Army Of Darkness
R3 - Hong Kong - MGM Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Roger Nicholl (8th July 2005).
The Film

Army of Darkness is one of those movies you might consider your favourite, even if you donít consider it one of the best youíve seen. Itís a ridiculously entertaining combination of slapstick comedy, medieval adventure, and tough guy action. The main character Ash (Bruce Campbell) is the main reason itís so much fun. Heís both a kick ass, wise-cracking hero and a hapless put-upon adventurer. He has charisma, and a ton of quotable one-liners; a case of a great character played by an actor who can truly carry a movie. Overall, the movie isn't the greatest, but itís a ton of fun.
Though the title doesnít say it, this is actually a sequel to Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. The first couple of minutes give as much of a recap as you need to get into the third one, which isnít much. Where we come in Ash has been sucked back in time to medieval England by a force he unleashed at the end of Evil Dead II. And that's all you need to know to get started.
Ash is taken captive by Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), who believes heís an ally of his enemy Henry the Red (Richard Grove). He gets taken back to Arthurís castle and thrown into a demon-infested pit. Luckily he has a chainsaw for a hand, and battles his way out. After calling them all "primitive screw heads" and threatening them with his shotgun, they realise heís the hero of prophecy whoís come to save them from the Deadites.
He hooks up with Sheila (Embeth Davidtz) by using the immortal line "give me some sugar, baby". And then he heads off to retrieve the Necronomicon, a book with the power to defeat the Deadites, from a haunted graveyard. On the way he manages to spawn an evil twin who, when Ash messes up the incantation needed to take the Necronomicon, comes back to lead the army of Deadites (basically skeletons and guys in padded foam) against Arthur.
Story-wise, there were a few things that bugged me. For example, I didnít quite buy why Evil Ash wanted to attack Arthur to retrieve the Necronomicon so badly, it had just been sitting on a pedestal in the graveyard before without anyone seeming too keen on it. And, despite the fact that the book is useless to the villagers (except to send Ash back to the future) why were they defending it with their lives? In theory itís because it contains the power to help the Deadites rule the world, but that just leads back to the question of why the Deadites just left it sitting around the graveyard on a pedestal anyway.
Which may sound like the sort of griping you shouldnít make about this kind of movie, but I think it is a big reason why the first half is a lot stronger than the second half. The attack by the army of the Deadites doesnít exactly fall flat, but thereís nothing invested in it. At the start Ash is going places, making jokes, questing. But then he isnít in it as much, thereís comedy skeletons and a battle that doesnít seem to mean much.
But the movie is so damn funny that it can kind of glide past this. Aside from Ash's great one-liners, the majority of the physical gags are Three Stooges-inspired. Itís almost like Sam Raimi really wanted to make a Three Stooges movie, had a successful franchise, so found a sneaky way to get funding for it. They do a pretty good job of replicating a Three Stooges short, the gags are a real mixed bag. There are some great ones, and there are some that are just silly. But, overall Army of Darkness pulls it off because itís so good natured, and Ash is such a likeable character.

Video

MGM have done a great job here on this Hong Kong DVD release and have included the full 96:12 minute cut of the film, which is the longest cut of all the releases that includes the 2 second scene of Evil Ash stripping Sheila which is not in the Director's Cut.

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.85:1, this anamorphic transfer is very good indeed. Considering this film has been release multiple times on either Laserdisc or DVD, all previous versions donít stack up to this MGM release. The image is sharper than previous versions released in other regions, the image is bright and colours are well rendered, especially skin tones. Black levels are not as vivid as Iíd expect but stand up fairly well especially during the night scenes. Some dirt on the print exists, and a few compression artifacts tend to pop up every now and then but are never entirely distracting. Overall this is a decent transfer for this film and quite possibly the best available on DVD format, way to go MGM!

Audio

One soundtrack is available for this film and thatís an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, direction effects are well placed and there is generally a lot of activity especially during the battle scenes. Furthermore the score is rendered very well and is never too overbearing. What we have here is a very effective, well mixed surround track that will do your sound system proud.
Optional subtitles are available in Bahasi, Cantonese, English, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.

Extras

MGM have included a series of nice extras on this disc (extras that are also on many other region releases of this film). They include an audio commentary, a series of deleted scenes, an alternate ending, production stills and the filmís original theatrical trailer, below is a detailed look at each of the extras:

The first extra you will come across is the audio commentary by director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell and co-writer Ivan Raimi. Transferred over from the ages old Laserdisc release and later found its way onto the Anchor Bay releases. If you havenít heard this commentary before itís worth more than just one listen itís good for multiple viewings. The group discusses various aspects of filmmaking and chime in with the occasional anecdote and do sometimes joke around. Itís an informative and highly entertaining track that rarely gets tiresome.

Following that is a series of four deleted scenes all of which include optional audio commentary by audio commentary by director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell. The scenes included are:
- Original Opening: running at 3 minutes 03 seconds in this opening we see Ash in shadows telling us the viewer about the Ďevilí he knows of from his experiences in Evil Dead and Evil Dead II.
- Ash Confronts Arthur: running at 2 minutes 05 seconds, Arthur condemns Ash to the the pit, Ash tells Arthur to back off after a bit of a scrap.
- Original Windmill Scene: runs for 6 minutes 20 seconds, this is a longer version of a scene that exists in the film, here Ash seeks safety in the confines of a creepy windmill. The scene shows the logic behind Ash running into the mirror in the film.
- Ash Recruits Henry the Red: runs for 2 minutes 57 seconds and just as the title suggests, we see Ash attempting to recruit Henry to help him and Arthur fight the Deadites, a scene which also helps set up the scene in which Henry surprisingly turns up at the battle at the end of the film.

Next up we have an alternate ending that runs for 10 minutes 15 seconds (it includes the closing credits as well), and is in fact the ending for the Theatrical Cut of the film, here we see Ash returned to his own time and back at S-Mart when heís attacked by a demon woman.

A series of 41 production stills follows that and are images taken during filming.

Rounding out the discís extras is the filmís original theatrical trailer, which runs for 2 minutes 1 second.

Overall

I heartily recommend watching Army of Darkness. For one thing, you need to see Ash in action to be a culturally well-rounded person. And there really aren't many (or any) other movies quite like it. Maybe it wonít get on your top ten list, but like me, youíll probably end up watching it far more often than any of the movies that are.
MGMís Region 3 DVD is a solid effort with a nice image transfer and an excellent 5.1 surround track, although the extras are nothing new and have been included in many past versions, itís nice to see them included in this release.

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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