ARMY OF DARKNESS - HD DVD review

With Universal not including any special features, this pricey release on the new HD-DVD format is inexcusable.

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.

Video:

"Army of Darkness" is not a film you really should associate with high definition. It's low-budget and old school special effects and trick photography are routinely betrayed by the world of high definition and the 1.85:1 / 1080p transfer. "Army of Darkness" is vintage 1992. The film I reviewed previously to this was the year older "Backdraft" and when you compare the two, "Army of Darkness" seems like it should be from 1981 and easily looks to be the older picture. It has just not held up well over the years. That is not to say there are not some remarkably detailed moments in the film. The daytime exterior shots are highly detailed. The knights shown in the first few moments of the movie look spectacular, as each bit of chainmail and the textures of their dinged armor look fantastic. These scenes that do benefit from the added resolution exhibit solid coloring and look very good. However, the majority of the film takes place in low-light situations and the overall look of the film is not a big step over the previous Anchor Bay release, but is still a huge improvement over the older Universal release. If you look at just the daylight scenes, the film looks great. If you look at the nighttime scenes, you are going to be disappointed.

Sound:

"Army of Darkness" comes equipped with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Plus mix and a Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 mix. The English track is fairly decent, but given the low budget upbringing of "Army of Darkness," this soundtrack is underwhelming. Rear surrounds are used sparingly throughout the film. There are moments when "Army of Darkness" is quite enveloping, particularly the scene where Ash is being chased towards the old decrepit lighthouse. Dialogue is clear, but the volume level drops in a few scenes and it can be quite apparent that much of the dialogue was looped in postproduction. Bass response is almost non-existent. The .1 LFE channel sits idle, with perhaps a bump or two present during the short running time of the picture. "Army of Darkness" sounds low budget and where the picture and special effects are betrayed by a higher resolution image, the sound is not very flattering in an age of six channel surround sound.

Extras:

Not exactly a special feature, as the consumer is asked to pay a higher price for the disc, but "Army of Darkness" is presented as a "Combo Format" release. The front side of the disc is an HD-15 platter and the rear side is a DVD-9 platter that contain the film on standard definition DVD. I own both the original release on DVD and the far superior Limited Edition Director's Cut by Anchor Bay. "Army of Darkness" is a cult film. It is well loved by its fans, but not by much of the general populace. With Universal not including any special features, this pricey release on the new HD-DVD format is inexcusable.

Closing Comments:

I love the cheeseball, campy, craptacular Sam Raimi film "Army of Darkness". It is silly and stupid and it's 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. For as entertaining as the film is, "Army of Darkness" is a disappointment on HD-DVD. There are a few highly-detailed daylight scenes that are visually impressive, but much of the film is betrayed by a higher resolution transfer. The film is more enjoyable at a lower resolution. The sound is sound. It is there, but again, the campy low-budget nature of "Army of Darkness" doesn't translate into an audible tour-de-force. Where are the supplements? Not including any whatsoever is a tremendous mistake, as many who already own "Army of Darkness" on DVD are probably not going to upgrade to a "Combo Format" release.

Ratings

Video
4
Audio
5
Extras
1
Film Value
7