. Not that I have any say in it anyway.
Five young adults go out into a shitty cabin in the woods, and demonic possession runs amok, leaving bloody body parts in its wake. It's a plotline that shares its elements with myriad low-budget fright flicks from the 1980s. Sure, some of those are good in their own right, and might be memorable for select scenes or kills, but very few retain any amount of cinematic power decades later (or even during a second viewing). Quality directors never exactly swamped the horror genre with their talent and vision. Fortunately, 21-year-old Sam Raimi was a genre fan and didn't have enough money to make anything posh or polished.
I hadn't watched Evil Dead in ages, so it was a much-needed jaunt after all these years of misguided horror movies. (Also, it was my wife's first viewing, so it was nice to see someone react to the tree-rape scene with any amount of surprise.) The dialogue is particularly limp this many years on, and the story still doesn't make any sense at all, but it didn't occur to me as it was happening. The atmosphere and direction deftly carry you to the end of the movie with gleeful dread. Obvious faults become part of the fun. If that were taken away, then it would resemble the one-dimensional gorefests clogging DVD shelves now, except with Raimi's motion-filled camera work. You know how a clown is scary no matter if he's extremely well made-up or extremely sloppy? That's what Evil Dead is like.
It's reassuring that the graininess of past prints remains present even through definition and resolution updates. It's my own fault for watching none of the many versions of the film on DVD, so I can't even compare that. I can only refer back to what I remember from my youth, which may be better, because Evil Dead will (until 2012 or so) never look or sound superior.
It was almost humbling to watch it again, because all of the more bizarre moments were still in my mind, but I'd forgotten how involving the bits are when Raimi just drags the camera all over the place without anything going on. The best part of it is that nothing is going on! There's no cat behind a curtain, no characters appearing to another character for a cheap jolt. Maybe a couple pop up, but it's so much more satisfying to feel unnerved than it is to feel cheated. I hate knowing that a bathroom mirror on set means that someone is going to look into that mirror later in a movie. Raimi doesn't give a shit about that. He's fine zipping through trees and watching characters through windows; he manages to transcend stupid dialogue by tweaking the way you see and hear it.
Let me be honest here, truly honest: I hadn't watched Evil Dead in so many years because I thought my fat head would find a way to unlike it. After reviewing movies for a while, it's hard to watch a one and not pigeonhole the errors made. And I'm fully aware that this should be a shitty movie. (Blasphemy!) I haven't mentioned the cast much because they were a bunch of younguns that never thought the film would get seen; also Bruce Campbell. He was doing too many things behind the scenes to really break out as the WTF Ash of the sequels. He still becomes an iconic character, as everyone else except him becomes a knight in Satan's service, but it's still not an amazing performance. Also, I've become quite bored with all movies about possession; although it's because most of them try to top Evil Dead or The Exorcist, and fail miserably on all fronts except for special effects.
So, I was wrong. I did not about-face. I am once again in the grips of Evil Dead's grasp. It's consistent throughout, and is one of those movies you can catch at any given instance, and get pulled right into the hammy hijinks. And if you're really lucky, you'll put it on during the still-amazing claymation-filled finale, and then find that there's another showing immediately afterward.
This Blu-ray edition contains most of the same special features that the multitude of Evil Dead DVD sets have showcased over the past few years. The single all-new extra is a commentary by Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and producer Robert Tapert. Like each of the other talk-heavy features on the disc, this track sets a high bar for how interesting and flowing a commentary can be. Obviously, almost everything being said has been explained to death in years previous, so it's quite professional and info-driven. And, of course, there's laughs.
"One By One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead" is an hour-long doc that covers, in enjoyable excess, Raimi's short-film roots all the way to the cult phenomenon that has followed the film over the years. Loads of interviews and archival footage are compiled for a truly in-depth trek through the horrors involved in making this low-budget classic, from an underestimated shooting schedule to having such an amateur cast.
"The Ladies of The Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell" sits actresses Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Sarah York, and the man himself down for a half-hour storytelling session. It's amazing how many anecdotes can be told about this film. "Discovering Evil Dead" is a short visit with Stephen Wooley of Palace Pictures, the upstart that distributed the film in the UK. "Unconventional" has the cast discussing the growing popularity of fan conventions and the pros and cons of constant reunions and the people who are nuts about them.
"At the Drive-In" has the cast at a drive-in, engaging fans in activities in order to win prizes. It's a fluff piece, but is still funny enough to hold water. "Reunion Panel" was shot at a 2005 horror convention, and is exactly what it sounds like: a funny, informative half-hour long Q&A. By this point, you're hearing some of the same stories over and over again, but it's fine. "Book of the Dead: The Other Pages" is a short segment with loads of pages created for the book featured in the movie. "Make-up Test" is pretty useless; it's blood dripping and a fake head melting.
Then there is a large photo gallery, trailers, and TV spots. That's many hours of features that I myself had missed on all the other releases. So, horror fans, that covers it. You know you're gonna buy this if you haven't already. It's got a cheap price tag for a Blu-ray, and it looks and sounds even more fantastic than before. Watch it instead of Spider-Man, again and again.