Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Army of Darkness: Director's Cut Limited Edition (1993)
Studio Line: Anchor Bay - How can you destroy an army that's already dead?

At long last, here lies the closest thing to an "official" Director's Cut of Army that you'll ever find. Personally, I think there is always merit in any version of a film that preserves what the makers intended. So, for your consideration, we submit the REAL film, complete with the original ending, which I think is far more appropriate.

On behalf of Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, I'd like to thank all of you fans (you know who you are) for your loyal support of this ridiculous series of films -- you are directly responsible for the demand to make this version available. May you revel in 96 minutes of excess and may you never, ever, run out of sugar…baby! Best to ya, Bruce "Don't call me Ash" Campbell

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove, Timothy Patrick Quill, Michael Earl Reid, Bridget Fonda
DVD: Widescreen 1.66:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Surround; subtitles none; single sided - single layered; 23 chapters; rated NR; 96 min.; $24.98; street date 7/25/00.
Supplements: 15 Minutes of Additional Footage Including the Original Ending; Audio Commentary with Director Sam Raimi, Star Bruce Campbell and Co-Writer Ivan Raimi; 4 Never-Before-Seen Deleted Scenes; Director's Storyboards.
Purchase: DVD | Score soundtrack - Joseph LoDuca

Picture/Sound/Extras: C+/B/B

If the Three Stooges had ever made a fantasy/horror film, I'm betting the results would have looked a lot like Army of Darkness, a gleefully over the top exercise in broad comedic action from 1993.

AOD is actually the third film in a series; it comes on the heels of 1982's Evil Dead and 1987's Evil Dead II. I'd like to offer a recap of the entire trilogy, but I can't because I haven't seen the first two movies. Due to the vagaries of DVD reissues, I'm taking in the pictures in reverse order, so I watched the last film first.

Frankly, I don't think it affected my enjoyment of AOD, and such a bizarre way to view the movies seems appropriate given the nutso universe we find here. AOD finds Ash (Bruce Campbell), the protagonist of the prior two films, sent back to medieval times where he needs to fight the "Deadites", a variety of zombie-like critters who've haunted him for some time. Or at least I think that's what's happening here. Due to my lack of background on the first two films, I'm not completely sure (though a brief montage at the start offers a quick recap), but I do know this: I don't care, since AOD is a goofy, kick-ass romp from start to finish.

The best word to describe AOD is "nuts", since the movie's simply crazed pretty much throughout its 96 minute running time. The movie essentially starts out in high gear and rarely lets up until the end. It's a fun and exciting blast through goofy action movie clichés and silliness that proves hilarious, thrilling, clever and inventive most of the time.

A lot of the film's success comes from the wonderful presence of Campbell as Ash. He plays the role as half pushy bully and half cowering simp, but the overall effect is terrific as he portrays both side adeptly. Few people can make dopey lines like "Gimme some sugar, baby!" work, but Campbell does it.

I must admit that as much as I loved Campbell's work, he wasn't my favorite part of the film. Instead, I preferred the skeleton warriors who populate the end battle. These cheesy stop-motion, Ray Harryhausen-inspired creatures made the concluding fracas a total delight due to the cheerfully campy way in which they're depicted. These characters had me totally entertained and wishing for more.

Speaking of the skeletons, the version of AOD I watched is the "director's cut" that runs about 15 minutes longer than the theatrical edition. Since I never saw the latter, I don't know exactly how the two differ, but from what I've learned, I think most of the cuts come from the end segments. That's a shame, as I can't imagine losing even a few seconds of skeletons - I treasured every boney moment!

AOD straddles a fine line in that it goes down the "wink wink, nudge nudge" path of filmmaking but it does so remarkably well. Director Sam Raimi delivers a whirlwind experience that kept me very involved and entertained at all times. I can't wait to check out the first two films in the series!

The DVD:

Army of Darkness appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture shows some problems at times, it generally appears fairly attractive and watchable.

Sharpness seems inconsistent, though the film usually comes across as clear and well-delineated. Some definite softness appears at times, unfortunately, and for unknown reasons; a number of these examples stem from the complications of special effects, but a few of them show no obvious connection to this factor. Much of the restored 15 minutes of footage also appears more problematic in this regard, but the softness wasn't restricted solely to those scenes; earlier segments displayed light fuzziness at times as well. Moiré effects and jagged edges appeared absent, and I also noticed virtually no artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. During the flashback at the start of the film, I detected a little bit of grain, but other than that, I saw few signs of any kinds of flaws; the print looked clean and fresh with just a some mild grain and a few speckles at times.

Colors tend to be pretty subdued, especially since so much of the movie takes place at night, but what we see appears acceptably accurate and solid; I thought the hues were attractive and clear and displayed no problems. Black levels are more of a concern, unfortunately, especially due to the high percentage of evening shots. Dark tones seem fairly mushy and pale much of the time; the blacks lack a strong presence and appear mildly bland. Shadow detail can come across as excessively heavy and opaque as well; I never had to struggle to make out nuances, but I felt they were less clear than they should have been. Again, these concerns are more significant during the restored shots, most of which come during the climactic battle. Ultimately, however, the mix of good and bad favors the positive, so I gave AOD a slightly-above-average "C+".

Better though also flawed is the film's Dolby Surround soundtrack. It presents a very nice soundstage for the most part, with a great deal of activity that spreads neatly across all three of the front channels. Sounds seems well-placed within that realm and pan across the speakers smoothly. The surrounds kick in quite a lot of information as well and seem very active; they add a strong dimension to the mix.

Quality also appears positive, though somewhat limited. Dialogues sounds distinct and natural, and it seems easily intelligible at all times with no edginess or muffled qualities. Effects are crisp and clean, with some slightly-boomy but nonetheless strong and powerful bass at times, and the score seems fairly clear and bold. Really, the track works quite well but is hampered but the Dolby Surround encoding; the quality suffers slightly because the rear speakers can only offer limited frequency instead of the full-range available from a discrete Dolby Digital mix. This means that while the soundfield certainly is active, the tone feels a bit restricted much of the time. I still really liked the track and thought it added to the fun, but wish it had been Dolby Digital instead so that the quality would have been clearer and brighter.

This DVD packs in a few nice extras. Best of the bunch is a running audio commentary from Campbell and Raimi; brother/cowriter Ivan Raimi enters about halfway through the track as well, though he says little. Actually, neither Raimi provides too many comments; in a reversal of the usual director/star relationship, Campbell dominates the proceedings and makes the lion's share of the remarks. It's a very solid track that provides a wealth of information about the series and AOD itself, and it proved quite valuable to an Evil Dead neophyte such as myself. Since the participants delivered the information with a great deal of wit and charm, it becomes even more valuable.

AOD includes virtually all of the storyboards created for the film, and it presents them in an imaginative and useful manner. Most DVDs isolate these on their own, or perhaps offer a few minutes of film-to-storyboard comparison scenes. Not AOD, however; it actually allows you to watch the boards as you view the movie. If you switch on the storyboard option, the artwork will appear in the lower right-hand corner of the film. Each board takes up about one-sixth of the screen, which makes them a little small. However, that's my only quibble, as I really liked this presentation. I hope other DVDs use the format in the future; I think it's the best way to show storyboards.

Some stillframe materials appear in the "Creature Concept Drawings" domain. These are exactly what the title implies: sketches of possible monsters to be used in the film. We find 20 drawings in all.

Four deleted scenes appear on the DVD. These vary in length from one minute, 58 seconds to six minutes, 12 seconds; all in all, they run a total of 13 minutes and 52 seconds. These scenes can be viewed with or without more audio commentary. I found all of them to be worth a look, though none offered anything terribly special. One nice touch: each segment features a few seconds from the finished film that shows what parts came before and after the unused footage; this helps us understand the continuity of the clips. One complaint: since this "director's cut" of AOD features an ending that differs from the one found in the theatrical version, it would have been nice to get the other conclusion as well.

However, I can think of a few reasons why this DVD may not have featured the theatrical ending. For one, the producers may assume that anyone who watches this disc already knows the other conclusion, though that's clearly not the case. Actually, I think the most logical explanation stems from the fact that when this "director's cut" DVD was created, it was intended to be included solely as part of a 2-disc set that paired it with the theatrical version as well. That package came out in 1999 and was a limited edition; one could buy the theatrical cut on its own but the DC was available only in the LE.

For reasons unknown, Anchor Bay decided to produce a second LE of AOD in 2000. That's the one about which you're currently reading. From what I gather, it exactly duplicates the second DVD in the two-disc LE. As such, anyone who wants to replicate the original LE just needs to buy this LE and the theatrical cut DVD as well.

For those keeping score, four different DVDs of AOD exist in the marketplace. There's the theatrical cut from Universal (with very few extras), the theatrical cut from Anchor Bay (with a documentary and other features), this "director's cut" single-disc limited edition from Anchor Bay, and the two-DVD limited edition that contains both single-disc releases from Anchor Bay. Confused? I know I am.

Ultimately, here's the bottom line. Anyone who already owns the two-DVD LE has no reason to buy the single-disc LE of Army of Darkness since they already own it. As for folks who have either of the theatrical cut DVDs, the question is less clear. Essentially it'll depend on how much you like AOD. Personally, I enjoyed the movie so much that I'm thinking about grabbing Anchor Bay's theatrical edition just to get the documentary; that version's Dolby Digital 5.1 sound would be nice as well, though I have a feeling I wouldn't want to watch the shorter version of the film.

Basically, the single-disc LE has a few reasons for current theatrical cut owners to get it as well. There's the 15 minutes of additional footage, the extra deleted scenes, and the audio commentary. If these mean anything to you, it's worth the extra cost. The deleted scenes weren't great, but I value the extra footage integrated into the movie, and the commentary was terrific.

That covers current AOD owners. What about those folks who don't possess any of these editions? That's a tougher call, but I'd recommend this LE. It loses the 5.1 sound and the documentary of the theatrical version, but I just can't imagine having to watch the shorter cut - I love those silly skeletons too much! It's a tough call, but I think this LE probably is the most satisfying single-purchase solution.

All I do know is that Army of Darkness belongs somewhere in your collection. It's a wild ride that never lets up and that kept me continually entertained. This DVD provided flawed but generally solid picture with good sound and some very nice extras. This "limited edition" release would make a nice addition to your collection.

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