ARMY OF DARKNESS - Blu-ray review

This release is so good compared to the HD-DVD version that you should pitch the HD-DVD disc into the trash and not allow others to suffer through it.

DeanWink

Franchises in the horror genre live and die by the strengths of their villains. They are built around and survive by the primary baddie. Uncommon is it that a great horror franchise is remembered because of its hero. Sure, "Scream" has Neve Campbell, but if you think about it, the face of the killer is far more memorable. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" has Freddy Kreuger, "Friday the 13th" has the beloved Jason Vorhees and who can forget Chucky? The "Evil Dead" trilogy of films goes against the grain and presents a main character that is a hero, or best described as a hero. Sure, he may be a coward, buffoon or moron, but the character known as Ash has become one of the greats in the horror genre. He has become a cult icon that has made star Bruce Campbell one of the great B-movie actors and gave Duke Nukem' his lines.

Director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell first hit it big with the ultra-low budget "The Evil Dead." The first film was intended to be a complete gorefest with a shallow undertone of humor. "The Evil Dead" quickly become huge, especially in the video marketplace. The sequel, "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn" added some Three Stooges like slapstick and again, became very popular. With the success of the first two films, Universal Pictures decided to give Raimi and Campbell a budget and produce a third film in the trilogy. This third film was to be more comical than horrific and would change the lead character Ash from being a complete character to a man full of bravery and idiocracy. "Army of Darkness" quickly sank from theatrical screens, but through the years has joined its predecessors in the cult arena.

If you are looking for a good horror picture, then "Army of Darkness" is certainly not your cup of tea. However, if you are looking for a good time and you want to see a fun movie, then "Army of Darkness" is bound to delight you. There are some "Evil Dead" purists who reject the third picture because of its excessive slapstick and the constant change of attitude in Ashley. There is also a large following that stick to their guns that "Army of Darkness" is the best of the three and one of the greatest genre pieces of all time. The film is a tribute to the Three Stooges and Ray Harryhausen stop motion animation. "Army of Darkness" can be silly, but it is certainly entertaining.

"Army of Darkness" is a film that was created by a group of people with a very low budget, but a ton of passion. The film is fun because those who made the film enjoyed doing it enough to bring that to the big screen. The picture has some serious continuity problems here and there. The effects can either be brilliant and a wonderful homage to Mr. Harryhausen, and at other times be completely horrid. You do have to check you brain at the door to some degree, but the further adventures of Ash and his yellow car are definitely worth a look. Part of the fun of the film is just watching what is going on. Sam's brother, Ted Raimi, pulls a John Cleese and portrays many different characters. Ashes one liners are bound to please and his lack of common sense and regard to do the intelligent thing are guaranteed to deliver some solid moments of laughter.

Bruce Campbell portrays Ash, a S-Mart hardware clerk that travels with his girlfriend to an abandoned cabin for a romantic weekend. His girlfriend, portrayed by Bridget Fonda, is taken by evil from the ‘Book of the Dead.' After a long struggle, Ash reads lines that sends the evil and himself back in time. Ash is taken prisoner by a group of knights and eventually frees himself and gains the respect of his captives. His captives mistakenly believe he is some kind of chosen one and send him off to retrieve the Necronomicon. Of course, Ash screws up the magical words and all hell breaks loose. Soon Ash finds himself battling an army of skeletons led by an evil version of himself. The only way he will ever return home is to defeat the army of skeletons, save the girl and regain the respect of the local magician. Yeah, and I'm a Chinese jet pilot!

"Army of Darkness" was a stepping stone for director Sam Raimi on his way to bigger and better things. Eventually, he would move beyond the "Evil Dead" trilogy and take the helm of the "Spider-Man" trilogy. Bruce Campbell has since solidified himself as one of the greatest B-Movie actors. "Army of Darkness" is not a horror film. It is intended to be a silly and entertaining film whose main purpose is to abuse the chin, Bruce Campbell. "Army of Darkness" delivers more slapstick and laughter than it does thrills and chills. Horror purists will dismiss the film, but for those of us that enjoyed the first two "Evil Dead" movies, this is a nice change of pace and even though it can be considered dumber than hell, it does deliver quite a few nice laughs.

I love the cheeseball, campy, craptacular Sam Raimi film "Army of Darkness". It is silly and stupid and its R rating doesn't seem right considering the humor better entertains those under the age of 17. The first film had shrubbery rape a girl. That deserved an R-Rating. This film, which features nearly no language and comical violence would have been far more profitable with a lowly PG rating. It is still a lot of fun in its own campy way. The first two films were far superior to the third effort, but this is a nice departure and thankfully, Raimi and Campbell decided to not do another "Cabin in the Woods" film. Raimi is producing a remake of his original film and it doesn't look good that Bruce Campbell will ever step back into the role that made him famous. That is a shame as I would love another adventure, but this one will always be fun to revisit.

Video:

One of the selling points of the new "Screwhead Edition" of the film is the digitally remastered print used for the high definition Blu-ray release. The previous HD-DVD version was horrid, but there are times when the 1.85:1 framed Blu-ray release looks awesome. And there are times when it still looks dated and barely bests the DVD release. This film is a homage to the days of Ray Harryhausen and "Army of Darkness" is far from being visually stunning. When the remaster worked well, the image is simply incredible and detail and coloring is so strong you'd be amazed to believe this film was from 1992. Unfortunately, there are a number of lower resolution and overly grainy moments that look pale in comparison to the near three dimensional scenes. Overall, the amount of detail is stunning and a lot of credit needs directed to those that helped bring this comedy classic to the age of high definition. This release is so good compared to the HD-DVD version that you should pitch the HD-DVD disc into the trash and not allow others to suffer through it.

Sound:

When Ash takes on the Pit Bitch with his boomstick, the sound is just awesome. Hearing the double barrel shotgun go off in the newly mastered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is a thing of beauty as the bass that emanates from the subwoofer is deep and bellowing. I loved it and thing that the new audio remaster is even better than the visuals and there is hardly a moment when this film doesn't sound good. Sound is crisp and clean and when the action steps up, "Army of Darkness" sounds incredibly for a film that is nearly the two decade mark. Rear surrounds are used effectively and sound travels cleanly between the channels. The fight with the shotgun, the sound of the chainsaw and the scene where Ash is being chased towards the old decrepit lighthouse all sound great. Dialogue had dropped at some points in the HD-DVD master and that has been corrected hear and every snappy one liner from Bruce Campbell sounds wonderful. The Danny ELfman theme and Joseph Lo Duca score work well.

Extras:

The HD-DVD release of "Army of Darkness" was embarrassing when it came to the supplemental materials. The only bonus thing about owning that release was that it had a DVD platter glued to its backside. While the Blu-ray release isn't the most featured version of the film, it does contain a few nice items in the new titled "Screwhead Edition" of the film. The disc boots at a high volume level and includes a trailer for "The Last House on the Left" that will send you running for the volume control. Access to the BD-Live Center to view the standard offering of Universal previews is included on the disc under the "How To" menu option as well as My Scenes bookmarking.

The actual bonus content begins with some minor U-Control functionality. Production Photos are attached to every of the disc's sixteen chapters except for one and this launches very detailed photographs into a PiP window as you view the film. Creating the Deadites (21:29) is a brand new making-of feature that has Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger reminiscing about the special effects for Army of the Darkness and this is a fun little walk down memory lane and the best reason to upgrade to the Blu-ray release as some good making-of footage is included. The Alternate Ending (4:42) that was previously included on the Anchor Bay special edition and shows Ash waking up in a post-apocalyptic future is included. Although it is not mentioned on the packaging, the film's Theatrical Trailer is thrown in for good measure.

Closing Comments:

"Army of Darkness" is a film that has a large cult following and is well loved by many. Anchor Bay did the title some justice on home video a few years back with a very good limited edition and a couple other releases that made many a fan boy happy. Universal has since found the value of this little title that was a box office flop, but they have yet to step to plate and hit a home run with this good selling catalog title. Now a dozen and a half years later they have set out to remaster the title after the horrendous HD-DVD release with the "Screwhead Edition" that features remastered sight and sound as well as a new making-of retrospective. While this release is still not as good as what us fans of Ash have long pined for, it is a step in the right direction and destroys the HD-DVD in comparison.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
9
Extras
4
Film Value
7