When Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell made indy horror history with the relentless low budget The Evil Dead, you knew it was only a matter of time before a sequel was to be churned out and in this case the sequel turned out to be almost more of a remake, than an actual follow up film – but who cares. Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn is the most fun you're likely ever going to have with a horror film.
Bruce Campbell reprises his most famous as Ash, who heads on out into the woods with his girlfriend Linda to spend some time at a remote cabin. Once they get there, Ash finds a tape recording which he plays back only to hear some strange incantations coming out the speakers. This incantation opens up the pathway for evil to come pouring into the area and only Ash and the daughter of the archeologist who used to own the cabin can stop it once and for all. Linda gets possessed, Ash starts to have problems with his hand, and it all just hits the fan for our poor hero.
Before Sam Raimi helmed blockbusters like Spider-Man and before Bruce Campbell was a best selling author and merchandising machine, they cut their teeth on some very infectious and flat out fun b-movie projects and Evil Dead II takes everything that was good about many of those early experiments and pumps it up until it explodes. Bruce Campbell's masterful physical comedy is the real star of the show – showing what a serious glutton for punishment Bruce really is. Ash gets beaten up to such an extreme and takes such a licking but still manages to keep on ticking that you can't help but love him, even if he is a bit of a moron. The scene where Campbell wrestles with his own hand is handled so well that it's really amazing that Bruce hasn't gone on to bigger comedic roles in the same way that Jim Carey or Will Farrell have.
At any rate, the film manages to do what so few horror films can pull off successfully and that's blend humor with horror. Most of the time when you mix laughs and scares you end up with something very mediocre, a film that can't really work as either a horror film or a comedy, let alone both but Evil Dead II is one of those rare breed of genre films that is able to make it happen. Raimi's completely off the wall direction and wild cinematography perfectly capture Campbell's ludicrous performance and all that it entails. The supporting cast is there mainly to serve as fodder for Bruce's inspired lunacy, this is completely his show. The possessed characters are eerie enough and weird enough on a visual level (Ted Raimi as Henrietta is a sight to behold!) to be more than a little unnerving and Raimi throws in a few good jump scares to ensure that we're never too far from the edge of our seats at any give time.
Special effects wise, despite the fact that almost all of the arterial spray is any color but read, there's plenty of it on display in this film. The latex appliances used by the deadite characters are grotesque and macabre serving as a flat out weird contrast to Campbell's goofiness. A few nice in-jokes for horror fans make this one a blast to revisit, with references to A Nightmare On Elm Street and Psycho both placed in the movie.
Anchor Bay's new 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is noticeably improved when compared to previous home video releases of the film, including the THX certified release that came out from AB a few years back. Grain and print damage has been almost completely eliminated from the picture and the edge enhancement that was noticeable on the last release has also been greatly reduced. While the last release gave you the option of watching the fullframe version of the film, this latest release is widescreen only but this is a top notch transfer. Black levels stay very strong and there's a surprisingly high level of both foreground and background detail present in the image from start to finish. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural and there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts on this release either. Color reproduction looks more natural and more accurate on this release than it has in the past and some of the murkiness that was present in a few scenes is no longer an issue. This Divimax transfer, which was supervised by director Sam Raimi, is a very nice effort from Anchor Bay and there's really very little to complain about here.
Take your pick of a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix or a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix, both in English. The original mono mix has not been included on this release. While the difference between the previous THX edition and this Divimax edition was apparent right off the bat in the video department, in terms of fidelity I was hard pressed to tell the difference between the two releases, and the absence of a DTS mix is a disappointment, especially when you consider that the first Evil Dead Book of the Dead release had one. Either way, what's here sounds good. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise and the mix makes excellent use of the rear channels in a few spots (listen to the surround effects during the scene where Ash snaps and the animal heads mounted on the wall start laughing at him). Bass levels could have been a bit stronger but when the movie calls for it, the mix delivers the goods. Overall this is a good sound mix, even if it could have been better. An English language closed captioning option is present, though there are no subtitles.
If some of the extra features on this release seem familiar, there's a very good reason for that – most of them were on the last AB release, most notably the feature length commentary track with Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, Greg Nicotero, and Scott Spiegel. For those of you who haven't heard this track, it is one of the funniest and most enjoyable commentary tracks I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. The four participants all get along really well and are obviously have a good time remembering the making of the movie together. Bruce tends to talk over the rest of the guys more often than not and there are a lot of playful pot shots aimed at one another but their enthusiasm for their work is quite infectious and this track manages to be both interesting and quite amusing.
Also carried over from the last release is The Gore, The Merrier, which is a great look behind the scenes at the making of the film. New to this release is a seventeen minute segment entitled Behind The Screams which is narrated by Tom Sullivan. This gives us a look at a bunch of the special effects work that was done on the film through a bunch of still photographs and it proves to be pretty interesting stuff. Rounding out the extras on the DVD itself are talent bios in text format, a still gallery, and a few trailers.
The coolest extra feature on this release is the packaging itself. The disc sits housed in a replica of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis used in the film. Sculpted by Tom Sullivan and containing a few pages inside of his artwork which replicates the art in the prop book itself, this is a very cool and very unique way to package the movie, even if it smells like gasoline. As an added bonus, the eyeball on the right hand side of the book has a sound chip underneath so if you press on it, the book lets out a scream – a very nice touch.
I'm hard pressed to recommend this to anyone who already owns the THX release or the limited edition 'tin' release as the extras are almost exactly the same. Whether or not you should upgrade if you do own that disc is going to depend on how much you value the unique packaging and the upgraded transfer. However, if you don't already have the movie on DVD then the Evil Dead II – Book Of The Dead Edition comes highly recommended as it really does look quite good and while the extras aren't so much unique to this release, they're still a lot of fun.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.