The Evil Dead - Book of the Dead Limited Edition (1983)

Five young people visit a secluded cabin in the woods and find some items left behind by a previous tenant, most notably an ancient book apparently bound in human skin and a tape recorder. Playing the tape reveals the tenant to have been an archeologist who was translating the Book of the Dead, and he started with a incantation to raise demons. As always, this is a mistake. Compounding the error, our five unfortunate youths decide to listen to the taped incantation, getting the attention of the title creatures all over again.

Billing itself as "The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror", The Evil Dead is a plucky little film that has become popular and influential beyond all expectations. It launched the careers of director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell (and Ted Raimi, here a stunt hand), and arrived as a most welcome antidote to the teenage slasher films which had dominated the horror movie field since Halloween 's release in 1978.

There is a more complete overview at The Bad Movie Report.

The movie itself looks grand; you're going to be seeing a lot of grain, but that's to be expected from a movie shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm. It's most obvious in dark scenes, but has been kept to a remarkable minimum. The image itself is clear as a bell - so clear, that the matte box around the moon in the establishing exterior shots is very very obvious. Raimi's impressive sound tapestry has been given the full THX treatment - be afraid, be very afraid.

But the most obvious aspect of this particular presentation is, of course, the Book of the Dead packaging. Most "Special Edition" packaging is pretty silly and useless, but two issues from Anchor Bay - this one and the wooden box for The Wicker Man - are entirely appropriate and downright cool.

Designed by Tom Sullivan, an artisan who, among other chore duties on Evil Dead, created the Book of the Dead and sacrificial dagger props - this home version of the Necronomicon is created from foam latex and is a good recreation of the original prop (and it has an ear on the back cover! eeeeew!). Opening the book reveals the same pages as seen in the movie (again, recreated by Sullivan), eventually leading to the pack-in booklet and a pouch for the DVD. Yes, it is impossible to file it on the shelf next to Evil Dead II, but why would you want to? It is thoroughly ooky and highly recommended for those who have a yen for the twisted in their decor.

If the book and gorgeous transfer weren't enough, there are also a trailer, TV spots, Talent Bios for Campbell, Raimi and producer Robert Tapert (serves the other actors right for using assumed names), and a poster and still gallery (the behind-the-scenes shots fill me with nostalgia for the arduous days of filming Forever Evil). The pack-in booklet features an entertaining history of the movie's incarnations in various home video media.

There are two commentary tracks. The first, by Raimi and Tapert, is informative, but seems spotty and almost noncommital next to the second track by Bruce Campbell, who seems to talk almost the entire 85 minutes. He is never less than entertaining, involving, and down-to-earth (I lost count of the number of times he uses the term "cheeseball"). If Campbell is not on the "A" list of people you'd want to share a six-pack with, this track will instantly put him there.

There is also a short (26 minute) film by Campbell called "Fanalysis", which covers the subject of fans and the extremes to which the phenomenon runs. While not deep or breaking new ground, Campbell stays with what he knows, which is his own fan base and his relation to them. "Discovering Evil Dead" is a series of interviews detailing how British movie theater owners, seeking to break into the fledgling home video field, picked up Evil Dead at the American Film Market and quickly found themselves embroiled in the "Video Nasties" crusade; and finally, there is "Behind the Scenes Footage and Outtakes", which most memorably features actors in full deadite makeup and gore roaring "Argh! Iggly oogly argh!" at the camera for (seemingly) minutes on end before finally stopping and tiredly asking, "Isn't that enough?"

Poverty row filmmaking. How I love it! This is a wonderful version of this movie with full support for the "How we made the movie" fans and a thoroughly disturbing conversation piece, to boot.

Dr. Freex, 8/22/2002