The Evil Dead Trilogy

The Evil Dead Trilogy

Are there any horror fans out there that haven't seen the Evil Dead trilogy? If there is then they really can't call themselves horror movie fans surely? The Evil Dead movies are films that most fans will have embedded in their brains, generally folk have seen them so many times you could probably watch them over and over in your mind without even having to put the movie on in the first place, that's perhaps just how much an impact the trilogy has had on fans of the series. But with Anchor Bay UK being the first off the block to release all three films together for the first time ever what more excuse do we need to revisit these gems yet again (not that I need much excuse?!)

I'll 'try' and keep this brief as most readers will know everything you'll ever need to know about these movies anyway (and just about everything you may not is covered in this fine set also!). But first the creators…I doubt when high school buddies Sam Raimi, Bob Tapert, Scott Spiegel and Bruce Campbell started out making wacky Three Stooges inspired super 8 shorts they would ever have realised that one day they would be amongst some of the key players not only in the genre scene but also with the big buck Hollywood film and TV franchising (just look at Spiderman, Xena and Hercules. Et al). In watching those (very rare) early short comedy reels it's obvious that these guys had talent, an eye for visual flair, nice pacing and impressive tight editing skills. One man though shone in front of the camera and that man was Bruce Campbell, from all accounts Bruce was tagged as the 'looker' by his friends so got the top billing when it came to producing their first full length feature (and Sam Raimi's gleeful onscreen instructed assaults on the poor guy where perhaps a price Bruce paid for being the good looking one!) But I digress, after touting around a short show reel (under the title 'Within The Woods') the gang scraped together enough financing from a rag tag collection of dentists and shopkeepers etc (in fact anyone that could spare a buck or three) to make the full-length feature…'The Book of the Dead'! But it wasn't until ageing movie mogul Shapiro got hold of the film (and pointed put that the title was somewhat lacking "Book of the Dead! Who wants to read a movie?" that it became what we now know under the far catchier moniker 'The Evil Dead'.

'The Evil Dead' is without doubt one of the most significant and potent horror movies of the 1980's. The simple plot of teens in the woods resurrecting the dead to their detriment didn't have much to offer in depth of storyline but more than made up for that in sheer impact of visceral bloody horror, tension and much needed black comedy relief - in fact the definitive cinematic roller coaster ride. But rather than chew endlessly over the endless merits of the film itself let's instead look at the films various presentations on the DVD format over the years in comparison to what is offered on this new 'Trilogy' edition of the movie…

First off we need to take onboard that no doubt many of you will have many of these films already in one or more of their various regional variations, hopefully this will clear up any misunderstandings of what exactly is the best regional variation to go for (if not confuse you even more)…and clarify just whether or not this new 'Trilogy' box set is one that you want to be adding to your already no doubt growing collection?

The Evil Dead (Book of the Dead)

Book of the Dead

Disc one of this set is in fact the recently released (and mightily impressive) 'Book of the Dead/Necronomicon' special edition package. As far as extras and audio options go this one is a stunning package, but as for the main feature itself this release is also probably the most contentiously discussed version also. You see for as long as most old school fans remember 'The Evil Dead' was screened and available in a 1.33:1 open matte full screen format (this is how I myself always remember the film also) but for this release Anchor Bay (allegedly in conjunction with Raimi himself) decided to hard matte the film into a widescreen (1.85:1) image and anamorphically enhanced the image for widescreen television viewers (with a smorgasbord of audio options including 5.1 surround, 6.1 DTS-ES and 2 channel stereo). Add to this there was also some 'enhancements' to the film itself with a couple of frames tweaked to 'improve' on the look (i.e. cleaning up some tacky effects sequences - lightning strikes etc), by no means as big a change as say Lucas did with the Star Wars movies (god forbid) but some fine tuning nonetheless. The hard matting for widescreen though was a move that irked many fans of the series as in doing so much of the screen image was now lost in what to many seemed to be matting for widescreen sake and not (although Anchor Bay argued contrary) for the directors original vision.

I'm sure the debate on this will roll on for a long time to come but with this 'Trilogy' release of the film Anchor Bay UK have made the very welcome move of including the original full screen open matte version in the set also (thanks to the welcome intervention of Marc Morris), so fans from both camps will be more than satisfied with this particular presentation. But wait; on closer inspection of this particular full screen presentation we soon find that this itself has it's own specific interesting nuances. When released by Elite some time ago their full screen print was the original untampered version with 2-channel stereo and a new 5.1 surround option. But here Anchor Bay UK present not only the full screen print with an additional DTS audio track but interestingly the print itself is the newer tweaked version (with the modified new lightning strikes etc) making this yet another variant print for the hard core collector to get into a sweat about (but really only something that the obsessive will care about). So as far as the main feature goes Anchor Bay have done themselves proud with the features presentation.

The extra features for the first film on disc one are very much identical to the recent 'Necronomicon' edition and are very impressive indeed…there's the two audio commentaries, the first with Sam Raimi and Bob Tapert is fun and informative but it is when you listen to the commentary by Bruce Campbell (the king of audio commentaries by the way) that things into high gear with one of the funniest and quick fire commentaries you're ever likely to hear - simply essential listening. Bruce pops up again in the all-new self produced documentary 'Fananalysis' which sees Bruce interviewing folk around the convention circuit, this is a nice (if at times slightly worrying) piece that not only looks at the fun side of the fan community but also is a fascinating insight into human quirks and obsessiveness. 'Discovering the Evil Dead' is another new feature produced by Blue Underground that looks into the films early days and its launch onto the UK and US markets - a nice compact piece that is informative and doesn't outstay its welcome. Along with the ever welcome selection of trailer and TV spots we get the old deleted scenes/production footage and stills gallery that has been ported over from the earlier Elite release as well as two fun easter egg hidden features; the old Elite 'make up' one and a great new 7 min screening discussion with producer Bob Tapert and stars Betsy Baker and Sarah York.

Evil Dead 2 (Dead by Dawn)

Dead by Dawn

'Evil Dead 2' pretty much kicks in straight from the final shot of the first movie with yet more fast paced high jinks with downtrodden Ash (the inimitable Bruce Campbell) getting thrown literally against the wall fighting not only with the 'evil dead' but his own possessed persona. This time the offspring of the cabin owners are thrown into the mix for some additional high-octane carnage. The film has both its plus and down points, but on balance still manages to deliver the goods when it comes to thrilling horror action. On the up side director Raimi and his team had a lot more money to produce this feature so it's highly polished and looks simply stunning, more so in the hands of such a talented director. Bruce Campbell in the lead role steals the show with an intensely hilarious performance in what is pretty much a one-man show that outshines his onscreen siblings. What does detract in a very minor way though is the move away from the visceral blood red gore of the first film to a more animated (yet still gory) colourful carnage (with greens, yellows etc splashing the screen instead). Also, the flow of the story itself seems to have run dry in this second feature with the plot playing very much more of the same as the first film with only the final reel offering something new to the trilogy continuity. That said, it's still a stunning feature and easily shows that with the first film Raimi and co were not a one trick pony.

This 'Trilogy' presentation (licensed by Anchor Bay UK from Momentum) has a nice sharp anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) image with 5.1 surround audio. Not much in variation here from the earlier US release apart from the omission of the 2 channel stereo track and the pan and scan print variation (neither should be missed either!) Were this presentation does surpass the US version though is the inclusion of several audio and subtitle options, being that the Momentum release was sold right across the European market this version maintains the countless audio/subtitle options (just a shame that at least English subtitles hadn't been included on all the discs here for our friends who are hard of hearing).Extras wise, we get ported over from the old US release the (always fun) audio commentary (this time with Raimi and Campbell joined by Scott Spiegel and Greg Nicotero), the excellent behind the scenes featurette 'The Gore the Merrier' and the original theatrical ('Dead by Dawn') trailer. What is missing (though not greatly) from the earlier US release are the two stills galleries (which is a shame) and the 'Hail to the King' video game preview (less said the better). Though completists will also no doubt be coveting the 48-page booklet that came with the limited edition US 'tin' release also. But as I say, there's no 'great' difference between this new version and the earlier release, not quite as chock full of goodies as was granted the first film but a solid enough package anyway.

Evil Dead 3 (Bruce Campbell Vs Army of Darkness)

Bruce Campbell Vs...

Now here's where things go into genre fan joy overload with what I personally feel to be the most welcomingly self indulgent and stunning inclusion to the series, the mighty 'Army of Darkness' (though I prefer the screen title of 'Bruce Campbell Vs…as it sums up the essence of the 'we're gonna do it our way' feel to the movie!) Thrown back in time to the Dark Ages in medieval England hapless Ash finds himself once again up against the 'evil dead' of the series but this time they're not a handful of monsters possessing some luckless teens but a whole goddamn army of the beggars who are itching for a fight with the legions of living. Can Ash help retrieve the Necronomicon (seemingly the only hope they have of fighting back) and more so how the hell does he get back to the future where he belongs? Raimi pushes the envelop further in cinematic pleasure than has been done in decades, in fact a movie so wildly fantastic has not been produced since the heyday of such Saturday afternoon fare as 'Jason and the Argonauts' et al (which this obviously takes a lot of inspiration from). Again visually the film is a delight, with Raimi showing he is still the master of stylish thrilling adventures and likewise Bruce Campbell's portrayal of Ash takes him (understandably) deeper into the realm of pissed off animated extremities. For myself another shining light in this production is the simply stunning score by the very talented Joseph Lo Duca, with 'Evil Dead 2' he showed he was shaping up to be a force in the field but with 'Army' he delivers what must be one of the most impressive genre film scores in a long long time - I only need to hear the opening notes of the movie to have the hairs on the back of my neck rise to attention. That said, 'Army of Darkness' perhaps alienated a lot of mainstream viewers with its outrageous self-indulgence but fans of the series should be rightly applauding what is the perfect finale to one of the best horror franchises in a long time.

But with its many variant releases on the DVD format 'Army' has also proved to be one of the most frustrating to own also. Before we begin I'll be ignoring all the later US editions (Bootleg/Boomstick etc etc) as they have simply been regurgitations of the original limited edition two disc set by Anchor Bay USA. First though let's look at this 'Trilogy' edition print itself…presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) in 2 channel stereo this is the original extended directors cut. When submitted to Universal Studios they initially balked at both the running time and the downbeat ending and 'requested' some editing take place (15 minutes in total) and a new finale filmed. So out went the Planet of the Apes-esque finale in favour of a more up-tempo action oriented S-Mart showdown. Thankfully the full directors vision is restored here for your viewing pleasure. The print presented here is identical to the US directors cut release; it's a nice enough presentation though does suffer from a slightly soft grainy image during some of the latter dark nighttime scenes. Fine enough but in comparison to the recently released region 3 MGM DVD in Asia it doesn't hold as well, the region 3 release not only sports a stronger sharper image but also contains a few frames missing from any other version along with a lovely 5.1 surround soundtrack. Whether this is a significant problem for the casual viewer though is debatable.

What is inevitably going to irk many fans of the series though is the woeful omission from this 'Trilogy' set of the alternate 'S-Mart' ending (contrary to what the sets packaging claims, it's not here!) Not only is this included in the single disc Asian edition but also appears on the theatrical cut on the double disc US edition from Anchor Bay, so it's omission by Anchor Bay UK for this package is an unfortunate decision indeed. The annoyance will inevitably grow with many fans of the series as we soon discover that this is not the only missing feature from all other editions…also missing is the 20 minute 'Men Behind the Army' documentary which appears on the old AB US release, as well as the theatrical trailer that features on both the US and Asian releases and an excellent massive stills gallery that appears only on the region 3 release. Considering that this set includes a fourth disc of extra features (where these omissions could have been included) just frustrates what could have been a delightful near perfect 'Trilogy' special edition.

On the plus side, all the remaining extra features from the old US release have been welcomingly ported over here - there's the four deleted scenes (with optional audio commentary), the always delightful audio commentary (with Campbell, Raimi and brother Ivan), the creature concept art and the optional storyboards that play along the onscreen fun. Essentially, the Asian region three disc is the best release of 'Army' to date with the bulk of the extra features (outside of the 'making of' and concept art), stacks of subtitle options and the best print of the film available (with importantly the inclusion of the alternate theatrical ending). Sadly it is here that Anchor Bay UK have dropped the ball in what could have been as close to a definitive package. A shame.

Evil Dead - Bonus Disc

But wait a minute here, what of the bonus fourth disc? Sure I've already covered the very welcome inclusion of the new open matte (enhanced) full screen print of the first movie (sans DTS audio et al) but what of those 'all new' extra features? Well the majority of the new features have been produced by newcomers Nucleus Films, a new production team (comprised of genre expert and all round good guy Marc Morris and Razorblade Smile director Jake West) out to rival the gang at Blue Underground. What they have delivered are three interesting if somewhat lacking short documentary featurrettes on the 'Evil Dead' series. First up is the 36-minute feature 'The Living Love the Dead' which looks at the history of the film with (not so) critical commentary from the likes of Allan Bryce (of 'The Dark Side' magazine fame), graphic artists Graham Humphreys and critic Alan Jones et al. Whilst this is fun viewing the one thing it sorely lacks is any participation by the filmmakers them selves. I'm a big fan of Allan Bryce's work in 'The Dark Side' and he seems a genuinely lovely person so I'm happy to listen to his reflections on the series but I do feel we're into a repetitive spiral of no great value when critic/fan boy after critic/fan boy are rolled out endlessly to declare their love for the series. It's because of this that the bulk of these new featurettes fall flat on their face as the remaining two (thankfully) short documentaries 'Bruce Campbell: Geek or God' and 'Dead Good Marketing' (the titles say it all) are very much more of the same with said critics/fans rambling on. The truth of the matter is that none of these people (outside of Humphrey's work on the UK cover art) have anything at all to do with the films production, they're all simply critics/fans feeding their egos by participating here. I believe critics are no different to the working horror fan and if we were presented with endless ramblings by any one of us folk would surely be complaining? A shame that my first experience of Nucleus Films documentaries should be such a let down but I have every hope that they'll deliver something more substantial in the future.

why I oughta!

But all is not lost on this fourth bonus disc as there's a real diamond in here also with the inclusion (thanks to hard work of Marc Morris)of the simply excellent episode of 'The Incredibly Strange Filmshow' presented by celebrity film (and highly amiable) dweeb Jonathan Ross. This retro cracker has Ross talking to Raimi, Campbell and co on the set of Spiegel's 'Intruder' about the success of 'The Evil Dead' and is not only informative but highly amusing also. Sadly there has been some slight editing to omit the clips of the old super 8 footage but it doesn't detract from what is a cracking feature. Rounding things off in this set is a short music video ('Antihero') inspired (loosely) on the first Evil Dead movie, nice enough viewing and welcome indeed but negotiable as to whether or not it holds up to repeat viewing.

Finally, I know there will be many out there that will be bemoaning the fact that the ever elusive original short show reel film 'Within The Woods' is not present here in this set. Of course we all would have loved it to be here at long last (and I know the producers of this set would have loved to included it) but the truth of the matter is that it just couldn't be. Previously Anchor Bay USA did make the effort to include it with their earlier 'Necronomicon' edition (disc one) but word was that due to legal issues over the music soundtrack it wouldn't happen. Whether this is true or not is up for discussion, I'm sure if Raimi, Tapert and their production company Renaissance had wanted to they could have thrown some money around and have those issues cleared. So you do have to ask if the truth is more to do with supression of said material by the creators? Either way, it's not here and there's no point in grumbling about the fact and in truth if die hard fans are eager enough they can easily find said short film simply by a keen search of the internet to either download it or by purchasing a copy from an auction site like Ebay where it has long been available (not that we condone such behaviour!)

So…(he gasps coming up for air), Anchor Bay UK deliver onto the market the first special edition box set for the 'Evil Dead' trilogy with a very mixed bag four disc collection. For fans of the series that already own multiple regional versions of the individual movies the reasons for picking this new set up are perhaps not very strong. But the die-hard completists will do so anyway. But on the other hand, those of you that do not yet own these gems yet (and why the hell not?) then here is the perfect opportunity to get submerged in what is actually a damn good (albeit slightly flawed) set all round, even better is the fact that it's been retailed at a very alluring price also (no more than around £25 most places). What isn't in any doubt is that 'The Evil Dead' Trilogy are three of the most exciting and thrilling roller coaster genre romps ever made (period) and Anchor Bay UK should be somewhat applauded for bringing out such a respectable collection. Groovy.

Review by Alan Simpson

Released by Anchor Bay UK
Region - 2 (PAL)
Rated - 18 (uncut)
Extras :
Far too many to list (see review above).