“We can make a movie better than the crap we're seeing at these drive-ins” --- Producer Robert Tapert (One By One We Will Take You)
That's one of the reasons the Raimi siblings & a batch of longtime friends decided to make a feature-length movie, although even before the tightly knit group – which included Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Josh Becker, Scott Spiegel, and Robert Tapert – began production on their feature-length debut, they'd already made several short Super-8 films which, incredibly, made money via screenings to kids in a school auditorium.
Of course, had the films been awful, no one would've paid to see them, and while commercially unavailable, the shorts, primarily made by the aforementioned, were sometimes elaborate genre takes and riffs, several with Bruce Campbell already getting beat up and abused on film, while Raimi indulged in crazy camerawork and editing. The 8mm films also had elaborate sound mixes which sometimes included famous soundtrack music – probably the chief reason, aside from a possible sense of embarrassment in general, that the shorts have never appeared on a legal home video release.
Among the last shorts produced by the group was Within the Woods, a small-scale version of The Evil Dead shot on Super-8 and used to help raise funding for a full-length 35mm version. For years, fans have hoped the short would've been included on the next Evil Dead DVD (and there's been many since 1999), but it's remained the most elusive missing link in the Evil Dead canon, although it came close to being included on Anchor Bay's 2002 Book of the Dead special edition DVD, an exhaustive release that housed the disc in a replica of the demonic book seen in the film, and ported over many extras from the older Elite release, plus new goodies, including Brice Campbell's short documentary, “Fanalysis.”
So why the need for yet another release?
Well, aside from keeping the franchise alive, there's the genuine need to clear up some loose ends. While matted to 1.85:1 on the 2002 DVD with improved picture and sound, the full screen version on the Elite DVD revealed compositions that were more natural in the 1.33:1 ratio; actors heads were often too close to the matted 1.85:1 frame limits, and parts of the set were chopped off – a good example being the group's discovery of the hatch to the cellar, which lost some upper and lower set detail, and made the open rectangular hatch looked very clumsy.
Those who wanted the film fitted for widescreen presentation were happy to get a proper new transfer, but purists wanting what they believed to be the original ratio were stuck watching the older Elite DVD and subsequent bare bones Anchor Bay [AB] DVD, which licensed the title soon after. (In 1999 it was a fine transfer, but it's quite passé by present tech standards).
AB's 3-disc 2007 set features a new transfer on Disc 2 from a 1.33:1 print, and unlike the Elite edition, it's free from the visible dirt and heavy digital compression. The colour balance (particularly on faces) is more natural and robust, although like the Elite transfer, some details are a bit soft at times. The available sound mixes don't include the Dolby 5.1 mix on the Elite disc, but offers 2.0 Surround mixes in English and French (compared to the singular English 2.0 track on the Elite edition).
The 1.85:1 transfer on Disc 1 is the same as on the 2002 AB release, and contains the same Dolby Digital Surround EX and 6.1 DTS-ES mixes, but replaces the French Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 mixes on the 2002 DVD with an English 2.0 mix. The two commentary tracks (covered in a separate review of the 2002 release) have been separated, with the Sam Raimi/Robert Tapert track appearing on Disc 1, and Bruce Campbell's track appearing on Disc 2.
While that all sounds confusing (oh just you wait, there's more), the reorganizing of audio tracks basically makes room for the new documentary, “One by One We Weill Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead,” which should please fans.
“The greatest films of the seventies and early eighties are films where you watch them, and there's something unsettling about them to where you feel like ‘Was the person who made this entirely sane?'” --- Joe Bob Briggs (One By One We Will Take You)
Briggs is one of many new faces interviewed in “One By One” doc, an engaging and surprisingly refreshing re-examination of The Evil Dead, a movie designed by its makers to indulge in the horror obsessions of its makes, and expand on the shocking qualities typical of exploitive drive-in horror films (namely those European and North American weirdities that are enjoying new lives on DVD after decades in purgatory).
Some new faces in the doc include David Goodman, transportation captain and cook; Josh Becker, second unit sound & lighting; and comments from Greg Nicotero on the film's makeup, plus the makeup man himself, Tom Sullivan.
Briggs, veteran schlock film pundit, critic, and historian offers some sharp takes on the genre, and his comments are balanced by two present-day practitioners of the exploitation genre – Eli Roth (Hostel), and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead).
It's easy for snobby critics to write-off the two filmmakers as mere imitators of Raimi's adrenalized filmmaking style and bloody depiction of outrageous violence (particularly Roth), but as Roth and Wright candidly explain, Evil Dead was this ne plus ultra horror film kids talked about and were drawn to during the early years of home video, and with the film and its ridiculously young makers being feted in genre magazines like Fangoria, both Roth and Wright felt a mad rush to ‘make their Evil Dead' before they too hit 21; neither an action ignited by pure ego or outright arrogance, Raimi & Co. simply proved what a bunch of young kids with insane imaginations could do very well for very little money (even though it took balls and business savvy to actually raise funds – probably the biggest hurdle for most indie filmmakers)..
It's hardly a new thing, but Raimi's success wasn't wholly dissimilar to Orson Welles' own feature film debut at 26, Citizen Kane – a movie that broke the rules of established style (in terms of cinematography, editing, and sound design), humour (darkly satirical), and arguably acting (Welles' own performance nuances were as integral to Kane's believability as Campbell's physical torment was to Ash's position as a hero we could identify with, laugh at, and laugh with as things went down the demonic crapper). Welles had enjoyed a meteoric radio career that reached millions of Americans, but in terms of young filmmakers creating a new style by virtue of their interest in things neat and cool, both temporal filmmakers have a lot in common.
Wright also provides a more British view of The Evil Dead, given it was branded a Video Nasty when Britain's censor board went bonkers and started banning vicious exploitation films along with contemporary efforts that transcended the genre (and were undeserving of such vilification), although more info on the film's distribution headaches and court challenges in Britain are in the featurette “Discovering Evil Dead,” which appeared under the title “Discovering The Dead: The Palace Boys Meet The Evil Dead” in the 2002 DVD.
Interwoven throughout the “One By One” doc are many previously unavailable outtakes, which can be seen in their entirely – some with sync sound, some silent – on Disc 2 in “The Evil Dead – Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor.” Both the 2002 AB DVD and the older Elite DVD contained 18 mins. of full screen outtakes, whereas the 2007 set almost triples the amount of footage, albeit matted to 1.85:1. The final outtake – a rapid camera-rip through the cabin and behind the house towards Ash – ends the way you'd expect it would when Campbell 's head is supposed to be end point of the shot, but without a camera collision.
Repositioned on Disc 3 is footage from a brief stop-motion disintegration test (1:07), previously housed as an Easter Egg on the 2002 DVD; and a short Q&A session (7:17) with producer Robert Tapert, and actresses Betsy Baker and Theresa Tilly (aka Sarah York) and audience members who attended a Halloween screening of Evil Dead at the American Cinematheque in 2001 (also housed as an Easter Egg on the 2002 disc).
Also ported over are four TV spots (:30 each), and a series of featurettes mostly centered on the two actresses in the film: Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, and Theresa Tilly.
“You have to remember, back 25 years ago, it wasn't the kind of movie that would catapult your career” --- Theresa Tilly (One By One We Will Take You)
One could argue that this new DVD basically shifts the focus slightly away from the top-line filmmakers and Bruce Campbell, and lets more of the supporting cast and production team members get their chance to offer opinions and recollections.
Fans will undoubtedly hear some familiar anecdotes from the actors in the “One By One” doc and new featurettes on Disc 3, but unlike the 2002 release, the women are clearly given more prominence to recall their involvement with a film neither really felt would be a major asset beyond a legit film credit.
The new interviews were taped when the ladies and other cast members (Campbell , Richard DeManincor/aka Hal Delrich, and Ted Raimi to some degree) were doing the convention rounds, probably around 2004 ( Campbell says he just finished shooting Lucky Mckee's unlucky The Woods), and is angled more towards the ‘Ladies of the Evil Dead' theme.
The ladies explain how a screening at the Egyptian theatre (see Easter Egg #2 for the taped audience Q&A) ignited the idea of bring together more of the cast, which resulted in a reunion organized by AB in 2002, and periodic convention stops to meet fans and attend publicity events.
Whereas Campbell's “Fanalysis” doc provided a tight, acidic little portrait of the sometimes weirdly unsettling relationship between more extreme fans and the actor, the “Life After Dead” featurette essentially covers the ladies' own discovery of their personal imprint in horror history, and their encounters with fans less extreme but equally colourful as Campbell's own devoted followers.
Campbell joins the trio in a separate featurette, and the content is loose, amiable, but not wholly unique, as a lot of material's been covered in the new doc, and prior commentary tracks.
The same holds true for “Unconventional,” which adds Ted Raimi and Delrich to the group (most likely filmed around 2005). Campbell plays moderator and helps steer the conversation to key issues, yet lets the others recall production apocrypha (the makeup, the bad contact lenses, family and friends being surprise at their involvement in the film). There are plenty of moments with fans at a convention, and a fun discussion involves making some serious blunders when signing pictures and posters, which they've all apparently done at one point. (Signing the wrong person's name on a rare, pristine poster, for example. Not nice.)
The last new featurettes are “At the Drive-In,” which has Dann Gire from the Chicago Daily Herald introducing the same troupe before a drive-in screening at the airport (the airport ?) where they ask flippant questions to the audience and hand out DVDs of the film; and “Reunion Panel,” a loose Q&A with fans and media during the same Chicago “Flashback Weekend,” organized by AB to kick-off plans for the 25 th anniversary DVD edition which was originally going to include DVDs housed in a limited model of the cabin, but was scaled down to the following 3-disc Ultimate Edition.
Most of the new featurettes and the doc in Ultimate Edition were edited in 2006, so the set is up-to-date in terms of recent events leading up to the film's anniversary.
Should you buy it?
Well, if you want a cleaner transfer of the film in its un-matted 1.33:1 ratio, for sure, along with the new doc and featurettes centered on the ladies; the prior AB 2002 DVD is still unique for its Talent Bios, Bruce Campbell's “Fanalysis” doc, its reproduction of Tom Sullivan's Book of the Dead, and a wider range of stills: the 2007 release has 70 stills, the 2002 has 136, and the 1991 Elite edition has 150 – many not present on either AB releases.
In terms of sound mixes, the Elite features a Dolby 5.1 mix for its 1.33:1 transfer (the mix and transfer were later licensed by AB for their first bare bones DVD of the film), whereas the 2007 AB release offers only French and English 2.0 Surround mixes on the cleaner 1.33:1 transfer. The 2002 AB release only contains a 1.85:1 transfer of the film, but includes a French 2.0 Surround mix and French Dolby 5.1 mix as well – neither of which are included on the 1.85:1 transfer on Disc 1 of the 2007 AB Ultimate Edition.
And in terms of booklets, the 2002 Book of the Dead release comes with notes by Michael Felsher, the 2002 regular release exclusively contains a booklet on the ‘Ladies of the Evil Dead,' and the Elite DVD has an insert with short-short notes by Bruce Campbell. The 2007 set, though, comes with a mini-poster featuring the original painted art (more cleavage) and the DVD photo art (less cleavage) of the hot chick being pulled back into the ground.
Only qualms: once again composer Joseph LoDuca has been completely ignored in the extras. Were elements of his scores derivative? Sure, but he's just as important to the film's success as the cook, isn't he?
So yes, you'll have to buy The Evil Dead again, or jot it down as the perfect present for the fan who has almost everything.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan