4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“THE EVIL DEAD”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 1981; R for graphic horror violence and gore; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Only one, commentary by Writer-Director Sam Raimi, Producer Robert Tapert and star Bruce Campbell
SOME late 1960s-80s low-budget horror flicks have become the generational equivalent of campfire stories. Scary tales told ‘round the TV room for new and old viewers at Halloween … or any other night of the year.
Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” was more of a no-budget venture. It took a year for the 21-year-old fledgling writer/director, his pals and a ’73 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale to shoot it on 16mm film. It took another year to cobble it together for its theater debut. The car, along with the film’s breakout star, Bruce Campbell, would show up for the sequels: “Evil Dead II” (1987), “Army of Darkness” (1992), and a cable TV series, “Ash vs Evil Dead (2015-18).
This is an old story to Deadites – rabid fans who, like Stephen King, gave ED great word-of-mouth press when critics panned it. Thankfully, the next generation of critics grew up to be more accepting of the horror genre.
“The Evil Dead” is a simple tale. Five college friends head out to an isolated cabin in the woods for a short break. Right away, we know danger lurks and the gang should turn back. But they stay. Later that night, four out of five are changed into flesh-eating ghouls. It was easier than you’d think.
Raimi’s movie was ahead of its time; a bold mix of horror and unintentional humor that’s even funnier today. (Get a load of Campbell’s bangs.) The Three Stooges-style fight scenes have become legendary, and the ghoul makeup with its clown-white base would be laughed off the set on Syfy’s “Face Off” effects competition series.
But there are moments that still give shivers: the porch swing banging into the side of the cabin; attacking vines; forced automatic drawing; mist fogging the ground and drifting into the interior. Raimi got it right when he directed Campbell’s Ash to hesitate, unable to destroy his friends after they turned. That doesn’t happen in today’s films.
Celebrating Halloween 2018 – 37 years later – the original “Evil Dead” resurrects itself in a terrific 4K transfer in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Because of the 16mm film stock, it can’t have the quality of the recently released “Halloween,” but it looks good, very good in fact for those who might be worrying if the fresh coat of gore will ruin the fright fest. Colors are warmer and brighter as seen in the character’s clothing – particularly the blue shirt worn by Ash. (It matches his bright blue eyes.) Blood absolutely gleams; it’s very, very red and looks more artificial than ever. The ghoul makeup is as disgusting as ever. (Barf-bag, anyone?)
Grain is heavy, a plus-factor in horror films, although it fluctuates. Detail-sharpness also fades in and out. Again, remember the source. Those blood-shot ghoul eyes look remarkably nasty. Commentary by Raimi, Campbell and Producer Robert Tapert, a carryover from previous releases, goes into how miserable the white contact lenses were. They covered the entire surface of the eye and hurt everyone. Meant to be worn for 15-minutes at a time, filming sessions ran much longer. That, along with wretched set conditions, and lack of sleep and food means the character’s suffering was quite genuine. It’s a surprise any of these actors went on to make other films. There’s no business like show business.
Black levels are generally solid, providing good depth. Contrast looks much better than seen in earlier releases.
Audio is delivered through the same Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that came with the 2010 Blu-ray release. It’s nicely immersive, with clear dialogue front and center, while decent sound effects bounce around the room. There’s not much music; ED mostly relies on ambient and effects sound.
Sadly, there’s only one extra – that excellent commentary with Raimi, Tapert and Campbell, which can be found on both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs. It’s not new, but still entertains. So would other extras released over the years. It’s too bad they’re missing.
Raimi’s “Evil Dead,” combined with “The Friday the 13th” franchise, began the trend for cabin-in-the-woods terrors like “The Strangers” (2008), “You’re Next” (2011), “Misery” (1990) and, most recently, “A Quiet Place” (2018). Others satirized ED’s premise and turned it into Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” (2012) and Eli Craig’s “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” (2009).
All are great viewing for Halloween 2018 – but “The Evil Dead” is only one of the few on 4K!
— Kay Reynolds