Evil Dead II – Blu-ray Review

Evil Dead 2 Special Edition Blu Ray
Evil Dead 2 Special Edition Blu Ray
Evil Dead 2 Special Edition Blu Ray

There are some films which are considered cult classics. And then there are some cult classics that are considered all-time greats. And then there are some all-time greats which are considered the perfect example of their type. Evil Dead 2 (Dead by Dawn) sits comfortably in this final category, and with this fantastic new restored BD edition you can finally enjoy it in all its glory.

The first Evil Dead film was a fantastic piece of low-budget, early-entry film-making by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, but everyone agrees that it was far from perfect. What it did was to spawn a whole new genre of horror cinema (the cabin in the woods) and show that gross-out horror and frat-house humour can sit side by side successfully.

When it came to the second film, the director and star choose to do a kind of re-boot…take what was great about the first film, but apply new film-making techniques and experience. They set out to upgrade, upscale and generally out-do their previous outing. And boy did they manage it?!

Starting with a brief review of the first film (re-filmed since they couldn’t get the rights to use their own movie!) we meet Ash and his girlfriend, enjoying some study-time hanky panky in a cabin in the deep dark woods. Unfortunately, Ash plays a recording of the previous owner (a professor) reading out the incantations from the dreaded Book of the Dead (the Necronomicon). This awakens a dark spirit that dwells in the woods, which possesses Ash’s girlfriend who he is forced to kill by beheading her. Here the new film begins, as Ash is forced to confront the various evil forces lurking within and without the cabin, a mixture of pure body horror and psychological attack. Meanwhile a new foursome are making their way to the cabin, the professor’s daughter and her boyfriend, plus two handy local hicks to show them the secret route through the forest. By the time they have arrived, poor Ash has been put through hell by the evil spirits, forced to cut his own hand off with a chainsaw and is pretty much a raving lunatic. With all five of them holed up in the cabin, it isn’t long before they are being picked off, one by one. There are attacks by forest demons (including the now infamous tree-rape scene), a cellar-dwelling granny deadite and by a possessed Ash. As each one dies (only to become a deadite themselves) Ash must learn from the Necronomicon how to send the spirits back where they came from.

This is a stunning piece of Blu-ray restoration and upscaling. The film has never looked so crisp and clean. Apart from the opening rehash of the first scene, which appears to be purposefully grainy, the rest of the movie is spotless. And in a film with this much spectacle, gross-out blood and gore, psychedelic imagery and OTT horrors, the restoration needed to be superb. The soundtrack has an equally stunning impact, with scenes such as the forest-demon attack and the Ash-goes-mad section having particular audio heft. It is a great session for your surround sound system. All in all, this is THE definitive way to watch Evil Dead II, and you won’t be left wanting.

Evil Dead II Blu Ray Extras

Also on the BD release are some great extras. There is a 1.5hr long making of documentary which is one of the finest examples of BD extras I have ever watched. It is split into sections which you can jump through, and covers every aspect of the film from early days, through production, to post production and the film’s continuing impact. It stars all the main players, with Bruce Campbell leading the way. The only notable name missing is Sam Raimi, which is a shame. Possibly too busy making Oz, or just too far removed from his early films…he is eulogised extensively and features in old footage, but it would have been nice to have even just a few minutes of him from the present day. This is one seriously interesting feature and gives you real value for money. There is a far shorter second feature looking at the original locations of the film. Sounds a bit dull, but it is far from being so. The director locates the original cabin in the woods (it’s still there!) as well as the old school gym where they built the interiors. As a fan it is a very pleasing extra.

Evil Dead II gets a 5/5 from me as a perfect BD package. One of the all-time greatest genre-defining films, restored and upscaled to perfection with a stunning soundtrack and a wallet-pleasing set of extras. If you are a fan, go buy this now. But be warned, watch it late at night and you could end up being “Dead by dawnnnnnn!!!!”

Evil Dead II Special Edition out on Blu-ray

Evil Dead 2 Special Edition Blu Ray
Evil Dead 2 Special Edition Blu Ray
Evil Dead 2 Special Edition Blu Ray

Just ahead of the theatrical release of the new EVIL DEAD movie (reviewed here) it is fantastic to see that a special edition of EVIL DEAD II on Blu-ray will be released. From horror master Sam Raimi (err THE EVIL DEAD, and other things like Drag Me To Hell) and starring the effervescent Bruce Campbell (Brisco County Jr), this Blu-ray edition contains great EVIL DEAD 2 special features new to the UK!

After the shocking and notorious cult classic EVIL DEAD impaled its way into the minds of a whole generation by becoming one of the original ‘video nasties’, visionary, maverick director Sam Raimi decided to elaborate on its twisted scenario by creating one of the most visually deranged and psychotically demented horror movies to ever splatter its way across cinema screens. Featuring b-movie legend Bruce Campbell in his most iconic role, as the fantastically unhinged Ash, EVIL DEAD II is a gore-fuelled, splatstick masterpiece.

One of the most notable things about this sequel is the fact it is actually a complete movie in itself. The reprise of the original movies events were filmed especially for this film. This is why many people think of Evil Dead 2 as a remake rather than a sequel (those people are wrong).

Ash, (Bruce Campbell reprising his role from the original EVIL DEAD), takes his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler: Evil Dead 2) to a secluded cabin in the woods where he plays back a professor’s tape recorded recitation of passages from the Book of the Dead. The spell calls up an evil force from the woods that turns Linda into a monstrous Deadite, andthreatens to do the same to Ash. He is forced to single-handedly battle thelegions of the damned as the most lethal – and groovy – hero in horror movie history.

Evil Dead 2 Blu Ray Extras:

  • Commentary with writer/director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and special makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero
  • Swallowed souls: The Making of Evil Dead II (new!)
  • Cabin Fever: a fly on the wall behind the scenes (new!)
  • Road to Wadesboro: Revisiting the Shooting Location of Evil Dead II (new!)
  • Archival Featurettes: Behind the screams / Making of ED2 / Theatrical Trailer
  • Photo galleries

Oz The Great and Powerful – Review

Oz, The Great and Powerful is crammed full of the sort of visual mania you want to see from Raimi
Oz, The Great and Powerful is crammed full of the sort of visual mania you want to see from Raimi

The idea of a prequel to The Wizard of Oz isn’t a new one with Wicked already a huge success but we’ve not seen one focus so completely on the wizard before. It makes sense too, given that the wizard is so central to the plot of the original movie. Therefore, with Oz The Great And Powerful, Sam Raimi and scriptwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire tell us the story of the wizard, his initial journey to Oz and wrap the origin of the Wicked Witch up in the plot for good measure.

Sam Raimi really is starting to look like a director with no front to him, a man who leaves everything on the field. If he’s happy, then you get crash zooms and visual jokes and the sort of frantic cinematic wit that has made his career ever since Evil Dead.

When he’s not happy, you get Spider-Man 3.

It’s a pleasure to report then that Oz, The Great and Powerful is crammed full of the sort of visual mania you want to see from Raimi. Even better, he clearly adopts the cinematic grammar of the time a little, opening on a boxed in black and white sequence in Kansas before expanding the frame out when we arrive in Oz, showcasing a glorious pseudo-puppet show set of opening credits and cramming the movie with moments of glorious cinematic eccentricity and some wonderfully black humour, especially the China Girl’s incredibly large knife.

The film is an absolute pleasure to watch, and the design is frankly astonishing. The moment where the soundtrack is played by musical plants the Wizard is passing is wonderful, as are the crystalline plants seen later, the Emerald City itself and the genuinely disturbing shattered remnants of Chinatown. The skewed perspective that L.Frank Baum’s original novels had is clearly something Raimi can and does connect with to tremendous effect.

The script also works well, combining a relatively standard Coming of Age plot for the Wizard with an ending which is essentially an extended love letter to theatrical magic. This is a particularly nice nod to the original movie, and also a completely fitting workaround for how you can have the traditional ‘boss fight’ at the end of the movie whilst still maintaining Oz’s inherent pacifism. The Wizard, who in the real world is a magician, uses his experience to con not only the witches but the people of Oz into thinking he’s something other than mortal. He becomes exactly what he wants to be; a great man, and the only price he has to pay is anyone outside his circle of friends ever seeing him again. A hero’s journey ending with a hero’s price and Oz newly decorated and ready for the arrival of a certain young girl in a few years’ time. It’s a smart, coherently plotted script that hits every beat and plugs seamlessly into the original. There’s just one problem;

James Franco.

   OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL Rating: PG  UK Release Date: 8 March 2013  US Relase Date: 8 March 2013  Formats: 3D and 2D

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
Rating: PG UK Release Date: 8 March 2013
US Relase Date: 8 March 2013
Formats: 3D and 2D
What becomes apparent very early on in the movie is what Franco is trying to do; play the role in the style of the period, crossed with the traditional Disney leading man. He’s all massive, fixed smiles, raised voices, shrieking and arm flailing and were this a few decades ago he’d fit right in. There’s something of the Dick Van Dykes to his wizard and you can’t say he holds anything back because believe me he doesn’t.

Unfortunately, none of it works. At all. The Wizard is constantly the dimmest, least likeable, loudest character in the room and after a while you just get sick of looking at him. Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Junior, originally attached to play the role, would have brought that unobtainable combination of humour, cowardice and arrogance to the role they both excel at. Franco just brings the cowardice and arrogance and it kills very nearly every scene he has stone dead. The Wizard’s a dick, it’s really that simple and when his redemption comes you’re so used to seeing him gurn and preen and wait for applause you’re waiting for it again. I’ve honestly never seen an otherwise sound movie with such a horrifically broken leading performance in it and the result is actually kind of fascinating. There’s an empty space at the middle of the movie, the smoke billowing, the curtain closed but no one behind it. As a result, you can’t help but look around at the other cast and, thankfully, they’re more than up to the task. Mila Kunis as Theodora feels a little stilted at times but her transformation is genuinely chilling and for a relatively simple set of prosthetics renders her all but unrecognisable. Likewise, Rachel Weisz as Evanora is fantastic, every inch the plausible big sister until she turns and her eyes go dead. She’s arguably the most interesting of the three and it’s a shame she doesn’t get a little more screen time. Michelle Williams initially looks like she’s fallen into the same trap as Franco, her whisper-voiced Glinda the Good Witch seeming as ephemeral as the soap bubble her kingdom is protected by. However, as the movie goes on she reveals a playful, mischievous strength to the character and even provides Franco, and the Wizard, with their single good moment when she calmly explains that she knows he’s a con man but believes in him anyway.

However, the stand outs in the cast are, oddly, both voiceover artists. Zach Braff, as Oz’s assistant in the real world and Finlay, a talking monkey who swears a life debt to him in Oz, is fantastic and holds together every single one of Franco’s scenes. He’s laconic and hysterical by turns, cheerfully off kilter and completely charming, taking a one note character and turning it into something rich and fun and interesting. Similarly Joey King, who appears as a paralyzed girl in the opening and a girl made of China, or China Girl, in Oz, does great work. It would be very easy for her to be one note once again but King brings a combination of slight mania and cheerful manipulation to the role that makes it work without ever seeming broad or once forgetting she’s a child who saw her entire village literally torn apart. If there’s an emotional heart to the movie it’s with these two and each of their scenes is a pleasure to watch, as is the excellent support work done by Bill Cobbs as the chief of the Tinkers of Oz and Tony Cox as Knuck the world’s grumpiest munchkin.

 

Finlay, a talking monkey who swears a life debt to him in Oz
Finlay, a talking monkey who swears a life debt to him in Oz

But there’s still Franco. Or rather, the lack thereof.

 

Make no mistake, Oz The Great and Powerful isn’t a bad film by any stretch. In fact it’s a very good one in a number of ways but it’s hollow, there’s absolutely no engagement with the central performance and no emotional connection at all. The Wizard smiles, screams, lies, panics, lies some more, seduces women and says ‘Zim ZALA BIM!’ roughly 800 times more than is funny or charming. I’m not even sure it’s Franco’s fault, I think he and Raimi may have aimed for a specific kind of performance and utterly, utterly failed to get near it.

Regardless, if you can get past that, and you really should, it’s a movie that’s definitely worth your time. In fact, the lousy central work is almost an incentive. After all, it’s even weirdly appropriate that for a film about the man behind the curtain, we should find no one there when we look.

 

Alasdair Stuart


Drag Me To Hell.

Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell
Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell

Feel that I have been to hell already with the ‘man flu’ I have had for the past 2 weeks. Anyway…

Drag Me To Hell, (new horror movie – not a request) is released in cinemas nationwide on May 27th.

Sam Raimi (Spider-Man trilogy, Evil Dead series) gets hands on again in the horror genre directing Drag Me to Hell, an original tale of a young woman?s desperate quest to break an evil curse.

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is an ambitious L.A. loan officer with a charming boyfriend, Professor Clay Dalton (Justin Long). Life is good until the mysterious Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) arrives at the bank to beg for an extension on her home loan. Should Christine follow her instincts and give the old woman a break? Or should she deny the extension to impress her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer), and get a leg-up on a promotion? Christine fatefully chooses the latter, shaming Mrs. Ganush and dispossessing her of her home.

In retaliation, the old woman places the powerful curse of the Lamia on Christine, transforming her life into a living hell. Haunted by an evil spirit and misunderstood by a skeptical boyfriend, she seeks the aid of seer Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) to save her soul from eternal damnation. To help the shattered Christine return her life to normal, the psychic sets her on a frantic course to reverse the spell. As evil forces close in, Christine must face the unthinkable: how far will she go to break free of the curse?