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The Evil Dead: Book of the Dead Edition

Deciding to spend the last couple days of summer in a remote cabin in the woods, five friends (including Bruce Campbell) go to relax and party, but while there discover a tape recorder and some strange artifacts left by one of the last tenants. Curious, the group listens to the tape, which chants some words from Naturon Demonto (roughly translated as Book of the Dead), bringing to life a spirit in the woods. This spirit turns most of the group into zombies, and the only way to stop them is through total bodily dismemberment. The story behind 1982's The Evil Dead is a familiar one — a bunch of kids from a small town make a low-budget horror movie, and because of the film's intensity it becomes a genre classic by outdoing anything that came before it. But to best appreciate director Sam Raimi's accomplishment, it helps to put in context: Since its release, The Evil Dead's ability to shock has been dulled as it has been topped by what's followed it, as well as the sequels that remove the surprise of who survives. This was the first film to chop zombies into itty-bitty pieces, which since 1992's Dead Alive and the various zombie video-games that followed has become de rigueur. But the movie's purity remains impressive (leading to a famous review from Stephen King, who called it "the most ferociously original horror film of the year"), and the ingenuity and enthusiasm behind the project show the seeds of a very talented filmmaker at work (Raimi invented the "Shaky-cam" by putting a 16mm camera on a two-by-four to simulate a steadicam). Anchor Bay's The Evil Dead: Book of the Dead Edition comes in a rubbery book that replicates a prop from the film, and it's simply one of the coolest bits of non-standard packaging we've run across. Being the movie's third incarnation on DVD, it rehashes all of the supplements included previously on the Elite special edition, including the audio commentary with Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert, the commentary with Bruce Campbell, the behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes, the theatrical trailer, and stills. New to this version is a THX-approved anamorphic widescreen presentation (1.78:1) — a transfer that fell into controversy because the film was shot on 16mm, yet was meant to be shown theatrically. Also new are DTS-ES and Dolby Digital EX 5.1 mixes. For new supplements, there's a wonderful short documentary, Fanalysis, which is directed by Bruce Campbell and talks to fans who dress up and sometimes change their names to be closer to their favorite fiction. A second documentary, Discovering Evil Dead, covers the film's sordid history in Great Britain, where it was the first film labeled a "video nasty" (it's also of worth because it talks to Bill Warren, who wrote The Evil Dead Companion). TV spots, talent bios, and two Easter eggs are here as well. But it should be noted that the long-hoped-for Within the Woods — the 30 min. prototype for The Evil Dead that was produced to attract investors — couldn't be included because of rights issues (perhaps it will be on the film's fifth DVD release).

(Editor's note: Anchor Bay has released an additional Evil Dead DVD, without the two documentaries or special packaging, at a lower price.)

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