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Evil Dead: Book of the Dead Edition (1983) – DVD Review

Evil Dead: Book of the Dead Edition DVD cover art


Written & Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York, and a bunch of Shemps


  • Commentary with Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert
  • Commentary with Bruce Campbell
  • Theatrical trailers
  • Discovering Evil Dead featurette tracing the film’s history
  • Fanalysis documentary by Bruce Campbell about the “cult film” fan world
  • Behind-the-scenes footage and huge still gallery
  • 24-page booklet with history of Evil Dead on video
  • Custom latex “Book of the Dead” packaging by creator of “Necronomicon” film prop

Released by: Anchor Bay
Region: 1
Rating: NC-17
Anamorphic: You betcha.

My Advice: Own it or I’ll swallow your soul.

[ad#longpost]Nearly two decades before he helmed a record-shattering summer blockbuster superhero movie, a teenaged Sam Raimi was pounding the pavement in Detroit with two of his high school buddies, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell, trying desperately to drum up enough money to finish his horror shockfest, Evil Dead. The grueling shoot in the woods of Tennessee, the problems getting funding, and the bag of cheap tricks the group employed in shooting their bargain-basement feature have since passed into the stuff of independent filmmaking legend. And Evil Dead has developed one of the most fiercely loyal (and vocal) cult fan followings of all time.

The movie (if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen it then shame on you) follows the exploits of a handful of teens spending a weekend in a cabin in the woods. The discovery of an evil magical book, the Necronomicon (in a nice nod to their pulp fiction roots), leads to all sorts of nastiness, including walking dead, demonic possession, animated evil foliage, and bucket after bucket of blood. As with any good teen slasher flick, only one of the intrepid campers, the indomitable “Ash,” is destined to walk out of the woods when the horrific weekend is over, but he certainly can’t be said to be none the worse for wear. Nothing like having to take an axe to several of your best friends to tweak a guy’s outlook on the world, I guess.

The acting is over-the-top, the effects look like something you could put together with lunch money, and there are a dozen other things that excessively “technical” people could complain about in the film. But to focus on those aspects of the movie is to completely miss the point of the film. Evil Dead serves to show just how far a group of artists can get on sheer determination. It also happens to be vastly entertaining (though significantly funnier than I believe was originally intended by the script). Despite the shoestring budget, the unknown actors, and the sometimes-belabored dialogue, the movie’s a blast. A regular popcorn riot. The acting standout is Campbell, whose swaggering blue-collar Ash has launched him into B-movie stardom and made him a cult film legend. Coupled with the horror stories he relates regarding the actual shooting of the film, his portrayal of Ash is deservedly the stuff of indie cinema gold.

Bruce Campbell as Ash, the hero, from Evil Dead

Extras are extensive, to say the least. Fans of the series have long waited for a version of the movie on DVD that would include all the behind-the-scenes stuff that’s been buzzing around like urban legends for decades. With two separate commentaries, one by the production/direction/writing duo of Raimi and Tapert and the other by Campbell, fans can hear the truth of the nigh-mythical production direct from the mouths of the guys that did it, all of whom have come a long way from those hills in Tennessee where the movie was shot.

Oh shit...Evil Dead

The featurettes are likewise excellent, providing a great deal of detail on the film’s production. Campbell’s documentary on the cult film world is also quite entertaining. He’s been an icon of that world for years, and has never forgotten the fans. He also happens to be quite funny himself, and makes the documentary with his observations and comments. The still gallery included on the disc is massive, including hundreds of images from the shooting, the film itself, and subsequent publicity photos. The collection of trailers is slightly more interesting than usual, as it includes promo spots run on television when the film was still in VERY limited release in Detroit…basically the commercial lists about three drive-in theatres where you can catch Evil Dead. Kind of amusing.

Bruce Campbell as Ash tormented in Evil Dead

And no discussion of this DVD would be complete without talking about the packaging. Sculpted in latex to look exactly like the Necronomicon book seen in the film, the case is pretty creepy. Screaming face on the front, human ear on the back, and the whole thing just feels like one would imagine a leathery tome bound in human skin might feel. It’s awesome. Show it to friends, but hand it to them without warning. One in three will yelp and drop it like a hot potato. Makes a great party trick.

Something in the basement from Evil Dead

So by all means pick this one up. Pick up a couple to give as gifts. Anybody with a fondness for horror movies, indie films, Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, or cult classics will need this one on their DVD shelf, scaring all the other DVDs in their pathetic, normal, plastic cases.

Bruce Campbell as Ash from Evil Dead

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