Friday, February 27

A Classic in Retro: The Evil Dead (1981)


Directed by Sam Raimi
85 Minutes (uncut) / HBO/CANNON Video / Unmatted Full Frame

This review/retrospective is a bit different in that I'm revisiting Sam Raimi's classic, The Evil Dead, via its first American home video release from HBO/CANNON in 1982.

I first saw the film on the Sci-fi Channel years ago. The network had a week long fest of zombie flicks, aptly entitled "Zombie Week", hosted by Mr. Zombie himself Rob Zombie. I believe this was around the same time his band White Zombie was on the skids nearing the end of their mortal coil. The broadcast of The Evil Dead was dually special; the film was presented fully uncut for the first time on television. I can remember my head spinning from the full-on awesomeness on display and being amazed they were able to show that much gore. Though the film was still hard-to-find on video and I had to borrow a VHS from a friend whose parent's once owned a video store to create my own copy. A short while afterward I received my first DVD player, bought Anchor Bay's 1997 DVD for $30, and the rest is history.

It's amazing how many of us view the genre's luminary gems today. After a seemingly endless cavalcade of DVD reissues, this film seems a bit "newer" than reality tells it. It's undeniable the film still holds a tremondous ability to creep until your skin, but our perception is a bit warped with its now enormous reputation within the community and even Hot Topic store kitsch. I'll admit to engaging in a considerable amount of saber-rattling over the past few years with the film's continual treatment on DVD or what new supplemental material could be beat from the dead horse.

We've seen The Evil Dead treated like Fort Knox gold, a once rough diamond polished lovingly to digital perfection. Any hint of color variation or print damage eradicated. Hiss and crackling in the soundtrack wiped clean or suppressed. It certainly deserves all of it and I'm glad to see the film's popularity is now strong enough to warrant at least one readily available video edition be in-print for the past fifteen years or so.

This ancient VHS is a different story. Despite being released just one year after the film's debut to the world...it looks like crap. Explosions of marks and flecks occur on the tail ends of shot transitions. Cigarette burns hearken the reel changes. Even sprocket fluttering invades the frame composition at times. The sound is muffled as it floats in-and-out of Hi-fi. The fidelity is so poor portions seem on mute until a voice or piano key cracks through the subtle low-level hum. On top of this, the ominous force in the woods might have possessed the tape to lose its vertical control which resulted in a rolling picture a few times.

Yet I loved every minute of it. It put the film's true age back on and I'm even more in awe of it now. The experience is the closest I've gotten to my first viewing detailed above. This is why I've been wanting to pop in the nearly thirty year old tape for awhile now. This has refreshed my viewpoint towards the feature in a way I doubt a brand spankin' new THX HD presentation could have. This blog features a number of little reviews of early '80s horror and cult flicks from the VHS days of yore, and this kept coming to mind while watching the magnetic haze tonight. It's damn near astonishing such lightning-in-a-bottle was captured by the cast and crew in '81. While other horror flicks of the time might have had more cash to burn and a face character actor or two, this little underdog vanquishes them to end-of-the-line status even while viewing such a mangled ol' tape.

Of course, I'm unsure why I'm expounding upon a film that already has an insurmountable heap of both praise and criticism. It was an enjoyable viewing and I hope to revisit more old editions of classics in the future.

Also in the interest of entry value, I noticed a few things concerning this edition's color. In contrast to Elite Entertainment's and Anchor Bay's Laserdisc, VHS, and DVD editions; this tape lacks the warm reddish hue seen in the aforementioned. The color seems "normal" with a touch of blue. Certain scenes (and even single shots) have a more pronounced difference. The scene in the cabin with Cheryl is rightfully freaking out over her foliage rape is bathed in a very golden sepia. Also later on where Ash is lurking around the cabin with the shotgun is quite blue. The film seems to get brighter during the gore sequences as well. Just some tidbits I figured someone might be interested in.

Film: 9/10
VHS Picture: 5/10
VHS Sound: 4/10

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