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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/15/02

The Evil Dead
The Book of the Dead - Limited Edition - 1982 (2002) - Renaissance Pictures (Anchor Bay)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

The Evil Dead: Book of the Dead - Limited Edition Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A+/A+

Specs and Features

85 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, limited edition Book of the Dead packaging and art booklet created by Tom Sullivan, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), audio commentary track (with director Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert), audio commentary (with star Bruce Campbell), theatrical trailer, 4 TV spots, poster and stills gallery, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, Fanalysis short film by Bruce Campbell, Discovering Evil Dead: The Palace Boys Meet The Evil Dead featurette, behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes, 2 Easter eggs (Special Make-Up Effects Test on special features page one and a panel discussion with producer Robert Tapert and actresses Betsy Baker and Sarah York at Grauman's Egyptian Theater in LA on special features page two), 2nd booklet with liner notes, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES and DD 2.0) and French (DD 5.1 and DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

Whether you're a fan of horror films or not, if you want to be a filmmaker, you simply need to see the first Evil Dead movie. It's not written incredibly well, nor is the story such that you'll find yourself unable to stop talking about it. No, it's nothing like that. But Evil Dead does illustrate the all-important lesson in film: style over substance works best. Evil Dead was shot with so much creativity and verve that it simply demands to be loved. You may not be able to stomach the film the whole way through, but you will be captivated by it nevertheless. And no one on this planet can say that it doesn't work as a movie.

Evil Dead's history has been chronicled so much online and in print, that I'm not going to waste my time or yours by regurgitating the details over again here. All you need to know is that it was made by a handful of twenty-somethings, with cameras literally nailed to boards and Kyro syrup by the barrelful. Whatever it cost to make, all of it shows up on screen in one form or another, from its quirky make-up and art design (courtesy of artist Tom Sullivan) to its incredibly cartoony camera work (wiggled straight from the mind of director Sam Raimi).

And if you see one DVD this year, see this new Evil Dead... 'cause it's a friggin' hoot. The minute you see it on the store shelf you'll want it in your collection. The Evil Dead: Book of the Dead - Limited Edition looks like the Necronomicon featured in the film. The book in the movie is made from human flesh and written in human blood. And simply reading from the Book of the Dead will unleash the evil spirits of the dead into this world with no hope of escape. Instead of flesh and blood, Anchor Bay went with rubber and print. And, somehow, it still works incredibly well. Sculpted by the designer of the original book, artist Tom Sullivan, this case was a little over a year in the making. It looks and feels just like the real thing... and oh, the smell. You'll be higher than a kite after you open the protective plastic covering. And after you open the book itself, you'll see a series of pages that look like they were pulled right from the original book. They might as well have been, because these too were designed and drawn by Sullivan, who did the interior art seen in the film's book. After you get through a fun "thank you" to the fans from Tom (along with 13 pages of his art), you're then treated to a list websites (that you can use to learn more about the film and your fellow Deadites), a 24-page booklet of liner notes written with incredible passion by Dead scholar Michael Felsher... and a preserving pocket containing your single-sided, dual layered DVD and chapter listing. It's very cool and worth picking up.

But Todd, what about the DVD itself? Is it as cool as the packaging? You're damn tootin'! To start with, this is the first time the original Evil Dead has been presented in anamorphic widescreen. Originally released as a full frame transfer from a 35mm print by Elite Entertainment, this DVD was pulled from a recently discovered 16mm negative. Raimi always wanted the film to be seen the way it's being shown here (matted at 1.85:1) and the Bay went one better and made it anamorphic. God bless them. The transfer is incredibly clean and free of artifacts, although it could be said that the transfer is TOO clean. An odd occurrence of production valueitis is very clear in the film now. Hidden in the past by blow-ups and grain, we can now see a lovely little matte-box in the top left corner (during outside shots showing the moon). It's a bit offsetting at first, but there's not a thing anyone could really do about it (and, in fact, it shows the loving care Anchor Bay put into doing this film up right). This is, without a doubt, the best-looking version of Dead you will ever see.

The sound is also pretty arresting. Raimi and company have always been known for their incredible sound design, so now there are both a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX and DTS 6.1 EX soundtracks (along with your standard stereo track). That means that you can now listen to this film in the highest style possible. This flick's audio thumps, puckers, gushes and smacks... and now you can hear it for what it is: a creepy-assed flick that will make your head spin as you watch it. If you're not knocked on your ass by the presentation of this disc, you're probably dead yourself: Klaatu barada nikto.

Of course, wicked as hell packaging and stellar presentation values isn't all this disc is about. No way. Packed onto this set is everything you'd ever want in relation to the original film. First up, we get the original commentary tracks produced for the Elite Entertainment edition a few years back. No sense messing with perfection, right? The first one is with Sam Raimi and his producer and business partner, Robert Tapert. They talk about everything, half-remembering facts about the shoot and making fun of everyone. It's a great track - always has been - and it's nice to hear that Raimi knows good tracks, taking special care not to repeat information he knows Bruce Campbell is going to discuss on his track. Speaking of that, there's an additional commentary by the one and only Bruce Campbell. I love Bruce, you love Bruce... everyone loves Bruce. And after you listen to his hilarious track, you'll love him even more.

Oh... and if you decide to love Bruce a little too much, he's also created a nice little love letter to his fans, in the form of his short film, Fanalysis. Bruce guides us through the world of Sci-Fi conventions and the geeks who live by them. We hear about the ups and down and get some sage advice about who stars really are. It's a very funny and well-done feature. You'll also find the film's original theatrical trailer (that looks great for its age), four TV spots (that are a little on the ragged side), two Easter eggs if you want to hunt for them (Special Make-Up Effects Test can be found on "special features" page one, and a panel discussion with producer Robert Tapert and actresses Betsy Baker and Sarah York filmed at Grauman's Egyptian Theater in LA during a recent screening is on page two). Looking to click the night away? There's an extensive stills gallery featuring behind-the-scenes stuff, production photos and poster art. Wanna learn more about the guys who made the film? Hop over to the cast and crew biographies and filmographies. And, last but not least, there are two more featurettes. Discovering Evil Dead: The Palace Boys Meet The Evil Dead follows the film's adventures in the UK in theaters and video. And you also get a nice loop of behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes, mostly of monster work. Cool and fourth-wall shattering.

One thing I should mention, is that this disc was originally going to have included the short film, Within the Woods. This was a project Raimi was involved in while still in college, which became the inspiration for The Evil Dead. Unfortunately, while all the music licensing issues with this short film were resolved, there were so many people involved in its production that clearing its release with everyone became way too expensive. For this reason, the film ultimately had to be dropped. Personally, I don't believe the DVD suffers from its absence one bit.

The Evil Dead: Book of the Dead - Limited Edition is a must own. It renews my faith in special edition DVDs and gives me one of my all-time favorite films in a form and format that I have to chuckle and gush about. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up as soon as its available.

Todd Doogan

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