(A.k.a. EVIL DEAD 2)

A very brief history of the book of Necromonicon leads us to the present day, where we find chisel-chinned Ash (Bruce Campbell) en route to a holiday cabin in the woods with his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler).

Their romance is curtailed on the first evening when Ash discovers an old tape deck and plays its reels back. On them, an old professor tells of how he found the Necromonicon tome - also known as the Book of the Dead - and inadvertently stirred dead spirits while reciting the spells contained within it.

Of course, playing the professor's recital of said incantations on the tapes summons the demonic spirits once more - ultimately resulting in them possessing Linda.

Surviving a night of terror which involves Linda's decapitation and burial, Ash manages to survive through to the next morning...

Alas, the demons are hot on his trail and it's only the rising sun that prevents them from fully possessing him. Attempting to flee in his car, Ash is forced to turn back upon discovering the bridge that separates him from his escape route has been mangled. Returning to the cabin as night falls, he prepares himself for another evening of Hell.

It comes, in the form of Linda's dancing corpse, a possessed hand that attacks him even when severed, inanimate objects launching themselves at Ash, and the sudden unexpected arrival of the professor's curious daughter Annie (Sarah Berry), her friends and their despicable redneck guide Jake (Dan Hicks). Once they force the seemingly mad Ash into the cellar and play the professor's tapes, you can imagine the chaos that ensues...

Well, of course you can. It's unlikely that any SGM reader is yet to see this film ... right?

I'll be honest; I've never quite understood this film previously. Its first 7 minutes are literally a retread of events that occurred in the first film (but, bizarrely, they omit any characters other than Ash and Linda). Immediately these scenes arouse suspicion by being conspicuously better lit, coloured and produced than they were in the original.

Which, of course, is the point. Director Sam Raimi had an opportunity to revisit his breakthrough project and dress it up in a bigger budgeted ($3.6m), more refined style that would hopefully serve as a calling card to more mainstream affairs. Of course, he went on to helm the initial SPIDER-MAN franchise, and has most recently directed sure-fire box office hit OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

But, going back to DEAD BY DAWN, I remember watching this film when it first came out to rent on UK video back in the late 80s. It had great cover art from Graham Humphreys but I was alienated by those first 7 minutes. What followed was a ferociously fast-paced run through one sight gag after another, playing for guarded laughs more than fear.

I appreciate that Raimi is a huge fan of the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy etc. I get that it's the classic slapstick style that he and co-producer Campbell were going for. But I always resented this film for not being the scary, ultra-gory match to its low budget predecessor (one of my all-time favourite horror films). To me, DEAD BY DAWN always looked too polished and bright, too late 80s, and suffered from caricature characters led by the ridiculous broad acting of frontman Campbell. It was always far too cartoonish for my taste.

However, this is the first time I've watched the film in many a moon, and I have to say I was most pleasantly surprised. What I'd missed before was that, along with all that manic energy and OTT humour, Raimi has crafted a film of incredible creativity. Each and every scene is filled with inventive camerawork, stunning cinematography and some of the wildest FX work of the 1980s. The latter comes courtesy of the celebrated KNB team, and is perhaps their finest achievement to date.

Yes, the film is as much a reworking of its predecessor as it is a sequel. The first 7 minutes re-enact the Ash/Linda drama from the original, while that film's tree-rape sequence is also later revisited. But whereas these facets used to annoy me, they now simply add to what is a breathlessly entertaining, imaginative and at times endearingly silly (there, I said it!) ride. DEAD BY DAWN never lets up, and its tone - somewhere between screwball physical comedy and genuine Gothic horror a ‘la CEMETERY MAN - is perfectly sustained throughout.

I could go on. Ash's fashioning of a chain saw onto his bloody arm stump; the demonic monster that was once the professor's wife Henrietta (portrayed with zeal by Raimi's brother Ted); the eyeball in the mouth; that "Groovy" line (okay, that still irritates me): justifiably famous moments in a film that is at once surreal, madcap and genius. But you know all of this already.

DEAD BY DAWN looks great on Studio Canal's UK blu-ray in this new HD restoration. Although I've not seen it, I'd imagine this MPEG4-AVC file proffers the same 16x9 enhanced, full 1080p presentation that was recently enjoyed on the US Lionsgate 25th Anniversary Edition. And although I haven't seen the original UK blu-ray release either (what could I do, I wasn't a fan!), I'd be surprised if this new version doesn't dump all over that much-maligned one.

Colours are bold yet natural, while detail has never been as fine as it is here. Shadows and mist are rendered perfectly, and flesh-tones are pleasingly accurate throughout. Blacks are deep; depth offers newfound minutiae to interior scenes: this is a very, very good HD presentation.

English audio comes in both 2.0 LPCM stereo, and a rambunctious 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Both are good, but the former is more authentic and serves the film perfectly well.

The disc opens to a colourful animated main menu page which features Ash's disembodied hand cheekily tapping in impatience if you dally too long before selecting from the onscreen options.

Among which is a pop-up scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 16 chapters.

A fine set of bonus features begin with an audio commentary track from Raimi, Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegel and FX artist Greg Nicotero. This can be accessed via the Set-Up pop-up menu, and finds the foursome in hysterical mode. You've no doubt heard this track before, but it's still one of the best commentaries out there. Yes, there is little in the way of insightful filmmaking reveals, but there are lots of jokes, anecdotes and jibes about the characters on screen. It's fun from beginning to end.

If you're looking for the film's theatrical trailer, you'll find in the Extras menu within the sub-folder "Archival Footage". This also contains the vintage Anchor Bay featurettes "Behind the Screams" (17 minutes) and "The Gore the Merrier" (32 minutes). Both remain excellent sources of talking head interviews, shot-on-video on-set footage and revealing production stills.

"Swallowed Souls" is a new, HD documentary which clocks in at an awesome 98 minutes in length. Like "The Gore the Merrier", it's a Making Of ... but it really does go the extra mile. New retrospective interviews (which are very slickly produced) help us see how the cast have aged, and how much they and the crew members remember the shoot. Which, evidently, is a great deal. A lot more excellent stills are employed throughout, as is archive footage and some wonderfully detailed anecdotes about financing the film, the production's preparation, the special effects and much more. Divided into seven chapters but also offered as a feature-length whole, this is a highly impressive - and comprehensive - companion piece to the main attraction. There's no Raimi though, sadly, although he does get discussed by everyone else in one of the chapters.

"Cabin Fever" is 30 minutes' worth of archive footage shot by Nicotero, consisting of FX test footage, behind-the-scenes preparation and deleted scenes. It's all presented in video-quality windowboxed format, but is fascinating stuff all the same.

"Road to Wadesboro" sees filmmaker Tony Elwood revisiting DEAD BY DAWN's original shooting locations, and is an interesting new 8-minute featurette.

No less than four photo galleries are also included, ensuring those with a bent for production stills are more than amply catered for.

These extras are, I believe, identical to those on the US Anniversary disc.

EVIL DEAD 2 is much more fun than I used to think it was. Finally, after a quarter of a decade, I've been converted. And this is a brilliant set with which to have done so.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Studiocanal
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review