Army of Darkness: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (26th November 2015).
The Film

Alright, you primitive screwheads, listen up! This… is… probably the most definitive edition of “Army of Darkness” (1992) that will ever be released, and it’s for damn sure a massive upgrade over every home video edition since the movie left theaters. The timing of this release could not be better, with Sam Raimi’s seminal series back in the news due to the premiere of “Ash vs. Evil Dead” (2015- ), an all-new television show that picks up with hero Ashley “Ash” J. Williams (Bruce Campbell) twenty-three years after he was last seen on screens. So, what better time to milk the series’ dedicated fanbase than right now? Let’s face it, you bought the VHS. Maybe you had the LaserDisc. And then came DVD; with it, the Limited Edition, Theatrical Cut, Director’s Cut, Bootleg Edition and Boomstick Edition. If you’re a real nerd, you also bought the R3 Hong Kong DVD of the director’s cut because the extra footage was sourced from 35mm instead of the U.S. release which used clips from 1/16” tape. Once a Blu-ray edition finally arrived a couple years ago (Screwhead Edition), it contained only the theatrical cut, featured weak picture quality and few extras. Enter (who else?) Scream Factory, pulling together a release that should satisfy all but the most nitpicking of fans.

Does anyone need a recap of the film? “Army of Darkness” has long been in that upper echelon of horror films you need to watch as soon as you have an awareness of horror films. I saw it in theaters when I was eleven and it blew my mind. Raimi’s follow-up to the splatter classic “Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn” (1987) is a medieval fantasy, featuring a full-scale war between the living and the dead with Ash right in the thick of the action. After plopping down in 14th century London, Ash is promptly captured and sent to the pit by the order of Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert). But thanks to his boomstick, chainsaw hand and an old wiseman (Ian Abercrombie), he makes it out alive and shows himself to be the Chosen One. His duty: retrieve the Necronomicon (after saying a few words) and they’ll send him back to his time. He has to speak the words precisely, though, or the army of the dead will awaken and wage war on the living. This is very important so, naturally, Ash gives it his best – basically – and, well, the film isn’t called “Army of Darkness” because he got it right.

“Army of Darkness” is a love letter to Ray Harryhausen, old horror pictures, and slapstick comedy that it isn’t easy to classify – and that’s a part of its secret to endurance. Raimi did something ambitious and different, all with studio backing (more or less), and he really did make something special. The comedy does get a little tiresome at times (I’ve always found the mini-Ashes to be annoying) but Raimi does strike a pretty perfect balance between horror, humor, fantasy and heroics. Nothing was done with computers; this is all ingenuity and practical effects, matte paintings, camera trickery and old-school techniques. Campbell is fully in his element, doling out one-liners with the same ease as when he’s lopping off heads with a chainsaw. It would have been great to see him in a fourth film, still in his prime. There’s a lot of greatness surrounding him, too - Evil Ash provides the perfect foil, the supporting cast is solid, the story moves at a quick pace and the film’s FX work is superb. Seriously, the film’s FX team (which includes Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero and Tony Gardner) produced so many impressive pieces here it’s overwhelming. The stop-motion skeletons alone are a work of art. As much it sometimes feels like this movie is overplayed (I think of it as “The Big Lebowski” (1998) of horror) watching it again is a reminder that, yes, it is that good.

So you’re a fan of the film, but the real question is: which cut? There are four from which to choose – the theatrical version, director’s cut, international cut and the television version. It’s well known that Raimi was forced to make cuts to create the theatrical edit, and the sixteen-minute longer director’s cut is his preferred version, but most fans likely spent years watching the theatrical cut. So it holds merit. Different versions feature different takes and different one-liners from Ash. The director’s cut has a lot of great footage added back in, except (in my opinion) for the ending. Ash waking up in a post-apocalyptic London isn’t nearly as satisfying as the S-Mart ending. If you’re ok with getting only some of that director’s cut footage, maybe try the international version, which runs eight minutes longer than the theatrical cut and retains the S-Mart ending. For those who want to know the exact differences, check out this link.

Video

Four versions, four differences in picture quality. First off, the good news – the international cut has been minted from a new 4K scan of the interpositive and it is the best looking of the bunch. There is still some dirt on the print, and the film’s many optical shots are soft, grainy and generally a bit rough, but this is unquestionably the best I’ve ever seen the film look. Colors, in particular, appear richly saturated and vibrant. Detail, too, is strong overall with close-ups yielding very nice details.

As some fans might recall, Universal’s Blu-ray of the theatrical cut got blasted for being slathered with DNR and looking too waxy; it wasn’t very filmic. While Scream Factory may not have created a new remaster for this release, it has been heavily rumored they spliced in every bit of the international cut when possible, resulting in a picture that is mostly culled from a 4K source. It’s a clear improvement over Universal’s disc.

The director’s cut lists no technical information, though it seems likely Scream sourced this from the same master used for the R3 DVD all those years ago (i.e. 35mm, not tape). There are still obvious variations in quality when scenes jump to the additional footage, but it isn’t so glaring as on previous home video editions. This would be my ideal cut of the film were it not for the ending.

Finally, the television cut. It’s full-frame, interlaced at 1080i, jittery and will only serve as a curiosity – at best – for most fans buying this set.

Audio

TV cut aside, every version of the movie features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track (48kHz/24-bit). The sound here is rich, with rears being used nicely to fill out the sound field and create a pleasing sense of immersion. Dialogue comes through clean and well-balanced amongst the plethora of effects present in most scenes. The score, composed mainly by Joseph LoDuca with contributions from Danny Elfman, sounds full and impressive in lossless audio. The compositions are the perfect complement to the film. All cuts also include an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

Given the prestige of a title such as “Army of Darkness”, and given Scream Factory’s proclivity for lavish Collector’s Editions, it should come as no surprise this 3-disc set is absolutely stuffed with extra features, many of which will be new to fans. Included here is an audio commentary, feature-length making-of documentary, several featurettes, theatrical trailers, interviews, still galleries and more.

DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut

“Medieval Times: The Making of “Army of Darkness”” (1080p) is a documentary that runs for 96 minutes and 35 seconds. Much of the film’s cast & crew are interviewed here, though it’s Campbell who takes center stage and owns the show. This is partially because he’s that kind of guy, and also because Sam Raimi and Embeth Davidtz declined to participate. Still, Campbell regales with his usual comedic tales from the trenches, while others discuss their own respective roles on the film. Lots of ground is covered here, though much of it is redundant if you’re a fan with any familiarity as to how this movie was made. Some judicious editing could have turned this into a tight one-hour piece. Still, it’s damn comprehensive.

Original ending (1080i) runs for 4 minutes and 37 seconds, this appears as the actual ending on Raimi’s director’s cut. Ash, having taken one too many sleepytime drops, wakes up to a post-apocalyptic London.

Alternate opening (1080i) runs for 2 minutes and 58 seconds, Ash provides a different recap of the events prior to this film. Optional audio commentary with Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell is available.

Deleted scenes (1080i) runs for 11 minutes and 6 seconds, the footage here comes from three key scenes – the film’s opening, Ash at the windmill, and a final meeting between Ash and Henry the Red. Optional audio commentary with Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell is available.

The film’s theatrical trailer (1080i) runs for 2 minutes and 5 seconds, featuring an odd instrumental rework of Metallica’s “Sad But True”.

Two TV spots (1080p) are included, running for 1 minute and 56 seconds.

A U.S. video promo (1080p) runs for 32 seconds.

DISC TWO: Director’s Cut

The only audio commentary here is unsurprisingly featured on this cut, featuring director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell and co-writer Ivan Raimi. If you have ever heard these guys (specifically Sam & Bruce) on a commentary, you’ll know how much fun it is to hear their tales. If not, correct that issue at once by playing the film with this informative, lively, often hilarious track.

“On-Set Video Footage Compilation” (1080p) featurette runs for 4 minutes and 40 seconds, these are quick clips of some behind-the-scenes footage from the film.

“Creating the Deadites” (1080i) featurette runs for 21 minutes and 29 seconds. KNB honchos Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero introduce this piece, which is comprised of their own personal camcorder footage, shot in the KNB studios while prep on the film’s FX took place.

“Behind-the-Scenes Footage from KNB Effects” (1080i) featurette runs for 53 minutes and 54 seconds. Just as the title says, this is lots of unedited footage shot by the guys in KNB, showcasing the film’s FX work.

“Vintage Making-Of” (1080p) featurette runs for 4 minutes and 51 seconds. This is essentially just a studio EPK providing an overview of the film.

Extended interview clips (1080p) runs for 5 minutes and 2 seconds. These archival clips have a few more words with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert.

DISC THREE: International Cut

The big bonus here is the film’s Television Version, presented in 1.33:1, 1080i, with no chapter stops. A quick sampling of this cut showed it is rough, often jerky (frame rate issue?) and likely only worth a watch to those who might have grown up watching this on cable.

An "International" theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 8 seconds.

Still galleries with rare behind-the-scenes photos (1080p) runs for 28 minutes and 16 seconds, containing 339 images.

Still gallery of props & rare photos (1080p) runs for 4 minutes and 5 seconds, containing 49 images.

A gallery of storyboards (1080p) runs for 7 minutes and 37 seconds, containing 57 images.

“The Men Behind the Army” (1080i) is a featurette that runs for 18 minutes and 58 seconds, this carryover from the old Anchor Bay theatrical cut DVD is a vintage making-of piece.

Finally, a special thanks (1080p) lists off those who contributed to this new Blu-ray edition.

Packaging

The three-disc set comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case, with a swinging hinge holding discs one and two, while the third sits in the usual location. The cover art is reversible. A slip-cover is included on first pressings.

Overall

“Army of Darkness” is a veritable, venerable classic of the genre; one of the best. As Ash puts it in the film, “Hail to the king, baby!”

The Film: A- Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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