Easter Eggs: From the Main Menu go to the Extras, and highlight the left 'creature' which will start a (1:07) test for stop-motion facial disintegration. From the Extras Menu, go to the More Menu, and highlight the left 'skull" which will play a (7:17) Q&A session with producer Robert Tapert, and actresses Betsy Baker and Theresa Tilly (aka Sarah York) at the American Cinematheque, after a Halloween 2001 screening of Anchor Bay's new print.
The latest release of writer/director Sam Raimi's first feature film can't be discussed until we get though the unique art direction first. Designed by the film's make-up man, Tom Sullivan, the cover mimics the human skin of the Book of the Dead as featured in "The Evil Dead," with howling face and a nice ear on the backside. Clad between the petrolium-scented rubber are reproduced pages of the movie's book, a cast and crew list with web addresses, a chapter index, and the DVD comfortably protected in a clear slip.
The Book of the Dead DVD release also contains a crimson 12-page booklet with Michael Felsher giving an amusing history of the film's video releases from its meteoric success of VHS, and the latest DVD editions. (Unique to the standard Anchor Bay Edition, however, is "Ladies of The Evil Dead," a 12-page full-colour booklet with interviews of the film's three actresses.)
Sam Raimi's film has been remastered in a matted anamorphic transfer, with a noticeable reduction in previously visible grain, and some of the film's hot lighting - a problem that easily hinted at the nearby movie lights - has been toned down, naturalizing key shots. The colours have also been boosted in spots, with the opening titles glowing far redder than in previous releases.
Sonically, the DVD contains Dolby 5.1 EX and DTS ES surround mixes which are effective during key shock sequences. In a nutshell, the stereo music cues have greater ranger in the surround arena, and in addition to some obvious panning sounds, the film's unique sonic design for the exterior roving camera shots, various attacks/assaults, and the final bloodbath nicely fill the room, though really the rear surrounds remain pretty conservative.
The DVD's dual commentary tracks - director Raimi and producer Robert Tapert on one, and star Bruce Campbell on the second - originate from the Elite release, and though information is often overlapped, you're still dealing with a trio of distinct recollections. Tapert and Raimi are rather subdued, whereas Campbell often benevolently chides his collaborators and offers many sardonic anecdotes, potshots, and trivia that reveal the obvious film fan spirits in all three.
The extras are very generous and will occupy a great deal of your time. Shared on the limited Book of the Dead and Standard Edition are four (:30) TV spots (for Kalamazoo theatrical exhibition), and the film's theatrical trailer (which oddly is missing the narrative intro, present on the Elite and first Anchor Bay releases). A large collection of posters, lobby cards, stills, sketches and make-up art are nicely arranged in a colourful Still Gallery, though stills featured on the Elite DVD are not part of this arrangement. The Talent Bios - for star Campbell, director Raimi, and producer Tapert - are quite lengthy, drawing from published interviews and Campbell's own autobiography "If Chins Could Kill."
The behind-the-scenes material is essentially outtakes with sound, and the rawness shows how effectively Raimi and his editor used the choice bits to create such marvelous high-tension sequences. Though present on the Elite DVD, Anchor Bay's transfer of the material is much cleaner, with superior colour balancing.
Unique to the Book of the Dead release are two documentaries that act as nice bookends for the already dense supplemental features:
"Discovering The Dead: The Palace Boys Meet The Evil Dead" is an informative though hastily edited documentary that chronicles the film's distribution history via Palace Pictures and their video unit in England. Founders Stephen Woolley and Nick Powell explain their initial attraction to the film, and detail "Evil Dead's" ordeal under England's then-new and still-controversial "video nasties" legislation, which banned many videos due to various violent depictions. (Though the film ably explains "Evil Dead's" involvement, folks interested in a more detailed history of the Video Recordings Act and the affected films should seek out David Kerekes and David Slater's excellent book, "See No Evil," published in 2000 by Critical Vision/Headpress.)
Closing the "Evil Dead" saga is Bruce Campbell's affectionate documentary "Fanalysis," which follows the actor as he visits "Evil Dead," "Xena" and other genre fan conventions. It's an often hysterical self-examination of a genre cult star under the microscope, and fellow thespians Ted Raimi and Tim Thomerson chime in their own candid and surreal anecdotes. The five levels of Fandom are ably dissected by Campbell, with aid from fans waiting in line at various conventions, yet the star remains respectful of their adulation, acknowledging it's the fans that have saved the film from obscurity over the years.
Note: the previously announced short "Within The Woods," the Super-8 film which Raimi, Tapert and Campbell made to raise funding for the feature is not included on the final DVD releases.
This Book of the Dead edition of The Evil Dead was later reissued with a similarly designed book for Evil Dead 2 by Tom Sullivan for Anchor Bay's Book of the Dead Collection, released in 2005.
For more info on the 2007 3-disc Ultimate Edition from Anchor Bay, click HERE.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan