Evil Dead, The (1981): Limited Edition
Release Date(s)1981 (August 31, 2010)
Studio(s)Renaissance Pictures (Anchor Bay)
If you’re reading this review, odds are you already own Sam Raimi’s modern classic on DVD. As a matter of fact, if you’re anything like me, you probably own two or three versions of it. Anchor Bay has carved out a nice little cottage industry for itself, churning out new editions of The Evil Dead and its sequels like clockwork. Once Blu-ray came along, it was only a matter of time before the Bay cracked open the Necronomicon once again and sent a new HD version out to swallow your soul... not to mention your cash.
Unlike most of my reviews, I’m not going to waste a lot of time telling you about the movie and what I think about it. You know it backwards and forwards just as well as I do. Just so we’re all on the same page here, it’s a brilliant piece of work, one of the best horror movies made in my lifetime and one of the most confident and audacious debuts for a filmmaker you’re likely to see. ‘Tis great but don’t just take my word for it. Todd Doogan did an exemplary job covering two of Anchor Bay’s previous DVDs (here and here), so if you’ve honestly never heard of this picture before and want to know what it’s all about, go read Doogan’s words of wisdom.
For the rest of us, the loyal Deadites who already appreciate the movie’s greatness, let’s look at the Blu-ray itself. The disc provides two options for viewing: the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and an enhanced widescreen 1.85:1 version. Both HD transfers were personally supervised by Sam Raimi hisownself and I can say without fear of contradiction that The Evil Dead has never looked better. Keep in mind, however, that this picture was shot in 16mm on a miniscule budget in 1980. The image is grainy and often very soft, which is exactly what it’s meant to look like. But the color reproduction is spot-on perfect with deep, solid blacks and realistic flesh tones that make the frequent splashes of blood pop with a deep crimson red. The difference between the two aspect ratios is essentially a matter of personal preference. If you grew up watching this, you may prefer the 1.33:1 version. If you want your widescreen TV to deliver as cinematic an experience as possible, you’ll likely gravitate toward the 1.85:1. Both look equally terrific.
Audio is delivered in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and it’s quite good, especially when hell starts breaking loose. It’s well-balanced and I appreciated that they resisted the temptation to boost the big scare moments more than was necessary. They’re strong but not so much that you’re sent scrambling for the remote to turn it down before your neighbors call the cops.
The sole bonus feature on the Blu-ray is a new commentary recorded late last year by Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell (more on this in a minute). The other bonuses are on what’s billed as a “Limited Edition Bonus DVD”. It isn’t clear exactly how “limited” this edition may be... I don’t think anyone will have any trouble finding it but if you’re interested, you probably shouldn’t dawdle.
The disc includes almost everything from the Bay’s Ultimate Edition from a few years back. This means you get the terrific documentary One By One We Will Take You, raw behind-the-scenes footage called Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor, the self-explanatory The Ladies of The Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell, the UK-centric Discovering The Evil Dead, panel and convention highlights (Unconventional, At the Drive-In and Reunion Panel), a make-up effects test, the trailer and four TV spots, a photo gallery and some quick alternate footage called Book of the Dead: The Other Pages with Ash flipping through the Necronomicon. NOT included are the two original commentary tracks: one by Raimi and Tapert dating from Elite Entertainment’s laserdisc back in the Mesozoic Era and a solo Campbell track, both of which were well worth preserving.
Those two commentaries can also be found on The Book of the Dead limited edition, which also boasted two other MIA extras: Campbell’s short documentary Fanalysis and an Easter egg featuring Tapert and actresses Betsy Baker and Sarah York at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Also, the continued absence of Raimi’s original short film Within the Woods will prove a thorn in the side to hardcore fans, although at this point we should probably abandon hope of ever seeing it on disc. It’s a shame these previously released extras haven’t been included, although if you have The Book of the Dead edition, you already have them and let’s face it, The Book of the Dead edition is so cool, you probably weren’t going to give it up anyway.
Bottom line: is this Blu-ray worth the upgrade? For the most part, yes it is. You’ll get the best quality version of the film you will ever buy in your life, that’s for sure. If you’ve got The Book of the Dead edition and the Blu-ray, you’re good to go. They’re the only two versions you need to have. If all you have is the Ultimate Edition, you may still want to hang on to it for the original commentaries... all you’re really getting for your money is improved picture and sound and a new commentary which isn’t nearly as much fun as the originals. It’s not bad... you just kind of get the feeling that these guys are a little tired of talking about this movie after all these years. I can’t say I blame them. But it’s almost impossible to be tired of watching it after all these years and the Blu-ray provides the best possible way to do that.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke