"Join us!"

This spectral invitation was the rallying call to an entire generation of young horror fans and budget filmmakers when The Evil Dead hit theaters after a trouble plagued journey from inception to distribution. Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert gave a genre caught in a cycle of imitative slasher films and big budget duds a much needed kick in the ass with a movie as eccentric in its style as it was enthusiastic in its embracing of gonzo stylistic excess and raw spectacle. The creativity behind this now celebrated onslaught of shocks, gore, and giggles was enhanced by raw talent both in front of and behind the camera. Two sequels and countless imitations have followed but none have equalled the ferocious movement or manic fervor of the original. Anchor Bay has lost no opportunity to exploit this, bombarding the public with 'standard,' 'special,' and 'Book of the Dead' editions. Squeezing out each moment of blood-soaked potential from this popular catalogue selection, the Bay now bring us -- wait for it! -- the "Ultimate" edition. Now before you chew your britches, wondering how many other 'ultimate' editions the DVD gods have up their sleeves, understand that this may very well be one of those rare instances where a package lives up to its hype. This package is an essential purchase if you don't yet own "the ultimate experience in gruelling terror" (but I can't imagine anyone reading this not already having at least one copy on the shelf). But even though the prospect of double (and in some cases triple dipping) is about as attractive as dating a hooker with VD, this three disc set includes enough special material to justify laying down the cash.

Could it be that some of you don't know the plot? It seems redundant to summarize a story that, even when it was crafted, was far from original, unique more for its style of delivery than for its substance. In short, the plot behind Evil Dead is admittedly little more than a catalyst for the bizarre set pieces and nightmarish imagery that make it legendary, using a simplistic, almost archaic premise upon which to hang its spastic camera acrobatics and Hershey syrup FX. But for those not in the know, this modernized folk tale features a group of college friends spending the weekend in a cabin for shits and giggles. Unearthing the Necronomicon (Lovecraft is spinning in his grave!), a volume of accursed lore used here as a too convenient prop, Ash and his pals evoke ancient demons/spirits who spend the remainder of the film trying to possess and/or murder them in spectacularly gruesome fashion. Along the way we get funky demon levitation, pencils to the ankle, gouged-out eyes, chicks kicked into the basement, and, of course, the much beloved tree rape.

A film in love with style and technique over the finer nuances of characterization, Evil Dead set the template for the low budget modern horror movie. Armed with attitude, youth, and energy, the filmmakers understood that imagination and innovation can compensate for a low budget. Of central importance is Raimi's restless, subjective camera, spiralling through the woods with the demonic fury and grace of Beelezebub himself. Bruce Campbell's celebrated deadpan performance and a palpable atmosphere of supernatural menace makes this marriage of slapstick, shucks, and yucks friendly to repeated viewings -- a good thing, considering the numerous times its been up for grabs. While the story itself is a simplistic horror cliché, its very simplicity lends it purity and a nervous rawness. Raimi's directorial innovation smacks emotional verve into even the worst dialogue and lapses of logic. While the mood is never so much frightening as exhilarating, lacking the believability a story needs to be truly disturbing, the visceral shocks evoke a stunning stew of repulsion, laughter, and gut level screams.

The movie's history -- both its initial public reception and subsequent DVD incarnations -- has been almost as nerve racking as its content. Evil Dead was given the dubious honor of being a 'Video Nasty' in Britain (I love how a country that not too long ago was attending public beheadings and disembowelments feared the effect that horror movies might make on its citizenry) and, as one of the extras reveals, Raimi was taken to court to face charges of obscenity. Well, it seems that the turmoil (and a handful of home video releases) have come down to what I can honestly say IS a fan's love letter -- an blood-gushing valentine wrapped in enticing supplements. The visual elements themselves are superb (or as good as such a low budget movie is ever going to get). Disc One features the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which is well lit, bold in imagery, and remarkably free of grain. Colors are a bit dark at times, but overall the picture is suited to the subject matter. Audio for this version includes Dolby Surround Sound 2.0 and Digital Surround Sound Ex, and 6.1 DTS-ES. All the tracks are worthy, crisp and free from background distortion. English subs are also available. And for those who want to experience the film as originally intended, the second disc includes the Full Frame 1.33:1 version. Curiously, Surround Sound 2.0 is the only audio option, but both English and French subs are included.

Are the supplementary materials substantial enough to warrant that double dip? I have to say yes, based on the quality of the new featuretes alone. While the Audio Commentary with Tapert and Raimi is carried over from past releases (dry if informative) for Disc One, the docu "One By One We Will Take You: The Undead Saga of THE EVIL DEAD" is an exciting new look at this cult phenomenon. Raimi and Campbell don't participate but the remainder of the cast and crew are present with often funny and informative remarks about the production, FX, acting, and promotion. The difficulties surrounding the editing, release, and reception of the film are livened up with clips, and even Edgar Wright and Eli Roth weigh in on the film's influence. The irreverent, hilarious commentary with Bruce Campbell (also ported over from past releases) is the only extra on Disc Two.

Disc Three is where the gory gold is, with a wealth of new material devoted to the "Ladies of the Evil Dead." "Life After Death" devotes 15 minutes with the three unsuspecting scream queens, each of which have seemingly found ease with their status. "The Ladies of The Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell" claims to be a conversation between four people but in no time becomes a monologue for Campbell -- not a bad thing, considering he's always ready with a quip or laugh-out-loud observation. "The Evil Dead: Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor" is a highlight here, featuring uncut clips and rarely seen footage, including deleted scenes and alternate takes. "Unconventional" is next, exploring with Ted Raimi and Rich Demanincor the delirious experience of horror conventions. Less intriguing, it is followed by the equally tame but appreciated "At the Drive-In," where DVDS are handed out amidst some chuckles, and "The Reunion Panel," a half hour chat session whose intimacy makes it worthwhile. The remainder of the disc focuses on material from previous releases, including "Discovering the Evil Dead," a featurette featuring interviews with Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell. We also get a makeup test, theatrical trailers, a slew of TV spots, Stills Galleries, and previews of other available titles.

Review by William Simmons

Released by Anchor Bay
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review