Army of Darkness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi
1992, 96 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on October 27th, 2015
Bruce Campbell as Ash
Embeth Davidtz as Sheila
Marcus Gilbert as Lord Arthur
Ian Abercrombie as Wiseman
Richard Grove as Henry the Red
Bridget Fonda as Linda
Patricia Tallman as Possessed Witch
Ted Raimi as Various
Let’s pretend for a moment that you are unfamiliar with the Evil Dead franchise and just happened to click on this review by chance. “What exactly is Army of Darkness and how did I get here?” Well, this is the third part of a trilogy that is set up in such a way that a brief prologue will catch you up on the events of the first two films in the series. The Evil Dead (1983) tells the story of a man named Ash who, along with a group of friends, makes the ill-fated decision to get away for the weekend to a cabin in the woods. Once there, an innocent mistake leads to the awakening of an evil force capable of possessing humans, turning them into murderous creatures. The only way to stop these monsters is through bodily dismemberment. Forced to chop up his friends in order to survive, Ash soon finds himself to be the last man standing. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987) is more of a re-telling of these events in which Ash is joined at the cabin by only his girlfriend before releasing the terror. A new group of supporting victims is introduced to the scenario and once again Ash is left in the position of sole survivor, but this time is sucked into a time warp that transports him back to the year 1300 A.D.
This re-cap is a bit abrupt, but you are likely familiar with this series or you wouldn’t still be reading. With the backstory out of the way, we can now begin the third chapter Army of Darkness (1992), just in time to celebrate its 24th anniversary. This story begins with our reluctant hero Ash in chains, a slave being marched to his death. He successfully kills a demon and finds himself viewed as a heroic figure. Unfortunately for the locals, Ash is a cowardly blowhard, bluffing his way through the situation until he can find a way back home. The wise men send him on a quest to reclaim The Necronomicon, a magical book with the power to set things right. Ash manages to screw things up and soon an army of the dead is marching toward world domination. Is it possible to fix this mess or is the entire human race doomed to live in a world of darkness? With Ash calling the shots, all bets are off.
With this third chapter, director Sam Raimi (Darkman) removes much of the horror element from the equation, opting instead for a classic Mark Twain tale told with a powerful mixture of Ray Harryhausen-inspired fantasy and slapstick comedy. Army of Darkness is merciless in its wit, as many jokes are deliberately extended beyond their limits in order to torture viewers with the gags. In the right circumstances this can be brilliant, but audiences unwilling to give themselves over to the film’s quirky cartoon rhythm will find their patience tested. I have occasional problems with the pacing (more on that in a minute) and consider this the weakest installment of the original trilogy. I know that a lot of fans adore this flick, primarily thanks to Bruce Campbell’s impeccable performance as Ash, and I agree he is awesome and quotable, but I miss the horror and gore associated with the series.
I saw a work print a few months before the theatrical release, and while I had my concerns about the new tone, I was still eager to catch the finished film in the cinema. When Army of Darkness finally came out, I was shocked/ disappointed by how different it was from the bootleg version. Many scenes were missing or re-edited, punchlines were altered and the third act had been completely truncated. Roughly fifteen minutes of content had been removed and an upbeat ending was substituted for the appropriately bleak finale that would have set up future possibilities. My complaints remain in the minority and I have grown to appreciate the movie over the years, but it remains the least likely to come off my shelf for screenings on “Ash” Wednesday.
This film has been released on home video so many goddamn times that I don’t know which version to hang onto. As a snob, I skipped the numerous VHS releases and opted instead for the domestic Laser Disc, followed by the Japanese import (Captain Supermarket) Laser Disc, the Anchor Bay deluxe Director’s Cut 2-disc DVD and the Universal “Screwhead Edition” Blu-ray. My buying history would suggest this is my favorite movie ever made (it isn’t). This title has such a ludicrous amount of re-issues that I greet the news with some trepidation that Scream Factory has accepted the daunting challenge of releasing a definitive Blu-ray edition and the main question fans will want answered is, How did they do? In a word: splendidly.
Video and Audio:
This release offers four versions of the film; three have been restored and the alternate TV edit is included as a lower-quality bonus feature. The TV cut will be addressed under the Special Features section of this review.
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, all three versions of Army of Darkness look terrific. Colors are strong, black levels are rich and flesh tones appear natural. There is a bit of variation between versions in terms of contrast and consequently some of the rear projection visual effects stand out a bit more here and there. The International Cut has been given a 4K restoration from the original interpositive film elements and looks spectacular. The Director’s Cut has also been remastered, prior to Scream Factory’s efforts, and the Theatrical Cut looks to be an improvement over the previous Universal Blu-ray. Both of the latter two editions appear to have benefitted from a bit of additional clean-up for this new release.
Audio options of either a DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 2.0 tracks provide all the thrills you need. Battle scenes benefit the most and many of the goofy cartoon sound effects jump out with surprising clarity. Music and effects are well-balanced and do not intrude upon dialogue levels. All three edits feature similar presentation and I do not have any complaints.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Knowing the stakes are high for this genre favorite, Scream Factory pulls out all the stops, starting with the inclusion of all four versions of the film. Pretty much everything in the realm of bonus features from previous discs has been carried over and a wealth of new goodies has been commissioned for this set. I can finally lower my guard and trust that this is the last time Army of Darkness will get released on a physical media format. The extras are spread across this 3-disc set and each is fully loaded, so let’s take a closer look at what we get.
The theatrical cut (81 minutes) of the film is paired with the domestic trailer, TV spots, and a home video promo.
A collection of deleted scenes (11 minutes) and a cool alternate opening (3 minutes) are included with optional commentary by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.
The original “downer” ending (5 minutes) is also offered for quick reference to what was intended.
The centerpiece of the extras found on this disc is the all-new documentary Medieval Times (97 minutes), an incredibly thorough look back at the production as told by those who lived it. The piece features interviews with countless members of the cast and crew headlined by the inimitable Bruce Campbell. A flood of participants from both sides of the camera are on hand to share their memories of the shoot and everyone agrees the project was tough but fun. There are too many names to list here, but among them are actors Ted Raimi, Marcus Gilbert, Patricia Tallman and Richard Grove, all of whom have only nice things to say about the production and its director. Also on hand to reminisce are cinematographer Bill Pope, editor Bob Murawski, stunt coordinator Christopher Doyle and production designer Anthony Tremblay. Such an effects-heavy movie relied on the talents of numerous artists, and several have agreed to participate here, including Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, Tony Gardner and Gary Jones. As thoroughly awesome as this documentary is, there are some notable absences, including producer Rob Tapert, co-writer Ivan Raimi and most egregiously, director Sam Raimi. Their input is sorely missed, but the piece is strong enough to remain informative and entertaining.
The Director’s Cut (96 minutes) of the film includes an audio commentary with Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. The duo are joined a little late in the running time by co-writer Ivan Raimi. Anyone who has listened to one of their tracks before knows to expect a fun time, and these guys really deliver. A lot of information is shared in a thoughtful and frequently comical manner. This piece first appeared on the Anchor Bay 2-disc DVD set and is definitely worth checking out.
Returning from previous releases is the traditional Making of featurette (5 minutes) offering a few clips from the film as well as behind-the-scenes interviews with members of the cast and crew.
This release offers an additional section of extended interviews (5 minutes) that includes material shot for but not used in the previous segment.
A vintage compilation of behind-the-scenes video footage (5 minutes) is fairly self-explanatory.
The KNB Effects crew (Kurtzman, Nicotero and Berger) serve up nearly an hour of additional video footage (54 minutes) shot during the production. This is some great “fly on the wall” stuff that fans will not want to miss.
Creating the Deadites (21 minutes) is a featurette that focuses once again on the gang of KNB Effects as they build some of the make-up pieces for the film.
The newly remastered International Cut (89 minutes) of the film is joined by the Television Version (93 minutes). The latter aired in a full-frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio with 2.0 stereo audio and is included here for completists who were shocked to discover this edit includes material absent from all other editions.
The featurette The Men Behind the Army (19 minutes) takes a look at the effects team as they design props and other elements. This segment appeared on a few previous releases and it is nice to have it included here.
A pair of photo galleries (28 minutes, over 200 stills) offers a rare glimpse at additional behind-the-scenes elements in addition to some marketing materials.
A storyboard gallery (8 minutes) details some un-filmed sequences, providing a look at Raimi’s directing style.
An international trailer is also on hand to see how the film was promoted overseas.
Lastly, a Special Thanks list singles out those who contributed to making this definitive edition possible.