Film Reviews:

The Evil Dead

(Sam Raimi, US, 1983)

I've lots of fond, vivid memories of renting this from the local family-run video shop in 1983. Sam Raimi's deliriously entertaining horror debut was a total hit - often with those aged under 18 - and topped the rental charts during that year. Since then, in the UK, it has only ever been legitimately available in a cut form. Thankfully, now that James Ferman has been replaced at the BBFC and the totalitarian/victorian regime there has been replaced with a more liberal one, Anchor Bay have made it available uncut on video on DVD. The plot, such as it is, has five college students stay in a remote log cabin in the Tennessee Forest. When there, they find a spooky looking book, the Necronomicon or Book of the Dead, and a tape recording of someone investigating the book and its meaning. Before you know it, the playing of the tape summons up the spirits of the titular kind, and the students are, one by one, possessed by demons.

This exposition is by way of filling in the gaps for anyone reading this who hasn't seen The Evil Dead, as anyone who has watched it will know that the above is merely a premise around which to string as many jumps, laughs and gore as the extremely limited budget would allow. The hyperactive result was totally ground breaking at the time. (This is even more impressive when you know that it was *made* in 1979 and sat on the shelf while Raimi and the production team hawked it around studios looking for someone brave enough to release it.) Watching it as a sixteen year old in 1983, much of the tongue in cheek humour was lost on me. All I could see was less a rollercoaster of a horror film and more a dangerously runaway train of one. Raimi uses a very simple premise, and a very small cast, to terrific effect. His wild camera movements, angles and extreme close-ups combined with breakneck editing (seemingly influenced by the rapid story development of comic book panels) convey more in a couple of seconds than more conventional directors would require minutes to get across.

The acting is passable, but in his feature debut, Bruce Campbell already has a pretty good sense of his strengths and weaknesses as a performer and delivers a performance to match Raimi's delirious direction. The stop-motion based gore special effects almost single-handedly gave birth to the term 'splatter movie' as possessed students rapidly decay, hit the floor and explode in a splash of blood and guts. In the final twenty minutes, these scenes come (if you'll excuse the pun) thick and fast putting audiences through a relentless barrage of gruesome imagery that's as funny as it is repulsive, if not more so. An international hit both in cinemas and in the fledgling home video markets across the globe, it went to to spawn two sequels from the same production team, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. Classic horror whichever way you look at it.

Rob Dyer

The Evil Dead - Region 2 DVDRegion 2 DVD, Anchor Bay UK

As the above review points out, this release from the UK arm of Anchor Bay brings the first legitimate uncut version of The Evil Dead to the public since the rental-only release way back in 1983. That's almost twenty years we've had to wait for this! That fact alone should see Anchor Bay do well in terms of shifting units here in the UK so how does their package measure up after such a l-o-n-g wait? Pretty well would be the answer. Although hardly brimming with extras, what it looses on the new material front is made up for in other areas. The aspect ratio is 16x9 or 1.85:1, and the image quality is pretty good if not stunning. (But considering the 16mm source material it's still pretty good.) By far the most impressive leap in technology is the terrific, dynamic remastered sound. The disc offers Dolby 5.1 Surround and Digital Surround 6.1 options. Even in Dolby 5.1 the effect is very impressive with high pitched sounds cutting clearly through what is sometimes a very noisy film.

As far as the actual extras go, you got the (US) theatrical trailer - a totally manic and deliriously funny 60 seconds; and a small picture gallery. The biggest bonus to fans will be the choice of two commentaries: director Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert or star Bruce Campbell. Unfortunately, not only do Raimi and Tapert seem to be struggling to provide commentary - there are frequently minute plus gaps between comments - even when they do speak they are often only half remembered, repeatedly referring to how difficult it was to get investors or, for the most part, add very little to the viewing experience "Yeah, that was a real difficult shot to get" type stuff. They seem just as interested in eating and drinking, both of which you can hear during the recording of their voice-overs, whilst the police sirens in the background outside add a peculiar new soundtrack to the images!

Campbell on the other hand provides a masterclass in how to deliver an entertaining commentary. Virtually without pause and with excellent recall of memory, he continually offers up a wealth of behind the scenes info whilst delivering humorous digs at Raimi and Tapert. He even remembers in fine detail how certain, often unimportant scenes were filmed - in contrast to Raimi who clearly cannot remember and at one point suggests (albeit jokingly) that Campbell's acting is the explanation as to why Campbell's character Ash looks drunk in some shots in the drive up to the lodge. Campbell on the other hand vividly recounts filming sequences in the script that had some of the characters get stoned (for real) and drunk (faked) - both sequences that failed in the rushes and so were quickly dropped. Actor's backgrounds, post production tricks, location filming, special effect techniques are all handled far better by the principal actor than the guy who actually directed the thing! Full marks to Bruce Campbell for providing the best extra. Evil Dead fans will love it.

Rob Dyer

See also:
Street Trash

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