The Evil Dead appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 and of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Shot for about 12 cents, director Sam Raimi apparently feels fine with either full-frame 1.33:1 or matted 1.85:1. The movie’s been displayed that way with Raimi approval over the years, and I don’t think there’s ever been real consensus about which one serves the movie better.
Because of that, I checked out both versions – and thought they looked virtually identical. Whichever one you choose to watch will depend on your framing preference. I thought the 1.33:1 seemed more natural and less cramped, but both worked fine.
Either way, this was undeniably the best the film has ever looked on home video – and it’s probably superior to the prints that ran on drive-ins 30 years ago. The problems I found almost certainly resulted from the original photography. Sam Raimi and company filmed Dead on 16mm stock and blew it up to 35mm. Despite the resolution restrictions inherent in 16mm, the image tended to provide fairly satisfying visuals.
Sharpness varied quite a lot. Some shots appeared razor sharp, while others came across as moderately soft and blurry. I faulted the source for that, as I didn’t sense the presence of DNR or anything that would rob the image of detail. The flick still featured plenty of grain, so if the transfer used any DNR, it went with a gentle application. No issues with jaggies or shimmering appeared, and I failed to discern any edge galoes or artifacts.
Source flaws also were surprisingly absent. A small speck or two might’ve snuck through, but those were essentially non-existent. Grain remained natural and no print defects created distractions.
Colors lacked much vivacity, but that was another aspect of the original photography. This wasn’t meant to be a lively palette, and it stayed on the subdued side of natural colors. Given their inherent limitations, the hues seemed satisfying; they weren’t dynamic, but they were perfectly acceptable.
The same went for blacks and shadows. Dark tones tended to be a bit on the mushy side, but not terribly so; those elements exhibited acceptable density. Shadows also veered into opacity on occasion, but most of the shots demonstrated positive clarity. Ultimately, I felt the presentation deserved a “B” due to its inherent ugliness, but I felt pleased with the accuracy the transfer brought to the table. The film looked better than I expected, to say the least.
As for the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, it worked surprisingly well given the film’s roots. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray failed to include the original monaural audio. Nonetheless, I liked the updated track.
Some multichannel remixes come across as forced and gimmicky, and on occasion, those traps affected Dead. However, as a whole I thought the tracks worked surprisingly well. The soundfield seemed quite active throughout the film, as it cranked up the spooky factor. Actually, I found it to sound a bit too active at times, mainly during quieter scenes. During those periods, the mix worked overtime to give us something - or anything - to remind us that this was a brand-new multichannel track. It could seem somewhat distracting and forced.
However, all was forgiven during louder scenes; the soundtrack excelled on those occasions. The mix created a solid sense of atmosphere and placement and blended together quite well. Music showed nice stereo presence, and the effects were accurately placed and moved neatly. Surround usage appeared quite strong overall. Again, the rears seemed a bit too active at times, but usually the track boasted an involving environment.
Not surprisingly, the mix faltered when I examined the quality of the audio, but even so, it didn’t betray its origins too badly. Speech showed the gravest concerns, as much of the dialogue appeared thin and edgy. The lines remained reasonably intelligible, but they didn’t seem very natural or warm. Effects also betrayed a shrill tone at times, and they displayed some mild distortion. Nonetheless, they showed fairly good clarity most of the time, and they featured some excellent low-end response on occasion.
The score worked the best, as it demonstrated good dynamics and clarity across the board. I noticed a little hiss at times, but other source flaws caused no concerns. Ultimately, the audio for The Evil Dead displayed too many defects to earn a grade higher than a “B”, but I think fans will like the new mix nonetheless.
How did the picture and audio of the Blu-ray compare to those of the 2002 DVD? Audio was pretty similar both times; given the restrictions of the source materials, the lossless track couldn’t do much to improve upon its predecessor.
On the other hand, visuals showed a clear step up in quality. The Blu-ray was tighter and clearer across the board. The prior release looked fine, but the Blu-ray clearly topped it.
Most of the Blu-ray’s extras are unique to this release – and found on a second DVD. The Blu-ray itself includes only one component: a new audio commentary from director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert and actor Bruce Campbell. All three sit together for this running discussion of the film’s origins and development, raising financing, shooting on location in Tennessee, assembling the movie, and the flick’s reception and continued legacy.
Don’t expect an even vaguely screen-specific conversation. It’s barely apparent that the movie runs while they chat. They make a couple of cursory references to the onscreen action but nothing more, so if you dislike non-specific tracks, this one won’t please you.
That format is fine with me, however, at least when the results are this terrific. All three participants have known each other forever, and that familiarity allows them to mix together in a satisfying way. They tell the story of the flick’s creation in a thorough, entertaining manner that makes this a terrific commentary.
Over on the DVD, we get a slew of components. First comes a documentary called One By One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead. In the 53-minute, 43-second show, we hear from Tapert, special makeup effects Tom Sullivan, Profoundly Disturbing author Joe Bob Briggs, transportation captain and cook David Goodman, second unit and lighting Josh Becker, special effects makeup artist Gregory Nicotero, Hostel director Eli Roth, Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright, and actors Ellen Sandweiss, Theresa Tilly, and Betsy Baker. “Untold” looks at the horror flicks of the Seventies and the early development of the film, casting and performances, the sets and aspects of the shoot, makeup, the movie’s release and reception, notes on particular scenes, and the flick’s influence.
I’m not sure how “untold” most of this material is, but it still creates a good overview of various areas. The commentary covers a great deal of territory, and this one helps fill in the spaces. It’s an enjoyable and informative piece.
A vast collection of outtakes shows up under Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor. This section fills 59 minutes, 20 seconds and shows a long reel of rough footage. We get some alternate takes, bloopers and many scene extensions here. I don’t think anything especially memorable appears, but serious fans will enjoy the opportunity to see all this unused material.
The Ladies of The Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell runs 28 minutes, 53 seconds. It offers a panel with Campbell, Tilly, Baker and Sandweiss. I like the format, but the results feel redundant, as we hear a fair amount of the info elsewhere. Still, a few new stories emerge, and the energy of the chat carries it.
Discovering Evil Dead focuses on the film’s attempts to be seen, especially as they occurred in the UK. The 13-minute, five-second piece features modern interviews with Evil Dead Companion author Bill Warren plus Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell, the co-directors of Palace Pictures, the original UK distributors of the flick. They relate the movie’s rocky road to screens and video and give us a good history of how this tiny “video nasty” reached its audience. I thought this was a useful and interesting program.
The featurettes continue with the 19-minute, eight-second Unconventional. It delivers another panel discussion, as we hear from Campbell, Sandweiss, Baker, Tilly, actor Hal Delrich and “fake Shemp” Ted Raimi. They talk a little about making the movie, but mostly they cover experiences at horror conventions. I like that unusual focus, and the stories – mainly from Raimi and Campbell – make this an entertaining show.
Next comes At the Drive-In. It goes for 12 minutes, three seconds and features Sandweiss, Campbell, Tilly, Baker, Ted Raimi, Delrich and Sullivan. This presents them on-stage at a convention as they pepper the audience with Evil Dead trivia questions. The format gets irritating, so I can’t say I much cared for this piece.
Shot July 30, 2005, a Reunion Panel occupies 31 minutes, 17 seconds and delivers info from Baker, Sandweiss, Tilly, Baker, Campbell, Delrich, Ted Raimi and Sullivan. They take questions from the audience and discuss a mix of topics related to the flick. Some are movie-making based while others – such as about moonshine – are silly. The panelists respond in a saucy manner and create an enjoyable piece.
Two short clips ensue. Book of the Dead: The Other Pages goes for one minute, 57 seconds and lets us see exactly what it implies: more images from the movie’s evil book. It’s essentially an outtake, and not an especially memorable one.
A 68-second Make-Up Test shows some effects. First we see blood dripping down a wall, and then we get stop-motion animation of a decomposing face. Both would be more interesting with some commentary to give them context.
In addition to one Trailer and four TV Spots, we get a Photo Gallery. It includes 40 images that show ads, shots from the set, and concept art. All are nice to have.
The disc opens with some promos. We get clips for Frozen, After.Life, The Crazies and Pandorum.
For all its legendary status, I must admit I’m not all that wild about Evil Dead. I think it’s entertaining and respect its status as a groundbreaker, but it just doesn’t do a lot for me based on its own merits. The disc provides surprisingly positive picture and sound plus a nice roster of supplements highlighted by a great commentary. Evil Dead isn’t a movie that does a ton for me, but this is a terrific release of it.
To rate this film, visit the Book Of The Dead Edition review of THE EVIL DEAD