Twenty years after its original theatrical release, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead still feels like the punchiest horror flick this side of a Dario Argento gialli. Made on a shoe-string budget, The Evil Dead is difficult to assess for what initially seems like nothing more than B-movie schlock. Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his friends take a weekend trip to the woods only to stumble across the mysterious Book of the Dead. Spells are unleashed, friends go zombie and Ash is forced to test the limits of his squeamishness. Raimi’s script is riotously deadpan, his compositions undeniably breathtaking and inventive. The director relentlessly fashions the film’s first half as a creepy-crawly sweat chamber with evil seemingly taking the form of an omniscient, roaming camera. Raimi takes so much joy in poking fun at his five protagonists you might wonder why Kevin Williamson even bothered Screaming. Artist Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) is literally raped just outside the film’s infamous cabin, busy twigs and branches suggesting horny woods at play. Despite the signs (the difficult-to-start vehicle, the fallen bridge), no one else believes the woods are alive. Ash and his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker) share an intimate, peek-a-boo moment through which Ash gives Linda a necklace. When he is later forced to kill her, Raimi takes great joy in referencing this coquettish exchange of affection. Ash is horrordom’s most memorable wuss, victim to both a hissing group of crazed friends and to Raimi’s lightweight yet burdensome mise-en-scène. Now infamous for its over-the-top gore and cheesy effects sequences, The Evil Dead is most impressive for Raimi’s unnerving wide angle work and his uncanny, almost unreal ability to suggest the presence of intangible evil via distant headlights, bleeding light sockets and, in the film’s most awesome set piece, a simple game of cards. Raimi actively teases his protagonist for not being a man. Ash may return for the sequel, but The Evil Dead‘s finale suggests that he was never really up to the challenge.
Anchor Bay presents Raimi's 16mm horror classic (the original had an aspect ratio of 1.33:1) in a THX-certified 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Purists may bemoan the matte job yet Raimi's composition work has never looked as startling as it does now. Raimi's moon matte shots are still here in all their retro glory-a lesser company may have digitally fixed what has become one of the director's pet peeves. Whatever this transfer may lack in looks it more than makes up for in the audio department. Not since its original 1982 release has The Evil Dead sounded this great. Anchor Bay's DTS and Dolby Digital tracks give the film a fuller range, pitch-perfectly heightening every thump and creak of Raimi's cabin and its surrounding forest.
Anchor Bay's non-"Book of the Dead" edition of Raimi's The Evil Dead comes with two audio commentary tracks already familiar to fans of the Elite DVD and its original laserdisc version. Not unlike Herk Harvey and John Clifford's commentary track for Criterion's Carnival of Souls disc, the first track (featuring Raimi and producer Robert Taper) proves that commentary for cult films, on average, brims with a kind of renewed sense of history that no newer film could ever match. Campbell's cocky commentary is even more effective in delving into the gears behind the making of this underground horror classic. Listening to both commentary tracks is playfully revealing. Raimi discusses the film's classic car, which he would go on to give "roles" to in many of his other films (including A Simple Plan). Campbell off-handedly wonders why Raimi is so fond of such a "piece of junk." Also included here are talent bios, a poster and stills gallery, TV spots and the film's theatrical trailer. Most notable is the behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes. The deleted scenes become reminders of how tedious the acting process can get, especially when burdened by heavy make-up. It's a small wonder the actors managed to keep a straight face through so many takes.
The Evil Dead has entirely too many DVD editions to its name. While Anchor Bay's 1.85:1 presentation may not entice die-hard purists, the disc more than does justice to Raimi's seminal horror film.