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If you gave up looking for the ultimate version of Army Of Darkness on DVD, then get ready to be happy - the Director's Cut is finally here in all its visual and aural glory, but it has come from a very unexpected source.  Due to the on-going mess with the domestic and international distribution rights for this "cut" of the movie, MGM sought to strike a renewed film-to-video transfer from the source material by organising an unusual yet clever distribution arrangement.  The work-around to this rights issue was solved by releasing their DVD through Region 3 Asia - an end to the means of obtaining the original film-negatives and multitrack sound-recordings of the Director's Cut so that a whole new remastered transfer could take place for this cult-classic.  It has only taken about 10 years to finally get this one right!

Strangely enough, this DVD is also Region 4 encoded ... maybe for release in South America, but not Oz!

Now, if you are already familiar with everything regarding this film then go for the quality sub-sections of this review, otherwise read on for a little history lesson ...

"Thou art a murderer!" ... "I never even SAW these assholes before!"
Video History
If you'd like to compare the image quality between the various DVD releases then click on either of the links below ... the last one also goes into the movie's contentious past on home video as well as a recent update regarding even more upcoming DVDs for the Evil Dead Trilogy ...

[*]<a href=http://www.dvdanswers.com/index.php?r=0&;s=8&c=12>David's AoD video shots comparison</a>
[*]<a href=http://www.dvdanswers.com/index.php?r=0&;s=8&c=18>Warwick's AoD video shots and DVD release comparisons</a>

Movie History
In the beginning, director Sam Raimi had total control over his first two Evil Dead movies due to the independent studio environment he worked under.  However the third movie was a different matter since the financiers at Universal stipulated that his initial 2-hour rough cut of Army Of Darkness should be trimmed down to something more "audience friendly", making it light-hearted and shorter in length.  The end result was the Universal Studios Production (Theatrical) Cut which, luckily for the fans, provided some "alternate takes" to those used in his preferred lengthier Director's Cut - this resulted in many of the one-liners being changed or even added to.  The Director's Cut was probably the first "fully produced" version as there are some scenes within the climactic battle which I feel play better as re-arranged within the Theatrical Cut ... but as for the rest of the film, "the more the merrier!"

The reason I love this movie so much (in either incarnation) is because of the clash of cultures between the contemporary traveller towards a culture of primitive screw-heads, not unlike the situations faced by Marty McFly in the Back To The Future Trilogy.  Add to this is the knucklehead persona contrasting against what is supposed to be a serious situation and environment (albeit with slapstick-comedic Deadites appearing every which way).  Much, if not all of this movie seems to play out like an Opera production as everything onscreen is extremely stylised with every actor expressing themselves well beyond those of real-life ... check out the Bad Ash and Sheila encounter to see what I mean.

This movie should have been the one to set Bruce Campbell's star alight, but alas the audience failed to appreciate Army Of Darkness for the campy horror medieval flick that it is and poor ol' Brucey has been relegated to B-grade status ever since (not that he really minds, he still appears in the odd cameo role from Sam Raimi's future productions).  There is no doubt that Bruce can carry a movie all on his own, but I guess his elongated chin and personification of the worst kind of Anti-Hero ever isn't much called for these days in the movie business ... more's the pity.

Some fans prefer the shorter 82-minute Opus since it contains the more exciting S-Mart / She-Demon ending rather than the downbeat Apocalyptic / Slept Too Long finale in the longer 96-minute Epic, but each version still has something unique to offer ... "Yeah, and I'm a Chinese Jet-Pilot!"

The proof's in the MGM pudding ... dig in.
Trilogy History
Evil Dead came out in 1982 after a mammoth 4 years of filming and production to rave reviews with its then-considered unique take on the horror genre by Sam Raimi of Spiderman fame.  Even today this movie is still considered just as gross, tasteless and horrifying to all newcomers, but no doubt the subtle (over-the-top?) comedic elements in the visuals are acknowledged by the fans, which I'm sure is what Sam Raimi would have wanted you to see in an extremely subliminal way.  And this is where the controversy between his original fan-base comes in ...

Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn was produced in 1987 after much anticipation, but this wasn't at all what the fans were expecting - this time around Sam Raimi spun everything he did in the previous film on its head by exhibiting equal parts of laughter and horror, much like what his fans demonstrated when they first saw it.  This was the Scream equivalent of the '80s as each shock tactic travelled side-by-side with its hilarous counterpart.  However, fans of the original movie were split over whether this sequel (remake?) should have stuck with its horror origins or if they could allow themselves to laugh at the hysterical actions onscreen as an added bonus.  The effect of combining genuine scares with continually uproarious situations did not sit well with its core horror-legion, which inevitably led to ...

Army Of Darkness made its way onto screens in 1993, but Universal wanted this installment to stand out on its own without any moniker to distinguish it as being Part 3 of the Evil Dead Trilogy (not that any of the movies really followed a linear path anyway).  This movie was received with even more horror (excuse the pun) from some of the original devotees, as it now seemed focussed on lampooning everything in sight with only the occasional fright included just for the sake of completion.  Those people who expected a U-turn back to the original scare-fest of old simply found themselves rejecting the very man they respected earlier on as a horror-meister and rebuked his obvious mastery at visual dynamics, regardless of the content he delivered.  However many other enthusiasts managed to appreciate Sam's final foray into this unintentioned Trilogy and were able to enjoy the entire craft for what it is worth.

As a result of all this division, the horror-fans have denounced Army Of Darkness (if not Evil Dead II) for ignoring its roots ... but for those who possessed minds not-so-narrow knew that if you are going to flog a dead horse then you should at least try to paint it in a different colour each time, least you be accused of treading down the same well-worn stretch of road with every sequel you make.  This Trilogy is one of those little quirks in cinematic history that can still claim to be "cult" in the true sense of the word, rather than it just being used as a catch-phrase when something has suddenly turned popular - of which this Trilogy probably never will.  And just like the now-defunct TV Series Farscape, they will only live on in the memories and hearts of those who have "got" it ... and in some way this is how we'd prefer it to be.

"The prophecy of a wise man ... fulfilled by a wise guy."
Movie
Army Of Darkness is a threequel (prequel?) to Evil Dead and Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn.  These movies follow the ill-fated fortunes of all who come into contact with a book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood - Necronomicon Ex Mortis, or "Book Of The Dead".  The first movie was played for horror, the second for frightful fits of laughter, and the third ... well, you can guess.  Never mind that Ash forgot the events after the first movie and actually returned to the same house to experience the misery of the Evil Dead a second time ... nor that there are three Linda's that die in these movies, etc etc.

Ash (Bruce Campbell), along with his trusty Oldsmobile, are transported halfway across the globe (apparently) and back in time by a dimensional portal created by the Deadites, smack bang in the middle of a medieval throng of the 14th Century ... aroundabouts.  It is here that Ash meets with Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) and his arch-nemesis Duke Henry The Red (Richard Grove) - Ash is then marched off to meet his doom with a captured Deadite or two.  A wiseman foretells of such a man defeating the Deadites in order to save everyone from certain peril, only Ash is unwilling to become their misguided saviour but ultimately takes on the job just so he can get back to his own time.  He soon pillow-talks his way into the arms of the beautiful maiden named Sheila (Embeth Davidtz), then "quests off" into the great unknown to retrieve the Necronomicon from its cradle possessed by the sleeping Army Of The Dead.

From here on in, Ash's nightmares are only just beginning ...

Video
When you first pop this MGM edition of the Director's Cut into your DVD player you'll want to swing from a rope yelling "Tally-Ho!" and kick the nasty old Anchor Bay version out the window.  It finally took MGM to recite "klaatu, barada, nikto" with every single little tiny syllable intact and deliver the Necronomicon safely from the Unholy Cemetery's cradle.  Firstly, the quality of this MGM edition is 100% watchable (unlike the dire Anchor Bay edition) where all the scenes that were previously hidden in the darkest pits of hell are now revealed.  Apparently, the "cut footage" was extensively restored along with the rest of the print so you'd swear that this was all sourced from one whole production standpoint.

The major difference in image quality between this MGM R3 Director's Cut and the Anchor Bay R1 THX'd Theatrical Cut is that the brightness level has been increased by a few notches, which is both a good and bad thing.  The daytime sequences in Anchor Bay's THX'd edition represent a more natural delineation of contrast and colour scheme, but the MGM edition shows a slightly bleached look to these same sections.  However, since most of this film plays out at nighttime, the MGM version more than makes up for the lack of deeper blacks by allowing a much more defined level of shadow detail to shine through in all the darker set-pieces, unlike the Anchor Bay THX'd version which actually kept the black level technically correct even if it meant that everything else onscreen was harder to identify.

Even though this is barely a ten-year old film there are still heaps of film artifacts present such as dirt, dust and hairs (depending on the scene that was filmed), but this adds an invaluable yet unintentional effect to the image which aids in selling the "old-time feel" of the movie.  Image detail is actually sharper in the Anchor Bay THX'd transfer, so comparitively the light/dark highlights are not quite as pronounced within the MGM transfer.  Grain is less evident with the MGM image and the video-encoding has been kept at a very healthy 7.5-8.5 Mbps throughout which aids in avoiding anything remotely MPEG-blocky.  Colours in the MGM disc exhibit a more vibrant hue due to the brighter remastering - the Anchor Bay disc still shows a more natural tint with maybe better blues in the daytime, but that's about it really.

Basically, everything you see in this new MGM DVD is extremely well rendered so that everything can be enjoyed in full without strain or effort, however focus and sharpness comes off just slightly short of the THX-approved version.  And considering the entire budget for the movie was only US$11m (which only just broke even in the box-office), Sam Raimi had to pull every trick in the book to provide an epic scale for his movie, even if it was at the sacrifice of a perfectly glitch-free film-print.

"The Castle is Ours!" ... "The Book is Mine!"
As for which disc retains as much of the filmed image as possible onscreen, Anchor Bay's R1/R2 THX'd Theatrical Cut DVD wins hands down for the most visual information revealed in both the top/bottom and left/right sides of the picture (in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio).  Next is MGM's R3 Director's Cut DVD with the top/bottom edges slightly tapered off and the left/right sides virtually intact (in a 1.78:1 framing).  The worst of the optical borderings is Anchor Bay's R1/R2 Director's Cut DVD which has all sides of the frame cropped by a good 5% or better / worse (even within a similar 1.66:1 window as the THX'd version).  You can look at the comparisons between each of the discs in the links provided above.

Audio
This MGM 5.1 remix is on par with its THX-approved Anchor Bay cousin, which is quite remarkable since it only saw the light of a film-projector once at a Spanish Film Festival.  The other irony here is that the soundmixes for both "cuts" were produced at Skywalker Sound - the 82-minute Theatrical Cut received a THX-approval certificate in the end credits, although the 96-minute Director's Cut does not get one here.

The first thing that doesn't make itself completely obvious in this remix is the presence of split-surround sound - I'm sure it's there, but luckily the immersive surround soundfield makes up for any lack of possible pinpoint sound-locationing.  Also, we get a lot of fancy left-to-right panning of various sound elements which I believe was devised to make up for the shortfall in the original Dolby Surround mono-rear mix.  The subwoofer gets a healthy run for its money by giving much needed support to the subtle and growling moments of the movie whilst never becoming overly noticable throughout.

Finally, the dialogue is clean and clear even with the lush sound effects and orchestral music filling our ear-drums consistently.  If maybe some dialogue escapes you, there are now subtitles for this movie.

Extras
Even if the MGM DVD were to have no extras, it would still be worth getting for the brillaint video and audio transfer alone.  This MGM variant of the Director's Cut only repeats some of what is already present in the original Anchor Bay release, but newcomers will be pleased with the limited material on offer here.

First up is the informative audio commentary with director Sam Raimi, star Bruce Campbell and co-writer Ivan Raimi.  This is a casual look back at what happened on and off the screen with many annecdotes regarding the cast and crew, especially the continual appearance of other brother Ted Raimi in at least half a dozen cameo character parts here.  They also refer to the original restoration effort made by Anchor Bay of certain scenes that were located from various sources, but the most that is said about them is "there may be a slight shift in quality" - which is an understatement of biblical proportions, actually.  Either they were obligated not to mention this obvious flaw or somehow the Anchor Bay DVD encoding turned out to be a lot worse than the "remastered" source itself.  This banter is nothing like the hilarious one found in Evil Dead II, but at least it's not as clinically mundane as the two in Evil Dead.

Next on the agenda are the deleted scenes that were not included in either "cut" of this movie which are presented in 4:3 widescreen (these include an optional commentary by Sam and Bruce).  Here we can see the original opening credits (with Bruce Campbell in shadow to hide what could possibly be his post-apocalyptic facial-hair) as well as the alternate ending (the S-Mart / She-Demon climax from the Theatrical Cut, in full 5.1 sound too).  There's a small but nice photo gallery which could have done with some text descriptions if not some more candid looks at the production.  The famed theatrical trailer is here which is actually a different encoding from the one that Anchor Bay provided, although both of them are 16:9 enhanced - it also has that fantastic rock song (as yet unidentified) for the musical backing.

And for those harder-of-hearing folk out there, we have finally been blessed with subtitles ranging from plain ol' English right through to a hand-picked selection of Asian variants as well.  The English ones actually miss out on a lot of background comments that I would have preferred to see onscreen, however it does pretty much follow the main dialogue.

Apocalyptic or S-Mart ending?  You choose.
The only extra that was not included in this DVD from Anchor Bay's R1 Director's Cut are the storyboards, although I'd never miss them myself.  Unfortunately though, the entertaining 20-minute documentary "The Men Behing The Army" on the THX'd edition was not sought after for this MGM release, but what we have here is more than enough to satisfy the hunger of all those who have been craving a solid dose of Evil Dead 3 in a watchable format ... this should be more than enough reason to buy the disc anyway.

Summary
This has to be one of the hardest DVDs for me to review - I am torn between giving it a rating from the heart or to be as technically unmerciful as any good reviewer should really be.  To be perfectly honest, the video could have done with an extensive artifacts cleanup, the audio to be entirely re-recorded for an incredibly detailed and directional surround experience, and most importantly a brand new documentary that details what the cast, crew and skeletons had for lunch each day.

I'm just kidding ... Army Of Darkness has never looked or sounded better.  Considering that this much-anticipated Director's Cut has finally been given the proper transfer it deserved so long ago, this DVD truly deserves the top mark for the amount of effort that MGM has afforded for it.  There will probably never be a better transfer given for this version of the movie, so I give this DVD the unratable two thumbs up.


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