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Evil Dead 2: 25th Anniversary Edition
Release Date(s)1987 (November 15, 2011)
Studio(s)De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/Renaissance Pictures (Lionsgate)
Remember the good old days of movie watching? Remember when you could go out to your local video store and pick up a handful of VHS tapes for around $5? I used to do that too. Evil Dead 2, like many genre discoveries when you're that age, just happened to be one of those previously-mentioned rentals, forever-changing my movie appetite.
Chances are very good that if you're reading this review, you already know what Evil Dead 2 is. You've probably seen it just as many times as I have and you're just here to check out what's up with the new Blu-ray release of the film. You're probably already well-aware that it's one of the most amazing horror comedies ever made, and I'd bet money that you grew up watching it or saw it in college on VHS, wearing out the tracking of the tape in the process. You've also probably spent an enormous amount of time acting out and quoting parts of the movie with your friends. Don't worry - we've all done it. Because of this obsessive and compulsive behavior (as well just sheer love for it), Evil Dead 2 continues to live on through new home video formats and entertain new generations of horror fans and influence not just films, but filmmakers of all types from all genres, as well. Not bad for "the sequel to the ultimate experience in grueling terror."
Like the original film, Evil Dead 2's home video life has been problematical for serious videophiles. The original DVD release featured a THX-quality transfer with an improperly-framed open matte presentation, while the original Anchor Bay Blu-ray release was derided by many as being too glossy and clean-looking. Now that Lionsgate has been given the distribution duties, they've managed to put together a very fine presentation, and dare I say, a nearly definitive one. Like a lot of smaller budget films, Evil Dead 2 was shot quickly with very little money and not the cleanest film stock available at that time. With this new transfer, the lack of an even quality is now enhanced with very crisp and sharp image detail. It's also been cleaned up a bit, removing dirt and debris without going overboard with the DNR. There's some heavy film grain prevalent during some shots, particularly toward the beginning, but for the most part the grain is very even and natural-looking. Contrast is slightly lower than usual, but isn't much of an interference with the color palette. It's quite rich and varied with a lot of dominant greens, blues and reds. Blacks are fairly deep, but not in every shot. Skin tones also look even and consistent. The only real negatives would be that the optical effects shots certainly don't hold up in high definition, but if you're a fan of the film, none of that really matters, does it? If only they could have left them alone (I'll get into that in a bit). For my money, this is the best the film has ever looked on any home video format and exceeds in nearly every category over its previous releases. In the audio department, there's only one option available: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The film doesn't have all that much dynamic range to it, but this is a very nice surround experience. It has plenty of LFE moments to keep the bass thumping, as well as some nice rear speaker activity during some of the wackier moments of the film. It's not really perfect, as the film was never a sound effects or musical tour-de-force anyways. I would have liked to have had the original uncompressed mono soundtrack from the theatrical release, but for what the DTS track is, it's acceptable. Being a Region A release, the only subtitle options available are in English, English SDH and Spanish.
If you're worried about the extras being carried over from previous releases, then this disc should have everything that you're looking for and then some. There's the audio commentary by Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Scott Spiegel and Greg Nicotero; the brand-spanking-new documentary on the making of the film Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead II (which is divided up into seven sections: Dead by Dawn, The Chosen Ones, Madman Sam, Dead Effects, Re-Animated, Method to Madness and Rosebud); the new behind-the-scenes featurette Cabin Fever; the new location revisit featurette Road to Wadesboro; and all of the previous extras including the Evil Dead II: Behind-the-Screams featurette, The Gore the Merrier featurette, the theatrical trailer and four sets of still galleries. Also of note is that within the new documentary is some previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage and photographs, including scenes that didn't make into the final film. However, Sam Raimi still didn't take part in any of it. Regardless, this is all great stuff and should be reason enough for you to pick up the disc.
Purists, however, might want to think twice. I'm talking about the really serious devotees to film preservation here. The digital erasing of wires, monofilament and rods during several scenes in the picture is still present in this release. These changes have been around since Anchor Bay's Divimax Book of the Dead 2 DVD release of the film and apparently they're here to stay, as per the director's wishes. I'd just like to take a moment and say that I'm usually one to champion the preservation of a film as it was originally released to the public while also being open-minded about a director wanting to make changes for future releases of the film, but making those changes without offering the original by its side is just unethical. Altering an image is still altering an image, no matter how you look at it. I understand that these changes are very minor and don't interfere with the actual storytelling of the film, but it damages the film's integrity, as well as cheapening its artistic value for future generations. For those of us who've been watching Evil Dead 2 over and over again throughout our lives and know that these technical flaws are present (including the dated optical effects, which are still present), it's a bit of a slap on the hand to expect them and not be given them. As I've said elsewhere, if you're striving for modern perfection, then may the force be with you. Otherwise, please leave your work alone.
Having said all of that, my intention isn't to distract you or try to talk you out of buying this disc in any way. Far from it. It is absolutely worth the price you're paying for it. It contains a great picture and sound along with a nice bounty of extra material for viewing consumption. It's just that I find some of the minor details a little disheartening. None of them stand out or interfere with the body of the film, but they do alter the aesthetic. Regardless, if you're looking to upgrade from previous releases, then you should find everything that you're looking for with this one. It's absolutely and positively one of the best horror films ever made and is very much recommended.
- Tim Salmons