Saturday, November 26, 2011

Evil Dead II: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

From horror master Sam Raimi (Drag Me to Hell) and starring the cult icon Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness), Evil Dead II gets the deluxe Blu-ray treatment this November from Lionsgate. Ranked #19 in Entertainment Weekly's "Top 50 Cult Films" list, Evil Dead II has been hailed as "one of the most visually inventive, relentless and truly original films ever made" (BBC). The Evil Dead II: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is packed with all-new special features that revisit every aspect of the film's shoot with over 20 cast and crew members, plus tons of existing content and a thrilling new High-Definition 1080P transfer.

Film  (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

After Evil Dead became a cult hit, director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell moved on to Crimewave, a comedy/thriller that was produced by the Coen Brothers.  When that movie flopped, the group returned to their roots with a re-imaging of Evil Dead, but this time with a larger budget and more film-making experience.  Originally, they planned on showing a recap of what happened during the first film at the start of the sequel, but since they weren't allowed to use that footage they had to reshoot the key moments and drop all but two of the original cast to save money.

Much like the first film,  Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) takes his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) to a remote cabin in the woods, unaware that there is a great evil just waiting for them there.  It turns out that the cabin's owner is a Professor of Archaeology who has discovered the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (The Book of the Dead) and after reciting some passages from the book unleashed an ancient evil that killed his wife and later captured his soul.  When Ash unwittingly plays a recording of the professor's notes that include an incantation, the words unleash an evil force that possesses the body of Linda who then tries to kill him.  Left with no other choice, Ash is forced to kill Linda by decapitating her with a shovel and burying her in the woods.  Out in the woods alone, the evil force hunts Ash down and possesses him too until the break of dawn makes the evil depart his body.  When Ash awakens he attempts to escape until he discovers that the bridge that took him to the cabin has been destroyed.

With his hand infected from being bit from Linda, it begins to try to kill him until he cuts it off before the possession travels to the rest of his body.  While  Ash is dealing with his traitorous hand, there are others en route to the cabin.  The professor's daughter Annie (Sarah Barry) and her associate Ed (Richard Domeier) were forced to hire a local hillbilly named Jake (Danny Hicks) and his girlfriend Bobby Joe (Kassie Wesley) to show them an alternate way to reach the cabin.  When they arrive at the cabin they are almost killed by Ash who mistakes them for the evil force returning.  Thinking that Ash is an insane murderer, the group overpowers Ash and locks him up until they too hear the professor's recording and realize that the professor's wife Henrietta who was possessed and buried in the cellar which also happens to be where they imprisoned Ash.  That's not their only problem since the evil force returns and starts possessing people and killing the rest of them.  It will be up to Ash and his custom made chainsaw and trusty shotgun to stop the evil once and for all.

I got into this series differently than most since I started it with Army of Darkness which was the third movie in the series.  I didn't even know that there were two previous movies until a long time later, but I loved Army of Darkness right away - a love that I still have.  When I went back and watch the first movie I was shocked that it was essentially a horror movie which was a far cry from the very funny third one.  Then I watched Evil Dead 2 and it was the missing link between the two since it's it's mixture of both with its over the top gore and some very dark humor.  The Ash I know and love from Army of Darkness doesn't really come into his own until the end of this movie when he fits his chainsaw on his arm where his hand used to be and gets his shotgun.

Bruce Campbell deserves a lot of credit for the success of this series with his do anything to get the shot approach where he takes a lot of punishment.  In this movie in particular, he displays an amazing physicality when his hand is possessed and is trying to kill him.  Campbell is a master of slapstick and this movie provided a great showcase for his talents.  The other main ingredient in the movie's popularity is director Sam Raimi who despite being limited by a low budget somehow made an inventive movie that redefined what a horror movie could be.

Video (4 out of 5 stars)

This new 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is the best version that I've seen of this movie.  For such a low budget movie, a lot of time and money have been spent restoring this movie to look better than it ever has and it shows.  This transfer offers a lot of nice detail that was noticeable before as well as a lot deeper black levels which is much appreciated since this is a very dark movie.  There aren't a lot of colors in this other than the bright green blood that gushes out frequently, but when they do make an appearance they look good.  The only drawback to this new transfer is that it's easier to be distracted by some aging visual effects but I would much rather watch this than a soft or muddled transfer. 

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

Evil Dead 2's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also a much needed improvement over previous releases too.  This mix offers some nice immersion and directional effects especially when the evil force travels around the forest and the cabin in the woods.  Dialogue is clear as are the screams throughout and the music and effects also sound great too.  The rear channels aren't used as much as I would have liked but when they are used, they are used well.  Overall, this is a very good mix and a huge improvement over the earlier releases.

Special Features (5 out of 5 stars) 

There's a lot of new extras on this disc that are really good and a treat for fans of the film and even better, they are in high definition.  There's also some carryover extras from the earlier edition.

·    Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead 2 (HD) – A new 90-minute multi-chaptered feature-length documentary that covers every aspect of the film.  This is the highlight of all of the extras and I really enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes footage and hearing the archival interviews done at the time of filming.  All of that combined with recent interviews with the cast and crew makes this a must see extra!
o   Dead by Dawn – A look at the development and twists of fate that led to Evil Dead 2’s creation, with Bruce Campbell and others!
o   The Chosen One – Star Bruce Campbell looks back on challenges of teturning to the Evil Dead universe, while actors Sarah Berry, Danny Hicks, Ted Raimi and Kassie Wesley detail the horrors of their roles in Evil Dead 2.
o  Madman Sam – Cast & crew reflect on working with legendary Director Sam Raimi featuring rare and candid moments from original on-set footage.
o   Dead Effects – Special make-up effects creators Mark Shostrom, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman and others detail their graphic and now-famous creations from the film along with never-before-seen photos and video footage.
o   Re-Animated – Animators Doug Beswick, Tom Sullivan, Rick Catizone and other members of the visual effects crew detail the extensive stop-motion and physical effects work used in creating many of the memorable horrors seen on screen.
o   Method to Madness – Cast & crew detail the challenges of the film's production design and photography, and some of the most memorable moments from the exhausting shoot of the film.
o   Rosebud – A look at the editing and eventual release of the film with cast & crew, and how it has evolved into a certified cult classic over the past quarter-centuryRoad to Wadesboro: Revisiting the Shooting Location of      Evil Dead 2 Featurette (HD) – NEW - We get to see the original filming location of the cabin in the woods which has fallen into disrepair but is still standing.  We also see the abandoned high school where the sets were built which still has some of the props from the movie.
  • Cabin Fever Featurettes from the set of Evil Dead 2 by makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero – NEW
  • Artifacts of the Dead stills gallery – NEW - Pictures taken at the time of filming by Tom Sullivan. 
  • Audio commentary with writer/director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and special makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero
  • The Gore the Merrier - A makeup and effects featurette
  • Evil Dead 2: Behind the Screams -A making-of featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD)

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)
While Army of Darkness is still my favorite, Evil Dead 2 is also very good and not the usual horror movie and it serves as a nice bridge between the other two movies. You don't really need to see the first one since this one is a lot better and covers everything from the first one. This is a lot of fun!

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