Evil Dead II appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. This transfer fell into the “silk purse/sow’s ear” category, as it represented the source material with reasonable fidelity but could only do so much with such messy footage.
Sharpness usually looked reasonably crisp and accurate, though some light softness occurred at times. For the most part, I thought the movie was adequately focused and detailed. Moiré effects and jagged edges posed no concerns, and edge enhancement appeared absent.
Print flaws were surprisingly minimal. At times the movie became rather grainy; the opening and closing scenes demonstrated an awful lot of that element. Otherwise, a few specks popped up on infrequent occasions, but the remainder of the flick was quite clean.
Colors were subdued and somewhat pale but they seemed largely accurate, and I noticed no problems related to them such as bleeding or noise. Black levels looked a bit mushy to me and they lacked boldness or depth; there's a mildly tentative quality to the dark scenes. Shadow detail often appeared a little heavy. I didn't have a terrible time making out the action in low-light shots, but since these kinds of scenes dominated the film, I had more trouble than I would have liked. Ultimately I found Dead II to present a perfectly watchable image but nothing better than that. Again, I blamed the original footage, as I thought the replicated that material with decent fidelity.
More substantial problems came with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Evil Dead II. Actually, some parts of it seemed positive, such as the breadth of the soundfield. The action spread nicely to the side channels, with a great deal of effects and music emanating from the front right and left speakers. This usage added a nice component of involvement to the mix, especially when we consider the extra kick boasted by the rears; the surround speakers presented solid ambiance and occasionally tossed out some good split-surround effects as well. The track lacked the smooth integration of true 5.1 mixes, but it worked nicely from a soundfield point of view.
Unfortunately, the quality of the audio was simply terrible. Dialogue came across as thin and lifeless at best, and it became very harsh and edgy at times. I understood most of the speech, but some lines were unintelligible due to the shrill and sibilant nature of the audio. Effects seemed flat and dull and displayed some distortion as well. The music appeared thin and excessively-bright, but it was largely free of the harshness that harmed the other aspects of the mix.
The track included some boomy bass that tended to overwhelm the action in an artificial manner. I got the impression the sound designers cranked up the low-end to distract us from the flatness of the other elements. Despite the fairly ambitious soundfield, I simply couldn't give this mix a higher rating than a "D+" due to the very weak quality of the audio. Even a film with a fairly low budget shouldn't sound this bad. I'd be disappointed with the sound if it accompanied a movie from 1947, so for a 1987 effort to appear this poor was problematic.
This edition of Evil Dead II incorporates a mix of supplemental features. First up is an audio commentary which comes from a 1998 laserdisc release of Dead II. It features actor Bruce Campbell, director Sam Raimi, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and special make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero, all of whom were recorded together for a running, screen-specific chat. All four men provide roughly equal amounts of information. The commentary covers a mix of production issues. We hear a lot about low-budget filmmaking. The guys provide notes about makeup and effects, continuity problems, locations and sets, characters and the actors, and many bits of trivia.
Although the Dead II commentary is more fun than that of Army, it's probably less informative, which is often the case with multiple-participant tracks. Frequently these become loose and disorganized as the parties involved become more interested in laughing with each other than in providing compelling information about the movie. The Dead II commentary straddles those lines, and it generally seems amusing and useful, although at times it goes a little astray. Still, I enjoyed the commentary as a whole and found it pretty entertaining.
Next up is The Making of Evil Dead II, or The Gore the Merrier, a 31-minute and 50-second featurette about Dead II. It mainly discusses the technical details, and it does so in a terrifically compelling manner. The program features contemporary interviews with make-up effects artists Robert Kurtzman, Howard Berger, and Greg Nicotero; they essentially act as the piece's narrators. While we find some "talking head" shots of those gentlemen, the vast majority of the visual action comes from a slew of wonderful video footage taken from the set. We get a lot of great information from these images, and they single-handedly make this a fantastic documentary.
In addition, the DVD includes a preview for a videogame based on the series. Called Evil Dead - Hail to the King, this piece lasts one minute and 20 seconds and provides a pretty uncompelling look at the game.
The Still Galleries section provides two sub-areas. There's "Horror Highlights" which offers 56 shots from the film, and "Behind the Screams" which includes 31 pictures the detail the production of the movie. Much of the same material was covered in the documentary, but at least this area shows the shots in greater detail.
Dead II includes the THX Optimode program to set up your TV. This provides you with information to correctly configure various audio and video aspects of your home theater. I don't think it fully replaces something like Video Essentials, but then again, "Optimode" comes as a free addition to a DVD, so it's clearly a bargain. If you haven't already used Essentials or some similar product, you should find "Optimode" very helpful.
Finally, we get the original theatrical trailer for Dead II plus Talent Bios for Campbell and Raimi. These are actually pretty solid little entries that provide more depth than usual for these listings.
Although I found Evil Dead II to be a disappointment, bear in mind that I had exceptionally high expectations for the film, so my reaction to the movie may change when I watch it again. In any case, Dead II offers an over-the-top horror flick that didn't light my fire but made for a generally fun piece. The DVD features fairly weak picture and harsh sound but offers some solid extras. Although I was disappointed by the quality of the presentation, I have the feeling a lot of the concerns resulted from the original material. As such, Evil Dead fans will probably be satisfied with this disc.
To rate this film, visit the "Book of the Dead" Limited Edition review of THE EVIL DEAD II