There's a reason that the horror fans love Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead so much. Yes, it's a great little horror indie that took a little inspiration from The Exorcist, but marked its own territory while dazzling the genre fans, spawning a great sequel, and introducing the world to one Bruce Campbell. But aside from all the surface-level assets, the nostalgic affection, and the film's low-budget, scrappy charm, here's why I think horror fans love The Evil Dead so much: it looks like a film they could have made. Granted, they couldn't have made it, but the film reeks of a do-it-yourself approach to low-budget horror-making. It's the sort of "first movie" that any passionate horror fan would make if they had the skill, the passion, and the ceaseless tenacity to get the thing done. As such, The Evil Dead stands as one of the purest sorts of horror classic: a flick made by an excited group of youths who were going only on credit cards, dedication, and the simple desire to make a half-decent horror flick.
Thousands of indie horror films have followed The Evil Dead, and while lots of them follow the "blueprint," most of them are lacking the stuff that Raimi and his crew had: insanity.
Celebrated by horror fans and derided by finger-waggers since its debut in 1982, The Evil Dead is a perfect example of how you take an old idea or two (say, demonic possession and people trapped in a cabin), and add just enough unique style to make it your own. On paper The Evil Dead would be a rather generic mixture of The Exorcist and Don't Go in the Woods -- because on paper you'd be missing things like Raimi's kinetic camera work, Bruce Campbell's signature performance, and the frequent explosions of outrageously colorful carnage. It's as if Raimi and his team decided that a horror flick could be serious and fun at the same time -- and somehow they managed to get that lunacy on the screen.
Of course it would be ridiculous to offer a FEARnet reader a "plot synopsis" of The Evil Dead, but call me a purist: it's about a group of young adults who visit a creepy cabin in the woods, only to discover an audio tape full of ancient incantations that (whoops) bring to life a bunch of soul-devouring demons. (And a horny tree.) The closest we'll get to a happy ending is if our (very) reluctant hero is able to dismember all of his possessed pals and prevent the demonic plague from spreading outside the forest.
So after a basic set-up and a little bit of character introduction ... the stage is set for all sorts of horrific stuff. Either you've already seen The Evil Dead and I need not explain the trap door, the pencil scene, and the aforementioned tree -- or you haven't, and I'm not about to spoil all of the flick's creepiest moments. The flick threatens to become ridiculous before delivering something rather disturbing, and then it will briefly interrupt the horror to throw in something slightly silly. (If you prefer Raimi's comedic side you'll probably lean towards Evil Dead 2, but I like the darker tone of the original film.) You quickly get the sense that the filmmakers were simply shooting for something fast, gory, creepy, and bad-ass, and while tons of first-time directors aim for that stuff, very few flicks capture the joyous freedom of indie-style horror filmmaking.
And as any fan can tell you, Anchor Bay has been releasing and re-releasing this classic on video for the past several years -- but this is the first time that Raimi's classic has been available in high-definition blu-ray form. Man is it lovely. Of course a film like The Evil Dead, which was shot over a long stretch of time and with next to no cash, will never look like Avatar, no matter how "hi-def" it gets. Still, there's little denying that the film looks better on blu than I've ever seen before. And those demonic growls and grunts will pipe through your speakers in fine fashion, believe me. Extras-wise, we're looking at a Disc 2 full of goodies that (yep) have all appeared on earlier The Evil Dead releases (such as the great "One By One" documentary, numerous featurettes, and a truckload of archival goodies) -- but over on Disc 1 you'll find a new audio commentary from writer/director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert, and leading man Bruce Campbell. Recorded in December of '09, this is a fantastic non-stop chat-fest from all three participants.
Every hardcore horror fan already owns this great movie in some form or another, so the question is whether the blu-ray audio/video upgrade and a cool new yack-track are worth dropping $20 for. Given the specific film we're talking about, my vote is yes. Yes, it is.