Army of Darkness Boomstick Edition DVD Review

The "Evil Dead" series is an odd little footnote in movie history. With each subsequent film, director Sam Raimi changed the tone completely until we ended up here with "Army Of Darkness," one those dark comedies that's garnered a massive cult following. It may not have made back its cost in theaters, but this one continues to pull in money for Artisan on DVD.

Lowly S-mart clerk Ash is sucked into a vortex and manages to land sometime around the year 1300 A.D. Lost and confused, he is branded an enemy and sent to his death. After that doesn't go as planned, the villagers send him on a mission to retrieve the Necronomicon, an evil book that can send him back. After THAT doesn't go as planned, he makes the decision to stay and save the villagers from a plague of Deadites.

If a B-movie can be an epic, this is it. Sam Raimi's trademark style is in full force here, utilizing completely unique camera shots like only he can. Bruce Campbell has never been in finer form, easily becoming one of the most quoted characters in film history. He's smart, he's cocky, and he's a blast to watch.

Compared to normal Hollywood standards, the budget here is meager, but a huge leap from the first two films. Every dime is put to good use and it shows. There are a myriad of techniques used here including stop-motion (obviously a tip o' the hat to Ray Harryhausen), rod puppets, animatronics, and what has to be one of the largest casts of suit actors ever put on film. The special effects crew couldn't have pulled it all off any better.

While the first half of the film relies heavily upon comedy and priceless one-liners, the second half takes on a darker tone as the final battle begins. It's still funny, but the sight gags and cheesy puns are spread out more liberally. The again, it's probably for the better so you can take in the great effects instead of wiping tears of laughter from your face.

Of course, Bruce Campbell would become a cult icon of cinema and Sam Raimi would take over the two excellent "Spiderman" films. Even with all the special effects wizardry of the those films, you can see on screen that every single crew member had a blast making "Army of Darkness." You could even say this is more fun, energetic, and flat out more entertaining than the director's big budget films. If you've never seen this one, you need too. (**** out of *****)

Ok, try and follow me here. This is the 6th time this movie has managed to make an appearance on DVD. This 2-disc set here is actually a slightly tweaked reprint of one of the first runs, which commands quite a premium on the resale market. In other words, you probably can't afford it now. Thankfully, Artisan has re-released here (almost exactly) at a much more manageable price.

The set is split into both the directors cut and theatrical release. Both have a widescreen (1.66:1) version while only the theatrical release is available in pan & scan on the same side of disc one. Both of the widescreen transfers are anamorphic.

Most of this transfer is very clean. Scenes featuring bright light are beautiful and there is surprisingly little flicker considering all of the chain mail these actors wear. Some edge enhancement can be annoying, but it's hardly on screen long enough to make it a major issue. Sequences shot under darker conditions have some major trouble. Heavy, annoying grain really ruins an otherwise clean transfer. Not even the relatively solid black levels help. The print also seems to have taken a beating over the years as it exhibits numerous scratches. It's all not enough to ruin it, maybe just making it a bit disappointing. (***)

Ash's trademark shotgun really works over the LFE channel. The "boomstick" lives up to the name. Surrounds are used effectively when they should be in the 5.1 mix included with the theatrical version, particularly during scenes when the stage is crowded with people. There is some excellent work in the stereo channels too. Oddly and rather ridiculous, the director's cut is only available with a meager 2.0 surround mix. So we can watch the director's original vision WITHOUT the proper sound? Doesn't make much sense to me. (****)

Extras are spread over both discs. Easily the best feature is the Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and Ivan Raimi commentary that is included on disc 2 (directors cut in case you're still lost). This is not only an informative track, but a funny one as well. We'll stick with disc two as we look at some storyboards and four deleted scenes. Fifteen minutes have been cut back into the movie itself.

Now that we're doing things backwards, disc one houses a great look at the special effects in "The Men Behind the Army." Campbell briefly narrates it, but the special effects crew gets almost all the screen time. This nearly 19-minute feature has some great behind the scenes footage and you'll likely be surprised to learn how some of the shots were pulled off.

Also included is the somewhat controversial alternate ending, which sends Ash into the future (after he screws up a slightly tweaked line from "The Day the Earth Stood Still") that just happens to be having some sort of apocalypse. Personally, I like this one better. It fits in with the overall movie and it gives it a much funnier final shot. The set rounds off with a trailer and talent bios. (****)

There has never been another movie like "Army of Darkness" and there never will be. Everything came together perfectly here and not a single director can duplicate Raimi's oddball style. You can rarely have this much fun in under 90-minutes (or a few minutes over with the alternate cut) with any movie.

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