Home Video Hovel: Army of Darkness, by Alexander Miller
Just when I thought the Scream Factory catalog couldn’t get any better, this Army of Darkness collector’s edition, (it should be “definitive edition”) feeds my growing admiration for their superlative library of cult and horror movies. Given all this praise, it might sound strange that, unlike many horror/fantasy nerds, I wasn’t part of the Army of Darkness fan camp. I had always liked the film but I favored the dark grittiness of the first Evil Dead entry. However, this Blu-ray raised my opinion of the third film in Ash’s trilogy from lukewarm to hot upon repeated viewings.
Raimi’s debut, The Evil Dead, put him on the map. His sequel/remake raised the stakes with a bigger budget and introduced us to Raimi’s now trademark slapstick humor. Army of Darkness went beyond our expectations when our square-jawed hero and his ‘73 Oldsmobile waged war on an army of deadites in the 13th century. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that it would be a grab bag of visual insanity, slapstick, horror, time-traveling fantasy.
Working under the original titles, Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness, The Medieval Dead, or Army of Darkness: The Evil Dead, Raimi outdid himself again by upping the ante in almost every facet of the film. While Army of Darkness sidesteps the horror genre for medieval fantasy with nods to Harryhausen and Tex Avery, the result is Raimi’s own. Bruce Campbell’s performance recalls the swashbuckling Errol Flynn as if he were reimagined as a Marvel superhero. Ash, however, is a little less heroic this time around. He’s a bit more selfish and cynical but so would I be if I had just beheaded my girlfriend while fighting a cabin full of demons only to get transported to the 13th century.
And Army of Darkness wastes no time picking up right where Evil Dead II left off, utilizing some old and old/new (reshot) footage to jog our memory. From the outset, we can tell that this time Raimi is working with a larger budget when we see period sets, costumes and a much larger cast at work. We also have some new light shed on Ash’s background and his career at S-Mart (K-Mart couldn’t be used; all the better since it yields the “shop smart, shop S-mart” line). He also misses his non-beheaded girlfriend Linda (an early role for Bridget Fonda). Yeah, he beheaded his possessed demon ladyfriend in Evil Dead II but time traveling always screws with chronology in movies, thus establishing that this is going to be quite a different film from its predecessors.
If the Evil Dead films hit the ground running, then Army of Darkness bolts with more memorable vignettes and quotes than you can shake a boomstick at: Ash battling monsters in a medieval Sarlacc pit, the famous hand building montage, fighting miniature Ashes, growing an evil Ash, dueling with a vacuum Necronomicon, a souped up propellor car and an entire army of stop-motion skeletons. Accompanying this slew of scenes, we have endlessly notable quotes “Good. Bad. I’m the guy the with gun”, “Yo! She-bitch! Let’s Go!” and my personal favorite, “Groovy”. These quips work. In the hands of a lesser team (writer/director/actor) the cartoonish action and catchphrases would falter or reduce the material but Raimi’s crew handles referential postmodernism with a level of excess they kind of coined; ergo they excel at it.
The special effects have aged well, since they consist of forced perspective, stop motion, makeup and other practical effects that worked so well in the days preceding CGI.The introvision (in camera front projection system) technique made a lot of the film’s visual effects possible. Sure, you can see some crop lines around the some of the blue screen effects but it was the early nineties. Given the circumstances and the sheer scope of the movie, it’s safe to say it looks incredible.
For the longest time if you asked someone if they had seen Army of Darkness their reply would often be “which version?” It’s a fair question, considering three versions are floating around. This Scream Factory treatment is without a doubt the definitive Army of Darkness release and I don’t see how anyone could improve on the film more than they have. The restoration looks immaculate on all three versions, technically four counting the television cut (with the full screen 1.33:1 aspect ratio). The bonus features are plentiful: Interviews, lots of interviews, commentary tracks for each version of the film, deleted scenes, trailers, tv spots, original featurettes, including Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness, a feature length documentary. The artwork is excellent. Each version of the film, aside from the TV version, gets its own disc. This is truly a collectible for fans of Army of Darkness, with enough firepower to turn a hesitant viewer to the best side of the dark side.