Return of the Evil Dead Review
Return of the Evil Dead opens with a flashback to 14th century Portugal. A bunch of torch wielding villagers set about burning alive the film’s chief villain, though of course not too successfully. On the one hand it’s a scene which allows audiences unfamiliar with its predecessor, Tombs of the Blind Dead, to catch up on the backstory – the Knights Templar are killed for their satanic ways and so vow to return as the return as the undead. On the other it can’t help but recall the opening to James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. It’s one of a number of nods in the general direction of horror classics (we have a Renfield-like character in the form of “the caretaker”, plus Night of the Living Dead inevitably springs to mind on numerous occasions) and tantalisingly it sets up an expectation: will Return of the Evil Dead follow the example of Bride of Frankenstein and be a superior sequel?
The answer hinges between a yes and a no. As should be expected given that Tombs mixed the excellent with the distinctly average, writer-director Amando de Ossorio remains far better suited to horror than he does exploitation. The latter is still shoehorned in prompting a ridiculous negligee moment and the seemingly inevitable attempted rape, but the horror elements come across especially well. Indeed, Return of the Evil Dead is far more overt in this department than its predecessor. Once we’ve gotten the opening flashback out of the way, as well as its adjustments to the Blind Dead mythology (this time they’re resurrected in a manner similar to that of Andrew Robinson in Hellraiser, whilst their vampiric qualities manifest themselves in different ways), we’re essentially thrown straight into the drama. The Knights Templar return as they’d promised, lay siege to a village and proceed to whittle away the cast until only a few remain.
Importantly, the film loses nothing as far as the Blind Dead themselves are concerned. They remain as distinctive as they had in Tombs and retain all of their qualities: they still look rotten, boast beards but no eyes, and ride horses in slow motion (in fact, Return of the Evil Dead even goes as far as to let to witness them dismount in slow motion as well!). Indeed, they’re a cut above the standard big screen zombie – barely human in any conceivable terms and hardly of the variety that could be so easily approximated by the “normal” characters in Shaun of the Dead. Moreover, their slowness only adds to the suspense; the impending doom is milked for every last ounce of its inevitability.
And whilst you could hardly class this as Aliens to Tombs’ Alien, the Knights Templar do take over the storyline. The human element is pulp-y to the extreme: our hero is an ex-alcoholic down on his luck named Jack Marlowe; his return to the village means patching up an old relationship gone sour; and he’s flanked by various sweating moustachioed supporting players. The only time the film really comes alive from this perspective is during the deliberately nasty scene in which a young girl is used as bait. Otherwise we’re stuck with a film which – unlike its prime influence Night of the Living Dead - doesn’t contain any subtext. It’s a horror film plain and simple and for all the effectiveness of the Blind Dead they perhaps can’t quite sustain an entire picture (even if they could fuel an entire franchise – both officially and unofficially).
The problem is that they’re not garnished as well as they were in their previous picture. Perhaps owing to the fact that it takes place at night, or perhaps because Return of the Evil Dead has a different cinematographer in Miguel Fernández Mila, but this film looks far flatter and less visually inspired than its predecessor. Likewise, the special effects seem less impressive than they had done before: the use of slow motion is less consistent as the Blind Dead have to interact more with the various villagers; there’s also a greater dependence of shoddy model work; and the blood, of course, is incredibly garish. In fact, the seventies attachments in general – kitsch props, dated cinematic techniques – seem to be far greater abundance making it much more difficult for Return of the Evil Dead to transcend them in the manner of Tombs. Certainly, it’s by no means a failure, but it does seem far more akin to your standard Euro horror than its previous instalment ever did.
Return of the Evil Dead finally arrives in the UK in much the same condition as Tombs of the Blind Dead. The film comes in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced and, for the most part, pleasingly clean. There are minor instances of dirt on occasion, but these are easily ignored and by no means distracting. However, the colours aren’t quite as vivid here as they were on the Tombs disc, plus the long shots are lacking in clarity which means that Return of the Evil Dead can’t quite match its predecessor for quality. That said, its soundtrack is perfectly fine and comes in the original Spanish with optional subtitles. Moreover, as well as the mono recording that would have accompanied its theatrical screenings, we also find choices of DD5.1 and DTS upgrades. Of course, you could argue that the latter two are completely unnecessary, yet as with Tombs they do make enough of the score and various sound effects to justify their inclusion. No doubt the purists will favour the original mono, but that’s not to say that the remixes are worthless.
As for extras here we find a fairly minimal collection of additions. The gallery offers a comprehensive glimpse at lobby cards, production stills, video slicks and the like, plus there are original trailers for all four of the official Blind Dead entries, but if you’re after something a little more worth your while then you’ll have to pick up Return of the Evil Dead as part of Anchor Bay’s The Blind Dead Collection and sample its bonus disc.
6 out of 10
6 out of 10
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4 out of 10