Universal // 1992 // 81 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 21st, 2009
From the director of Spider-Man & Drag Me to Hell
I put Army of Darkness: Screwhead Edition (Blu-ray) on my list of requests, but I honestly didn't expect to get it since I know Verdict is host to a bevy of cult-film buffs who are absolutely the target demographic for this film. Between all of us I just didn't expect to be the one. Then, I remembered that we have a policy against allowing the same reviewer to tackle a movie in more than one format, and the simple fact is that Army of Darkness has seen enough digital releases to satisfy just about every fan on our staff. I'd love to deliver the happy news that fans can scrap all those old releases and upgrade to hi-def with this Blu-ray, but such is not to be. While we get pretty vastly improved (though far from perfect) audiovisual upgrade, and some new extras (and an old one), fans are still going to want all the old releases for the different cuts of the movie and the other extras.
For those just tuning in, Army of Darkness is the second sequel to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, and it follows our hero Ash (Bruch Campbell, Evil Dead) through a time warp into the Middle Ages. There, he's taken prisoner in a land beset by the deadites that plagued him at the cabin. His captors are convinced that he's the chosen one who will find the Necronomicon and cleanse the land of the undead scourge. Of course, in true Ash fashion, nothing goes quite right and an evil doppelganger arises when the Necronomicon is used improperly. Ash must help defend his former captors so that he can finally return home.
I'm not going to say much about Army of Darkness as a film. It's a cult classic for a reason, with a slapstick approach to both comedy and horror, some great performances, and a lighthearted attitude towards pretty much everything. It's also one of the most quotable films ever released. However, if you're reading this, you probably already know, or already don't care. So, I'll get to the good stuff.
On digital disc, Army of Darkness always struck me as very filmic. Because there was often print damage, serious grain, and questionable use of optical effects it was difficult to forget that what I was watching had been originally shot on film. This was a bad thing when it was distracting (which seemed to happen most often during rear projection), but it also gave the film a special charm, a certain low-rent feel that perfectly complimented the backward-looking effects and slapstick aesthetic. Very little of that has changed with this Blu-ray transfer, but everything has been taken up a notch or two. The best parts of the transfer look like they were filmed today (usually these are the brighter, outdoor scenes), while the worst still look better than you're going to find anywhere else. The optical effects still look silly and grain is still present, but both look more natural now. In sum, all the highs and lows of the previous transfers are here (probably because of the source), but the quality of even the problematic parts has been raised significantly. Fans should also know that sharpening has obviously been used on this transfer, and the level of edge enhancement might be a problem for some viewers.
The audio is also a bit of an improvement. Before this release I never really considered the soundscape of Army of Darkness, but it ranges from the thump of Ash's shotgun to the shrieks of the deadites. That dynamic range is ably captured by the DTS-HD track. If there's one thing Raimi knows it's how to create a believable environment, and the almost-continual usage of the surrounds reinforces his bizarro-medieval world. It's not perfect, with some of the dialogue sounding a little off in places, but it's better than we should expect from a pre-Spiderman Raimi flick.
For extras we get the same-old alternate ending (which I happen to prefer), and some production photos as part of the "U-Control" feature from Universal. The big extra is "Creating the Deadites," a 22-minute exploration of the effects of the film by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. There is some overlap with the previous effects featurette, but this newly recorded piece shows just how significant Army of Darkness was on the KNB effects group. The disc ends with the film's theatrical trailer.
This is a pretty good release of Army of Darkness, with a strong audiovisual presentation and a few good extras. If fans didn't know for a fact that there were even more extras out there, plus another cut of the film, this Blu-ray disc would be easy to recommend. As it is I urge fans to keep their money until somebody ponies up the dough to acquire the rights to all of the Army of Darkness material out there to release once-and-for-all the definitive hi-def Army. Until that day, rent this disc when you feel like giving Ash some sugar.
Although everything about this release is not guilty, I'm still recommending incarceration until a more complete release comes along.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Production Photos