Having grown up in the 1980’s, it feels like it was Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn that interested people in the first film more than vice versa. Sure Sam Raimi’s first film The Evil Dead was championed by Stephen King back when that meant something, and it did well enough and sold very well internationally. But it’s the second film that became the cult phenomenon. Bruce Campbell stars as Ash, the man who takes his girlfriend to a deserted haunted cabin, and then things turn spooky and silly. What turned the film into a cult favorite is how funny it becomes without ever losing intensity. Our review of the new Blu-ray of Evil Dead 2 follows after the jump.
The film beings with a light recapping and remaking of the first film. In the original five people go to a cabin – in the film’s prologue it’s just Campbell’s Ash and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler). He plays a recording of some demonic spell casting, and a spirit takes over his girlfriend. With no choice left Ash chops her head off and buries her, but she doesn’t stay buried. The end of the first film is then redone in a way to suggest that the evil can’t stand sunlight, and so Ash must survive with no way to escape the area. All he can do is get back to the cabin before night.
Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry) has found new pages from the book of the dead, which her father was translating at the cabin that Ash is at. She gets her boyfriend (Richard Domeier) and two rednecks (Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley DePaiva) to take her to the cabin. During that time, Ash – stuck on his lonesome – is losing his mind and a bite from the severed head of his girlfriend possesses his hand with evil. To save himself, he self-amputates. And when Annie shows up, they toss Ash in the basement with the possessed body of her mother, Henrietta (played in costume by Ted Raimi). But only the combined efforts of Annie and Ash can stop the evil… maybe. Sort of.
If the first film is one of the most competent and engaging no-budget horror films ever made, its follow up takes the plot of the original, and then realizes that no one involved wants to make a horror film that’s as nihilistic. Evil Dead II is one of the rare horror films that owe more to The Three Stooges than anything or anyone else. And though not as out-and-out silly as the follow up Army of Darkness, this has set pieces that are as violent as they are hilarious. From Bruce Campbell fighting his own hand to the spirit POV shot that seems disappointed it lost its victim, there are a number of cues that the film isn’t playing on the level of “horror.” There’s just too much sense of playfulness from Raimi and his camera. It’s the work of children run amuck, and the film barrels through its brief running time.
The films works as a whole, but opening section where Campbell has to play all by himself is one of the more audacious set pieces of its type – it’s amazing that a man alone in a cabin slowly going insane can be so compelling. But there’s a reason why this has been a DVD and Blu-ray perennial. It’s a one of a kind spook-a-blast film where the energy of the picture feels similar to that of a rollercoaster. Who doesn’t want to get on for the ride?
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. Having owned numerous copies of the film before, it’s fair to say that this is the best home video presentation the film has had. Also new is the brand new feature length making of documentary “Swallowed Souls” (98 min.) which gets the primary cast, and many of the behind-the-scenes artists to talk about the making of the film. Sam Raimi is MIA, but you get everyone else from Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry and Ted Raimi to Sam Speigel, to Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero (and like any good horror doc it give the creature effects guys their due). There may not be much new here, but all the good stories are collected and repeated.
Lionsgate has also included the commentary from the previous DVDs and laserdisc release with Campbell, Raimi and Nicotero. They even give a shout out to laserdiscs in the beginning, so you know it’s ancient, but they enjoy talking about the film, and there’s lot of great bits in here (I love Campbell relaying Kurt Russell – on the set of Escape From LA – asking him to say “workshed”). Then there’s “Cabin Fever – A Fly on the look behind the scenes of Evil Dead II” (30 min.) which seems a straight lift from the original laserdisc release, and includes behind the scenes footage of six deleted scenes (including a gorier death for a possessed cast member). “Road to Wadesborg: Revisiting the Shooting Locations with filmmaker Tony Elwood” (8 min.) goes to where the film was made, while “Behind the Screams” (17 min.) comes from the DVD release by Anchor Bay and offers a still gallery with commentary by book of the dead creator Tom Sullivan. It’s followed by “The Gore the Merrier” (32 min.) – another making of from previous DVD releases – that gets the members of KNB effects to talk about their work, and features the short film “Evil Dead Baby”. Also included are the film’s theatrical trailer, and four still galleries. This appears to wrangle all previous special edition material, and that makes it definitive. Though it’s easy to feel burned with this title, as it’s been reissued endlessly for the last decade, this is the best version of it on home video yet.