Hail to the King. ARMY OF DARKNESS Blends Horror, Comedy, and Action

Shout! Factory resurrects the Evil Dead III on Ultra Hi-Def

After setting a fire under the horror genre with his indie video nasty in 1981, Sam Raimi followed up with the 87’s Evil Dead II, a remake/sequel that doubled down on the first film’s visceral visuals, twisted tone, and charisma of it’s lead. The film also served as a springboard for the final (so far, and discounting reboots and TV spin-offs) part of this trilogy, ‘92’s Evil Dead III, aka Army of Darkness.

At the climax of Evil Dead II, we see our “hero” seal the abyssal portal through which evil was clawing its way into our world, but end up being sucked into the closing vortex in the process. Stranding him and this malevolent force in medieval times. Army of Darkness plays to this fish out of water concept as Ash (Bruce Campbell) is adrift in an era of Knights and siege warfare, suddenly forced to face the horrors of these “Deadites”. The (failed) efforts of Ash to return home, set loose an army of the undead, forcing him to rally these warring men to a common cause, and fend off their attack.

While The Evil Dead I & II were notorious in terms of gnarly fare, Army of Darkness is an altogether looser riff on horror, letting loose with the entertainment value of this “fish out of water” scenario, and slathering on the mishaps and mayhem. It really ramps up the fun as Ash is caught between warring Lords, indulges in a romance with a young maiden, and goes to war with an evil alter ego spawned from a mirrored copy of himself. His 1973 Oldsmobile and the contents of its trunk, allow him to indulge in a bit of body modification, and deployment of modern science against the more rudimentary forces of the locals, and the Deadites. Essentially we get buffoonery and heroics in equal measure, and a showcase for the effervescent charms of Bruce Campbell. Essentially a convenience store clerk, thrust into the role of savior, whose own acts turn a bad situation worse. Deluded, exuding machismo and bravado, there’s an everyman quality underneath this creation. Campbell’s comedic timing and delivery are masterful, as is the physicality with which he throws himself in to every scene.

This blending horror and fantasy is largely carried out by a special effects team led by industry stalwarts Gregory Nicotero, Bob Kurtzman and Howard Berger. Practically built decomposing corpses and harpies, stop motion skeletons right out of a Harryhausen movie, combine with splashings of gore and over the top violence, embracing and enhancing the humorous tone of the film. Raimi himself directs with those distinct, frenetic camera movements and trademark wicked tone. Clearly setting out to skewer a genre or two and not taking himself too seriously in this lively slice of schlock-horror.

The Package

Shout! Factory have put together a packed release that is worth breaking down. In this Steelbook version, which only differs from the regular version in terms of packaging, there are 4 discs that contain various versions of the film to celebrate its 30th anniversary. The selling point is the all new 4K presentation. This is on disc 1, and is a UHD transfer of the theatrical cut of the film, with the restoration approved by Sam Raimi, cinematographer Bill Pope, and editor Bob Murawski. The 4K scan is a superb step up from the previous versions available, and even in comparison to the Blu-ray version included in this set. Colors are healthy and bold, detail and textures take on a new lease of life with enhanced depth. The frantic final battle, shot at night is a perfect example of the step-up in black levels, contrast, and overall quality. The transfer does show up some of the flaws in the image though, notably some image softness in the FX heavy sequences. This is evidence of the limitations of the tech, and the inherent source stock material for the transfer, rather than the efforts of Shout! Factory

Note, the other versions of the film included here do not get a similar treatment due to the lack of appropriate original elements for a 4K scan. The generally favored director’s cut, which has a darker tone and ~15 minutes more material, is not in 4K. I personally find the the S-Mart ending to be more entertaining and in keeping with the tone of the film. An exhaustive rundown of the difference between the versions of Army of Darkness can be found here..

Disc 1– Theatrical Version 4K UHD

Disc 2– Theatrical Version Blu-ray

  • Medieval Times: The Making of “Army Of Darkness” feature-length documentary with over 20 people interviewed including Star & Co-Producer Bruce Campbell, Actors Ted Raimi, Bill Moseley, Patricia Tallman and many more…: An exhaustive (feature length) making of. It brings together a whole host of the cast and crew to reminisce about making the film, and adds in behind the scenes and vintage footage to paint a good picture of how the film came together
  • Original Ending and Alternate Opening with optional commentary by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell:
  • Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell: Just over 10 minutes. Always great to have a commentary to provide context for the cutting of scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, and U.S. Video Promo:

Disc 3– Director’s Cut — Blu-ray

  • Audio Commentary with director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell and co-writer Ivan Raimi: As entertaining and lively as you’d expect. Packed with stories from the set, directional decisions, and sharp wit
  • Creating the Deadites — vintage featurette: Blends behind the scenes footage with interviews to build a better picture about the production
  • On-the-Set Video Footage Compilation:
  • Behind-the-Scenes Footage from KNB Effects, Inc.: Essentially a lengthy showreel
  • Vintage “Making of” featurette:
  • Extended interview clips:

Disc 4– Television Cut (Standard def.) — Blu-ray

  • The Men Behind the Army — vintage featurette: Just shy of 20 minutes, and largely focused on the special effects and prop construction that went into realising the battle sequence
  • International Theatrical Trailer:
  • Still Galleries with rare behind-the-scenes photos and props:
  • Storyboards: Outlines some filmed, and unfilmed sequences

The Bottom Line

Army of Darkness veers from the visceral, terror fueled experience of its predecessors into something more slapstick. A film driven by farce, fun, frights, and the sheer charisma of Bruce Campbell. A revered cult classic for good reason, Shout! Factory present a superb 4K transfer, backed up by a horde of satisfying extras. Just be aware of what version of the film you’re getting in UHD before you snap this one up.

Army of Darkness 4K-UHD is available via Shout! Factory now

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4K Collector’s Edition — https://amzn.to/3Fs88ot
4K Limited Edition Steelbook — https://amzn.to/3FASwiB

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