Ever since WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) introduced movie audiences to the classic image of the zombie (a mindless revived corpse, directed by a Voodoo houngan [priest]), the restless dead have been shambling across the silver screen in various shapes and sizes, eventually throwing off the shackles of their masters and developing strange new appetites (first for human flesh, then for brains). Here is a representative sample.
WHITE ZOMBIE (1932): Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi, left) directs his mindless minions. The corpses have no will of their own; the film’s true monster is their master.
REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES (1936): This week follow-up to WHITE ZOMBIE posits the idea of an unstoppable undead army in WWI – offering the first suggestion of zombies as a worldwide threat.
THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940): This is probably the first zombie film to mix horror and comedy. Although the zombie (Noble Johnson) is revealed to be a fake planted to scare away Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, his scenes are played for scares more than laughs.
KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1941): Comic actor Mantan Moreland gets some laughs from his reaction to traditional-looking zombies, who turn out to be under the direction of a Nazi scientist.
I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943): Darby Jones as the zombie Carrefour, in the classic produced by Val Lewton. The Voodoo element is strongly represented here. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, this is probably the greatest film every made using the traditional zombie theme.
ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957): This low-budget effort is memorably only for the novel concept of water-logged zombies guarding a sunken treasure.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968): Though the word “zombie” is never mentioned, George A. Romero’s film changed the genre forever, reinventing the walking dead as cannibal corpses, driven by instinct to consume the living. Romero wrote but did not direct the 1990 color remake – a worthwhile film, but not classic.
TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971): Amando de Ossorio’s film introduced the zombie-like Knights Templar, who would return in three sequels. Despite their desiccated appearance, the Templars were more of an undead cult than mindless corpses.
LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (a.k.a., THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE, 1974): This Spanish film, obviously inspired by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is the first to show zombie cannibal carnage in color.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978): George A. Romero’s sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD offers cinema’s first vision of the zombie apocalypse, which plays out in the microcosm of a shopping mall. Tom Savini’s graphic makeup effects, including exploding heads and disemboweled intestines, set the standard for all zombie films to follow.
ZOMBIE (a.k.a., ZOMBIE 2, 1979): Directed by Lucio Fulci, this Italian film combines the graphic splatter approach of DAWN OF THE DEAD with the zombies’ more traditional roots in Voodoo. The result, presented as an ersatz sequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD (which was released as ZOMBIE in Europe) launched an army of Italian zombie gorefests.
THE BEYOND (1981): Director Lucio Fulci offers two kinds of living dead: corporeal walking corpses and a more magical variety, able to appear and disappear at will.
THE EVIL DEAD (1981): Sam Raimi’s sleeper hit features human bodies possessed and sometimes resurrected by evil spirits. The grim, low-budget intensity echoes THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. The 2013 remake emphasized the possession angle, so that there were few if any walking corpses on screen.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985): Dan O’Bannon’s black-comedy pseudo-sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD re-imagines zombies as unkillable brain-eaters.
RE-ANIMATOR (1985): Stuart Gordon’s unrated gore film offered a more energetic species of living dead, resurrected by Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs)’ formula.
DAY OF THE DEAD (1985): Romero’s third living dead film presents us with the world’s first “domesticated” zombie, Bub (Sherman Howard), capable of some primitive human thought. Romero would continue to explore the zombie apocalypse in LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.
EVIL DEAD 2 (1987): Sam Raimi’s sequel to THE EVIL DEAD (1981) pushes the unrated gore to comic levels.
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988): Wes Craven’s film, based on a non-fiction book, returned zombies to their West Indies roots, suggesting a realistic explanation: drugs to induce mindless catatonia.
BRAINDEAD (a.k.a. “Dead Alive,” 1992): A pre-Tolkein Peter Jackson tries to outdo Sam Raimi in the gleeful gore department, and almost succeeds.
RESIDENT EVIL (2002): based on the popular vidoegame, writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson’s film offered an amped-up version of zombie violence. Several sequels followed, the best being RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012)
28 DAYS LATER (2002): Instead of traditional zombies, director Danny Boyle’s film featured living people infected by a virus that drives them to mindless homicidal rage – an idea used by George A. Romero way back in THE CRAZIES (1973). The sequel 28 WEEKS LATER expands upon and surpasses the original.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004): This remake of Romero’s classic substitutes speedy zombies in place of the familiar shambling walkers. It’s entertaining in a slick professional way, with some good characterization, but it lacks the social satire of the original.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004): Riffing off Romero’s films, this comedy combines the zombie apocalypse with a love story; the end offers another glimpse of a domesticated zombie.
FIDO (2006): Billy Connolly plays a literally domesticated zombie, serving a human household as combination butler-pet.
[REC] [ (2007): This Spanish film filtered zombies through the lens of a hand-held shaky-cam, in the style of “found footage” films. The explanation for the zombies is a combination of virus and supernatural evil, an idea explored in the first of two sequels. There was also an American remake, QUARANTINE.
I AM LEGEND (2007): Are they vampires or zombies? It’s not clear, but thanks to the star power of Will Smith, this adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel reached a wider audience than any zombie movie before.
DEAD SNOW (2009): Nazis-had been done before but never better than in this somewhat comic horror film from Norway
ZOMBIELAND (2009): This took the 28 DAYS LATER concept of zombies as virus-infected-humans, and mainstreamed it for the masses with a comedic approach, achieving blockbuster success.
THE CRAZIES (2010): This remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film offers another version of viral zombies – not the living dead, but infected humans.
THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2013): This AMC series, based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel, hews close to the zombie concept laid down by Romero but appealed to non-genre fans with its characterization and story-telling. The graphic make up and effects are courtesy of Greg Nicotero, who had assisted Tom Savini on DAY OF THE DEAD.
WARM BODIES (2013): This comedy-romance gives us zombies with a heart as “R” (Nicholas Hoult) finds his human emotions revived when he falls in love with Julie (Teresa Palmer).
WORLD WAR Z (2013): This big-budget blockbuster played out the zombie apocalypse on a bigger scale than ever before.
Ever since WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) introduced movie audiences to the classic image of the zombie (a mindless revived corpse, directed by a Voodoo houngan [priest]), the restless dead have been shambling across the silver screen in various shapes and sizes, eventually throwing off the shackles of their masters and developing strange new appetites (first for human flesh, then for brains). Here is a representative sample.
The new EVIL DEAD, directed by feature newcomer Fede Alvarez, may seem to be the latest chapter in Hollywood’s ongoing descent into creative bankruptcy. But is that actually so? Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons get together to debate whether this return to Sam Raimi’s prototypical cabin-in-the-woods bloodbath is yet another wan knockoff being shoveled into theaters in lieu of, oh, something new and different, or a fitting follow-up that respects Raimi’s delirious, anything-for-a-scream aesthetic and then throws in an emotional grounding not exhibited in the previous entries.
Then, Steve and Dan discuss the nuanced, Norwegian horror film THALE, and Dan gives his opinion of the not-quite-as-nuanced horror comedy, EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL. Plus: What’s coming to theaters next week.
WEEKEND OF HORRORS
LOS ANGELES, CA
Fri., Sat. & Sun.
October 15-17, 2010
Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel
With Guests Including
SEAN PATRICK FLANERY (SAW 3D)
NORMAN REEDUS (THE WALKING DEAD)
TROY DUFFY (BOONDOCK SAINTS)
SID HAIG (SPIDER BABY & MORE)
KEN FOREE (DAWN OF THE DEAD)
ADRIENNE KING (FRIDAY THE 13th — Crystal Lake Wine)
ROBERT Z’DAR (MANIAC COP)
WILLIAM LUSTIG (MANIAC — Blue Underground Video)
FRANK HENENLOTTER (BASKETCASE)
“UNCLE BOB” MARTIN
NATHAN HANNEMAN (HORRORHOUND)
Plus JEFFREY COMBS’ One Man Show NEVERMORE
A complete schedule of events will be posted shortly before the convention. Check their NEW webpage for Updates.
Note: Cinefantastique is a Media Sponsor of this event.
When THE EVIL DEAD exploded onto theatre screens in 1983, it was with all the gorily gleeful impact of a Jack-O’Lantern detonated by over-enthusiastic kids playing with firecrackers – a wild and unrestrained blast of grueling horror influenced by everything from THE EXORCIST to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Although the film essentially came out of nowhere – shot in Tennessee by unknown filmmakers from Detroit – it did suffer from unrealized expectations in at least one sense: author Stephen King had helped rescue THE EVIL DEAD from obscurity by writing a review in which he called it “the most ferociously original horror film of the year.” Although the adverb “ferociously” is perfectly appropriate, one can only credit the adjective “original” to excess enthusiasm on King’s part, THE EVIL DEAD’s essential virtue is not originality but an unrelenting intensity born of a go-for-broke attitude that seems to known no limits, pummeling the audience with one insane shock effect after another.
Unfortunately, these overblown horror theatrics are preceded by early scenes that are lame even by the standards of exploitation cinema, as five hapless friends arrive at an isolated cabin for a weekend of vaguely defined fun (with no obvious interest in having sex and/or exploring the woods, they mostly sit around talking). The attempt to establish setting and build mood is laudable, but there is an amateurish quality to the character interaction. The directorial flourishes – which will work so well later – only underline the weaknesses: for example, during a scene of Ash (Bruce Campbell) pretending to be asleep while Linda (Betsy Baker) examines a present he has given her, a series of close-ups of the characters’ eyes suggests a dramatic intensity that is entirely lacking.
Thankfully, once the characters discover and play an old tape recorder, with an incantation that resurrects Kandarian demons lurking in the woods, the unsatisfying dramaturgy is replaced by an all-out assault of horror. Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) is raped by moving branches and vines in the woods. Morphing into a demon, she plunges a pencil into Betsy, breaking off the tip in her ankle. When Shelly (Theresa Tilly) also becomes possessed, her boyfriend Scott (Richard DeManicor) resorts to the only method of dispatching the demons: total body dismemberment. When Betsy joins the ranks of the Evil Dead, Ash is forced to defend himself, beating her with a wooden beam and eventually decapitating her with a shovel. When Scott finally falls prey to the evil forces, Ash is driven to the brink of madness before making a final stand against his former friends…
How do we account for the effectiveness of THE EVIL DEAD, a film that uses its simple story only as a pretext to hurl horror at the audience? Sure, it is loaded with gore and violence (so much so that the filmmakers had to sidestep the MPAA and release the film unrated rather than take an “X”), but that is hardly unique. I think that there are three basic qualities that raise THE EVIL DEAD to the top of the bloody heap of exploitation horror.
The first is that, despite THE EVIL DEAD’s dramatic deficiencies, there is an absolute conviction about its horrors – they get inside your head, making it difficult to dismiss them mere gratuitous excess lavished by overenthusiastic filmmakers. Even when the film oversteps the bounds of good taste, with the notorious and potentially offensive tree-rape sequence, the viewer reaction is one of “Oh my god, what’s happening to that woman!” – not “What kind of sleaze-balls made this movie?”
The second essential quality is a nightmarish situation that grabs you by the gut and forces you to confront the horror in a supremely visceral way: the characters are basically trapped in a cabin and must use whatever sharp or blunt instruments are available to defend themselves – from monsters that used to be their friends. It would probably take a scorecard to determine which side sheds the most blood, the humans or the Evil Dead, and the violence gets an extra kick of revulsion when performed by hapless heroes reluctantly carving up their girlfriends.
The third element that lifts THE EVIL DEAD above the charnel house and into the realm of grotesque art is the manic stylings of director Sam Raimi, whose restless camera, contrived angles, and jagged editing propel the audience into the action. Although the abundance of flashy technique can be distracting during the character moments (e.g., the aforementioned gift-giving scene), it is perfectly suited to the intensity of the horror sequences, forcing you to go along for the delirious ride almost as if you were another character.
The effect becomes the cinematic equivalent of the over-heated prose of an Edgar Allan Poe or an H.P. Lovecraft, who managed to convey the tortured mental state of their characters (usually first-person narrators) through an abundance of verbiage. Raimi uses the camera to convey an almost deranged state of mind to the audience, who find it easy to identify with Ash when he starts to crack under the pressure: at one point he sees his hand slide into a mirror as if into a pool of water – a moment of pure insanity that disturbs as deeply as any of the carnage. In a film notably short on characterization, this audience empathy is a remarkable achievement.
In retrospect, it is worth noting that Ash here is not the resilient monster-fighter of EVIL DEAD 2, nor is he the over-confidant blow-hard of ARMY OF DARKNESS. Still, as the mayhem mounts higher and higher, Campbell becomes more comfortable with the role, offering hints of where he would take the character in the sequels. In THE EVIL DEAD, Ash is simply the last survivor – the fifth little Indian, so to speak, and there is little heroic about him. But that’s all part of the film’s grueling horror aesthetic, in which the characters live only so that they can die in horrible ways for the entertainment of the audience. It’s a simply formula, but it works well here, earning the film’s reputation as a cult classic if not a full-blown masterpiece.
HOME VIDEO HISTORY
Thanks to its original English distributor, THE EVIL DEAD is one of the first films to be released simultaneously into theatres and on home video, back in the days of VHS. A little movie without stars or a big advertising budget, it was unlikely ever to become a theatrical blockbuster, but videotape sales turned it into a cult success. Appropriately then, it has seen several resurrections in different formats: laserdisc, DVD, and now Blu-ray.
Up until Anchor Bay Entertainment’s Augst 31, 2010 release of the limited edition Blu-ray disc, the essential version for serious collectors was Anchor Bay’s previous “Ultimate Edition” DVD. Since the new Blu-ray is almost, but not quite, a duplicate, we will examine the DVD first and then note the additions, deletions, and improvements in the Blu-ray version.
ANCHOR BAY’S ULTIMATE EDITION DVD
The Ultimate Edition DVD of THE EVIL DEAD is a three-disc box set that will probably remain a collector’s item despite the Blu-ray competition – for its impressive packaging, if nothing else. The box unfolds into five segments, which are decorated with publicity artwork (featuring Campbell with a female model not seen in the actual film). The discs themselves are also nicely illustrated with artwork or photos, and there is fold-out recreation of the theatrical poster (14 inches by 19 inches). The 25 chapter stops (with titles like “Violated in the Woods” and “Hacked to Bits”) are listed on the inside front cover.
DISC 1 – WIDESCREEN presents THE EVIL DEAD in a 1.78 transfer, with an optional audio commentary by producer Rob Tapert and writer-director Sam Raimi. Also on the disc is the lengthy documentary, ONE BY ONE WE WILL TAKE YOU: THE UNTOLD SAGA OF THE EVIL DEAD.
The widescreen transfer is not bad, but it is marred by a problem inherent in the film, which was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm for theatrical distribution. The result is grainy, especially because the film was intended to be shown in the old-fashioned 1.33 aspect ratio; stretching it out to the 1.78 aspect ratio for today’s widescreen televisions brings the grain out even more. The transfer also looks a bit dull and soft, as if it needs more contrast, and it seems slightly over-matted – almost zoom-boxed – cutting a bit too much off the bottom of the frame. (This is noticeable in a scene wherein Shelly fools Betsy into thinking she has ESP: the first card that Theresa holds up for Betsy to guess is barely visible at the bottom of the frame.)
- Audio Commentary: The remarks by Raimi and Tapert are friendly but not as lively as one would expect. Some good behind-the-scenes stories emerge (such as one about Raimi falling asleep behind the camera – a secret he kept from the crew until the dailies were seen, revealing that he had left the camera run on endlessly). However, at times Raimi and Tapert sound as if they do not have much to say about the film, and there are numerous drop-outs.
- ONE BY ONE WE WILL TAKE YOU: THE UNTOLD SAGA OF THE EVIL DEAD is an extensive chronicle of the making of the film, loaded with interviews from most of the major players and many of the minor ones as well: Rob Tapert, makeup man Tom Sullivan, Josh Becker, and actresses Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, and Theresa Tilly (Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are noticeably absent). Fans like filmmakers Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD) and Eli Roth (CABIN FEVER) show up to express their enthusiasm. The result is nicely intercut with clips from the film, including outtakes and trims, with sound recorded live on set, that will give you a new-found appreciation for the post-production sound enhancement that turned these voices into demonic howlings from hell.
DISC 2 – FULL FRAME preserves the original 1.33 aspect ratio in a superior transfer with an optional audio commentary by Bruce Campbell, plus the bonus feature THE EVIL DEAD: TREASURES FROM THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR. The full-frame transfer is preferable over the widescreen version, leaving picture information intact and not magnifying the graininess as much.
- Audio Commentary: This disc benefits from Cambell’s amusing audio track. All by himself, he out-talks Raimi and Tapert combined, offering a continuous stream of jokes, asides, and anecdotes far more informative than one usually expects from an actor (no doubt because Campbell served double duty behind the camera, he is well acquainted with the nuts-and-bolts kind of details that make for a compelling commentary). This commentary (not duplicated on the Blu-ray) remains a selling point for the DVD.
- THE EVIL DEAD: TREASURES FROM THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR: Not as much can be said for the bonus feature, which offers unedited outtakes and trims, with slates intact, rather than deleted scenes. Presented in continuity, without audio commentary, the footage winds up feeling like a fragmented alternate version of the film, seldom providing any interesting information about the making of the film. The sole exception is the tree-rape scene: in the actual film, the footage is run in reverse to create the illusion of deliberate movement by vines and branches; seeing the action staged is an interesting glimpse into how the effect was achieved. The key scene (a branch thrusting between Ellen Sandweiss’s legs) belies the actresses’ claim that the branch was added in post-production. Overall, this footage is put to better use in ONE BY ONE WE WILL TAKE YOU, which inserts illustrative clips at appropriate moments.
- EASTER EGG: This disc contains an Easter Egg that is recycled on the Blu-ray, where it is listed as a bonus feature. (See Blu-ray review section, below.)
DISC 3 – LADIES OF THE EVIL DEAD offers the majority of bonus material, including featurettes, makeup tests, trailers, and image galleries.
- LIFE AFTER DEATH: THE LADIES OF THE EVIL DEAD features interviews with Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, and Theresa Tilly, explaining how they became part of the EVIL DEAD convention phenomenon decades after putting the film behind them.
- THE LADIES OF THE EVIL DEAD MEET BRUCE CAMPBELL is a group interview, spiced up with a few film clips, in which the actor and the three actresses share several funny stories about the injuries they received while working on the film.
- DISCOVERING THE EVIL DEAD offers insight from Palace Video partners Stephen Wooley and Nick Powell, along with Bill Warrern (author of The Evil Dead Companion), who discuss the day-and-date simultaneous theatrical-video release strategy that helped the little horror movie finds its audience in England (and make a profit even though American theatrical distributor New Line Cinema coughed up few if any dollars to the filmmakers).
- UNCONVENTIONAL is a group interview with Campbell, the actresses, and Hal Delrich (Richard DeManicor) discussing the convention phenomenon, while Sam Raimi’s brother Ted recalls visiting the film set and being drafted as a “Fake Shemp” (i.e., body double).
- AT THE DRIVE IN features the by-now familiar faces, plus makeup man Tom Sullivan, giving away DVDs to enthusiastic fans at a drive-in screening in Chicago. Though nicely shot, this is essentially a home movie, with little of interest.
- REUNION PANEL features a Q&A discussion with the usual suspects at a 2005 convention. The best story comes from actresses Sandweiss, Baker, and Tilly, who recall signing the thigh of a man, who later had the signatures permanently tattooed onto his skin. Otherwise, this is fun but somewhat slow, with apparently the entire conversation playing out in real time, as we wait for questions from the audience that are barely audible on the soundtrack. Also, some of the stories are starting to sound familiar. Editing together the best bits might have been a wiser strategy.
- MAKE-UP TEST is a bit misnamed. The footage is actually special effects test footage, first of blood dripping on a white background, then with a split-screen shot of model, combining stop-motion and live-action.
- TRAILER in widescreen with no narration
- TV SPOTS – full frame with narration melodramatically warning potential viewers about the horrors contained therein
- STILL GALLERY:behind-the-scenes images, location shots, makeup shots
- POSTER & MEMORABILIA: poster art, video box art, and 2 design sketches of makeup and effects.
- EASTER EGGS: This disc contains two Easter Eggs: one with Rob Tapert, Betsy Baker, and Therese Tilly (a.k.a. Sarah York) appearing at an American Cinematheque screening in Hollywood; the other with Ellen Sandweiss discussing the film with her old high school drama teacher.
ANCHOR BAY’S LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY
Anchor Bay’s limited edition Blu-ray release OF THE EVIL DEAD (which hit stores on August 31) is essentially their old three-disc Ultimate Edition DVD condensed down to two discs: one Blu-ray (which contains the film) and one DVD (which ports over most of the old bonus features).
DISC ONE contains two high-def transfers and an all-new audio commentary featuring Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert, and Bruce Campbell. The 1080p transfers are presented in anamorphic 1.85 and the original 1.33 aspect ratio, with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio. Essentially, this recreated the Ultimate Edition DVD presentation, which also offered widescreen and full-screen transfers (although on separate discs).
Unfortunately, the disc seems slow to load (I have heard complaints that it freeze, but this did not happen on my low-cost Insignia player). Then you have to sit through the obligatory trailers for other Anchor Bay releases; the disc will not allow you to skip this section by pressing the menu button, but you can chapter stop through. This can be very frustrating if you have to take the disc out of the player for some reason before you are finished watching (for example, if you are going back and forth between the Blu-ray and the DVD for the purpose of writing a review like this one).
Due to the 16mm origins of THE EVIL DEAD, with its legacy of visible film grain, it is unfair to expect the full benefit of high-def; nevertheless, both transfers offer visible improvements on the DVD versions: they are clearer, brighter, and sharper. Especially impressive, some flawed matte work has been corrected: the moon, inserted via split screen, was once surrounded by visible matte lines, and the color of the sky was noticeably different (dark blue instead of black). On Blu-ray, the effect is near seamless, visible more in memory than on the screen.
The framing of the widescreen transfer has been improved (the first card Shelly holds up for Betsy to guess is now clearly visible), and overall this version is now quite presentable. Still, the full frame version is preferable, both for preserving the director’s original intent and for keeping the magnification of grain to a minimum. (Raimi and Tapert understandably express a preference for this version in the audio commentary.)
- Audio Commentary: The combination of Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell is a good one, as between the three of them they know just about everything a fan could want to know about the making of THE EVIL DEAD. Perhaps in an effort to avoid duplicating their previous (separate commentaries), this one is not scence-specific; instead, it proceeds chronologically, offering an audio account of the film, from conception, through financing, production, post-production, and distribution. The conversation is loaded with detailed information about such subjects as the switch from Super 8 (which they used in their student films) to 16mm, in their effort to go pro, and there are many kind words for Irvin Shapiro, the rep who helped the film make money on foreign and home video sales (which saved the day, since they saw no money from New Line Cinema’s theatrical release). Along the way, there are many new stories (or at least stories not heard on the other commentaries), such as Sam Raimi’s disappointment over the reaction to the script from one potential investor, who said, “You can’t have five minutes of set-up and 60 minutes of THE EXORCIST!” One minor quibble: in the back-and-forth dialogue about various people encountered during post-production, Raimi references writer-director Frank LaLoggia’s THE LADY IN WHITE, in a way that might make a careless listener think the film was directed by Joel Coen.
Missing are the two audio commentaries from the Ultimate Edition DVD. In the case of the Raimi-Tapert commentary, this is not as severe a loss, but the Campbell commentary is dearly missed.
The LIMITED EDITION BONUS DVD (whose surface lacks cover art, sporting only the lettering of the title) ports over most of the bonus features from the Ultimate Edition DVD and adds one “new” feature.
OLD BONUS FEATURES:
- ONE BY ONE WE WILL TAKE YOU: THE UNTOLD SAGA OF THE EVIL DEAD
- THE EVIL DEAD: TREASURES FROM THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR
- DISCOVERING THE EVIL DEAD
- AT THE DRIVE-IN
- REUNION PANEL
- MAKEUP TEST
- THE LADIES OF THE EVIL DEAD MEET BRUCE CAMPBELL
- STILL GALLERY
- THEATRICAL TRAILER
- TV SPOTS
Missing are LIFE AFTER DEATH: THE LADIES OF THE EVIL DEAD and the Poster & Memorabilia Gallery. However, some images from the latter have been added to the Still Gallery: four professional poster images, a homemade ad for the film under its original title (BOOK OF THE DEAD), and two makeup-effects sketches.
“NEW” BONUS FEATURE:
- BOOK OF THE DEAD: THE OTHER PAGES is not technically new, as it appeared on the second disc of the Ultimate Edition DVD as an Easter Egg. This is a longer version of the scene wherein Ash flips through the mysterious book found in the cabin’s cellar. Basically, you see more of the strange illustrations that fill the pages. This looks like footage from an unfinished rough cut, and it is easy to see why the scene was trimmed down.
Anchor Bay’s limited edition Blu-ray lacks the beautiful packaging of the Ultimate Edition DVD, and it is missing some bonus features: two audio commentaries, the LADIES OF THE EVIL DEAD featurette, and some of the gallery images. The inclusion of BOOK OF THE DEAD: THE OTHER PAGES is not enough to compensate for these omissions, so that the DVD box set remains an essential component for a hardcore fan’s collection, even one who decides to acquire the Blu-ray as well.
Fortunately, the new Blu-ray audio commentary is not only excellent but also quite different from the previous ones, making it worth hearing even for fans who think they have heard it all before. The real selling point, however, is the high-def transfers. Although a grainy grindhouse horror film hardly seems like the ideal candidate for a lavish Blu-ray treatment, the new transfers are such an obvious improvement that you do not have to be a tech-geek to spot the difference. If you want to savor the gory goodness of THE EVIL DEAD on home video, with every burst pustule and glob of blood as clear and sharp as the day it was filmed, then the Blu-ray disc is the way to go.
THE EVIL DEAD (Renaissance Pictures, 1981; released by New Line Cinema, April 15, 1983). Written and directed by Sam Raimi. Produced by Rob Tapert. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManicor (as Hal Delrich), Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly (as Sarah York).
Also: CARNIVEROUS with DMX, BRAINJACKED, the RED RIDING TRILOGY, and the Ultimate MACHINE GIRL Collector’s Tin.
Though not as loaded with gruesome goodies as last Tuesday, August 31 offers some exciting horror, fantasy, and science fiction titles on home video, including a DVD box set of DVD of THRILLER hosted by Boris Karloff; a new limited edition Blu-ray disc of Sam Raimi’s THE EVIL DEAD (1982); and also THE VAMPIRE DIARIES: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, which arrives on DVD and Blu-ray. The later offers an abundant cornucopia for fans of the CW series: four-disc Blu-ray set and the five-disc DVD set run over 900 minutes, with these bonus features:
- Into Mystic Falls: Bringing Vampire Lore and the High School Experience from Page to Screen
- When Vampires Don’t Suck!: The Popularity of Vampires and the Fans Who Love Them
- The Vampire Diaries: A New Breed of Vampires — Casting the Series
- The Vampire Diaries: Vampires 101 – The Rules of the Vampire
- Creators/director pilot commentary
- Unaired scenes
- The Vampire Diaries: A Darker Truth Webisodes
- Second Bite: gag reel
- Downloadable Audiobook of the Bestselling Novel The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith
Anchor Bay’s new limited edition Blu-ray disc OF THE EVIL DEAD is essentially their old three-disc Ultimate Edition DVD condensed down to one Blu-ray disc (which contains two high-def transfers and an all-new audio commentary with director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tappert, and actor Bruce Campbell) and one DVD (which ports over the old bonus features). The 1080p transfers are presented in anamorphic 1.85 and the original 1.33 aspect ratio, with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio. Essentially, this recreated the Ultimate Edition DVD presentation, which also offered widescreen and full-screen transfers (although on separate discs). The only feature missing from the Ultimate Edition DVD is the two audio commentaries: Raimi and Tappert recorded one for the widescreen version; Campbell recorded a separate one for the full-screen version.
For fans of classic horror, the DVD release of THRILLER is big news. The show, which made its debut on NBC way back in September of 1960, has been seldom seen in syndication recently and apparently never available on home video. The 14-disc box set includes all 67 hour-long episodes from the show’s two-season run. Although less well known than THE TWILIGHT ZONE or THE OUTER LIMITS, THRILLER offered similar high-quality episodes, with wonderfully atmospheric black-and-white photography; some great scripts based on classic horror literature; and numerous guest stars, including William Shatner (STAR TREK), Leslie Nielsen (FORBIDDEN PLANET), Robert Vaughn (THE MAN FROM UNCLE), Ursula Andress (DR. NO), Henry Daniel (THE BODY SNATCHERS), Robert Cornthwaite (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD), and more. Bonus features include extensive galleries or production and promotion stills, promotional clips, isolated music and effects tracks for select episodes, and 27 new audio commentaries. Read more here.
Over a week late, we want to mention GODKILLER: WALK AMONG US [Complete Film DVD], which bears an official release date of August 21 (a Saturday – rare for home video, which usually arrives on Tuesday). GODKILLER, which deals with human begins engaged in a war among fallen gods, is a so-called “Illustrated Film,” a format coined by Matt Pizzolo and Brian Giberson that dramatizs the comic book story with illustrated voice performances (by Lance Henriksen, Danielle Harris, Bill Moseley, Tiffany Shepis), using anime-style motion graphics. This DVD includes the entire feature film, unedited, including a brand new bonus epilogue, plus PDF files of the comic book on which the film is based. The film is also available on VOD for rent or purchase.
Also available for rent or purchase this week: CARNIVEROUS with DMX, BRAINJACKED, the RED RIDING TRILOGY, and the Ultimate MACHINE GIRL Collector’s Tin. You can find them all below, or find more in the Cinefantastique Online Store.
In the mood for an exorcism? Then join Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski as they scourge the unclean spirits of THE LAST EXORCISM, casting out the plot spoilers and narrative inconsistencies that bedevil the tortured soul of the new faux-documentary from producer Eli Roth and director Daniel Stamm.
Also in this episode, a look at this week’s video releases, including the THRILLER 14-disc DVD box set and the new limited edition Blu-ray disc of THE EVIL DEAD. Plus, the usual round up of news, events, and more in episode 1:29 of the Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast.
In this film, the Evil Dead are back, but now their ranks have swelled to become an ARMY OF DARKNESS. After the un-rated cult horror hits THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2, director Sam Raimi turned the third film in the series into an R-rated fantasy-adventure. When last we left Ash (Bruce Campbell), at the conclusion of EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), he had been unwittingly transported to the 13th century, where he was reluctantly hailed as a hero sent to oppose the Deadites. In the follow-up, Ash must find the Necronomicon (the Book of the Dead), which contains a formula to send him back to his own time. Unfortunately, Ash, not being the brightest of heroes, misspeaks an important incantation while retrieving the book, inadvertently resurrecting an army of the dead, led by his own alter ego, Evil Ash. Reluctantly, Ash stays to help in the ensuing battle, using his 20th-century technical knowhow to combat supernatural forces of evil.
With its multi ‑million dollar budget and a major Hollywood distributor, ARMY OF DARKNESS is not, technically, a direct sequel to its low-budget predecessors; rather, the film pretends to be almost a stand-alone effort. Universal Pictures asked for a title change to ARMY OF DARKNESS instead of EVIL DEAD 3, and a brief prologue, as if starting from scratch, strands a slightly older version of Campbell’s character in the past. The sequences incorporates some scenes from EVIL DEAD 2, along with new footage featuring actress Bridget Fonda (a fan of the films, who had previously played Mary Shelley in Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound), as Ash’s ill-fated girlfriend, Linda.
Unfortunately, despite its production values, outrageous action, and imaginative visual effects, the film is perhaps the least effective of the series. As a director, Raimi’s strength lies in his manic inventiveness – which is somewhat in abeyance here, as he tries injecting some traditional plot elements into the old formula. These actually dilute the overall effect, because the enterprise is too outrageous to engage us in a traditional way (i.e., make us care what happens to the characters).
With the horror elements mostly toned down, the film seems tame in spite of its outrageous action. There is a sense of “anthing goes,” along the lines of the most far-out Hong Kong fantasy flicks, but those films (e.g., A Chinese Ghost Story) somehow manage to mix romance, comedy, and thrills without diluting any of the elements. ARMY OF DARKNESS, on the other hand, doesn’t always gel; too often, the low comedy undermines the fantasy heroics. At times, the film even descends into outright silliness, obviously inspired by the Three Stooges. The result is a sort of goofy geek idea of a great movie, with lots of exploding skeletons, bony fingers poking eyes, and the occasional geyser of blood to remind us of glories past.
On the plus side, Bruce Campbell’s Ash is a perfect parody of the archetypal mythic hero: a self-centered, loud-mouthed jerk who happens to be good at fighting monsters, as long as he relies on instinct rather than intellect. (The minute he stops to think, the consequences are devastating for all concerned.) To a large extent, Campbell’s over-the-top performance is the film’s saving grace. Although he sometimes falls prey to the film’s tendency to milk a joke too long, he actually carves a distinct character that’s worth watching for a whole film. He even manages to immediately differentiate the two versions of Ash when the character divides into himself and an evil twin. Sometimes called the “Rambo of the gore world,” Ash is actually closer to Inspector Clouseau: we laugh at his incompetence while he pretends to know what he’s doing, and we cheer on those occasions when, through luck or providence, he actually does something right. Too often in movies we are presented with white male heroes who can do no wrong and thus are allowed to act like a law unto themselves as they interfere in situations that have nothing to do with them (the sort of delusional fantasy that underlies American interventionism in real world situations like Iraq); therefore, it’s nice to see a film that finally calls bullshit on this concept. You just wish uber he-men like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger would get a clue.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Whereas THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2 were horror films centered on an isolated cabin besieged by a handful of possessed zombies and a hand‑held camera representing an unseen evil presence, ARMY OF DARKNESS is a time travel fantasy featuring a medieval castle under attack by a literal army of skeletal “Deadites,” brought to screen life through a combination of animation, mechanics and prosthetics. The film features extensive use of the Introvision front projection process, which combines the go-motion skeletons with their live-action counterparts and also provides numerous miniature settings that would have been too expensive to build full-scale.
The epic concept behind ARMY OF DARKENSS (jokingly called “The Medieval Dead” by Raimi) was first developed for EVIL DEAD 2, until budgetary restrictions dictated that the script be cut back. “After THE EVIL DEAD, our sales agent at the time, the late Irvin Shapiro, suggested we make a sequel,” recalled producer Robert Tapert. “Sam came up with the idea of going back to the Middle Ages. Shapiro really liked the idea and took out ads in the trades, announcing EVIL DEAD 2: ARMY OF DARKNESS, in ’82 or ’83. We had a story fairly similar to this, but it was too expensive to make at the time, so Sam wrote a new version of EVIL DEAD 2 that didn’t take place in the middle ages.”
Though unable to make his “Medieval Dead” movie at that time, Raimi retained one hint of his original concept: transporting Ash to the 13th century for the twist ending of EVIL DEAD 2. Perhaps this was his way of insuring that any future sequel would adhere to his ARMY OF DARKNESS storyline. EVIL DEAD 2 ended up being financed by the Dino DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, to the tune of $3.75-million –a step up from THE EVIL DEAD, but nowhere near the amount needed to realize the ARMY OF DARKNESS storyline.
After EVIL DEAD 2, Sam Raimi turned his attention to directing Darkman (1990) for Universal Pictures, his first experience with Hollywood filmmaking. The deal to make a third EVIL DEAD film was struck during the long development process on Darkman. Dino DeLaurentiis, who had retained sequel rights to the EVIL DEAD franchise, approached the Renaissance Pictures team of Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell, who agreed to make EVIL DEAD 3 even though it represented a step down from the budget of DARKMAN.
“This is back to the kind of hands-on filmmaking that we grew up with,” Raimi explained. “Dino DeLaurentiis […] gives us an incredible amount of freedom. That’s why we want to make this picture: we can tell any kind of story we want in as wild a way as we think the audience would like it. Therefore, we’re happier, and maybe the audience that really wants to see something wild is happier, even if it is somewhat smaller.”
DeLaurentiis made a deal with Universal Pictures to handle domestic distribution rights, then sold the foreign rights at the February 1991 American Film Market. Thus, the proposed EVIL DEAD 3 became a “negative pick-up,” a deal in which the distributor agreed ahead of time to reimburse DeLaurentiis for his negative costs after he delivered a completed film to them.
Knowing that the film would be released by Universal, Raimi and his brother Ivan developed a script that was quite different from its predecessors, with more conventional qualities, such as being more story-driven.
“Ultimately, it’s about a guy trying to get home, but he has to do some pretty hasty things in order to do that, and the question is whether or not he’s competent enough,” said Campbell. “In the script development, that’s what we — primarily Sam ‑‑ tried to do. Sam’s tastes have evolved: just doing gags won’t hold for him anymore; he wants to tell a story now.”
When Darkman finally went into production, ARMY OF DARKNESS was moved to the back burner. The delay was fortunate, because the successful release of Darkman encouraged DeLaurentiis to raise the budget for ARMY OF DARKNESS, which would eventually reach approximately $11-million, after Universal kicked in additional funds during post-production.. It was unprecedented for a major studio to release up a sequel to two relatively obscure cult films and try to sell it to a wider audience – which may or may not have heard of the originals. For this reason, Universal opted to change the title and market the film as an original.
Noted producer Robert Tapert, “Universal – and they’re right to do it – said, ‘The EVIL DEAD title is a drawback because, based on bow it did theatrically, no one saw EVIL DEAD 2.’ It was a flop for all practical purposes — though it did very well on video, far outstripping what it had done at the box office. So they felt that fans would know this is EVIL DEAD III, and the rest of the audience would just see it as ARMY OF DARKNESS.”
“The fact that it’s called ARMY OF DARKNESS, I think, is fine,” said Campbell. “If more people will come and see it, I’m all for it. The first two were limited releases. I think it’s a logical progression, in that we hope this one is as entertaining as, or more entertaining than, the others. It’s not as graphic. The others were unrated: the first one rightfully so; the second one, we just went around the MPAA because we knew they were going to give us such grief.”
EVIL DEAD 2 had represented a considerable shift in tone from the first EVIL DEAD, and ARMY OF DARKNESS continued the evolution, to a certain extent. The earlier films were not noted for plotting so much as for stylistic flourishes; in fact, Darkman was Raimi’s conscious attempt to make a film plot and characters that were more than a mere excuse for special effects. ARMY OF DARKNESS is a bit of a throwback that falls somewhere between the two approaches.
“It’s somewhat of a departure, but it’s still in the same vein as EVIL DEAD 2, with a much heavier emphasis on comedy and scope,” said Tapert. “We don’t have scenes like the head falling into Ash’s lap. But we’ve tried to find other ways to go over the top and still remain within the limitations of the MPAA. We don’t have nearly the money of DARKMAN but twice the scope, with medieval archers, horses, castles and flaming catapults.”
Likewise, Raimi saw ARMY OF DARKNESS as an evolutionary step rather than a huge departure. “It’s the same thing: Bruce Campbell — kick him in the face, hit him in the head, kick him in the face again, spit out the blood and make the funny face ‑‑ cut! It’s the old routines. It was a bigger change from EVIL DEAD to EVIL DEAD 2.”
The contractually mandated R‑rating necessitated that ARMY OF DARKNESS be much less graphically violent than its predecessors, and an emphasis on comedy was designed to help run the ratings board gauntlet. Of course, EVIL DEAD 2 had its share of black comedy, but as Raimi pointed out, “Our policy at that stage was still, ‘the gore, the merrier.’ I thought that [the tongue-in-cheek tone] would buy some leniency with the ratings board, but they lack a sense of humor, and they have some hang‑up about self‑mutilation,” he explained, in reference to one of the film’s most memorable scenes. “This picture has even more comedy, and I do feel satisfied – it’s great to make the audience laugh.”
While trying to make ARMY OF DARKNESS original and different, Raimi was also conscious of incorporate elements of the EVIL DEAD films that audiences had enjoyed in the past. “But it’s always hard for me to know exactly what they liked,” he admitted. “I’m always wrong — that’s my motto. I’m trying to go William Goldman’s ‘Nobody knows nothing’ one better.”
Attention‑grabbing camera angles and movement had been a major component of the previous films; in a sense, the camera was the star of THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2. Similar gyrating visuals were employed for ARMY OF DARKNESS, but Raimi insisted, “Campbell’s really the star of this film. My favorite thing in the film is his character. He’s a loud mouth a coward and a liar. Just like you or me.”
Campbell more or less agrees with Raimi’s assessment of the character: “Ash is a little bit like a cartoon character: the anvil flattens him, but then he gets up. He’s basically a dork on the human side. He goes back in time and, even though he’s an idiot, he assumes that these people are primitive, and he thinks he knows more than everybody. I like the fact that he makes horrible mistakes that cost hundreds of lives — which sets him apart from the guys who can do no wrong. Ash is a for‑the‑moment sort of guy: whatever needs to be done at the time, he’ll do. Whenever he has to fight somebody, he knows what’s going on — for some reason he knows how to ride a horse and swordfight, but he screws up in every other department of life. Ash’s problem is: if he thinks about it, he makes a bad decision; if he doesn’t have time to think and just goes for the ax, he comes through with flying colors. Actually, I think he represents the average guy, in that he will clearly panic in a given situation — which I think is cool, because you can get into the trap of having a lead character who says, ‘Stand back – I’ll take care of it!’ To the audience that’s fine, because they can feel protected, but Sam, I don’t think, has ever wanted his audience to feel that comfortable.”
The film shot on location in Acton, California for several weeks in the summer of 1991.It soon became apparent that the film’s ambitious action was more than could be accomplished on the limited budget and schedule. DeLaurentiis was amenable to adding an extra week on location. However, even after extending the schedule and cutting money elsewhere in order to spend it on the climactic battle, Raimi still found himself coming up short.
“Certain ideas had to be compromised for the lack of budget,” he said. “Instead of 200 extras on horseback, how about 100 extras and 50 horses?”
“When they started shooting the battle, I think Sam realized he wasn’t going to get a lot of the shots that he wanted,” said special effects supervisor William Mesa, who suggested a cost‑saving alternative that allowed the principal action to be completed back on the Introvision stages. “We proposed that we go out there and shoot a series of plates, with all the extras fighting, from various angles. That way, when it came to the battle between the Good and the Evil Ash, in the upper area of the castle, then behind them could be all of this major battle going on, because you couldn’t afford to set up battles just to have close‑ups on actors.”
Raimi managed to finish location work by late July and then moved to the Introvision facility for seven weeks to complete the bulk of shooting. In many cases effects shooting is a tedious post‑production process during which the director surrenders much of his control. The Introvision process, on the other hand, was actually part of principal photography, with Raimi directing the actors as if they were on set, the difference being that most of the sets were projected background plates.
“Because they have a great technician and artist, Bill Mesa, in residence, I didn’t even have to worry about the technical aspects of Introvision,” said Raimi. “They took care of it and allowed me to just direct, either the background plates or the foreground action, which was very refreshing.”
Fortunately, the increased budget allowed Raimi to confer more with his actor, rather than devoting himself solely to the mechanics of getting the shot. “There was more time, although it was so ambitious that sometimes I felt just as rushed as on a low-budget movie,” said Campbell. “Sam exercised quality control. If I happened to be out of it that day, he let me know, whereas on a low‑budget movie, the director might be out of it, too, because he’s so overwhelmed with guys hassling him about getting more setups. We did fewer setups per day, but they were more complex, so we’d still run out of time. And if we fell behind, we had to make it up the next day, because there was no deep pocket on this film.”
One sequence pushed so far back that it didn’t get made up, at least not during principal photography, was the “Temple Ruins” scene, wherein Ash was supposed to learn a crucial piece of information from a sorceress, who then mutated into an Evil Dead witch. The scene was to climax with the temple pillars toppling like dominoes, which had been filmed in miniature during pre‑production.
“It was a crucial scene,” said production designer Tony Tremblay. “It was a transition from when Ash wasn’t interested in helping these people to when he knows he’s got to help them, whether he’s interested or not.”
With no hope of filming live‑action pillars toppling on guards, Tremblay designed a new set, to be rebuilt and redressed from a standing set, in which the expository portion of the scene could be shot during post‑production. The sequence was reconceived as a scene set in a chamber where Ash is sitting on some furs and being fed grapes. There is a battle with a witch but no massive destruction: “We can get away with that,” said Campbell, “because it’s not the climax of the movie, which is where we put all the dough.”
Renaissance Pictures’ original plan had been to finish at Introvision and then wrap principal photography with two more weeks on location, shooting prologue and epilogue scenes unrelated to the rest of filming. Instead, the filmmakers opted for a short breather in mid‑September, so that they could put together a rough cut and then regroup in November. “We were going to shoot those final two weeks at the end of our original schedule, but people were a little fried,” recalled Campbell. “We were running on about 70% efficiency by that point. It’s funny — you don’t even know it until you stop. Then you say, ‘Ouch, I can’t even think!’”
The delay had the additional benefit of allowing Raimi to pick up any missing inserts and transitional shots revealed by the rough cut. “The scenes needed a smaller crew, and they were completely unrelated to the rest of filming,” said Raimi. “So it made sense to take a break, cut a little bit, and then shoot those scenes. That way, we could make sure we didn’t need to pick up any other sequence as well.”
The final two weeks included the film’s conclusion, in which Ash, having adopted a Rip Van Winkle approach for returning to his own time, awakens after sealing himself in a cave for several centuries. Also filmed was a new prologue of Ash’s trip to the fateful cabin, this time with Bridget Fonda as his girlfriend, Linda.
Said Campbell, “Now, including this, we’ve shot three different versions of Ash going to the cabin. In EVIL DEAD 2, a lot of people thought Ash was stupid enough to go back to the cabin, because he had so much fun the first time, with his new girlfriend, who happened to be named Linda, again. Now, we’ve done it again, with Bridget Fonda. That was a thrill. Apparently, she had liked the other movies and wanted to be the third and best Linda. We went even further back to show Ash as a mild-mannered S‑Mart employee, our version of K‑Mart. Story-wise, we’re trying to make that leap from being a guy working in the house wares department to being a gun‑slinging, chainsaw‑wielding Deadite slayer. Now that we’re involved with studios, that’s the kind of request we get‑to make Ash a real guy. Ash is still on the cartoon side. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a real character.”
During the two‑week pickup shoot, Raimi did manage to add some transitional shots of Ash riding through the forest from one scene to the next, but many scenes remained unfilmed. Raimi went back into the editing room throughout the end of 1991, with the hope of shooting an additional two or three weeks in January.
Explained Campbell, “While shooting, we dropped several sequences for budget that we would re‑evaluate later, but in those sequences was a lot of story information. In that last two weeks, we shot the beginning and ending, but there were still several chunks missing in the middle that had to be reworked into more manageable scenes. Fortunately, it’s not because we cut it together and couldn’t make sense of it — the script was always very linear — but when you look at the storyboards that were skipped over, that’s quite a chunk of work. We couldn’t have certain sequences because it was more important to put money in other areas. We had to go back and get the same information out another way.”
“That was our intention, but we didn’t actually do that,” said Sam Raimi when the additional shooting in January failed to materialize. “We had to cut a lot of things out and…eliminate certain scenes from the picture.”
“Unfortunately, going back and filming becomes more and more difficult during the editing process,” lamented Tapert. “When you’re in production, the producer and the director wield a lot of power, because everybody’s got to trust them. When you get into post, everyone can see the film and say, ‘Oh no, you don’t need that — the audience will understand anyway.’ It’s much harder to get things approved that might on the surface seem extravagant — but the audience loves the big extravagances.”
Instead, Raimi planned spent January trimming his two‑hour rough cut down to an hour and a half – about ten minutes longer than EVIL DEAD 2. As of February, the plan was to deliver the finished film, with a score by EVIL DEAD 2’s Joe LoDuca, by May, with the hope of getting a big early summer roll-out if the film could secure a PG-13 rating without any re-editing or a late summer release (a la DARKMAN) if it was rated R. Unfortunately, neither release date materialized. Instead, the film fell into distribution limbo when Dino DeLaurentiis initiated a lawsuit against Universal Pictures.
In 1986, Dino DeLaurentiis had produced Manhunter, which was based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Although an excellent film, it was not a success, and when Harris wrote a sequel called Silence of the Lambs, DeLaurentiis licensed the rights to Orion Pictures. The result was a film that earned over $272-million worldwide after it was released in 1991, and went on to win five Oscars, including one for Best Picture of the Year, at the Academy of Motion Pictures 1992 awards ceremony.
Despite this success of this picture, Orion Pictures was on the way to bankruptcy, leaving the door open for DeLaurentiis to set up any sequel with another company. The essence of his lawsuit against Universal was that, in exchange for additional money he was seeking for reshoots on ARMY OF DARKNESS, the studio was trying to strong-arm him into a deal to make a sequel to Silence of the Lambs. In an interview with a Hollywood trade paper, Universal executives gave a different version of events, suggesting that an invitation to make a sequel had been offered and accepted before Silence of the Lambs had even come out. (This seems unlikely: it’s hard to believe Universal was eager to acquire sequel rights to an unreleased film that was itself a sequel to a box office flop; rights to a Silence sequel would have become a hot property only after the film became a blockbuster success.)
Whatever the facts of the case, the bottom line for ARMY OF DARKNESS was that its release was delayed while the legal wrangling was sorted out. Ultimately, Universal prevailed, earning the rights to produce the sequel to Silence of the Lambs – a right they were unable to exercise for nearly a decade, because it took author Thomas Harris so long to write his next novel, Hannibal, which was filmed and released in 2001. In the meantime, ARMY OF DARKNESS sat on the shelf for nearly another year.
During that time, several things happened. In an effort to generate interest in the languishing project, the 96-minute director’s cut was screened at the DeLaurentiis building in Hollywood. Unfortunately, this version is too slowly paced to hold interest for its entire running time. The silly jokes wear thin; the action during the final battle goes on too long; and the ending features an arbitrary twist that serves little purpose besides setting up a hoped-for sequel (which never materialized).
With input from Sam Raimi, Universal Pictures cut the film down to an 81-minute running time, which included a brand new (and much improved) ending, wherein Ash is seen back at his old S-Mart job, telling his tale to a skeptical co-worker (played by Raimi himself). Unfortunately, it turns out that Ash has once again forgotten to speak the correct magical words, allowing a Deadite to launch an attack in the store – leading to a brief but exhilarating fight scene that captures much of the exuberance missing from the rest of the film.
Despite the changes, the film was not a big success when it opened in February of 1993. ARMY OF DARKNESS earned $11.5-million in North American theatres. In other territories, the 96-minute cut did not fare any better, earning approximately another $9-million.
Not surprisingly, the idea of making ARMY OF DARKNESS 2 (or EVIL DEAD IV) was set aside. Renaissance Pictures shifted its attention to television series like Hercules and Xena, while also producing two direct-to-video sequels to Darkman. Sam Raimi became a director-for-hire on several Hollywood Films (e.g., The Quick and the Dead, For the Love of the Game, A Simple Plan, and The Gift). Even when the films were good, they evinced an anonymous professionalism, as if he were keeping his own stylistic instincts in check. Only with Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 did he show a return to form, welding his virtuoso visual style to comic book subject matter that was perfectly suited to him. Eventually, Raimi even returned to the horror genre, not as a director but as a producer, purchasing the rights to Takashi Shimizu’s excellent Japanese ghost story Ju-On, which was remade as The Grudge, with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead.
The latest word is that Raimi and Campbell are considering the possibility of a fourth EVIL DEAD film, although when or if it will actually be made remains an open question as long as Raimi is busy directing big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. The proposed EVIL DEAD follow-up would not be a sequel, nor a remake, but a “reinvention,” according to Bruce Campbell.
In an interview with Penny Blood magazine, Campbell revealed, “It’ll be a whole new story. It won’t be Ash. It’ll be the evil book [the Necronomicon], and it’ll affect a whole new group of people in a different situation. […] The trick is to take that premise – and we think it’s a scary premise – and use some cool, modern-day effects… so we won’ have green garden hoses in the shots. We want to make a flat-out, scary-ass, un-rated horror film.”
Both the 96-minute director’s cut and the 81-minute Universal cut of ARMY OF DARKNESS are available on DVD; in fact, they can be purchased together on the so-called two-disc “Boomstick Edition.” The title is also available on various other editions, most of them including the samebasic set of bonus features (give or take one or two) with different packaging. Perhaps the most distinctive of these is the “Bruce Campbell Vs. Army of Darkness: The Director’s Cut – Official Bootleg Edition,” which –true to its name — simulates the look of a cheap brown paper wrapping, suggesting a booglet copy.
This version includes the 96-minute director’s cut, plus several bonus features: an audio commentary; four deleted scenes; a gallery of production artwork; and a feature that allows you to view the film’s extensive storyboards in the lower right-hand corner of the frame while watching the film.
The deleted scenes (which feature optional audio commentary) are:
- An Alternate Opening Prologue: This features Ash, photographed in closeup against a nebulous black background, suggesting an unidentified limbo. This was meant to tie in with the original ending, which had Ash winding up stranded in the future. The sequence has a bit more of the feel of the previous EVIL DEAD films, but it goes on too long. In the audio commentary, the filmmakers admit they were never sure how much recapping from the previous films was necessary, so they ultimately chose to trim this down.
- Ash Confronts Arthur: This snippet was to take place in the middle of the longer sequence in which Arthur’s men find Ash at the beginning of the film and put him in chains. Ash thinks he has come to an understand with Arthur, who has him arrested anyway. “We probably didn’t need it,” according to the audio commentary.
- The Original Windmill Sequence: This is a much longer version than seen in either the theatrical cut or the director’s cut. There is lots of waitingwhile light shifts, shadows loom, and gears grind, but the pay off is not worth the build up. After a nifty tracking shot, Ash goes outside (we see some unfinished blue screen shots), finds his horse, and runs back into the mill when he sees an intruder – actually his own refelction in a full-length mirror. Campbell regrets the truncating of this sequence, because it sacrifices logic to speed up the pace: “The shorter a movie gets, the less sense it makes.”
- Ash Recruits Henry the Red: Ash talks Henry into joiningforces with Arthur against their common enemies, the Deadites. This would have provided a stronger sense of continuity, so that the last-reel appearance of Henry and his men would not come out of nowhere.
Recorded around the time that Raimi was directing the Kevin Costner baseball film For the Love of the Game, the audio commentary by Bruce Campbell and Sam Raim (Sam’s brother Ivan joins midway through) is amusing and informative, although – typically – some touchy subjects are avoided (there is no reference to the DeLaurentiis lawsuit that delayed the film’s distribution for a year). A fair amount of time is devoted to discussing footage that was deleted from the shorter, theatrical cut, but Raimi resists criticizing Universal Pictures, admititng that he had input into the revisions. Considerng that he and his partners took on the project in order to regain the creative control they had lost on Darkman, they could have at least noted the irony that they ended up going through a similar post-production process on ARMY OF DARKNESS.
The major cuts and alterations discussed are:
- The bloody death of the first ghoul is trimmed down to avoid an X-rating.
- The backlit love scene in front of the romantic, roaring fire was removed entirely: “It’s a little too heavy,” says Raimi. “I didn’t mind losing this. It’s too serious for the picture.”
- In the director’s cut, Evil Ash’s taunting Ash for beinga “Goody Two Shoes” goes on much longer. Aftera fed-up Ash blasts his evil twin in the face with a shotgun, he says: “I’m not so good.” In the theatrical print, an alternate take was used: “Good, bad – I’m the guy with the gun,” which Raimi admits he prefers.
- The director’s cut contains more shots of Ash riding from place to place, giving a sense of geography.
Ash’s speech to rally the troops for battle was cut from the theatrical version, and the montage that followed was trimmed.
- The scene of Evil Ash kissing Shielagoes on longer in the director’s cut, and there is more interplay between the two after Sheila turns evil.
- According to Bruce Campbell, “About ten minutes of battle was removed to get the 81-minute version.” Raimiadmits that it was hard to argue that nine shots of exploding skeletons were necessary in this sequence, as opposed to four.
Other interesting points made in the commentary:
- The scene of Ash severinghis hand with a chainsaw was reshot for the prologue of ARMY OF DARKNESS, because the shot in EVIL DEAD 2 was too slowly paced for a rapid-fire montage.
Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi suggest that all three EVIL DEAD movies would cut together as a single, longer work if the reshot recaps at the beginning of EVIL DEAD 2 and ARMY OF DARKNESS were cut out. This ignores the considerable continuity gaps between the lattertwo films: at the end of EVIL DEAD 2, Ash is immeidatelyhailed as a hero; in ARMY OF DARKNESS, he is put in chains as a prisoner and earns the respect of Arthur and his men only after defeating a monster kept in a pit int the courtyard of Arthur’s castle.
- Of the director’s cut, Universal “said it’s too long and the ending’s a downer,” according to Raimi. “So we reshot an ending, and they pretty much cut out fifteen minutes – although I did have input on that. I can’t just claim it was them.”
- Sam Raimi on the credibility of the supporting cast: “It was not the greates script. We really needed that crediblity, because we were taking our low-budget antics and trying to drop them into a real world, as much as possible.”
- As the film moves into its final act, Sam Raimilaments, “Ivan and I have talked about where we went wrong withthepicture. […] We agreed that afterthis point, we lost a lot of the characterof Ash beinga coward. That’s why for us it didn’t work as well. Just battle scenes are empty. What Ivan and I loved was the characterof Ash beinga coward, a blowhard, a braggart, a liar… His character disapperas, and it becomes about cool skeleton battles, like a Ray Harryhausen movie, which we’ve seen Harryhausen do, so it’s not that interesting. We should have put in more pieces of Bruce interacting.”
- Bruce Campbells defends the original ending, in which Ash winds up in a devastated future: “It’s appropriate…. It gave a very good lead in to what would or would not become Part 4.”
Although the most lavish of the EVIL DEAD trilogy, ARMY OF DARKNESS is probably the least effective, thanks to its compromised nature. Nevertheless, it does have enough redeeming features to make it an amusing cult film for fants of the series, and its fantasy elements make it appealing to viewers who might find the excessive gore of the earlie films unpalatable. Although the director’s cut preserves the artists’ original ision, the theatrical cut is actually more worthwhile viewing: the faster pace holds viewer attention better, and the shorter length deletes at least some of the silliness that can elicit groans rather than laughs. Though it is no match for EVIL DEAD 2 (by far the best of the three films), ARMY OF DARKNESS is a worthy follow-up that expands upon the earlier films in interesting ways and has the nerve to go in a new direction – a direction worth applauding, even if the film stumbles sometimes on its way..
Army of Darkness (1993). Directed by Sam Riami. Written by Sam & Ivan Raimi. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove, Timothy Patrick Quill, Michael Earl Reid, Bridget Fonda, Patricia Tallman.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: EVIL DEAD 2 makes another appearance on home video today, this time in the Blu-ray format, so we took this opportunity to post a retrospective-review of the film, including an interview with director Sam Raimi.
Hands down absolutely one of the greatest achievements in the horror genre—ever. This is literally one of those films that have to be seen to be believed—it’s outrageous, over-the-top, and beyond what you could possibly imagine, if you haven’t already seen it. It’s a high-octane visual assault on the senses that starts fast and keeps accelerating, slowing down only enough to change gears from scene to scene. If you’re one of those people hung up on literary values like characterization and narrative coherence (and by the way, why are you even reading this?), then this film is not for you; if, however, you really appreciate good cinema—filmmaking pushed to the limits of what can be achieved with camera techniques and editing—then you’re guaranteed to enjoy this mind-blowing roller-coaster ride. Read More