ARMY OF DARKNESS: DIRECTOR'S CUT
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz
Director: Sam Raimi
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Widescreen 1.66:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: July 25, 2000
Army of Darkness, the third
entry in the cult favorite Evil Dead series,
didnt do much for me when it first came out. It
seemed to be a picture more interested in silly over scary and faux pas over fright. But its grown on me. Quite a bit, actually.
The thing is, I didnt appreciate at first that director Sam
Raimi wanted silly. For this film, he and star Bruce Campbell pulled
out all the stops in an homage to The Three Stooges, favorites of theirs. One need only look at the first two films to
understand their love for this comic troupe runs deep, all the way to calling their
monster-extras fake Shemps. And I
realized, as much as I loved the first two movies, this one completes a logical
progression. The first film was pure fright. The second was designed to make you laugh in
between the shrieks with some inventive physical comedy behind the horror. So the final film ends up being virtually a
straight slapstick comedy. And it is pretty darn funny.
It picks up where Evil Dead 2 left
off, with our intrepid hero (of sorts) Ash going back in time to the Middle Ages, still
driving that ugly Oldsmobile, still wielding a chainsaw for a hand, and still packing some
serious heat in the form of his sawed off shotgun. How
will he get back?
The answer lies, naturally, in that accursed volume known as the Book
of the Dead. Ash must retrieve it for a king
and his knights, so they might protect themselves from the evil dead. And since it was the book that took him back in
time in the first place, they can also use its power to return him home.
As you might expect, Ash screws it up royally, and in some
delightfully funny and imaginative sequences, he unleashes the Army of
skeletons and dead bodies that literally rise from their graves to take arms
against the living. Its going to be one
hell of a fight.
This limited edition directors cut version is about 15 minutes
longer, and most of the extra footage comes in the form of lengthening a few sequences. Certain parts of the climatic battle are longer, as
is the hysterical scene with the Tiny Ashes, which is really a Stooges fans
delight. The scene even plays out with actual
Stooge sound effects sampled and used to accent the comedy.
And one line of dialogue is also different; a classic to Evil Dead fans.
In this version, after Ash blows away Evil Ash, he quips, Good,
IM the guy with the gun.
The major difference between the two is the ending. The directors cut ends in the same style as Evil Dead 2, with Ash seemingly on the verge of
another nightmarish adventure (part 4, anyone?), as opposed to the theatrical cut, which
wraps things up a little more. When
Universal originally distributed this film, they reportedly werent interested in
anything that came before this movie, or in anything that might come afterhence, Sam
Raimi didnt get to use the more obvious title Evil
Dead 3 or his other tongue-in-cheek pick, Medieval
One should remember, too, when watching this film, that it was made
before digital effects became the mainstream. So
virtually every effect in the film is purely cinematic and optical, including mattes,
forced perspectives, make up, masks, stop motion animation and puppets. Some of it looks a little dated, but its
hard not to appreciated the imagination and fun that obviously went into creating these
illusions. Personally, I find the limitations
add to the humor quite a bit.
And at the heart of it all is Bruce Campbell, the ever endearing
wise-ass who loves to say the lines that make you wince, like gimme some sugar,
baby. He brings a sense of courage and
daring to the physical comedy, and he seems completely at ease with interacting with
special effects. His goofy charm and
unashamed cheesiness help make the picture as entertaining as it is.
And, since this version of the movie nicely sets up the possibility
of a Part 4, fans have been asking for years: will
we see it? The sad answer is, probably not. The question has been posed repeatedly to both Sam
Raimi and Bruce Campbell, who both claim theyd be more than happy to do it. The problem?
Army of Darkness, despite a small legion
of dedicated fans, was a box office flop. And
flops dont commission sequels. So, we
fans have to look at Army as the last of the
series, and just consider in our imaginations that Ash is still running around in the
future somewhere, still trying to pick up women with ridiculous lines, still trying to get
home, and still screwing it up royally.
Sadly, this disc marks a step down in quality from Anchor Bays
previous release of the theatrical cut on disc. That
DVD was THX certified, and looked quite good. This
disc doesnt make that grade, though in all honesty, I dont fault Anchor Bay. Its important to remember that this disc
contains a good deal of cut footage, which obviously wasnt kept up and preserved as
nicely as Universals final cut. Many of
the night scenes, including the big battle at the end, suffer from a lot of grain and
occasional strong lack of definition. The
inconsistencies from one shot to another are indicative of what footage has been
re-inserted. Same with the Tiny Ash sequence;
certain parts look considerably more washed, more grainy, and more worn than others. During other scenes, however, the quality is still
good, and the disc starts on a great note, with some beautifully rendered daylit shots,
where images are sharply rendered and coloring is good, natural looking, and well
contained. Overall, the disc is hardly
unwatchable, but scores a little lower than Anchor Bay normally gets because of elements
they couldnt control.
This original Dolby Surround mix is mostly good, with a fair amount
of dynamic range. Most of the audio mix is
forward centered, where dialogue is clear and the music is especially good, sounding loud,
powerful, and full. The single rear channel
is used sparingly, but adds an extra dimension to the battle scenes, and occasionally a
bit of ambience with some thunder and rumblings for more foreboding ones. I should point out, in the interest of
qualitys sake, that Anchor Bays theatrical cut has a re-mixed 5.1 soundtrack. I consider both versions of the film equally good,
so the choice is up to the individual fan: the
theatrical cut is a better quality disc, but this version is the much sought after directors cut. AND is soon to be a collectors item.
The disc includes a terrifically funny and informative commentary
track with Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, plus a few comments from co-writer Ivan Raimi a
little later on. If you like commentary
tracks, this is one of the all time best. Not
only do Sam and Bruce seem to remember everything about everything, theyre also both
certified smart alecks who kid each other mercilessly throughout. Their dry senses of humor combined with their
generous tales of creating the picture make this one of the most fun listens Ive
heard! The disc also contains four deleted
scenes (including the original opening sequence), a collection of creature concept
drawings, and a storyboard feature that allows you to compare the film to the sketches
while you watch. A terrific package all
Army of Darkness is what it is an imaginative and funny special effects extravaganza with enough slapstick humor to keep you from missing the scarier aspects of the previous films. For true fans of Sam Raimi, these Dead movies represents what he does best: imagination turning budget limitations into something energetic and highly entertaining. If you like the movie, then this limited edition directors cut DVD is a must own.