Wednesday, September 1

Finally, THE EVIL DEAD comes home...

This entry was inevitable if you've been paying attention to my prattling on Facebook and this little article a few days back over at Blood Sprayer. After bebopping into a local Wal Mart for something else yesterday from picking up a few of Best Buy Blu-ray exclusives (High Tension & Blair Witch), I spotted Anchor Bay's Blu of The Evil Dead for a straight $17 and needless to say it stuck to my hand. I've been attentively following this mini-saga over this new release since the studio's initial announcement and will admit to being a hardline skeptic. Anchor Bay can certainly be credited for keeping Raimi's gore classic perpetually in-print from the mid-'90s in their Video Treasure days with a brief Special Edition DVD layover from the sadly defunct Elite Entertainment. Many rightfully took issue with a first ever widescreen version in their Book of the Dead edition. My heart sank with the announcement that this Blu-ray would include this new matted presentation--despite also featuring the original full frame version.

Frankly, the Necronomicon-cased Book of the Dead edition was definitely cool looking, but otherwise held a rather poor presentation of the film. The transfer was too dark, slathered with noise reduction, and exhibited a strange pinkish hue especially evident in fleshtones. The 1.85:1 matting was also "hard", meaning that it was placed over the existing full frame image with no adjustments. This crudely cropped away just enough at the top and bottom of the frame to make most of the composition simply look cramped. So my expectations for this 1080p high definition release were certainly tempered by Anchor Bay's near-malice in their zeal to constantly "improve" the picture quality with each successive DVD. I won't even go into their whole Evil Dead II debacle.

But alas, upon finally watching this Blu-ray firsthand last night in 1080p, Anchor Bay (and Sam Raimi) need to be both deeply praised and thanked. The emerging reviews are true; this disc looks incredible. A fine layer of grain, normalized color temperature, and vibrancy of color create an experience that truly blows away all previous releases. The diehards can stop hyping up the blue-tinted Herald Videogram LaserDisc from Japan as the definitive presentation. This Blu-ray's 1.33:1 presentation is the one fans have been waiting for in The Evil Dead's nearly thirty years of existence. The image quality is so strong and natural, on both the full frame and widescreen versions, that this disc is also one of the best looking Blu-rays released thus far given the original 16mm material. It's just dazzling to think this much detail and color could be captured on a cheap, small square of celluloid back in the late '70s/early '80s. The release of this Blu-ray is honestly just as, if not more, important than the film's first DVD release over a decade ago. Lemme put it this way, if somehow the unthinkable occurred and the negative was lost or destroyed, a single copy of Blu-ray would be the saving grace.    

Although it's not all roses and the most distracting thing about this transfer is the unevenness between shots. Some shots appear tack sharp; while others look noticeably soft. Saying that, this aspect is inherent to the film's elements, not more of Anchor Bay's usual digital tinkering. We now to get see The Evil Dead, finally, warts and all. Concerning the widescreen version, Raimi not only supervised both transfers, but also adjusted the matting per sequence to avoid the cutting away of important picture information (like Bruce's chin, the Band-Aid box, and Scott's axe after chopping up Shelly). The writer/director also went a little Indiana Jones on DVD and applied some CG to block out Robert Tapert standing off to the right in the brush as the Olds rolls across the rickety bridge in the beginning.

Regardless of where one lands on these new or newly revealed aspects, the strength of the transfer cannot be denied. Here's to hoping Anchor Bay continues this trend and goes back to their initial, weak looking wave of horror classics on Blu-ray (including Evil Dead 2) with a fresh perspective. If The Evil Dead can look this amazing on home video, the possibilities seem endless for nearly any classic horror film yet to be unleashed in HD. Again, thanks must go to Anchor Bay for not bowing to the grain haters and Sam Raimi for still obviously harboring a deep love for the little film that permanently ingrained his name in horror fan's minds worldwide. Hop over with your mouse or drive out to the nearest place selling this one and buy it. You won't only be getting the finest The Evil Dead ever, but also sending a message to Anchor Bay to keep going down the road of reference video quality.                                                                     


DrunkethWizerd said...

High Tension a BB exclusive? Hmm... consider me informed and on my way this weekend. Best movie ever made! Aside from Demons, Tenebrae, and Twilight. I just may pick up this copy of THE EVIL DEAD as well. Heh... Ashley... that's a girl's name.

Jayson Kennedy said...

Yep, here's the exclusives, most of these range from $7.99 to $13.99:

2001 Maniacs ($8)
Bad Lieutenant ($10)
The Blair Witch Project ($10)
Hard Candy ($10)
High Tension ($8)
Open Water / Open Water 2: Adrift
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Deep Blue Sea

KFelon said...

I've got my copy of Evil Dead ordered. Only minor quibble I've read from Don May Jr. is the original mono audio track is not included.

Jayson Kennedy said...

There's been some odd talk about the climax's stop-motion effects being longer in the full frame version than the widescreen version, but this is unfounded. Both are identical with running times of 1:25:26. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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