Back in the early 80s, writer/director Sam Raimi unleased “The Evil Dead,” which has since gone on to become known as one of the greatest horror films ever made. However, while this was Raimi’s legitimate attempt at making a horror film, so much of it was over the top that you couldn’t help but notice that there was a certain comedic tone to it as well. When it came time to make the sequel (“Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn”), Raimi and his co-writer Scott Spiegel took the opportunity to deliver more on the comedic elements, while still holding true to the series’ horror roots. The result was one of the greatest horror-comedies ever made, one that’s delightfully goofy, but one that also provides a good amount of thrills and chills. Just like its predecessor, it was massively successful, so in just a few years, it became time for another sequel, but what kind of film would Raimi choose to make? Another straightforward horror flick? Another horror-comedy? It would be no on both counts, for this time it was time to make the full 180 degree turn from where he started.
Starting off with a brief recap, the film shows us how Ash (Bruce Campbell) ended up in his current predicament. He and his girlfriend Linda were visiting a cabin in the woods where they played a recording of a professor reading from the Book of the Dead, which awakens an evil presence in the forest that takes Linda. In an attempt to stop it, Ash recites passages from the book that open a portal, but it ends up sucking him in and transporting him back to the Middle Ages, where Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) mistakes him for one of Duke Henry’s (Richard Grove) men.
After being forced to fight a pair of hideous creatures in a pit, Ash is able to talk some sense into them using his trusty chainsaw and “boomstick.” A Wiseman (Ian Abercrombie) reveals that the only way to send him back to his own time is to retrieve the Book of the Dead (“The Necronomicon”), which will force him to journey to an unholy place and speak a few special words before he can safely bring it back to the castle. Despite a few complications along the way, including accidentally making an evil duplicate of himself, he finds the book, but forgets the final word he’s supposed to say. He takes the book anyway, which awakens the army of the dead, a force of evil that will stop at nothing to get The Necronomicon. The army heads straight for Arthur’s castle, forcing them to prepare for the fight of their lives.
“Army of Darkness” (aka “Evil Dead 3”) caps off what is no doubt one of the strangest trilogies in cinema history. As noted above, the original film was a straightforward attempt to make a horror movie, but ended up having twinges of comedy to it. The sequel saw the two elements balancing out, shifting the film to a horror-comedy. For the third outing, Sam Raimi and his co-writer Ivan Raimi opted to switch it up yet again, turning the series completely around by making a comedy that has twinges of horror to it. What results is a laugh-out-loud, heavily-quotable, and exciting film that takes this series as far from that cabin in the woods as possible.
While the first two films in the series had been independently produced, for this third outing Raimi and co. managed to get the backing of Universal Studios, giving them a significantly bigger budget of $13 million to work with, which in turn led them to be able to have a bigger storyline than just running around a cabin and the surrounding woods for 90 minutes. Now to put things straight, that’s not to demean the first two films in the least, in fact, I actually prefer both of them and their stronger horror elements to “Army of Darkness,” but on the flip side, that’s not to demean this third entry either, for it’s still a highly-enjoyable finale to this bizarre and unique trilogy.
Some of the things that make it work as well as it does include Bruce Campbell giving it his all as the heroic Ash. He delivers every joke and silly bit of dialogue with panache, while also handling the demanding physical side of the role incredibly well, which includes both action and comedy elements. Another advantage of having a bigger budget this time around was the ability for them to go all-out on the production design and effects, both areas in which they had done remarkably well with a much smaller budget in the two previous films. In particular, the army of the dead, made up of both real actors and puppets designed to be walking skeletons, looks fantastic. Also worth noting is the epic battle at the end, which throws all kinds of effects into the mix, making for one big, entertaining experience.
However, as this is mainly a comedy, its accomplishments there must also be mentioned. Aside from the numerous one-liners that are still often quoted to this day, just about as much of the comedy is physical as well. Great examples include a long portion of the film’s second act in which Ash is questing for The Necronomicon. It basically becomes a one-man show in which he has to deal with fighting his mini clones, finding the right book, and escaping a cemetery full of skeleton arms trying to stop him (a series of great sight gags that still make me laugh to this day). This is not even to mention another large serving of similar gags during the final battle. When Raimi decided to go mostly comedic this time around, it’s great to see that he didn’t just stick to having Ash crack jokes, for making it a combination of both the verbal and physical only serves to make it that much more satisfying.
The original “The Evil Dead” will always be my favorite of the series, with “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” a somewhat close second, but I think it speaks volumes for this trilogy that even the weakest of the three films is still a great entry. It’ll make you laugh, and then it’ll make you laugh some more, while still making you appreciate the bits and pieces of horror that Raimi has sewn into it. Just like the two previous films, “Army of Darkness” didn’t become a cult hit for nothing. Sam Raimi knew exactly what he was doing with all three of these films, which is why fans have been watching them over and over again since their release decades ago, and will continue doing so for many more to come.
Shout! Factory brings “Army of Darkness” back to Blu-ray with no less than four different cuts of the film spread across three discs. The original Theatrical Version is presented in 1.85:1, the Director’s Cut and International Cut in 1.78:1, and the Television Cut in 1.33:1, with the first three cuts being remastered in 1080p High Definition (the Television Cut is presented in standard definition). The cuts that have been upgraded look absolutely fantastic, making the picture look sharper than it ever has, though there is still noticeable grain. However, for a film like this, it only serves to enhance the atmosphere of this comedy-horror classic. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is outstanding, giving you the dialogue, score, and the multitude of sound effects in perfect quality (again, this is for the first three cuts, while the Television Cut is presented with a decent 2.0 audio). Overall, Shout! Factory has once again done a phenomenal job that will no doubt please the film’s die-hard fans.
Disc 1: Theatrical Version
Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness (96 Minutes): An outstanding, feature-length look at the making of the film, featuring tons of interviews with the cast and crew. A must-watch.
Original Ending (4 Minutes): The original “downer” ending.
Alternate Opening (3 Minutes): An iffy opening that’s not quite as good as the one in the final cut.
Deleted Scenes (11 Minutes): An interesting collection of three deleted scenes, two of which were easily lost for pacing purposes, while the third should have easily made the final cut.
Theatrical Trailer, TV spots, and U.S. Video Promo
Disc 2: Director’s Cut
Audio Commentary with Director Sam Raimi, Actor Bruce Campbell, and Co-Writer Ivan Raimi: A decent commentary that offers up some informative tidbits.
On-Set Video Footage Compilation (5 Minutes): A collection of neat behind the scenes footage.
Creating the Deadites (21 Minutes): A fascinating look at the special effects and make up that went into the deadites, featuring interviews with the effects crew.
Behind the Scenes Footage from KNB Effects (54 Minutes): Even more excellent on-set footage.
Vintage “Making of” Featurette (5 Minutes): An original promo from the film’s release.
Extended Interview Clips (5 Minutes): More vintage interviews with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert.
Disc 3: International Cut/Television Cut
Theatrical Trailer (International)
Sam Raimi’s “Army of Darkness” delivers a great conclusion to what is one of the most unique trilogies in cinema history, providing a ton of laughs and plenty of exciting action in the process. Shout! Factory’s brand-new release makes for a fantastic upgrade over the previous Blu-ray, giving you not only four different cuts of the film, but also two discs of excellent special features that include an outstanding, feature-length “Making of” documentary and lots of behind the scenes footage. For fans truly looking to complete their “Evil Dead” trilogy on Blu-ray, this release is easily the one to get.
Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
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