As I recently read the Bruce Campbell memoir, If Chins Could Kill, it seemed fitting to revisit the 1981 film that got Campbell in front of audiences, The Evil Dead (1981).
Firstly, for the many of you who have seen the movie before, I picked this up in a restored HD BluRay transfer, and this is by far the best presentation of the movie I've ever seen. The disc actually had two aspect ratio options for viewing, and I selected the original 1:33/ 1 ratio, because, why would I not? The 1:88/1 ratio option is weird.
The sound elements and picture elements have been cleaned up enough that the muddiness I've associated with the movie for years have been sharpened up to the point you'd never know this was shot on 16mm. The colors look great and the dialog has lost that "in a well" quality I felt it had last time I saw the flick, which, honestly was either on cable or VHS.
The Evil Dead isn't my favorite movie, but watching it all these years later, I really appreciate the "first film" quality of the thing. It's all energy and enthusiasm and a showcase for director Sam Raimi and lead actor Bruce Campbell. Sure, some of the make-up is shoddy by even contemporary standards, but they did a lot (I mean, A LOT) with what they had, and the movie relies as much or more on the tension of the situation and characterization of their supernatural menace than it does on any particular effects.
For those unfamiliar with the story, a party of young folks rents a cabin in the woods of Tennessee. Almost immediately, strange things begin to occur. In the basement, they discover a book with a face carved into the leather cover. Playing the tape reveals it's the possession of an archaeologist, who reports into the tape that this is a Book of the Dead from a lost civilization, bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. The tape goes on to report his wife has become possessed by the evil the book has unleashed. An incantation from the tape seems to release the evil, and all hell breaks loose. People start getting possessed by evil spirits, and it's a bad scene all around.
Of course Evil Dead 2, the remake/ sequel from Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell is by far the more ambitious and fun of the two. This movie plays it straight. There's no "toolshed", no "groovy", no Stooges slapstick that makes the sequel so deliriously fun. But as far as straight horror goes, it's not as monotonous as your typical "slasher" flick, where the scares are cheap. I dig monsters, ghosts and whatnot in my horror movies when I take them in, and this is a pretty good combo of those ideas. And the blood... man, Bruce Campbell is a sport. So much blood everywhere.
Before end of the year, I'll be re-watching the movie with the new audio commentary by Raimi and Campbell, and doing same with Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. Really, I want to have been done by Oct. 31 in order to prep for the upcoming Starz series Ash Vs. Evil Dead that hits on Halloween Day.