The quintessential "video nasty" of the early-1980s, Sam Raimi's cult classic The Evil Dead is remarkable for a horror movie made on a pittance with a cast of friends (including Bruce Campbell as Ash, who would go on to achieve legendary status in B-movie circles, off the back of this 1982 student film.) It's extremely violent and bloodthirsty, but what lingers in your soul is the creeping sense of dread and palpable threat that infects every moment, making The Evil Dead arguably more successful as a suspense film than horror.
In classic spam-in-a-cabin style, four twentysomething friends arrive at an abandoned shack deep in the woods, only accessible over a rickety bridge, only to accidentally summon demons by playing a tape recording of the cabin's previous occupant translating the incantations of a grimoire ("The Book Of The Dead", the film's original title). They soon find themselves under siege from an evil presence in the woods outside -- symbolized by Raimi's now iconic roving camera shots accompanied by ominous, continuous groaning. It's the simplest and most clichéd setup imaginable, but ideal for a young filmmaker to test his skills without having to fret about plot and character. This movie is all about atmosphere and visuals, tightening the screws of tension with its malevolent voyeur lurking outside, until an explosive final hour of blood-soaked mayhem.
It's peculiarly amusing, too, although we'd have to wait for the sequel-cum-remake to grab hold of The Evil Dead's comic potential and allow Campbell full reign to mix goofy with gruesome. It's also great to see many of Raimi's visual signatures already in evidence this early in his career; from the aforementioned use of a camera as the POV of something unseen and deadly, to the snappy cuts of routine activities to give them a sense of cool purpose (most notable when Ash is methodically chaining his girlfriend to a table before he cuts her in half with a chainsaw). The Evil Dead is overshadowed by the slicker and funnier Evil Dead 2, but it remains a marvellous example of low-budget moviemaking that touched a nerve back in the '80s, and still has a raw power that overcomes its meagre cost and questionable acting talent.
Picture (1.85:1, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4) There have been countless re-releases of The Evil Dead, but its debut on a high-definition format is a persuasive reason to quadruple-dip. In a remaster of the original 16mm print, this movie has never looked better. Suddenly full of texture and depth, the previously mottled visuals of the woodland become crystal clear in HD. It's a remarkable improvement; even the grain looks wonderful, like a thin mist the world's been marinated in. DVD releases were guilty of erasing the grain through Digital Noise Reduction (DNR), but this treatment is preferable. Deep blacks, natural skin tones, a great transfer. Apparently, Raimi has used digital techniques to erase a few errors (like a member of the crew appearing in shot), but I can forgive that kind of revision. It's hardy at the George Lucas level of amendments. One downside for cinephiles is that this release of Evil Dead on Blu-ray doesn't contain the 1.33:1 original ratio, which was accessible via seamless branching on the US disc.
Sound (English 5.1 DTS-HD MA) The Evil Dead has often had its sound upgraded, as the film is perfect for jolts using the rear speakers and audio effects can become truly immersive as they swirl around your front room. The DTS-HD track is another improvement over the movie's copious DVD releases, bringing additional weight, depth and clarity. It's not quite the onslaught you may be hoping for, with a lot of audio still anchored at the front, and a few action sequences passing by as a disappointment, but it ultimately does a solid job sustaining atmosphere. Some people equipped with 7.1 systems may bemoan the lack of a 7.1 track, particularly considering the previous DVD release contained a DTS-ES 6.1/7.1 track.
Audio Commentary: A new track from writer-director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and star Bruce Campbell, taking a different approach than previous commentaries they've done by discussing their experience actually getting the movie into production. They also chat about this version's restoration for HD, which Raimi supervised.
PiP: Join Us! The Undying Legacy Of The Evil Dead This is a great Picture-In-Picture documentary/interview track that plays over the actual film.
One By One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga Of The Evil Dead (SD, 53m) Meaty featurette about the film's genesis, featuring interviews with Rob Tapert (producer), Mike Sullivan (special effects), and celebrity fans like directors Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead) and Eli Roth (Hostel).
Treasures From The Cutting Room Floor (SD, 59m) Just shy of an hour's worth of B-roll footage and outtakes, there to be devoured by true fans.
At The Drive-In (SD, 12m) The cast/crew of The Evil Dead descend on a Chicago screening of the movie, to chat about the movie and hand out some free DVDs.
Discovering Evil Dead (SD, 13m) A featurette from Blue Underground telling the story of how The Evil Dead got noticed in the UK and its impact there as a notorious "video nasty".
Make-Up Test (SD, 1m) Raw footage of the various make-ups used, but unfortunately very brief.
Sony Official Site