Army of Darkness (Steelbook Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Nov 12, 2018
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Army of Darkness (Steelbook Blu-ray Review)

Director

Sam Raimi

Release Date(s)

1990 (August 14, 2018)

Studio(s)

Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: A+

Army of Darkness (Steelbook Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

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 the adventures of Ash going up against the Deadites would continue at some point down the road. For Army of Darkness (or simply Evil Dead III as it was originally titled), they struck a deal with Universal Pictures for financing and distribution, whereas the previous films had been released somewhat independently with complete creative control. For them, it was a different ballgame altogether when the studio asked that they make changes to the finished film after some initial test screenings. Several sequences were shortened, additional scenes were shot, and a new beginning and ending were concocted. It all resulted in a movie that was more of an action/adventure romp than a straight up horror film, or even a horror comedy for that matter.

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. Evil Dead II exists solely because of the mild bit of controversy that surrounded the original film, particularly in the U.K. where Sam Raimi was taken to task for it, even being brought in to testify for it. Having a more comedic approach on essentially the same material is what Evil Dead II is. Army of Darkness, however, pulls out all of the stops.

The film was also not a hit when it was initially released, but thanks to home video and repeated cable airings throughout the years, it became a cult favorite. It was such an aftermarket success that Universal allowed Anchor Bay Entertainment to release a director’s cut of it 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 thrill ride that came before it. It may have been a more befitting end for a “loud-mouth braggart” like Ash, but it clashes with the film’s overall tone, so I’m glad that it was changed. One thing’s for sure though: if that decision hadn’t been made, we might not have gotten the Ash vs Evil Dead TV series. So yes, I’ll take the theatrical version please.

Scream Factory have managed to acquire four different cuts of the film: the theatrical, the director’s cut, the international, and the TV versions. As far as the content of the different versions, the theatrical is the most straight-to-the-point version with hardly any of the fat leftover. The director’s cut is much longer with many sequences extended, as well as the aforementioned original ending. The international version plays more like the theatrical version, but utilizes moments from the director’s cut, including the reinstitution of a 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. The TV version is a pan and scan presentation with most of the bad language taken out and some of the deleted scenes put 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 quite watchable, but it wasn’t intended to be a high definition presentation, so I won’t bother analyzing it.

As for the image quality of the other versions, the theatrical version has been ported over from the Universal vaults, and for good reason. It’s a strong presentation with beautiful color reproduction. Grain levels aren’t as even from scene to scene as they could be, but detail is impressive. It also appears to be a little bit too sharp, with softness appearing mostly during opticals or transitions. Black levels aren’t completely deep because of the uneven grain, but brightness and contrast levels are quite acceptable. There’s also some leftover debris from time to time, again more apparent during opticals or reused footage from Evil Dead II, but they boil down to minor scratches and speckling. Also, the edge enhancement and heavy DNR found on the original Universal Blu-ray release is not present, neither are any other digital alterations. It’s clean, clear, and less problematic, lacking the minor frame sync issues of the original Scream Factory release.

The director’s cut’s image quality fairs much, much better than it did in the past. For the original Anchor Bay DVD release, substandard footage was inserted into the theatrical version (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 cleaner and more polished version was available. It isn’t completely perfect as grain levels from scene to scene are probably more uneven than any other version in this set, but 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 in this collection. Scream Factory has utilized a transfer straight from an interpositive print in 4K resolution for this version. It features many of the same characteristics, 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 isn’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 with optional subtitles in English SDH, and both tracks are satisfactory. Dialogue is always clean and clear, only occasionally slipping due to being overcrowded with noise, particularly during the final battle at the end. Sound effects plenty of impact, especially ambient activity. When Ash is being chased through the woods or moving through the cemetery, dynamic range from speaker to speaker is properly showcased. Score also has plenty of heft, and mixes in well without distortion issues. Some nice uses of LFE pops up from time to time as well – again, quite effective during the end battle.

THEATRICAL VERSION (FILM/AUDIO): A/A
DIRECTOR’S CUT (FILM/AUDIO): A-/A
INTERNATIONAL VERSION (FILM/AUDIO): A/A

There’s also a massive amount of supplemental material 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 stuff to check out as well. On Disc One, which contains the original theatrical version of the film, you get Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness, a 96-minute documentary by Red Shirt Pictures on the making of the film, containing interviews with many of the people involved with the production, including actors Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Timothy Quill, Richard Grove, Bill Moseley, Patricia Tallman, 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, 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; 5 TV spots; and a home video promo.

On Disc Two, which contains the director’s cut of the film, there’s a 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 Three, which contains the international version of the film, you get the aforementioned TV version; the international theatrical trailer; a 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 still gallery featuring props and other rare photos from super fan Dennis Carter, Jr.; a set of storyboards for deleted and alternate scenes; the vintage The Men Behind the Army featurette; and a set of special thanks credits. All of this material is house in beautiful Steelbook packaging that’s limited to 10,000 copies, so get one while you can.

It should be infinitely clear by now that Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition and Steelbook releases of Army of Darkness are, bar none, the definitive releases of the film. They both come highly recommended to primitive screwheads everywhere!

– Tim Salmons

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