Army of Darkness: Screwhead Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Roger Nicholl & Noor Razzak (27th September 2009).
The Film

"Army of Darkness" is one of those movies you might consider your favorite, even if you don't consider it one of the best you've seen. It's a ridiculously entertaining combination of slapstick comedy, horror, medieval adventure, and tough guy action. The main character Ash (Bruce Campbell) is the main reason it's so much fun. He's both a kick ass, wise-cracking hero and a hapless put-upon adventurer. He has charisma, and a ton of quotable one-liners; a case of a great character played by an actor who can truly carry a movie. Overall, the movie isn't the greatest, but it's a ton of fun.

Though the title doesn't say it, this is actually a sequel to "The Evil Dead" (1981) and "Evil Dead II" (1987). The first couple of minutes give as much of a recap as you need to get into the third one, which isn't much. Where we come in Ash has been sucked back in time to medieval England by a force he unleashed at the end of "Evil Dead II". And that's all you need to know to get started.
Ash is taken captive by Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), who believes he's an ally of his enemy Henry the Red (Richard Grove). He gets taken back to Arthur's castle and thrown into a demon-infested pit. Luckily he has a chainsaw for a hand, and battles his way out. After calling them all "primitive screwheads" and threatening them with his shotgun, they realise he's the hero of prophecy who's come to save them from the Deadites.

He hooks up with Sheila (Embeth Davidtz) by using the immortal line "give me some sugar, baby". And then he heads off to retrieve the Necronomicon, a book with the power to defeat the Deadites, from a haunted graveyard. On the way he manages to spawn an evil twin who, when Ash messes up the incantation needed to take the Necronomicon, comes back to lead the army of Deadites (basically skeletons and guys in padded foam) against Arthur.

Story-wise, there were a few things that bugged me. For example, I didn't quite buy why Evil Ash wanted to attack Arthur to retrieve the Necronomicon so badly, it had just been sitting on a pedestal in the graveyard before without anyone seeming too keen on it. And, despite the fact that the book is useless to the villagers (except to send Ash back to the future) why were they defending it with their lives? In theory it's because it contains the power to help the Deadites rule the world, but that just leads back to the question of why the Deadites just left it sitting around the graveyard on a pedestal anyway.

Which may sound like the sort of griping you shouldn't make about this kind of movie, but I think it is a big reason why the first half is a lot stronger than the second half. The attack by the army of the Deadites doesn't exactly fall flat, but there's nothing invested in it. At the start Ash is going places, making jokes, questing. But then he isn't in it as much, there's comedy skeletons and a battle that doesn't seem to mean much.

But the movie is so damn funny that it can kind of glide past this. Aside from Ash's great one-liners, the majority of the physical gags are Three Stooges-inspired. It's almost like Sam Raimi really wanted to make a "Three Stooges" movie, had a successful franchise, so found a sneaky way to get funding for it. They do a pretty good job of replicating a "Three Stooges" short, the gags are a real mixed bag. There are some great ones, and there are some that are just silly. But, overall "Army of Darkness" pulls it off because it's so good natured, and Ash is such a likeable character.

This Blu-ray edition released by Universal includes only the film in it's "Theatrical Cut" version.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.85:1 this image is in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and mastered in VC-1 compression. This film has been released so many times that I've lost count, but one thing's certain it's that only one edition in my opinion has had a decent image transfer (that being the Region 3 Hong Kong DVD released by MGM), the previous DVD editions released by both Universal and the "Director's Cut" editions released by Anchor Bay suffered from numerous problems, and were mastered from questionable sources. I can't be certain what Universal's source was for this image transfer but it does have its fair share of problems. The image is noticeably brighter than previous DVD editions, colors look much more rich but the image suffers from some digital noise reduction (DNR) and it's quite noticeable on textures, for example complexions look waxy and unreal, grain has been removed to create a polished look but it actually does a disservice to the image as the film's inherent grain that adds texture and weight is all but gone aside from low-lit and night scenes where some grain is evident. There are yet more problems that include edge-enhancement, which is particularly annoying. The plus side is that the image is sharp and mostly clean, there are some instances of dirt and specs but it's not obtrusive, overall it's a slight improvement over the previous DVD editions, but it will disappoint cinephiles, hopefully a better edition is released with the longer cut and a full remaster and restoration is created from the original source negatives.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included here in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixed at 48kHz/24-bit lossless as well as a Spanish DTS 5.1 surround track and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio which is likely the film's original audio track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD audio, this lossless track is much better than the image and presents the film with a nicely aggressive and mostly immersive track (although it's not as complex and deep as most modern film soundtracks). Dialogue is clear and distortion free, ambiance and environmental surrounds are well represented, action scenes feel well rounded and robust and the music makes good use of the sound space. Overall it's a good track, that could use a bit more power behind it.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Universal has released this "Screwhead Edition" with a light collection of extras, they include a featurette, an alternate ending, theatrical trailer plus some exclusive extras by way of a "U-Control" interactive feature, BD-Live access and bookmarks. Below is a closer look at these scant supplements.

"Creating the Deadites" is a featurette which runs for 21 minutes 29 seconds and is a cool little clip that takes a look at the film's special effects. The clip takes a retrospective look back and provides a taster for fans and features special effects makeup artists Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero of KNB Effects. While it's a decent clip, I think it's about time fans got a much more in-depth look at the making of this film, after the numerous releases we've put up with over the years I think we're entitled to it...

Next up is the film's alternate ending which runs for 4 minutes 42 seconds, this is the ending that Raimi was basically told to change, it's a much more bleak ending and good of the studio to include it here, although it could use an audio commentary from Raimi.

The disc also includes the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 3 seconds.

There are some Blu-ray exclusive extras on this disc and they include:

The "U-Control" feature is accessible on profile 1.1 players or greater and is a "Behind-the-scenes production photos" interactive track, here you can watch the film and some production photos are accessible to view.

You can also connect online via the BD-Live access for profile 2.0 players only, here you can log onto the Universal portal and download additional content.

Finally you can use the "MyScenes" feature to bookmark your favorite scenes.

Overall

I heartily recommend watching "Army of Darkness". For one thing, you need to see Ash in action to be a culturally well-rounded person. And there really aren't many (or any) other movies quite like it. Maybe it won't get on your top ten list, but like me, you'll probably end up watching it far more often than any of the movies that are.

The Film: B Video: D Audio: B+ Extras: C- Overall: C-

 


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