Few films have been released on home video more times than Army Of Darkness. There are a couple of reasons why. The first is that it’s one of those movies with several different versions floating around in need of special edition release. But the big reason is that Army Of Darkness is one of the most beloved cult movies of the 90s that fans will giddily purchase time and time again. Any child of the 90s will likely recall the first time they heard Bruce Campbell bellow about a boomstick, a momentous occasion when they fell in love with the world’s finest (and chin-iest) B-movie actor.
Just in time for the premiere of the long awaited Evil Dead TV series (which I honestly won’t believe is a real thing until it airs. It feels like a cruel prank to make me think my wildest dreams have some true), Shout Factory has gone ahead and released Army Of Darkness on Blu-ray…again (“Collector’s Edition”). However, with Shout Factory being the Criterion of genre movies, they’ve gone out of their way to make this the most packed and satisfying edition of Army Of Darkness to ever find it’s way onto our Dork Shelf. Even if you promised yourself that you would never buy another copy of this movie again, you’re going to crack and pick this puppy up. Sorry.
So, for the 5 or 6 people left in the world who aren’t aware, Army Of Darkness is actually the third chapter in the Evil Dead saga. Bruce Campbell returns as Ash, the chainsaw wielding idiot who is unfortunately humanity’s only hope against the terror of the deadities. Following the iconic ending of the masterful Evil Dead 2, Campbell finds himself trapped in medieval times and forced to fight off an army of the dead. It’s Raimi and Campbell’s homage to Jason And The Argonauts and other old timey adventure movies. Raimi’s cameras fly around every cartoony sequence with the childish glee that he brought to all Evil Dead movies, only this time he stages some hilariously massive slapstick battle sequences that prefigured his career as a blockbuster specialist. However, this third chapter of the franchise truly is the Bruce Campbell show, an orgy of ludicrous set pieces designed to punish Campbell physically and mentally as an actor as well as show off his sarcastic comedic chops through a variety of hysterical one-liners. Simply put, it’s one of the most purely and unabashedly entertaining B-movies ever made.
Of course, you know all that already. The chances of any self-respecting geek discovering Army Of Darkness these days are as slim as finding a Comic Con attendee whose never heard of Star Wars. So, this release doesn’t fill the Shout Factory mandate of preserving forgotten genre gemes, instead striving to be the finest Army Of Darkness home video release of all time and it succeeds handily. First up, there are no less than four (that’s right, four) versions of the film included. The 82-minute theatrical cut pops up on the first disc and is a breathless romp of non-stop absurdity. The second disc houses to the Director’s Cut, a fifteen minute longer version featuring an alternative apocalyptic ending designed to set up an Omega Man-style Evil Dead 4 that never was. That version is a touch too long, but does show off every scrap of battle footage that Raimi shot as well as some alternate line readings. The third disc houses the 88-minute international cut by Dino De Laurentiis that’s an odd hybrid of the US and Director’s Cut that chops out most of the mini-Ash sequence because Dino despised it for some reason. Finally that disc also features the 93-minute television cut with all of silly alternative swear words.
The transfers for all four versions are nice. Shout Factory cleaned up the overly digitally processed Universal Blu-ray of Army Of Darkness to give the theatrical cut a more natural film appearance that’s very welcome. The Director’s Cut is an absolutely revelation since previous North American DVDs featured a version of the movie with most of the lost footage pulled from an ugly videotape owned by Sam Raimi that was far from ideal. Shout’s HD presentation of the Director’s Cut is as gorgeous as the theatrical cut that allows viewers to see it as intended for the first time. The international cut looks just as good as the other two, while the TV version is presented in glorious VHS quality to preserve how it’s always been seen. A variety of audio mixes are available for every cut to suit your sound system and no matter what you choose, those deadites will blow out your speakers from all angles.
The special feature section is loaded, bringing everything over from the long history of Army Of Darkness DVDs. The director’s cut and deleted scenes boast a hilarious commentary from Campbell and Raimi that’s a cult classic in and of itself. Two separate docs from the KNB effects crew made for the DVD and first Blu-ray release also pop up as well as some new raw footage from the set pulled straight from Robert Kurtzman’s old video camera, showcasing some hilarious clowning around the set from Raimi and Campbell. A variety of trailers, storyboards, and still galleries are also present for those who enjoy that sort of thing.
However, the major new addition to this disc is a full 96-minute documentary about the film’s production produced by Shout Factory. Even if you think you’ve heard every possible story there is to tell about this movie over the last 23 years, be prepared to be bombarded with hilarious new tales of skeleton costume wearing extras having sex on set, Bill Mosely’s secret supporting role, Bruce’s trip to the hospital so covered in movie make-up that the doctors couldn’t identify the real wound, and a variety of other hysterical tales from the mouth of Campbell and a vast collection of cast and crew members (although Sam Raimi is sadly absent). For Evil Dead heads, the doc is worth the price of the Blu-ray alone. Toss in some gorgeous new transfers of three separate versions of one of the great cult movies of all time and you’ve got something that no one ever could have imagined possible: a new Army Of Darkness Blu-ray that’s actually a must-own. Shout Factory have done some extraordinary things on the home video market over the last few years, but giving fans a genuine reason to buy Army Of Darkness for the 80th time might be their most incredible accomplishment to date! Well done, you beautiful screwheads.
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