The Evil Dead
Book of the Dead - Special Edition

Starring: Bruce Campbell
Anchor Bay Entertainment

RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 18
Available 22 August 2005

Two young men and three young women drive to an isolated run-down cabin on the edge of woods, where they intend to spend a break of careless fun. However, almost immediately a series of strange occurrences begins, one of which points the way to a trap door in the floor leading to a dark cellar. Here they discover a book bound in human skin, with an approximation of a face on the front. Inside, there are weird drawings and characters written in blood. They bring it upstairs along with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, from which they learn, via the voice of a previous researcher, that the cabin is on the site of an ancient Summerian graveyard. The book is the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, and the moment a recorded passage from the book is played on the tape machine the true horror begins. One by one, Cheryl, Linda, Shelley and Scott are possessed by the evil dead spirits, until only one is left to stand against the torment and violence...

This is a reissue of The Evil Dead - Limited Edition Book of the Dead set released a few years back. I've noticed that it's caught out at least a couple of magazine reviewers by mentioning on the packaging a couple of "All-new ..." featurettes. These were new at the time of original sale, which was 2002, but the set is identical in every way but one: the addition of a Bruce Campbell film short called Running Time, which is slipped inside a card sleeve and thrown in like a DVD sampler. As this is a mobster crime story I doubt it will appeal to the same audience as The Evil Dead (unless you're a Bruce Campbell fanatic) - its only point of interest being that it's filmed in one continuous shot.

But let's forget the nonsensical addition; this set is impressive as it is/was. There's much to appreciate here. Starting with the film itself, for anyone who hasn't seen this cult classic it was unfairly grouped-in with the video nasties of the eighties, but is a cut (!) above the majority of horror films which emerged at the time.

There's plenty of visceral imagery (blood, prosthetics and vivid fantasy violence) but this is a film which succeeds on simultaneous levels of shock, violence and particularly dark humour. The camera work in particular is exemplary in its experimentation, enhancing the required slightly off-kilter effect. It's amusing now to think of the wholesome Hollywood director of the Spider-Man movies, Hercules and Xena, Sam Raimi, debuting with what could easily be described as a tasteless film, but as I've intimated this wasn't just gore for gore's sake.

Twenty-three years later the effects still hold up well (well done Tom Sullivan; remember, there was no CGI available at the time), although the stop-motion degradation of the creatures at the end goes on for so long that I almost expected to see Morph from Tony Hart's Vision On running around amidst the rest of the plasticine and rubber.

For any fan of The Evil Dead films this special release contains a good handful of extras all on one disc. As well as the widescreen presentation, there's two commentaries (one by Sam Raimi & producer Robert Tapert, the other by Bruce Campbell).

The behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes is great fun. The actress playing the creature beneath the trap door cackles and screams in one continuous shot for so long that she has to stop and comment, "I can't do that all day!" In another sequence it's quite humorous to have an evil dead creature stop and say, quite reasonably, "What am I doing wrong?" Sam Raimi is heard to reply, "Stop thrashing your head around so much."

Discovering Evil Dead is a featurette tracing the media and public reaction to the film upon first release to its status today (the film even had to be defended in court). As well as trailers, TV spots, and a poster and still gallery, there's Talent Bios which, for reasons I explained above, only reach early 2002. Raimi's first Spider-Man is listed as a coming attraction, as is Campbell's excellent Bubba Ho-Tep (couldn't these have been updated?). Fanalysis is a short documentary by Bruce Campbell investigating the phenomenon of fandom.

One more thing to mention but, believe me, it's important. When you unwrap this release from its seal, I suggest you remove the disc and find another plastic sleeve to seal the book into. If you leave the book open to the air, not only will the rubber fade, dry and crack, but it will seriously stink the room out. It's no exaggeration to say it smells like ammonia and practically makes your eyes water. The Book of the Dead wreaking its revenge, perhaps?

Ty Power

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