Buckle up: Sam Raimi’s ‘Army of Darkness’ roars out of the gate in 4K


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

Square-jawed Bruce Campbell is back for his third round as Ash, a housewares clerk who’s transported back to the Middle Ages and has to save the world before he can be returned to his own time.


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“ARMY OF DARKNESS: COLLECTOR’S EDITION”

4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1992, R for violence and horror Best extra: The new feature-length documentary, “Medieval Times: The Making of ‘Army of Darkness’”









SAM RAIMI was in a conundrum: How much backstory from his first two “Evil Dead” films (1981, ’87) should he incorporate in the final installment to satisfy newcomers without putting off those fans who’d been around since the beginning? “It was always a trouble spot for us,” his says in his commentary for the alternate opening, just one of a bounty of very cool extras that have been collected for this four-disc set. We see only the eyes of Ash (Bruce Campbell) as he tells audiences about what’s transpired and warns them about what’s in store. By the way, he’s speaking – at length – from the future, which might not be apparent if you don’t check out the original ending. That’s included, too. At any rate, Raimi (the first three “Spider-Mans”) decided he didn’t want “to bore old viewers, so we cut out. It also helped get the movie going.” Did it ever. Clocking in at just over 80 high-octane minutes, “Army of Darkness” is a perfect union of old-school horror and slapstick comedy that never lets up on the gas. Before it’s over, it references “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” the original “Planet of the Apes” (in the original ending) and, especially, The Three Stooges. Raimi’s a big Stooges fan.


(1-5) Big mistake: Ash cracks open the Necronomicon – the Book of the Dead that sends him hurtling back in time, where he’s immediately captured by Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) and taken with other prisoners to his castle. (6) Richard Grove plays Duke Henry the Red, who’s at war with Arthur when Ash touches down. (7-8) Our hero is thrown into a pit then wins over the locals after using his chainsaw to dispatch one of its slimy denizens.



And there’s plenty here to bring newbies up to speed. Ash, who works in Housewares at a big-box department store, again ventures into a cabin in the woods, cracks open the Necronomicon, and unleashes an evil spirit that snatches his girlfriend Linda (Bridget Fonda, Raimi’s top-notch, noirish thriller “A Simple Plan”). He then lops off his right arm with a chainsaw to stop the booga-booga from getting him and mounts it on the stump. Long-timers will cheer the appearance of Raimi’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. The Necronomicon sends Ash hurtling back to the 1300s, where he’s soon captured by Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert, “Legacy”). He wins everyone over, though, when he dispatches a pair of pit monsters with his “boomstick,” a 12-gauge shotgun that never runs out of shells. He also frees Arthur’s rival Duke Henry the Red (Richard Grove, “Point Break”), catches the eye of the comely Sheila (Embeth Davidtz, “Schindler’s List”) and is told by the Wiseman (Ian Abercrombie, “Addams Family Values”) that if he want to get home, he better fetch the Necronomicon pronto because it has the recipe to do just that. As it turns out, Evil Ash also has designs on the book, and if he gets his mitts on it first, well … you can guess the rest. Good Ash and Co. face off with an army of stop-action skeletons in a climactic, anything-goes battle straight out the Ray Harryhausen playbook. It’s great stuff, as are all of the ingenious FX and endlessly clever, rapid-fire edits. And there you have it.


(1-2) Ash tells Arthur there’s a new sheriff in town and flaunts his “boomstick” to show that he means business. (3-4) Embeth Davidtz plays the fair Sheila, who takes a fancy to Ash. The feeling’s mutual. (5) A mini-Ash is pinned to the post after the scamps try to take down the big guy. (6) Ash doesn’t have a conjoined twin – he’s about to come up against Evil Ash, who wants to get his hands on the Necronomicon for his own nefarious reasons.




VIDEO/AUDIO Struck from the original 35mm camera negatives “Army of Darkness’” (1.85:1 aspect ratio) brand spanking new 4K master was OK’d by Raimi and cinematographer Bill Pope (“The Matrix” trilogy) – and it’s a corker. (Before we go on, this Collector’s Edition also includes the director’s (Blu-ray), international (ditto) and television (standard-def) cuts. The theatrical cut, though, was the only one where the original cut negative was intact so that’s the one that got the 4K makeover.) Now, where were we? Oh yeah. The exterior shots are, in a word, dazzling. Credit the Dolby Vision HDR alchemists. The whites are brilliant, detail is incredibly sharp – there isn’t a link of chainmail, strand of hair, bead of sweat, grain of sand, or nick in the castle walls that’s missed – and the skin tones couldn’t look more natural. The peak HDR light level hits 944 nits and averages at a very high 911 nits. The nighttime sequences are mostly good as well, with boatloads of deep, inky blacks and detail to spare in the shadows. The picture, however, goes soft here and there, but that’s due to the old-school optical effects, compositing and matte photography, and it’s not a problem. Big props to Raimi and his FX crews: Their handiwork only makes the proceedings more fun. “Army of Darkness” is a noisy film, but in a good way, and, even if it leans on the center speaker, the DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is up to the task V (there’s also a 5.1 option). The campy dialogue never gets lost amid the hair-raising shrieks, crossed swords, and shotgun blasts.


(1) The aforementioned Evil Ash. (2) The Wiseman (Ian Abercrombie) tells Ash that if he wants to go home, he better find the Neconomicon first. (3-6) Shelia is in trouble as the castle is attacked by an army of stop-action Deadites that would make FX pioneer Ray Harryhausen proud.



EXTRAS

You say you want extras? Settle in. All of them are housed on the two Blu-ray discs and include a commentary with Raimi, his co-screenwriter, and brother, Ivan, and Campbell, the vintage featurettes “Creating the Deadites,” “The Men Behind the Army” and one about making the movie, behind-the scenes and on-set footage, extended interview clips, still galleries, storyboards, TV spots, promos, and the domestic and international trailers. The best of the bunch, though, is “Medieval Times: The Making of ‘Army of Darkness,’” a new, feature-length documentary bankrolled by Shout! Factory and hosted by Campbell, who’s as funny and likable off-screen as he is in front of the cameras.

“It cracks me up to this day,” he says. “Ash is so not the guy: He’s not a Navy SEAL, he works at S-Mart, has no skills and he’s cocky. This is the guy you want to spend $11 million on?” The wide-ranging feature also convenes Gilbert, Grove, Tim Quill, a longtime friend of Raimi and Campbell who plays the blacksmith, Tony Gardner, who created the makeup for Ash, Sheila and their no-good doppelgangers, and members of the effects departments. “In the first edition, we were just trying to make a movie,” Campbell says. “By the second, we were tired of the melancholy. ‘Army of Darkness’ just took it to the next level. It was definitely a departure.” Folks, you’re going to need a bigger bowl of popcorn. – Craig Shapiro


(1-2) Ash saves the day then bids farewell to Sheila before riding into the sunset on a white steed.




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