Evil Dead II
Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn
DVD - Image A+ Sound A+ Extras A+
4K UHD - Image A- Sound A- Extras B+
starring Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley
screenplay by Sam Raimi & Scott Spiegel
directed by Sam Raimi
by Walter Chaw More a remake with yuks than a sequel, Sam Raimi's astonishing Evil Dead II is a kitchen-sink splatter flick inspired by the drive-in spam-in-a-cabin tradition and leavened by an unhealthy fascination with The Three Stooges. Leading man and crash-test dummy Bruce Campbell (Bill Chambers referred to him once as "brick-jawed," and I can't improve on that, literally or figuratively) turns in a legend-making, career-defining performance, re-imagining his Shemp, Ash, as a man of stage-melodrama, white-hat resolve who comes of age upon discovering his knack for slaying the undead. The great unspoken peculiarity of siege classics like George Romero's Night of the Living Dead is that there is somehow always discovered a hero who's biologically hardwired for the task of staying alive in the face of great demonic hordes. The crux is that it's unspoken no longer in Raimi's "Dead" trilogy (the third instalment the out-and-out comedy Army of Darkness), which, by the end, becomes a rags-to-rags fable about a retail clerk repelling an army of Harryhausen skeletons laying siege to a medieval castle. In its way, this is as canny a satire of the consumer/clerk relationship as anything in Dawn of the Dead.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Evil Dead II returns Ash and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler--Betsy Baker in the first film, Bridget Fonda for two seconds in the next) to that cabin in the woods where a tape is played, the Book of the Dead is opened, and a portal to Hell is nudged ajar. Horror-film conventions are played with: the car that won't start (but does); the floating P.O.V. of the invisible watcher in the woods; the dead granny in the basement; and the backwoods hicks poised to ruin the whole thing. A severed hand, possessed by spirits living in an enchanted mirror, is trapped beneath a bucket and a pile of books--atop which is A Farewell to Arms, of course. And so defines the goofy humour of the piece, the kind that finds Ash breaking dishes over his own head before strapping a chainsaw to his freshly-amputated stump and rigging a contraption that stands as the most twisted homage to Taxi Driver in history. The moment the film unfolded for me, though, is the moment where Ash, waking from an evening possessed (his flight through the treetops still a marvel for its invention and fury), surveys his surroundings in one, long, uninterrupted subjective shot that turns out--hilariously--not to be from Ash's point-of-view. Evil Dead II is a film about filmmaking on the one level, and proof of the things that people with genuine inspiration can wreak without the technology that budget can buy on another.
It's even possible to read it as a critique of the Reagan administration along the lines of Dan O'Bannon's less-successful The Return of the Living Dead from two years earlier, locating as it does a pair of sweater-and-ascot yuppies (Sarah Berry and Richard Domeier) to play against the aforementioned hicks (Dan Hicks and Kassie Wesley)--with blue-collar folk represented by our Ash and Linda. When the lower classes eat a flying eyeball, it's something like a horror-flick literalization of Marie Antoinette's suggestion of how to appease the masses mixed mysteriously with the great Illuminati eye. Perhaps it's a stretch to bring sociology into it, but at the least Evil Dead II inspires dissection--by the theorist, by the stylist, by the fan of The Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers (who, with their appearance in Rob Zombie's films, seem to have inspired a lot of discomfort in their barely-contained anarchic explosions), and by the legion of fanatics who treat public screenings with the enthusiasm reserved for The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Big Lebowski. More than just a splatter film (though as a splatter film, it's one of the best), Evil Dead II is joy and aptitude coming together in wondrous alchemy to produce a classic, nigh-unclassifiable slapstick/gorefest.
Anchor Bay presents a sequel of sorts to its own Book of the Dead Limited Edition release of The Evil Dead by reissuing Evil Dead II--which nevertheless sports a fresh, Raimi-approved (though no longer THX-certified) HD video transfer--in another Tom Sullivan-sculpted "Necronomicon Ex Mortis": a rubber replica of the book used in the picture. It smells exactly as I imagine Gomer Pyle's overalls smelling (opening the envelope successfully melted my eyebrows), but my life wouldn't be complete without it just the same. The thought occurs that since this thing is obviously made of gasoline, besides its innate collectibility amongst dorks of a certain nature, the price of fuel being what it is today, it's probably worth a fortune. The mock-up contains fifteen heavy-parchment pages of art from the book (a few of which made it into the movie's prologue), while Sullivan, an animator on the film, contributes the only bonus feature new to this presentation, a seventeen-minute "Evil Dead II: Behind-the-Screams" slideshow in which he narrates a series of photos he and others took on the set. It's not that informative, yet it's not completely without merit, either, reaching its highlights in Sullivan's recounting of some of the mechanics of the stop-motion armatures and makeup effects.
The vaunted HD-sourced, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is, indeed, pun intended, eye-popping. It reduces the minimal flaws--slight motion-blurring, occasionally splotchy shadow detail, and unobtrusive edge-enhancement--of Anchor Bay's previous transfer while simultaneously pumping up the film's mid-Eighties palette to a pleasing level of saturation. Look at the green glass of the lamp lighting the reel-to-reel recorder in the film's opening minutes--and fall to pieces. DD 2.0 audio is provided along with a DD 5.1 remix, the latter the preferred option as an astonishing degree of care was obviously expended to fill the discrete channels with all manner of obscenity. God bless America. Meanwhile, the classic commentary track featuring Campbell, Raimi, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and makeup artist Greg Nicotero--the only real major roommate on this dual-layered disc now that the full-frame version of the flick's been jettisoned--resurfaces; if you're unfamiliar with this track, it's one of the few must-listens of the yakker era--not for its information (which is pretty good, actually), but for the camaraderie and off-the-cuff wit of those involved. They're as agile as the film would imply.
Also making a comeback is an Anchor Bay-produced featurette, "The Gore The Merrier" (32 mins.), that's good enough to not require any updating. Through "new" interviews with the F/X team behind Evil Dead II (essentially the heart of KNB studios), we're walked through the genesis of the film from the perspective of its often-brilliant special effects work. A beautifully-buffed trailer, extensive poster and still galleries, and Anchor Bay's trademark bios for Raimi and Campbell round out the documentary supplements. Trailers for The Evil Dead, Man with the Screaming Brain, Dead & Breakfast, and the new video game Evil Dead: Regeneration play upon insertion of the disc and are accessible through the "extras" menu. Note that pressing on the left "eye" of the packaging produces a bloodcurdling scream. Originally published: September 20, 2005.
THE 4K UHD DISC
by Bill Chambers Lionsgate's 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Evil Dead transcended expectations, and if their subsequent reissue of Evil Dead II on the same format is a disappointment, it's only because it merely meets them. Evil Dead II was shot in 35mm, contra its 16mm predecessor, but the natural detail boost is somewhat undermined by source materials that seem slightly more ragged, less meticulously restored--to say nothing of a greater reliance on opticals that of course compromises the clarity of the image at times and distorts the grain. Select shots inspire awe, such as a close-up of Zombie Ash at 8:14 that is stunningly complex, and Bruce Campbell's eyes, throughout, twinkle like never before. For what it's worth, Peter Deming's cinematography exhibits the same focusing inconsistencies that were part of the first movie's student-film charm, which may say more about the challenge of executing Sam Raimi's gonzo camera moves than it does about the proficiency of either Deming or The Evil Dead DP Tim Philo, who returned to shoot second-unit on the sequel. (UHD possibly brings these blurry moments into greater relief.) HDR is utilized so similarly to how it is on The Evil Dead--headlights and bare bulbs slice through the inky darkness with a tactile gleam, and the blood is profondo rosso, especially in the animated prologue--that I wouldn't be surprised to learn the two films were graded concurrently, though the flesh tones here have a tendency to lack depth and be a little pasty. (Please note that while I audited the movie in HDR10, the presentation does offer a Dolby Vision option for those so capable.) Overall, the 1.85:1, 2160p/native 4K presentation is a solid upgrade to the 2011 Blu-ray. Included herein, it looks comparatively crushed and oversaturated.
Presented in DTS-HD MA, the 5.1 remix is a beaut, erecting a wall of sound around the viewer that would make Phil Spector blush. Bass is not subtly deployed, either, and I wasn't quite prepared for its boomy depths at the 53-minute mark, during a deluge of blood. What's really impressive, however, is that each haunted object in the cabin has its own "voice" that manages to distinguish itself amid the fray. Evil Dead II didn't have any kind of surround presence in theatres and unfortunately Lionsgate deprives us of the opportunity to hear the original mono mix (unless you're content to sit through one of the dubbed soundtracks), but the cartoonish use of the 360° soundstage brought a smile to my face and seems less like revisionism than like the finishing touch. Resurfacing from the 2005 DVD is the audio commentary with Raimi, Campbell, Scott Spiegel, and Greg Nicotero, which joins one lonely video-based extra on the 4K platter, a 53-minute French documentary bearing the awkward title "Bloody and Groovy, Baby! - Tribute to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II" (HD). The tone is inscrutably arch, perhaps quintessentially French; interviewee Christophe Lemaire tells a biographical anecdote so rambling he gets cut off by a test pattern, while director Aurélia Mengin receives the on-screen annotation that she hasn't actually seen Evil Dead II and is analyzing the film in real-time as she watches it. On the flipside, because it's French it's also insightful at times (Splice director Vincenzo Natali gets on a roll, in English, about the Buddhist attitude of '80s genre pics, such as Repo Man and Buckaroo Banzai), and it's highlighted by a succession of drool-inducing cinephile backdrops.
A few features not covered by us previously grace the attendant Blu-ray. Besides recycling the stalwart "The Gore, the Merrier", "Evil Dead II: Behind the Screams", the yak-track, and the still galleries, the disc adds Michael R. Felsher's "Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead II" (98 mins., HD), a feature-length documentary with swell stop-motion-animated interludes (by Michael Granberry, who worked on Anomalisa) that finds an impressively large sampling of the filmmakers ruminating on the production circa 2011. (Filling in for the disappointingly absent Raimi is his brother, professional "Fake Shemp" Ivan Raimi.) Much of the running time is devoted to recognizing a cast of good sports who never went on to much else of note, though some even more obscure names pop up, like that of "The Evil Dead crew member" Josh Becker, who wrote a draft of the sequel prior to Sam Raimi's direct involvement that bore no resemblance to the finished product and that nobody liked. While the nuts-and-bolts stuff about the handmade F/X is predictably nifty, between the returning featurettes and "Cabin Fever - A 'Fly on the Wall' Look Behind the Scenes of Evil Dead II" (30 mins.)--a compilation of home movies from Greg Nicotero (the N in KNB) that takes us into KNB's workshop and provides stolen glimpses of deleted scenes that show Ash eating a squirrel and inflating his face (thanks to the miracle of latex bladders)--there's a surplus of this kind of material. Lastly, in "Road to Wadesboro: Revisiting the Shooting Location with filmmaker Tony Elwood" (8 mins., HD), propman Elwood recounts detailed memories of making Evil Dead II in North Carolina. Although Elwood doesn't physically return to the site of the shoot, his remarks are illustrated with copious photographs taken on location. Rounding out the disc: Evil Dead II's theatrical trailer (in dubious HD); HiDef startup trailers for Scary Movie, Dead-Alive, The Last Exorcism, and "Psychoville"; and a 5.1 sound check sponsored by DTS. Housed in the keepcase is a voucher for a digital copy of Evil Dead II.