Blu-ray Review: Army of Darkness (Collector's Edition) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Army of Darkness: Collector’s Edition

Studio: Scream Factory

Oct 30, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Listen up, ya primitive screwheads! It’s difficult to trace a logical trajectory through the Evil Dead franchise; what began with a group of young people in a remote cabin being terrorized by malevolent spirits in the first movie was followed up by immediately hitting the reset button. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn has almost the same setup as the first: Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his buddies head out to the cabin for a weekend of fun, and are tormented again—this time, there’s a much more present (and morbid) sense of humor to it all. By the third movie, Army of Darkness, the movie took another right turn by sending the smart-mouthed Ash through a portal and back to medieval times, where he leads the king’s army into battle against the same evil Deadites who were after him in the first two movies. Not only are the leaps from one film to the next increasingly far-fetched, but the series couldn’t even settle on one genre. To paraphrase director Sam Raimi: “The first one was a horror movie. The second one was a comedy. This one is a fantasy-adventure.”

Following the end of Evil Dead 2, Ash Williams finds himself trapped in England’s dark ages and caught up in a war between the rival kingdoms or Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) and Duke Henry the Red (Richard Grove). As the two kings quibble over their petty differences, a darkness—the Deadites—sweeps the land and threatens to destroy all of humanity. Ash is recognized as the subject of an obscure prophecy, and sent on a quest—boomstick in hand, chainsaw as other hand—to recover the Necronomicon and save the world. That… doesn’t go as planned.

More than anything, Army of Darkness is a tribute to the Ray Harryhausen adventure epics (Clash of the Titans, Sinbad, and the like) that Sam Raimi grew up loving. After that, it’s a comedy—Bruce Campbell supplies this with his slapstick physical comedy skills and perfect delivery of an endless stream of wise-ass one-liners. (Horror ranks a distant third place in Army—the filmmakers actually had to go back and add in scenes later because the movie wasn’t scary enough.) Most of all, it’s incredibly fun, which is why the movie has had such a long-lasting appeal. Because of its weird combination of genres and tropes, Army of Darkness probably wouldn’t be made today. (It’s shocking that it was even made 25 years ago.)

The special features—of which there are very many, all spread out across the set’s three Blu-ray discs—are heavily special effects-focused, but it’s deservedly so: Army of Darkness was one of the last great showcases for practical effects. Many of today’s great SFX masters cut their teeth in the Army of Darkness trenches, including Greg Nicotero (the man behind The Walking Dead’s zombies) and Howard Berger (the guy who designed that gory scene with Gus Fring in Breaking Bad—fans know the one we’re talking about.) You can see their work not only in the nasty monster makeup—Army of Darkness is surprisingly light on actual gore—but in the lengthy, Ray Harryhausen-esque battle scene that makes up much of the movie’s second half. The Ash-led knights take on hundreds of stop-motion and puppet skeletons; they’re then exploded, set on fire, launched across the battlefield, and otherwise destroyed in so many creative ways.

The most crucial of the bonus materials is Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness, a brand new, feature-length (!) documentary looking behind the scenes of the movie. This doc gives a thorough recounting of the full filmmaking process, from the genesis of the idea through the hassles of finally releasing the movie. This documentary finally explains—in layman’s terms—just why there are so many different cuts of the film available, which is something more than a few Army fans have struggled with over the years. With those explanations, viewers can then proceed to watch these different versions—four of which are included in this set—and compare for themselves. There are also stills galleries, audio commentaries, deleted scenes, an alternate opening and ending, vintage featurettes, storyboards, TV spots, trailers, and more. There are literally hours and hours and hours of bonus materials.

Oh, yeah: the movie also looks really damn good in high definition.

Army of Darkness has been released in numerous ridiculously-named DVD editions over the years, each containing various cuts of the film and its own special features. This new Collector’s Edition, with its comprehensive selection of cuts and extras, does away with any need for hanging on to those. Evil Dead fans should feel comfortable unloading and old copies of this movie and downsizing to this conclusive version of Army of Darkness.

Author rating: 9/10

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