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Evil Dead | Book of the Dead | review | horror | dvd | Lollipop

The Evil Dead

Book of the Dead (Anchor Bay)
by John Bikowski

I once actually thought I was cool because I was one of the first to own a sweet Elite Entertainment laserdisc set of The Evil Dead. That laserdisc boxset has many of the features of the recent Anchor Bay Entertainment release, but the set cost me an embarrassing sum of cash, doesn't look as good as the new release, weighs six pounds, and now no one thinks I'm cool anymore. The Book of the Dead is quite simply a no-brainer purchase for any collector of horror and cinema. If you polled film fans on their personal all-time top ten horror films on planet Earth, the vast majority would have The Evil Dead proudly included. It's certainly on my list, and this Anchor Bay package is now the gem of my quickly-growing DVD collection.

This film has so many memories for me and seeing it again with all of the delicious extras is top-notch fun. I can remember being in high school when this low-budget gorefest was unleashed to theaters with the notorious NR rating (no one under 17 admitted, with or without Grandma). Even if my parents were in a drunken stupor and agreed to let me see the film, I still couldn't get in. That fact blew my mind, and so did the marketing hook; a girl being choked by a zombie arm erupting from the ground with the quote from Stephen King deeming the film "ferociously original horror." Once the film hit video stores, your editor and I finally convinced the video clerk to allow us underage punks to partake in its glory. We hastily retreated to the "video nasties" cellar and were blown away by the non-stop horror'n'hilarity assault that is The Evil Dead. A few years later I tried to make my girlfriend sit through it, but she was horrified. Determined to finish the movie and not to totally wuss out, she was reduced to plugging her ears and chanting "LA LA LA LA!" so she wouldn't hear the demons laughing and screaming. There aren't many films out there that'll make someone go to those types of extremes.

Anchor Bay has really outdone themselves. What a great marketing idea for an already outstanding package; the regular-issue DVD has most of the extras mentioned below with a couple of exceptions (Fananalysis and Discovering Evil Dead). The Book of the Dead release is creatively packaged as "Necronomicon ex Mortis," the book found in the cabin which opens and closes the portals of possession. The wraparound of the book is a 3-dimensional flesh-like latex face (there's an ear on the back) just like in the film. Inside the book are 24 pages of original illustrations (as seen in Evil Dead 2), a small full-color book about all the prior Evil Dead releases and, of course, the DVD itself. This product could be your very first prop when you direct Evil Dead 4 in your basement. If that isn't cool enough, just check out these extras: Audio commentary with director Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert, audio commentary with Ash (Bruce Campbell), Fananalysis: A 26-minute documentary by Bruce Campbell, Discovering Evil Dead (a featurette on the history of the film), behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes, the theatrical trailer and TV spots, a huge poster and still gallery, talent bios, language options, and Dolby Digital options. The extras are all icing on the bloody cake, with Bruce Campbell's commentary being my favorite. He's pretty funny and seems to have as much technical insight as director Raimi. Campbell also went on to star as Ash in Evil Dead 2 as well as in Army of Darkness. In Army, he established himself as a strong male macho type which probably gained him a loyal squadron of lady admirers. My favorite role for him was in Evil Dead 2, where his character takes the most physical punishment I have ever seen. This poor guy has everyone else's gore and pus shot on him or in his mouth. I once attended a lecture he gave and someone asked him how his dismembered hand flipped him over onto his back. Rather than explain, he grabbed the back of his shirt and flipped his ass onto the floor, jumped up and did it again! These types of theatrics earned him several spots on Hercules and Xena, and he even had his own show called Jack of All Trades.

As for the movie, The Evil Dead still packs a powerful punch, even for today's jaded audience. The setup is tried and true: Isolate some people and make a helluva lot of bad things happen to them. Raimi was refreshing in that he stranded twenty-somethings in a cabin and didn't try to pass them off as teens. Then he was able to introduce us to the characters in order to draw us into the atrocities that soon would follow. Ash (Campbell) and his woman are joined by three pals for a little backwoods relaxation. They come upon a tape recording that recites the Necronomicon passages and screws them all by calling forth the demons from the woods. One of the panicky girls bolts into the dark woods and is raped by the trees in an infamous and way over-the-top scene. Once she returns to the cabin, there's a setup for a truly frightening episode. Two of the girls are trying to mind-read playing cards and failing. However, Cheryl, the rape victim, is turned away from us and she starts to rattle the cards off correctly with a deepening voice until BAM! She quickly turns, revealing herself as a snarling, white-eyed beast who levitates in a dangling fashion and bellows warnings about everyone's impending doom.

From this point on, the film embarks on a frenzied path of despair and dismemberment that will leave you gasping. The pace and the plotting are enhanced by the creative camera work and sound effects that force you to participate in the savagery. The filmmakers seized every opportunity to put the screws to the viewers sense of wonder. For example, when one of the girl zombies is on the attack she decides to chew through the bloody sinew of her own wrist (all this amidst maddening demonic screaming and gushes of pus and grue). Another nice effect involves a pencil that is stabbed into an ankle, slowly rotated, and then snapped off. There are many, many scenes that make you go, "Ohhh, ewww, nasty!" But this is not just a geek show. All the excesses meld with the basic plotline and therefore are essential... Yeah, right. But we're happy to see them anyhow. Get this special edition for your collection now.

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