The Evil Dead
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The Evil Dead, director Sam Raimi's (Darkman, Quick & The Dead, Army Of Darkness) first feature film, is a true cult classic in every sense of the word. Originally released in 1982, The Evil Dead tells the tale of a group of friends who go to a cabin in the woods, where they find an unspeakable evil lurking in the forest. They find the Necronomicon, the Book Of The Dead, and the taped translation of the text. Once the tape is played, the evil is released. One by one, the teens become deadly zombies. With only one remaining (Bruce Campbell), it is up to him to survive the night and battle The Evil Dead.
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Such was the case with "Evil Dead", in which a couple of years ago, I gave it an average review and criticized its supposed bad acting and script holes but praised its production values (I have since deleted this review and replace it with this one). Watching it again on Blu-Ray, I can finally understand the entire hullabaloo. The goofy acting actually adds rather takes away from the film and as for the script errors - well, nobody complained about how Rick's raincoat suddenly dried up after reading Elsa's letter in "Casablanca". "Evil Dead" is, far from underwhelming, a relentless experience from beginning to end. In fact, it is so unremittingly intense that Raimi had to make its sequel considerably lighter in tone.
Watching "Evil Dead" made me discover all the hidden nuances that I didn't see the first time I saw. The supposedly "dumb" characters that Raimi created was intentional - unlike most slasher films, that lazily goes through the motions to set up a character's death, the way Raimi sets up these characters' mistakes and inevitable demises has weight because he shows us how a minor foolish action could have severe ramifications. Take, for example, the scene where Cheryl is raped by the trees in the forest. The scene is shocking in its gleeful violence, but the aftermath gives it weight. Cheryl tells her friends the experience, but none of them believe her. This subsequently leads to a chilling scene involving a deck of cards where a demonically possessed Cheryl goes berserk and stabs Linda with a pencil, which in turns leads to her possession. Thus we find out the motivation behind such sequences - small human errors leads to large ramifications to all the characters involved and it becomes an endless cycle until one character is left standing.
If there is an argument where less is more, then "Evil Dead" is truly the model of that argument. The way Sam Raimi builds scenes for the inevitable scare and the gruesome murder now strikes me as impressive enough, but the methods he used to make the film bigger is astonishing given the film's pathetic budget. The claustrophobic sets, the drearily grainy imagery and the dark shadows lurking outside the cabin and in that dreaded cellar add to the horror, creating a frightening experience for viewers who want to get out but are trapped inside much like the film's ill-fated characters.
Unfortunately, this was something that I didn't notice when I watched it on DVD a few years ago. Watching it on Blu-Ray, however, I understood the director's intentions. The 16mm camerawork of "Evil Dead" is extremely effective in capturing the grit and violent imagery on film. In that sense, Raimi's challenge in overcoming all kinds of deficiencies that would have been solved by a few extra million dollars benefits rather than takes away from the picture.
As far as the goofy acting is concerned, I have another confession: I enjoyed it. First time I saw it, I didn't like it. But watching it again made me rethink my opinions. Far from an example of bad acting; the "dumb characters" now strikes me as comic relief and their goofiness even adds to the gallows humor to the seemingly scary sequences. One of the best moments comes when a possessed Cheryl grabs Ash by the throats, which leads to Ash whining at the demons for tormenting him. Suddenly, he turns away to see one of Ash's possessed friends gleefully declare, "We're gonna get you". It's a wonderful sequence that's both funny and scary at the same time.
"Evil Dead" is a movie that warrants second viewing even by people who hated it the first time they watched it. On my first viewing, I was underwhelmed by the film given the hype. Watching it on Blu-Ray made me want to stab a pencil on my ankle for not realizing the film's brilliance. "Evil Dead" is the "Detour" of horror movies: a zero-budget movie that overcame its financial hurdles to deliver a visceral experience for viewers and in doing so redefined its genre. The Blu-Ray enhances the experience even further, providing an exceptionally grainy video (remember, this was shot on 16mm) and a rousing Dolby True HD 5.1 track. As for the bonus features, unfortunately I bought the bare-bones Blu-Ray version that only contains the audio commentary track (recommended for those who want to make films with minimal production values), but there is a limited edition out there that contains a DVD disc featuring numerous supplements. Either way, don't even think of starting your horror collection without this great picture.
First the good -- the cover is excellent. Kind of this squishy latex foam (stinky) cover to simulate human skin -- it's also chock full of Tom Sullivan's drawing. Artistically, pretty cool but not great to stack with your DVDs.
FANanalysis, the documentary by Bruce Campbell was great. Bruce takes Evil DeadHeads behind the scenes at conventions and offers an intimate portrayal of himself interacting. Although it was very short (23 minutes) I thoroughly enjoyed watching this little gem of an addition to this DVD. A must-see.
The sound and picture of the Evil Dead is outstanding. Considering this was a cheaply made film, MAN did they clean everything up and clarify all the details of the movie. Probably the best I've seen.
Plus, there are some Easter Eggs in this DVD. At main menu:
Egg 1: go to EXTRAS highlight "trailer" > arrow left that should highlight a fish, click it (this will play a screen test for the animation of one of the zombies)
Egg 2: at EXTRAS click "more" highlight "fanalysis" > arrow left
that will highlight a skull, click it (this features a short film of a discussion of Evil Dead. Robert Tapert and the actresses who play Linda and Shelly discuss a little about what went on during the filming. Robert briefly mentions his wife <who is the actress who plays Xena for those of you who didn't know> Also talks a bit about their next film collaboration that could be the 4th Evil Dead)
Now, the not-so-great. Well, unfortunately, the prequel "Within the Woods" was apparently pulled by some yahoo guy at the last minute at Columbia. Why, we don't know but I know a number of fans were really ticked about this. Don't despair! Surf the web and you'll find ways of getting a bootleg --albeit a crappy copy, but it's out there. And you have GOT to see it -- you will see all the inspiration for Evil Dead including the parts that ended up transferring over to the next two flicks.
The commentary was cut into two sections: Bruce by himself and Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi on the other. If you have the Evil Dead 2 special edition, you'd appreciate the commentary for the way they kid each other. Bruce is great with technical details but I think they should have had him comment with Sam and Rob. Sam has a tendency to get into his flicks and go quiet so there were long pauses despite the fact Rob was with him. They should have had the three of them together for one commentary as it is too much fun listening to them all kid each other and laugh about how they pulled Evil Dead off. At one point, Rob questions why they separated them for the commentaries (which tells me it wasn't their idea) and I missed their friendly bantering.
The outtakes section was interesting, but boring. I got the impression it was them messing up and laughing, but alas, it was merely unused takes and footage. Not bad, but probably interesting for die-hard fans only.
Overall, it's a good DVD, but incomplete. I get the impression that "Within the Woods" is thought of by the studios as a money-maker which might be why they pulled it at the last second. If this is apparent, then hopefully the hesitant studios will realize that the Dead series is a money maker and offer the funds for a new flick.
Good for die-hard fans, decent collectable.