The Evil Dead: Limited Edition Blu-ray
by Jef Burnham
Coming to Blu-ray on August 31, 2010 from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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Finally, Sam Raimi’s horror masterpiece The Evil Dead is coming to Blu-ray. We all know the story, or have heard one like it before: five friends take a trip to a remote cabin in the woods intent on having a fun, relaxing weekend but accidentally unleash a horde of demons instead. It’s a classic formula. And to horror aficionados, The Evil Dead is indeed an absolute classic. So with this BD release boasting two 1080p transfers of the film from the original negative as overseen by Raimi himself (one transfer preserving the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the other being the matted 1.85:1 widescreen), and audio presented in high resolution Dolby TrueHD 5.1, it would seem that things couldn’t get better for us Evil Dead fans. That is until we realize we’ve been duped into buying yet another of Raimi’s slightly altered versions of the film.
Yes, he’s done it in the past. Upon Raimi’s request a the shot in which Cheryl is revealed to have been possessed has been zoomed in digitally. And certain versions also saw the removal of a lightning effect that admittedly looks cheap, but the cheapness is one of the film’s greatest charms. These alterations were actually pretty minor, and could even go unnoticed by the inattentive fan. But the change made to the film for the Blu-ray release is much bigger— Lucas/Spielberg-alteration big even. Any die-hard fan of The Evil Dead can tell you the two points at which the producer Rob Tapert appears in the film. First, he appears as the group of friends are driving to the cabin as one of two men standing at the roadside along with writer/director Sam Raimi. Moments later he makes his second appearance. This time unintentionally, seen hiding in the bushes beside the dilapidated bridge the friends cross before arriving at their isolated cabin. Though it is clearly a production goof, Tapert standing at the side of the bridge is an integral part of The Evil Dead experience, for as I said before, the cheapness is one of the film’s greatest charms. For this release, however, Raimi digitally erased Tapert from the frame during the bridge-crossing sequence.
We shouldn’t have to keep telling filmmakers that we don’t want them screwing with the films they’ve given us, the films we love; and yet here we are again. The film that I and so many people have devoted our time and money to was a film where the producer is accidentally standing right out in the open in what should be a remote area. The film you’ll see on this Blu-ray release, however, is not that film! Raimi may think he’s improving the experience by digitally removing such “mistakes,” but he’s not. Even George Lucas left the Stormtrooper hitting his head on an opening door in the “Special Edition” of Star Wars: A New Hope. The point I’m trying to make is that we love The Evil Dead in part precisely BECAUSE of all the things that make Raimi cringe when he watches it, not in spite of them. There’s no need for him to be embarrassed or ashamed or whatever it is that possesses him to keep tweaking it, for we love the film just the way it was when it hit theaters in 1981. And that’s the picture we want— The Evil Dead 1981, not The Evil Dead 2010 remix. The removal of Tapert may not seem like much to passive fans, but imagine what the next version will boast if we don’t get them to put a stop to this. Perhaps next time around we’ll see digitized hair added to Scotty’s head in all the reshoot footage where he mysteriously has shorter hair.
The sickness that’s been plaguing Lucas and Spielberg is becoming an epidemic— more and more filmmakers are altering their pieces after they’ve already been released to the public. It’s an enormous insult to all us fans who purchase these discs completely unaware that the film we intended to buy has been swapped out for another one— one that may only be slightly different but is different nonetheless. And it’s really unfortunate, because I would have highly recommended this release were it not for Raimi’s bait-and-switch routine.
Otherwise it’s an exceptional release. The HD transfer is gorgeous, characterized by rich grain and deep blacks, straying none-too-far from the qualities of a pristine 35mm print I recently saw on the big screen (with that one glaring exception). And the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio really highlights the amount of work Raimi, Campbell and the gang put into the score and the sound effects. The disc also boasts a fascinating new commentary track featuring Raimi, Tapert and producer/star Bruce Campbell, detailing much of the hardships the cast and crew endured throughout the making of the film. However, the commentators never discuss what’s happening onscreen, only what went on behind-the-scenes. As such, it would have made a far better taped roundtable discussion than a commentary track. All other special features are included in this Limited Edition on a bonus DVD, which is smart since most bonus features on Blu-ray discs are presented in SD anyway. The features on this bonus disc account for many, but not all of the special features available on various DVD versions previously released by Anchor Bay. Most notably absent, however, are the previous DVDs’ commentary tracks, presumably because they include references to Tapert’s presence in the bridge sequence, which Raimi is now attempting to cover up.
Overall though, even if you’re not bothered by Raimi’s alterations, I say stick with the Ultimate Edition or Book of the Dead DVDs if you have them. To upgrade here would not only be a waste of money, but a support of filmmakers altering the films you know and love in any way they see fit.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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