The most important detail anyone needs to know about Shout! Factory’s 4K steelbook treatment of Sam Raimi’s seminal 1992 horror-comedy masterpiece Army of Darkness is this: It’s the best home video release the movie has ever gotten, and possibly ever will get. Even if you’re merely a casual fan, you owe it to yourself to snag a copy. Only a primitive screwhead would pass this edition up.
This calls for a recap: When Raimi left Ash (Bruce Campbell in arguably his most iconic chin-forward performance) at the end of Evil Dead II, the evil that menaced him and his friends throughout the film was, in fact, not dead enough. Said evil hurls Ash back in time to the Fictionalized Dark Ages, where the beset upon Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) is at war with marauding hordes of undead and demons. He’s also engaged in the casual authoritarian oppression of his kingdom’s northern neighbors, led by Duke Henry the Red (Richard Grove). Things look pretty grim. So Ash, armed with his trusty chainsaw, his shotgun, and an anachronistically sophisticated mechanical hand, quests for the fleshbound tome that’ll send these monsters packing — and him back to the 1990s.
In another life, Raimi might have been a gymnast considering the acrobatic agility he approaches filmmaking in this one. For that matter, he might’ve been Moe or Curly Howard, or Larry Fine, because he always finds a reason to write a punchline even when he’s orchestrating character deaths. Henry’s vassal tumbling into Arthur’s dreaded pit and releasing a geyser of arterial spray into the sky, across the courtyard, all over the onlooking knights, artisans, gentleladies, and peasants is classic Raimi: Disgusting, yet hilarious. Shout!’s 4K presentation deepens Army of Darkness’s color palette in scenes like these — you’ve never seen reds in a Raimi film look this red before — but more importantly it injects fresh vitality into Bill Pope’s cinematography and Bob Murawski’s editing. Every snap zoom, axial cut, and whip pan crackles with contemporary urgency, as if Raimi and his crew shot the whole damn thing yesterday. Practical effects techniques disfavored in tentpole blockbusters today feel brand new.
The One 4K Downside
But with that pitch comes a necessary caveat. While Shout! assembled the theatrical, TV, international, and director’s cuts together in one truly rad package, only the theatrical cut is presented in 4K. A king bummer, but Shout! made this tough call out of due diligence, not negligence. Raimi’s cut of Army of Darkness clocks in at 15 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, and ends on a considerably darker note, with our hero, Ash Williams, drinking too much magical potion and waking up in a post-apocalyptic England. (That’s what happens when you forget to set your alarm.) But Shout! didn’t have access to the additional footage, and so decided not to take the Raimi cut down the 4K route. If you can’t restore the whole cut in 4K, the reasoning goes, then don’t bother.
Fair enough. Pine for a 4K Raimi cut if you must, but remember that the gulf between upscaled and native 4K is significant, and that “good enough” isn’t actually good enough for a film like Army of Darkness, whose influence still holds nearly 30 years after hitting theaters. (For best evidence, go watch Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s Deadstream on Shudder. You’ll thank us later.) Frankly, millennial horror geeks who grew up on Army of Darkness first and both Evil Dead films second are more familiar with the theatrical cut anyway. Watching it enhanced to glorious effect, with its textures sharpened and colors saturated, is like watching it for the first time all over again.
It’s a shame Shout! couldn’t 4K Army of Darkness’s Raimi cut, sure. But it’s a joy to see their efforts pay off so handsomely on the theatrical cut. You won’t find anything new here in the extras department (Shout! covered all the ground there was to cover in the extras ported over from its 2015 Blu-ray), but the company made Army of Darkness itself look new, and that alone is justification enough for the purchase.