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The Evil Dead: The Ultimate Edition
1982 (2007) - Renaissance Pictures (Anchor Bay/Starz)

DVD review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

The Evil Dead: The Ultimate Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A+/A


Specs and Features

Disc One - Widescreen Presentation

85 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, audio commentary with writer/director Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert, One By One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead documentary, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES and DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two - Full Frame Presentation

85 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), audio commentary with producer/actor Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead: Treasures from The Cutting Room Floor video, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

Disc Three - The Ladies of The Evil Dead

Life After Death: The Ladies of The Evil Dead documentary, 5 featurettes (The Ladies of The Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell, Discovering Evil Dead: The Palace Boys Meet The Evil Dead, Unconventional, At the Drive-In & Reunion Panel), make-up test, trailer and TV spots, stills gallery, poster & memorabilia gallery, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, languages: English (DD 2.0)

"Join us!"

I can feel the sarcasm growing inside me: "Another year, another Evil Dead DVD!" or "Boy... Anchor Bay, Tapert and Raimi must not have made enough money on the last release!" or "What the hell is going on here with a new Evil Dead special edition?!" Fine points all. But for some silly and strange reason, I personally get it. 2007 was the 25th Anniversary of one of the greatest horror films made in the 1980s... and it's been five whole years since The Bay put out the last special edition for this fine film. So why not go ahead and get one more standard DVD release in before a new Blu-ray edition? Damnit!

See, I knew I couldn't hold the sarcasm in.

Seriously though, all things told, I really do think Evil Dead is deserving of an "ultimate edition." But is this edition truly ultimate? Sadly, that answer is "No." Mostly, that's because fans looking to get rid of that foul-smelling, rubber squish toy Book of the Dead version shouldn't trade their copies away. However, fans of the film WILL have to make room for this one, because as Un-Ultimate as it is, it's still a damn fine release.

Okay, so for this review, you're gonna see me cheat a little bit. I'm going to pull back the curtains on myself so you can see the man behind them, and I'll tell you that part of this review is going to be a bit of the ol' cut and paste job, because there is a lot of the same stuff on this set that's also on the previously released Book of the Dead version. So just know going in that I'm going to plagiarize myself by stealing passages out of my previous review. If, when you're done here, you want to read the original review of that version, you can check it out here.

Here begins the thievery: Whether you're a fan of horror films or not, if you want to be a filmmaker or want to know everything you need to know in order to make your own film, you simply need to see the first Evil Dead movie. It's not written incredibly well, nor is the story such that you'll be having a discussion with the late Joseph Campbell on its structure and meaning. No, it's nothing like that. But Evil Dead does illustrate this all-important lesson in film: style over substance really does work best. Evil Dead was shot with so much creativity and verve that it simply demands to be loved. You may not be able to stomach the film the whole way through (or keep a straight face during some of the effects), but you will be captivated by it nonetheless. And no one on this planet can say that it doesn't work as a movie.

Evil Dead's history has been chronicled so much online and in print, that I'm simply not going to waste my time or yours by regurgitating the details over again here. All you need to know is that it was made by a handful of twenty-somethings, using cameras literally nailed to boards and Kyro syrup by the barrelful. Whatever it cost to make, all of it shows up on screen in one form or another, from its quirky make-up and art design (courtesy of artist Tom Sullivan) to its incredibly cartoony camera work (wiggled straight from the mind of director Sam Raimi). It's a passion project that went from a potential waste of time, to being one of the great success stories of 1980's cinema.

In trying to comb all the mythology behind the making of this film, The Evil Dead Ultimate Edition is a three-disc set that tries mighty hard to combine everything that has come before it, bringing to us for the first time the combined full frame edition originally released by Elite Entertainment and the newer anamorphic widescreen version (blessed by Raimi himself) that's found within the above mentioned Book of the Dead. To begin our in-depth examination, let's take a look at the video quality.

Disc One holds the anamorphic widescreen presentation and, without a single doubt, it's the exact same transfer as the Book of the Dead edition. And that's a good thing. This transfer is incredibly clean and free of artifacts. But I still think it may be a bit TOO clean. There's this odd occurrence of production valueitis very visible in the film now. Hidden in the past by blow-ups and grain, we can now see a lovely little matte-box in the top left corner (during outside shots showing the moon). I find it very distracting, and wish something could have been done about it. As offsetting as it is, there's not a thing anyone could really do about it aside from pulling a Lucas. And that would be a dance with the Devil most of us might dream of, but would regret the minute it happened.

Disc Two is the full frame transfer and, I have to say, it looks just as good as the widescreen transfer. In fact, the quality it pretty much an exact duplicate. I popped in my old Elite DVD, and it too looks pretty good, but in a different way. Sometimes, I like remembering how things used to be, and Evil Dead is one of those movies I fell in love with on VHS. That's not saying the Elite version looks like a VHS transfer, 'cause it doesn't - it's just a little bright and washed out - which sort of adds to the film in my opinion and helps dilute some of the production flaws mentioned above. But for those who don't have that Elite version, you can now watch Evil Dead in full frame.

The sound across the board is also pretty arresting. Raimi and company have always been known for their incredible sound design, so now you get both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES soundtracks (along with your standard stereo track). That means that you can now listen to this film in the highest style possible. This flick's audio thumps, puckers, gushes and smacks... and now you can hear it for what it is. This is a creepy-assed flick that will make your head spin as you watch and listen to it. If you're not knocked on your ass by the audio presentation of this disc, you're probably dead yourself. Klaatu barada nikto.

Packed into this set is pretty much everything you'd ever want to know in relation to the history of The Evil Dead. First up on Disc One, along with the widescreen transfer, we get the original commentary track produced for the Elite Entertainment edition a few years back. No sense messing with perfection, right? Sam Raimi and his producer and business partner, Robert Tapert, talk about everything you want to know, half-remembering facts about the shoot and making fun of everyone the whole time. It's a great track - always has been - and it's nice to know that Raimi gives good commentary, taking special care not to repeat information he knows Bruce Campbell is going to discuss on his track. Also on Disc One is the brand new documentary, One By One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead. It's pretty damn good, I have to say. I really enjoyed watching it, and there are quite a few stories that are told that have a bit more gravitas than they did when Raimi, Tapert or Campbell told them. This is mostly because they're coming from some of the grunt soldiers in the cast and crew - those that were the "victims" of the shoot and on-set hijinks. Sadly, Raimi and Campbell don't show up at all in this doc, which is a shame.

Speaking of Campbell, Disc Two has his commentary from the Elite DVD as well. I love Bruce, you love Bruce... everyone loves Bruce. And after you listen to his hilarious track, you'll love him even more. And that's just a life truth. Also included here is close to an hour's worth of... uh, I dunno what it is. Raw uncut B-roll maybe? Whatever it is, it's called The Evil Dead: Treasures from The Cutting Room Floor and it's cool as hell to see. There's a lot of stuff here, some of which was on the Elite DVD and some of which isn't even referenced in the film. If you're a fan of Evil Dead, you'll certainly want to check it out, or at least fast forward skim through it.

Disc Three is where the bulk of the extras are hiding. First up here, you get a documentary focused on the beautiful Ladies of The Evil Dead. It's nice to see these girls shrug off the fact that they will be forever chopped up in a silly horror film, that none thought would see the light of day, and embrace their fans. Next up there's a sit down panel with the Ladies and their co-star, Bruce Campbell. There's a bit of cross-over going on with this feature, between the commentaries, making-of and the Ladies doc. Still, this is a funny thing to sit through. The girls and Campbell are very good together. Maybe Evil Dead 4 should be a remake of the original, with middle aged suburban people up in the woods - just bring in the original cast. This is all followed up by the Unconventional, At the Drive-In and Reunion Panel featurettes - all convention based Q&A stuff. Die hard fans may enjoy this material, and it's nice to have, but it may not be for everyone. The last big piece on this set is Discovering Evil Dead: The Palace Boys Meet The Evil Dead, which appeared on the Book of the Dead set and follows the film's misadventures in the U.K. in theaters and on video. Rounding up the extras are the film's original theatrical trailer (that looks great for its age), four TV spots (that are a little on the ragged side), an extensive stills gallery featuring behind-the-scenes stuff, production photos and poster art, and you also get a nice loop of make-up test footage. It's all very cool and fourth-wall shattering.

The thing I was most disappointed with here was that, yet again, this disc does not include the short film Within the Woods. This was a legendary project Raimi was involved in while still in college, which became the inspiration for The Evil Dead. It was promised for the Book of the Dead edition, but unfortunately, while all the music licensing issues with the short film were resolved, there were so many people involved in its production that clearing its release with everyone became way too expensive. It looks like we may never get a copy of this on DVD.. that is unless The Bay's working on yet another new edition of The Evil Dead as we speak. Also, there are two other extras on the Book of the Dead edition that didn't make it over to this set: Bruce Campbell's nice little love letter to his fans, Fanalysis, and an Easter egg of a panel discussion with producer Robert Tapert and actresses Betsy Baker and Sarah York (filmed at Grauman's Egyptian Theater in L.A.). Both of these omissions force fans to hold on to the Book of the Dead. The packaging makes that worth doing anyway, but you can't really call this an Ultimate Edition with those things missing.

This aside, The Evil Dead: The Ultimate Edition is pretty much another must own Anchor Bay DVD. While I think that title is a bit misleading, it's still a super set that, just by bringing the full frame edition back to stores alone, is worth the upgrade for fans.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com
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