The Evil Dead review (Blu-ray)

When The Evil Dead was first unleashed on the world back in 1981, Stephen King dubbed it the most ferociously original horror film to come along in years. Now, more than 30 years later, it's still more ferocious and more original than most of the horror films being released today.

Five American college kids – three girls, two guys – head off to a cabin in the woods for a weekend. In the basement they find a strange book, covered in human skin, which turns out to be the legendary (and quite, quite evil) Book of The Dead. They also find an old reel-to-reel tape recorder, and when they play the tape, which contains incantations from the book, a bunch of nasty (and quite, quite evil) Kandarian demons are unleashed, and our heroes are posessed, one by one. Except for Ash (Campbell), who learns that the only way to get rid of the demons is bodily dismemberment ...

The Evil Dead is savage, gruesome (actually quite disgusting in places), scary and very, very funny – although not as funny as the two sequels it spawned, which were played more for laughs than this one was. It is, without a doubt, one of the best horror films ever made, right up there with Night of The Living Dead, The Exorcist and Halloween. It's the film that introduced the great filmmaking talent that is Raimi to the world, and the film that propelled Campbell's chin into the spotlight. Allegedly made for less than $400,000, it shows just what can be done with a little bit of money, a handful of actors, some cameras, a few buckets of blood and gore, a clever idea and loads of talent.

The film doesn't seem to have been given the high-definition remastering treatment for its Blu-ray release, but it does appear to have been given a good scrub-up – the print is gorgeous, with vivid colours and sharp images. But there's still a graininess to the film, which true film buffs will love to see. Despite its age, the special effects (all practical) and make up still look terrific. And the stop-motion scenes still manage to make you squirm and gag while you're laughing. The film sounds great, too, with the audio track remastered in Dolby 5.1 DTS-HD.

I first saw The Evil Dead when it was released on video (remember that?) in Australia in the early 1980s. It was cut by the censors – the infamous "tree rape" scene took quite a trimming – but it still had the power to shock, both then and now. In fact, The Evil Dead was one of the original "video nasties" that had the UK authorities up in arms in the 80s, and was banned in that country for a number of years. Still, here it is at last on Blu-ray, looking crisp and clean and in its full, uncut glory. If you've never seen The Evil Dead before, then this is the one to grab and have a look at ... won't you join us?

EXTRAS ★★★★ A new audio commentary with writer/director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and star Bruce Campbell; a special picture-in-picture commentary, called Join US! The Undying Legacy of The Evil Dead, in which modern horror filmmakers such as David Slade and Stuart Gordon, pop up during the film to talk about its influence on them; the 53-minute making-of featurette One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead; an hour's worth of deleted scenes, here called Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor; the 12-minute featurette At The Drive-In, with the cast and crew appearing at a Chicago screening of the film; the 13-minute retrospective Discovering Evil Dead; and some footage from the make-up tests. Sadly missing from the Region B release (but included in the US version) are the featurettes The Ladies of The Evil Dead Meet Bruce Campbell, a sit-down interview with Bruce and Theresa Tilly (Shelly), Ellen Sandweiss (Cheryl) and Betsy Baker (Linda); Unconventional, which has the cast and crew discussing touring to various conventions, followed by two different panels hosted at two different showings of the film; a feature on The Book of The Dead; stills galleries; and trailers.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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