Medieval Dead: ARMY OF DARKNESS Gets Definitive Blu-ray

Army Of Darkness arrives on Blu-ray his week courtesy of Scream Factory.

In 2007, having just acquired an HDTV and HD-DVD player, I invited some friends over to check out my new setup. To demo the equipment, I cued up concurrent DVD and HD-DVD playback so I could switch back and forth between inputs and show the difference in picture quality. The film I chose for this demonstration? Army Of Darkness. Not necessarily because it was a technical or visual marvel, but because it was one of the very first HD-DVDs I bought.

Like many fans I’ve been guilty of purchasing each of the Evil Dead films multiple times over the years, and it’s a testament to the quality of the franchise that at one point or another, I’ve considered each of the three movies to be “obviously the best”.

With the confidence and studio experience gained by Darkman, director Sam Raimi set out to make the third film in his venerated horror series. Army Of Darkness is the biggest and slickest of the trilogy, a studio-backed picture that not only veers the horror franchise into an unlikely costumed period piece, but turned out to be one of the last grand all-practical effects films before the CGI revolution. Essentially an Evil Dead twist on A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, Army Of Darkness would prove to be a major departure for the series, greatly toning down the horror (in unrealized hopes of securing a PG-13 rating) and focusing on adventure and comedy instead.

For fans of the first couple films, this might sound like a recipe for disaster. After all, the series’ trademark nastiness was a huge part of its popularity. And yet, Army Of Darkness is just so darn FUN that none of that seems to matter.

Army Of Darkness picks up right after the events of Evil Dead II, which culminated with protagonist Ash Williams and his Oldsmobile being sent back into medieval times. Still armed with his chainsaw and shotgun (affectionately referred to as his “boomstick”), he impresses the denizens and their ruler Lord Arthur, romances a woman named Sheila, battles evil doppelgangers of himself, kills Deadites, and quests for the Necronomicon, the Book Of The Dead which also has the power to help him return to his own time. Oh, and he accidentally wakes up an army of the dead who declare war on the human populace.

The film’s highlight is the battle against the Deadites, a massive practical effects extravaganza of skeletons and corpses. Raimi and his team use every possible trick — stop motion, puppets, dummies, and costumed actors — to being the Army Of Darkness to life. Particularly noteworthy are instances of stop-motion skeletons which seem a direct homage to films of yesteryear like Jason & The Argonauts.

With kinetic camera work which would become Raimi’s signature, and Bruce Campbell’s varied and incredible performances of a deeply flawed protagonist as well as his evil doppelgangers, Army Of Darkness is a jolt of macabre silliness with a gauntlet fist and an Arthurian twist.


The Package

Alright you primitive screwheads, listen up. This… is my BLU-RAY!

Reversible artwork and slipcover. Badass cat not included.

Army Of Darkness arrives in a three-disc package absolutely packed not only with special features, but no less than 4 different cuts of the film. The package features a slipcover with newly commissioned artwork and reversible cover insert featuring both new and classic art. In a nice touch, the discs feature different artwork from over the title’s home video history.

Over the years, the Evil Dead films have become notorious for repeatedly releasing multiple versions of each title in every format, often with small differences or improvements to entice fans to double-dip. This is my fifth copy of Army Of Darkness between DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-ray, and I’m just a casual fan.

Fortunately, Scream Factory set out to make this the definitive release of the film, and in my opinion they have succeeded. There’s so much content that I had to limit the scope of my review process to avoid turning this in weeks late. I watched 2 of the 4 versions (I’ve seen the theatrical plenty of times so I watched the Director’s and TV cuts), and unfortunately didn’t get to the commentary (which features Sam Raimi).

Special Features and Extras — Disc One

Disc One features the Theatrical Cut of the film, which is the best known and features the “happy ending” that caps off with a battle with a Deadite at S-Mart.

Medieval Times: The Making of “Army Of Darkness”
 Easily the highlight of the special extras, this new feature-length documentary explores the film with new interviews of many of the cast and crew. Sam Raimi is notably missing, but Bruce Campbell features prominently and just about everyone else makes an appearance. After watching this, I’m very upset that the film wasn’t titled Medieval Dead as originally pitched.

Original Ending (4:37)
 The director’s cut ending is offered here as a stand-alone extra. (It’s also integrated into the film on Disc Two).

Alternate Opening (2:58) and Deleted Scenes (11:06)
 With optional commentary by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. Poor picture quality with heavy combing. The overly long intro was rightly cut.

Theatrical Trailer (2:05)

TV Spots (1:56)

U.S. Promo Video (0:32)
 Vintage VHS ad

Special Features and Extras — Disc Two

Disc Two features the Director’s Cut of the film, which is the version that was originally submitted to Universal before they heavily edited it. The most notable difference in this cut is its alternative ending. Viewers who have seen the previous “Ash Versus” or “Bootleg” version of the film should note that this is not the same poor release with VHS-quality deleted scenes very obviously spliced back into the film. It’s all in beautiful HD, and aside from a couple very brief moments where the film sources are a bit splotchier, a seamless viewing experience.

Feature Commentary with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Ivan Raimi

On-Set Footage Compilation (4:40)
 Much of this footage is also seen in the other features. Nice to have this included but it’s not essential viewing.

Creating The Deadites (21:29)
 Spotlight on SFX; a combination of modern interviews and BTS footage. Army Of Darkness represents one of the last great practical effects films of the pre-CGI age.

Behind-The-Scenes Footage From KNB Effects (53:54)
 Nearly an hour of effects house footage. For the enthusiasts.

Vintage “Making Of” Featurette (4:51)
 A short EPK-style behind-the-scenes promo.

Extended Interview Clips (5:02)

Special Features and Extras — Disc Three

Disc Three features the International Cut, an alternate theatrical edition that’s likewise shorter than the Director’s Cut. Additionally, this disc features the TV Version (4:3 SD) of the film which is weirdly mounted on a 1920×1080 matte (so some effort went into formatting it for Blu-ray) but not deinterlaced first, so combing is evident.

International Theatrical Trailer (2:08)

Still Galleries with Rare Behind-The-Scenes Photos (28:16)

Still Gallery of Props and Rare Photos (4:05)

Storyboards (7:37)

The Men Behind The Army (18:58)

Special Thanks (0:50)

Final Thoughts:

This one’s a no-brainer. With the splendid presentation of 4 cuts of the film and a treasure trove of extras, this definitive edition may actually be the last version of Army Of Darkness you ever buy.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon: — [Blu-ray]

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