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Army of Darkness (1993)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc released: 9/15/2009 and 10/27/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/8/2009
Is there anything better than the opportunity to review a Sam Raimi film? (This may change once Drag Me to Hell hits home video, but for now, let's assume that it's a good thing.) The very first VHS tape that I rented back in 1982 (yes, I'm old) was The Evil Dead and I was instantly taken by Raimi's visual style. I've been a huge fan of his since that time and I anxiously await each of his projects. I can vividly remember when Army of Darkness was finally released in 1993. I took the day off from work and hit the first screening and then saw it again that night with my girlfriend. (I'd appreciate it if terms such as geek or fanboy weren't used at this time. Thank you.) Sixteen years later, the movie is still quite an experience and may be one of the weirdest movies ever released by a major studio.
Although you could never guess it from the title, Army of Darkness is the third chapter in the Evil Dead trilogy. The action in the film picks up immediately after the events ofEvil Dead II. (There is a brief recap at the beginning to get those who don't know that this is a sequel up-to-speed.) Ash (Bruce Campbell), has been fighting demons and those possessed by demons in a small, isolated cabins in the woods. He uses a spell to vanquish the supernatural and this creates a time-warp. Ash is taken back to medieval England, where he is taken prisoner by Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert). However, when Ash sees that the "Deadites" (as the locals call them) are also plaguing this time, he slays a few and is instantly hailed as a hero. He agrees to help Arthur and his Wiseman (Ian Abercrombie), if they will assist in getting him back to his own time. However, in his attempt to be of assistance, the bumbling Ash makes things worse and an army of evil creatures attack the castle. Can this misplaced moron find the courage to defeat this hellish horde?
Army of Darkness is a movie with an interesting history. Sam Raimi had just come off of Darkman, which was a modest hit for Universal. Army of Darkness was shot in mid-1991. However, a battle between Universal and producer Dino De Laurentis ensued (if I remember correctly, it was over the rights to the Hannibal Lecter charcter) and Army of Darkness got caught in the middle. Because of this, the movie wasn't released in the U.S. until February of 1993. As if this delay wasn't bad enough, Universal insisted on giving the movie a name which didn't connect it to the Evil Dead films (Raimi's original title was The Medieval Dead.) and this connection was never spelled out in the advertising. (Which is just odd, asThe Evil Dead and Evil Dead II were both bonafide home video hits and cult movies by this point.) So, the movie limped into theaters, and many who saw it had no idea what the hell they were watching.
All of this is incredibly unfortunate, as Army of Darkness is a fine piece of entertainment...once you wrap your mind around it. Having set the first two films in the small cabin, Raimi wisely decided to take a somewhat new approach to the material. Thus, Army of Darkness gives us more locations, more characters, and simply put, a bigger feel. To say that the movie is ambitious would be an understatement. Using a relatively small budget, Raimi brings us castles, rolling landscapes, and an army of militant skeletons.
There is also a change in tone with this movie. You can easily chart the progression of the three films; Evil Dead is a horror movie (and a scary one at that); Evil Dead II certainly contains horror themes and is incredibly violent, but there is also a streak of wicked humor and gags which are reminiscent of The Three Stooges; Army of Darkness is more of an adventure film -- it does contain horrific elements in the sense that Ash is fighting monsters, but the whole movie is a throwback to Ray Harryhausen films like Jason and the Argonauts. Given this, the movie also contains a healthy does of humor, and it doesn't try to hide the fact that much of it is Stoogesesque. We've got Ash being repeatedly pummeled by everyone and everything around him, while skeletons crack jokes. No wonder many viewers were put off by this movie.
However, the star of this show is Bruce Campbell. With Army of Darkness, Campbell has brought the Ash character full circle. The man started out as somewhat of a wimp in The Evil Dead, but he now sees himself as an expert in fighting the demons and he sees himself as superior to the medieval beings around him. It's too bad that he's still an idiot. Campbell does an amazing job of combining narcissistic bravado with sheer ignorance to create a character who has absolutely no idea what he's doing. This approach to life leads Ash to say incredibly idiotic things like "Give me some sugar, baby." or "Yo! She-bitch! Let's go!" or his trademark word, "Groovy." There aren't many actors who could spout this lunacy with a straight face, but Campbell truly shines here.
Against all odds, Army of Darkness has become a cult film in its own right. As it can be edited down to a PG-13 level, the movie seems to be on TV all the time. I've read comments from people who have seen this movie, but haven't seen the other Evil Dead films. The best things to do is to view all three back-to-back. This will give you a chance to see Raimi grow as a filmmaker, Campbell to grow as an actor, and opportunity to go from being horrified to laughing hysterically.
Army of Darkness gets real ugly on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. I've owned this film on laserdisc, multiple DVDs, and now Blu-ray, so I was very interested in seeing how it looks. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mpbs. The image is sharp and clear, but notably grainy at times. This is truly disappointing, as Army of Darkness was a movie that I always admired for how clear the daytime shots were. There are no defects from the source material. The daytime scenes show appropriate brightness, but the nighttime scenes are a bit dark. The colors look good and the level of detail is impressive. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. During the action scenes, the sound is impressive, especially that of the "evil force" which chases Ash. The surround and subwoofer really shine in these moments. However, in more sedate scenes, the surround sound is weak, although the stereo effects do come through, as sounds often come from off-screen.
The Army of Darkness Blu-ray Disc is surprising lite on extras. "Creating the Deadites" (21 minutes) is hosted by special effects makeup artists Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero. They reminisce about the project while we are treated to concept art and archive video which show the monsters being designed, built, and tested. The cut of Army of Darkness offered here is the theatrical cut, so as an extra we get the "Alternate Ending" (5 minutes) which was part of the original, director's cut. It's certainly brings a different mood to the finale. Next is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the movie, which I haven't seen since it played in theaters in 1993. This trailer is memorable because of its use of music by Metallica and the fact that it makes the movie look awful. Finally, the U-Control feature allows picture-in-picture access to production photos.
On October 27, 2015, Shout! Factory released a new 3-disc Special Edition of Army of Darkness which features three different cuts of the movie (well, four actually) and a ton of extras.
Disc One contains the Theatrical Version of the film, which runs at 81 minutes. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, but there is a noticeable, fine sheen of grain on the image. The colors look good, but some interior scenes are touch dark. There are very mild haloes around the actors. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects are notably good, as they alert us to sounds occurring off-screen. The subwoofer is palpable, but not overpowering.
The extras on Disc 1 kick off with "Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness" (97 minutes) is a modern feature-length featurette which explores many facets of the film's production and history. The piece feature comments from Bruce Campbell, Howard Berger, Marcus Gilbert, Ricky Grove, Tim Quill, Tony Gardner, Ted Raimi, Gary Jones, Bill Moseley, Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, John Cameron, Patricia Tallman, Anthony Tremblay, Bill Pope, Ida Gearon, William Mesa, William Bryan, and Christopher Doyle. One can't help but notice that Sam Raimi is absent here, although we do see him in on-set footage and production stills. The piece opens with a discussion of where Army of Darkness came through and then moves through the cast, the makeup effects, the visual effects, the look of the film, and the reaction. "Original Ending" (5 minutes) features the infamous "oversleeping" version of the finale. "Alternate Opening" (3 minutes) features a different recap and a different voiceover by Ash -- doing his best William Shatner. This can be viewed with Commentary from Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. The Disc contains three DELETED SCENES which run about 11 minutes and can be viewed with Commentary from Raimi and Campbell. Two of these are simply extended scenes, while the third features a truly new scene with Duke Henry. The extras are rounded out by the THEATRICAL TRAILER, TV SPOTS, and a U.S. Video Promo.
Disc 2 offers the Director's Cut which runs 96 minutes. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image shows some grain, but didn't seem as grainy as the previous Disc. The colors look good and the depth is fine. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track sounds good, but doesn't have as much as presence as the track on Disc 1.
The extras on Disc 2 open with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Ivan Raimi. "On-set Video Footage Compilation" (5 minutes) features various shots of scenes in production. "Creating the Deadites Featurette" (22 minutes) is a 2010 piece hosted by Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, which features interviews with the two and a lot of footage from the KNB workshop showing the creation of the monsters from the film. "Behind-the-Scenes Footage from KNB Effects" (54 minutes) is simply a reel of "fly on the wall" footage which takes us on-location to see the movie being made. At one point, Sam Raimi grabs the camera and begins to interview people. "Vintage "Making of" Featurette" (5 minutes) is a brief EPK from 1993. "Extended Interview Clips" (5 minutes) has comments from Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert discussing the film.
Disc 3 offers the International Cut of the film which runs 88 minutes. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. Like the other transfers, this one shows what is clearly unavoidable grain, but the picture is sharp and clear otherwise. The colors look fine and the picture is never overly dark. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps.
The extras on Disc 3 don't beat around the bush, as they open with the "Television Version". Framed at 1.33:1 and running at 93 minutes, this offers yet another cut of this movie. "The Men Behind the Army" (19 minutes) is yet another profile of KNB from the past. Narrated by Campbell, it shows the making of the film's makeup effects. We get the INTERNATIONAL THEATRICAL TRAILER, "Storyboards" (8 minutes) for four scenes, and two STILL GALLERIES of behind-the-scenes and prop photos.
Review Copyright 2009/2015 by Mike Long