Release Date(s)1990 (October 27, 2015)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A+
- Overall Grade: A+
All right you primitive screwheads, listen up! This is my review of Scream Factory’s fantastic new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release of Army of Darkness! I’m a huge fan of this movie, and the movies that came before it, so I was beside myself with joy when I learned that Scream Factory was able to get their hands on it. I was confident they’d do everything within their power to make it a memorable release, and I wasn’t mistaken. We’ll get into its contents soon, but for now, let’s discuss the movie a little for those who might not be familiar with it.
Evil Dead and Evil Dead II told the story of Ash, a blow-hard charmer who ventures to a cabin deep in the wilderness with his girlfriend for a romantic weekend. Once there, they discover that a professor has been using the cabin to translate cryptic passages from the “Necronomicon Ex-Mortis” (roughly translated: “Book of the Dead”). These passages awoke evil entities in the woods known as the Deadites, which came for Ash’s girlfriend, and then for him. But before it can possess him completely, Ash managed to read a passage from the book which opened a portal in time that could take the evil away. After he is accidentally sucked through the portal, he winds up in the middle ages where the Deadites are wreaking havoc upon King Arthur and his constituents, which is where Army of Darkness picks up. Toting his trusty boomstick and chainsaw, Ash takes on the Deadites, as well as Evil Ash, as the army of the dead comes knocking on the gates of the King’s castle. They intend to recapture the book for their own evil desires and to kill everyone inside, but not while Ash is standing in their way.
After the cult success that director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell, and producer Robert Tapert had with the previous Evil Dead movies, it was only natural that further adventures of Ash going up against the Deadites would emerge sometime down the road. For the third film, they struck a deal with Universal Pictures for financing and distribution, which wound up being a slight detriment to the final product. The previous films had been released independently with complete creative control (as well as causing a bit of controversy in some areas of the world), so it was a different ballgame altogether when the studio asked the group to make changes to the film after some initial test screenings. Several sequences were shortened, additional scenes were shot, a new beginning and ending were concocted, and the film’s title was changed from Evil Dead III to Army of Darkness. It was a process within the studio system that the group wasn’t accustomed to, except for Raimi who had just gone through it with Universal on Darkman. It all resulted in a movie that was more of an action/adventure romp than a straight up horror movie, or even a horror comedy for that matter.
Army of Darkness wasn’t a hit when it was originally released, but thanks to home video and repeated cable airings throughout the years, it became a cult smash, and is arguably the most widely-seen entry in the Evil Dead trilogy. It was such a cult success that Universal allowed Anchor Bay Entertainment to release a Director’s Cut version of the movie on DVD... many times over. Personally, I prefer the theatrical version more than the Director’s Cut. The original ending, which involves Ash accidentally sleeping too long and waking up in a dead world, just doesn’t seem to jive with the romp that came before it. It may have been a more befitting end for a “loud-mouth braggart” like Ash, but it clashes with the overall tone of the movie. So I’m with the studio’s decision on that one. One thing’s for sure though: if that decision hadn’t been made, we might not have gotten the upcoming Ash vs. Evil Dead TV series. So yes, I’ll take the theatrical version please.
And while it’s true that the Evil Dead series became more and more campy over time, it felt like an organic transition. Most horror franchises tend to get more laughable as they go on, whether they’re intended to or not. I also believe that Evil Dead II exists solely because of the controversy that surrounded the original film. Sam Raimi was made to answer for its content, especially in the U.K. It’s also very possible that it may feel like somewhat of an embarrassment to him sometimes, as well. Having a more comedic take on essentially the same material is what Evil Dead II is. Army of Darkness, however, pulls out all of the stops. It really is just a big, silly romp. It’s also an all-time fan favorite, and if you’re reading this review, chances are extremely likely that you’re one of those fans. And since we’ve gotten this far, let’s get into the nitty gritty of this release.
Scream Factory has managed to acquire four different versions of the movie: the theatrical version, the Director’s Cut, the international version, and the TV version. The latter is a pan and scan version with most of the language taken out and some of the deleted scenes cut back in. It’s a unique version of the film, to be sure, but there’s no need to critique its visual quality. It’s very watchable, but it was never intended to be a fourth high definition presentation, so I won’t bother analyzing it. As far as the content within the different versions of the movie, the theatrical version is the most straight-to-the-point version without hardly any of the fat. The Director’s Cut is much longer with many sequences extended, and also includes the aforementioned original ending. The international version plays more like the theatrical version, but utilizes some moments from the Director’s Cut, including the reinstitution of the love scene, the extended Bad Ash antagonization and burial scene, the extended cemetery scene, and many, but not all, of the alternate lines of dialogue and footage during the end battle. The windmill scene is also more truncated than any other version, and the ending is the same as the theatrical version. That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell.
As for image quality, the theatrical version has been ported over from the Universal vaults, and for good reason. It’s a very strong presentation with beautiful color reproduction. Grain levels aren’t as even from scene to scene as they could be, but detail is very impressive. It also appears to be a little bit too sharp, with softness appearing mostly during opticals or transitions. Black levels aren’t completely smooth from scene to scene because of the uneven grain levels, but brightness and contrast levels are very acceptable. There’s also some leftover film artifacts from time to time, again more apparent during opticals and reused footage from Evil Dead II, but they boil down to minor scratches and black speckling. Also, the edge enhancement and the heavy use of DNR found on the original Universal Blu-ray release is not present in this transfer, nor are any other digital alterations. It’s very clean, clear, and less problematic, overall. [Reviewer’s Note: Problems with missing footage have come to light and are being addressed by Scream Factory – see the Additional Notes below.]
The Director’s Cut’s image quality fairs much, much better than it did in the past. For the original Anchor Bay release, substandard footage was inserted into the theatrical print (for comparison, see the alternate opening and ending on the first disc, which is equivalent to its former quality). Although this seems to be a port of a transfer from original elements, it appears that a clean and more polished version was available. It isn’t completely perfect though, as grain levels from scene to scene are probably more uneven than any other version in this set. Still, the rest appears to be the same as the theatrical version in all other respects.
The international version, on the other hand, is the best looking version of the film in this set. Scream Factory utilized a transfer straight from an interpositive print in 4K resolution for this version. It features many of the same characteristics as the other versions, including the color timing, but film grain is much more refined from scene to scene. Contrast and brightness levels are slightly lower and black levels are also improved remarkably, with much more detail on display. It’s virtually perfect.
As for the audio on all three versions, there wasn’t much in the way of difference between each of them. You have the option of either English 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD sound, and both are very satisfactory. Dialogue is always clean and clear with occasional slipping away due to the tracks being overcrowded with noise, particularly during the final battle at the end of the movie. Sound effects have a lot of impact, particularly ambience. The scenes wherein Ash is being chased through the woods or moving through the cemetery showcase the dynamic range from speaker to speaker. Score also has plenty of heft, and mixes in well with the proceedings. There’s also some nice use of LFE from time to time – again, very effective during the end battle. And for those who might need the, there are subtitles available in English on all versions.
Theatrical Cut (Video/Audio): A/A
Director’s Cut (Video/Audio): A-/A
International Cut (Video/Audio): A+/A
Besides the four different versions of the film, you also get a massive amount of supplemental materials to dig though. Not only is everything carried over from the myriad of releases of the film on both DVD and Blu-ray from both Anchor Bay and Universal, but there’s also some great new material to check out as well. It should be noted right up front that Sam Raimi has chosen not to take part in any of the new material. Also absent are producer Robert Tapert and actresses Embeth Davidtz & Bridget Fonda. It’s a bummer that these people chose not to be involved with this release, but there are a great number of fresh faces that I think you’ll be more than pleased with seeing and hearing from. That all being said, let’s go through this material, disc by disc.
On Disc 1, which contains the original U.S. theatrical version of the film, you get a brand-spanking new documentary on the making of the film entitled Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness, which runs about 96 minutes long. It contains interviews with many of the people involved with the production, including actors Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Timothy Quill, Richard Grove, Bill Moseley, Patricia Tallman, and Angela Featherstone; director of photography Bill Pope; editor Bob Murawski; production designer Anthony Tremblay; music composer Joseph LoDuca; costume designer Ida Gearon; special make-up effects artists Howard Berger, Tony Gardner, Robert Kurtzman, and Greg Nicotero; “Pit Bitch” performer and effects artist William Bryan; mechanical effects artist Gary Jones; first assistant director John Cameron; visual effects supervisor William Mesa; and last but not least, stunt coordinator Christopher Doyle. Also included is the original ending, the original opening, and a set of deleted scenes, all with optional audio commentary by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell; the original theatrical trailer; a set of TV spots; and a U.S. home video promo.
On Disc 2, which includes the Director’s Cut of the film, there’s the vintage audio commentary with Raimi, Campbell, and co-writer Ivan Raimi; a compilation of on-set video footage; the vintage Creating the Deadites featurette; an hour’s worth of newly-included, additional behind-the-scenes footage from KNB Effects; a vintage Making Of featurette; and a set of extended interview clips with Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert.
On Disc 3, which includes the new-to-the-states international version of the film, you get the aforementioned never-before-released on home video TV version of the film; the international theatrical trailer; a new set of still galleries with behind-the-scenes photos from production designer Anthony Tremblay, visual effects supervisor William Mesa, special make-up effects artist Tony Gardner, and KNB EFX, Inc.; another new still gallery featuring props and other rare photos from super fan Dennis Carter Jr.; a new set of storyboards for deleted and alternate scenes; the vintage The Men Behind the Army featurette; and a special thanks set of credits from Scream Factory themselves.
It should be infinitely clear now that Scream Factory’s release of Army of Darkness: Collector’s Edition is, bar none, the definitive release of the film in not just this country, but on every home video front across the globe. With every version of the movie, all of the previous extras, and new ones collected in one package, this is absolutely one of THE must-own releases of the year, nearly without equal.
My hope for the future of the Evil Dead series is that Scream Factory might get to acquire the upcoming Ash vs. Evil Dead series, along with the other Evil Dead movies, including the remake. I know they’ve been released ad infinitum on home video previously, but given the amount of care and effort that went into this release of Army of Darkness, I’d gladly pay money for a U.S. boxed set release of all of the Evil Dead movies under one banner, with all of the previous extras and some new ones as well. If anyone can do it, Scream Factory certainly can.
Regardless, this release is highly recommended to primitive screwheads everywhere... groovy!
- Tim Salmons