Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor
The release of The Evil Dead on Blu-ray seems like a good excuse to revisit this iconic horror film. Ordinarily I'd hesitate to review such a well-known movie - for the simple reason that most horror fans will have already seen it.
But the film is now 30 years old, and I'm sure there's a whole new generation of horror fans yet to discover it, and others who may be wondering how the bluray holds up. If either of these sounds like you, read on ... for there's no doubt that it belongs on this site.
When the film was made, it was highly controversial - either being banned or given an X certificate in many countries. Unfairly referred to as a 'video nasty', it's far better than that description might suggest, and deserves a more educated assessment. This is a highly accomplished genre film that pushed the creative envelope in many directions, despite its low-budget origins.
The story has a ring of familiarity that horror fans will instantly recognise - a bunch of friends head to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway, and thereafter die gruesome deaths one by one. I'm not giving anything away by saying this ... from the first few minutes there's no doubting what territory you're in. But don't let this synopsis put you off, because this is no Hollywood-sanitized, by-the-numbers horror film. For one it is genuinely scary, secondly it has a sly humour about it, and thirdly there is no pandering to conservative ideals of good taste. All of which sets it apart from the vast majority of U.S. horror films made in the 30 years since.
On arriving at the cabin, an old book is discovered along with a tape recording made by the previous occupants. The book is none other than The Book of the Dead, containing the necessary incantations to bring demonic entities back from the underworld. Unfortunately for the group, this is exactly what happens and mayhem ensues. And when I say mayhem, I mean utter ... fucking ... pandemonium. It's gory, twisted and taken to the extreme. Which is my way of saying its an incredibly good time.
Where the film saved on budget was obviously with the cast, who were all unknowns at the time, and for the most-part still are. The obvious exception is chisel-jawed Bruce Campbell who went on to carve himself into cult history with this role and the subsequent sequels.
Technically, the film's accomplishments are astonishing given that it was independently produced on a very limited budget. The camera-work is inventive (especially love the POV shots), and the effects are varied and effective. But what really stands out for me is the sound design - this is a movie that aurally envelopes you in the experience, the sounds being at least as disturbing as the visuals and ensuring that psychological tension is applied and maintained at all the right times. This is where the bluray really shines - I doubt the original mono sound mix could ever have sounded as good as this new DTS HD Master Audio surround-sound presentation. Play it loud!
As for the bluray transfer - I wasn't holding my hopes too high, given that the film was only shot on 16mm to begin with. And while the picture quality can't compete with new release studio films, it was still better than expected. The picture is clean and probably the best it could be ... and besides, the grainy low-budget look to the film adds an extra level of creepiness that suits the film.
For any horror fan this is a must-watch. It has an over-the-top level of creative gore, and is a genuine horror experience. Much more horror than comedy, it straddles the divide between traditional horror and the horror-comedy of its sequel, The Evil Dead II.The Blu-ray has many extra features and is worth picking up for the awesome sound quality alone.
Rating: 8.5/10. Highly recommended.