HD DVD Title: Army of Darkness (Combo Format)
Screen format: 1080P 1.85:1 (Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1 on DVD flip side)
First theatrical release: February 19, 1993
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple, including Universal and Anchor Bay special editions
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davitz,
Sound Formats: English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, Spanish DD 2.0
Length: 1 Hour 21 Minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
In Army of Darkness, Bruce Campbell continues the saga of Ash, a wisecracking S-Mart employee who often finds himself up against the supernatural forces of evil. While AoD’s predecessors (Evil Dead 1&2) focused on Ash’s (Campbell’s) lone fight against the ‘Deadite’ forces of evil deep in secluded woodlands, AoD dumps Ash in the 14th century, into the hands of the local ‘Primitive screwheads’ but still up against the Deadites. Ash must recover the Necronomicon, a book which both the Deadites want back and which the locals believe can restore their peace, and send Ash home. Ash will have to use his wits, his shotgun, and his chainsaw-for-a-hand to grab the book, save the villagers and get back to housewares.
Despite the flimsy appearance of plot in Army of Darkness, there are very few movies that are as quotable or as influential across so many genres. Combining humor, crude but effective visual effects, and one of the most interesting and charming lead characters ever filmed, AoD is a true classic, bridging horror, sword-slinging fantasy, action, comedy and even a little romance. AoD has influenced movies and gaming culture as well, not only spawning its own video game franchise but being the template for Duke Nukem as well.
Sound Quality: 2.5/5
Surprisingly the sound doesn’t necessarily excite as much as I expected it would on this release. While the DD Plus 5.1 does feature some interesting pan effects, particularly to match the signature ‘zoom cam’ effect when the evil dead stalks Ash, it isn’t a constant stream. Often the soundstage is decidedly stuck up in front. Bass is also somewhat tame, I had to check my sub a few times to make sure it was even working. The soundtrack features a title track by Danny Elfman, but is otherwise unremarkable. Ash’s dialogue however is always clear and the battle sounds, chainsaws, and his boomstick are satisfying and fun. Monster sounds and dialogue are similarly well done. Overall the soundtrack betrays its low budget production value moreso than the video quality does.
Visual Quality: 3.5/5
Much has been written on the net already regarding the look this version of AoD, and it is debatable whether it is because there seems to have been careful attention given to many scenes and not others or if it is exactly how the film stock itself is supposed to look. Comparing the previous DVD releases isn’t necessarily helpful here either, as the quality of those varies considerably from scene to scene as well, it seems that the very nature of the production of this movie led to these quality issues. Bottom line is that the vast majority of scenes have never looked better, but film grain in particular mars many scenes, especially early in the film.
Just looking at the opening Universal logo you immediately are struck by huge patches of grain, this version of the logo looks a lot worse than many movies from the 50s. Continuing on, many of the Evil Dead flashbacks have similar grain and edge enhancement issues. Yet the vast majority of the film doesn’t have these problems, in fact most scenes look better than they have on any prior release that I can recall. Colors are well saturated, and deep blacks hold down the dark scenes but also feature incredible detail in the shadows. Sharpness is very good, a little overdone in several scenes with some edge enhancement evident when foreground objects like spears appear in front of blue skies, but otherwise acceptable. There are VERY few pops or scratches to note, which was a relief given the uneven nature of these distractions on the HDDVDS on other Universal releases from the same time period.
It isn’t a perfect looking movie, and that’s a shame, but this is easily the best looking version of the film you can get. Hopefully down the road a more full featured package will be produced, given the nature of double and triple dipping for cult films like this I can say its almost guaranteed. It wouldnt surprise me at all to see the look of this film tightened even more if that is the case, but I suspect this is about as good as we can hope to see this film without a full restoration effort.
Extra Features: 0.5/5
A lousy looking theatrical trailer on the DVD side is the lone extra. This was the closest a 0/5 I’ve ever scored any film category.
Overall: 3.5/5 (not an average)
Without a doubt this is a quick filler copy, slapping a decent but not overwhelming HD transfer onto a combo disk and hoping for easy profit. Fans of the film surely have one of the dozen different DVD releases that have more extras, but lack the HD transfer. New viewers are likely to question the grainy early outdoor scenes and bemoan the lack of any extra content and the expense of the combo format. Overall, this is a very strange release. While I am happy to have the film looking so good, it could definitely have been treated better, and with more respect for the unlikely success it has achieved. AoD is a fun film that has managed to outgrow its low budget production into something influential and recognizable, it’s a shame this HD version only went halfway on it, giving pretty decent looking visuals for most of the film without backing it up on the extras side of things, especially since that content already exists on a dozen different DVD releases.