Army of Darkness (Steelbook) (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jan 19, 2023
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Army of Darkness (Steelbook) (4K UHD Review)

Director

Sam Raimi

Release Date(s)

1990 (October 4, 2022)

Studio(s)

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

Army of Darkness (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!

Review

After the cult success that director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell, and producer Robert Tapert had with the previous Evil Dead films, it was only natural that the adventures of Ash going up against the Deadites would continue. For Army of Darkness (Evil Dead III, for those keeping count), they struck a deal with Universal Pictures for financing and distribution, whereas the previous films had been released somewhat independently with more creative control. For them, it was a different ballgame when the studio asked them to make changes to the 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 film that was more of an action/adventure romp than straight up horror, 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 UK where Sam Raimi was taken to task for it, even being brought in to testify in court for it (nothing ever came of it). Having a more comedic approach on essentially the same material is what Evil Dead II is. Army of Darkness, however, pulls out all the stops.

Army of Darkness 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 Cut more. The original ending, which involves Ash accidentally sleeping too long and waking up in a dead world, just doesn’t seem to jibe with the campy 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 overall tone. One thing’s for sure: if that decision hadn’t been made, we might not have gotten the Ash vs Evil Dead TV series.

Four versions of the film currently exist: the Theatrical Cut, the Director’s Cut, the International Cut, and the TV Cut. The Theatrical Cut gets straight to the point with hardly any fat leftover, and is by far the shortest version of all. The Director’s Cut is much longer with many extended sequences, as well as the aforementioned original ending. The International Cut plays more like the Theatrical Cut, but also utilizes moments from the Director’s Cut, including the re-institution of a love scene, an extended Bad Ash antagonization and burial scene, an extended cemetery scene, and many, but not all, of the alternate lines of dialogue and footage during the end battle. The windmill scene is more truncated than any other version, and the ending is the same as the Theatrical Cut. The TV Cut is a standard definition 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 watchable, but it was never intended to be presented as a high definition presentation.

Army of Darkness was shot by cinematographer Bill Pope on 35 mm film using Arriflex and Clairmont cameras and lenses, and finished photochemically at the aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which was subsequently matted to 1.85:1 for theatrical distribution. Scream Factory returns for a third time with the film, having previously released Collector’s Edition and Steelbook Blu-ray packages. Their Ultra HD comes armed with a new 4K scan of the original camera negative for the Theatrical Cut, graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included) with the final approval of Sam Raimi, Bill Pope, and editor Bob Murawski. The Director’s and International Cuts are the same transfers and Blu-ray discs as the previous releases, likely prohibited by cost or rights issues. Nevertheless, the Theatrical Cut of Army of Darkness looks spectacular in 4K. It’s a very organic and film-like presentation with minimal but well-attenuated grain and a mostly high bitrate. Textures are enhanced greatly, though opticals are much more apparent. Thankfully, as opposed to the previous films, the effects haven’t been tampered with digitally. For instance, the close-up shot of an arrow during the beginning of the film is still equipped with wires, which are more visible now... this is NOT a flaw (the same goes for the many wires during the end battle). Thanks to the new HDR grades, color and contrast are improved, giving hues a richer appearance with more natural flesh tones and deep blacks. The image is also stable with only minor speckling leftover. The second disc of this set presents the Theatrical Cut on Blu-ray, and it too features the same new scan.

As for the image quality of the other versions, the Director’s Cut’s fares much, much better than it did in the past. For the original Anchor Bay DVD release(s), substandard footage was inserted into the Theatrical Cut (for comparison, see the alternate opening and ending on the second disc, which is equivalent to its former quality). It isn’t perfect as grain from scene to scene is more uneven than any other version, but it’s otherwise watchable. The International Cut is the best looking version on Blu-ray outside of the Theatrical Cut. It features many of the same characteristics, including the color timing, but grain is much more refined. Contrast and brightness levels are slightly lower and black levels are improved with much more detail on display.

Audio is included for all versions in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. There isn’t much of a difference between the three versions in this capacity. 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 have plenty of impact, especially ambient moments. When Ash is being chased through the woods or moving through the cemetery, speaker to speaker activity is appropriately showcased. Score has plenty of heft to it and mixes in well without distortion issues. There are also some nice uses of LFE, which pop up from time to time, particularly during the end battle.

THEATRICAL CUT – UHD (VIDEO/AUDIO): A/A
THEATRICAL CUT – BD (VIDEO/AUDIO): A/A
DIRECTOR’S CUT – BD (VIDEO/AUDIO): A-/A
INTERNATIONAL CUT – BD (VIDEO/AUDIO): A/A

The Collector’s Edition of Army of Darkness on 4K Ultra HD sits in attractive Steelbook packaging with artwork by Devon Whitehead alongside three 1080p Blu-rays devoted to the various versions of the film plus extras. A standard edition with a slipcover featuring the original theatrical artwork is also available. Those extras include the following:

DISC ONE: THEATRICAL CUT (UHD)

None.

DISC TWO: THEATRICAL CUT (BD)

  • Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness (HD – 96:34)
  • Original Ending with Commentary by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell (SD – 4:37)
  • Alternate Opening with Optional Commentary by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell (SD – 2:58)
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell (SD – 3 in all – 11:06)
  • Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:03)
  • TV Spots (Upscaled SD – 5 in all – 1:54)
  • US Video Promo (Upscaled SD – :32)

DISC THREE: DIRECTOR’S CUT (BD)

  • Audio Commentary with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Ivan Raimi
  • On-Set Video Footage Compilation (Upscaled SD – 4:40)
  • Creating the Deadites (SD – 21:29)
  • Behind-the-Scenes Footage (SD – 53:54)
  • Vintage Making Of (SD – 4:51)
  • Extended Interview Clips (SD – 10 in all – 5:02)

DISC FOUR: INTERNATIONAL CUT (BD)

  • TV Version (SD – 93:03)
  • International Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:08)
  • Rare Behind-the-Scenes Photos Gallery (HD – 332 in all – 28:16)
  • Props and Rare Photos Gallery (HD – 46 in all – 4:05)
  • Storyboards Gallery (HD – 56 in all – 7:37)
  • The Men Behind the Army (SD – 18:58)
  • Special Thanks (HD – :50)

There’s a massive amount of supplemental material to dig though. Disc One contains no extras but Disc Two features Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness, a great documentary by Red Shirt Pictures on the making of the film. 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, 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, the latter two with optional audio commentary by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell (the original ending features the commentary only).

Disc Three features 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 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. Disc Four contains the aforementioned TV Cut; 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.

It’s too bad that all versions of Army of Darkness couldn’t get the same kind of treatment as the Theatrical Cut, but even so, this is still a fine set. And the quality of the UHD presentation is definitely worth the upgrade. It’s not definitive, but it still comes highly recommended to primitive screwheads everywhere.

- Tim Salmons

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)

 

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