Sam Raimi’s beloved cult comedy/horror film receives the deluxe collector’s treatment from Scream Factory. On it, there are four versions of Raimi’s sequel to Evil Dead 2, three in 1080p high definition: the theatrical cut, the Director’s cut (with the original ending), the International cut (a 4k scan of the inter-positive), and the television version (in standard definition and additional footage). The three HD versions of Army of Darkness look great on Blu-ray, or as great as can be expected from the grainy original.
The film still holds up as a slapstick comedy. It’s more Abbot & Costello Meets Frankenstein than Dawn of the Dead. The love of the Three Stooges shared between Raimi, star Bruce Campbell and series producer Rob Talbert shines through, as does Raimi’s penchant for old school film tricks that include practical effects and as little green screening as possible. Army of Darkness is also a tribute to the great fantasy films of Ray Harryhausen, with miniature skeletons battling humans via movie magic. The zombies in Army of Darkness may not scare you, but they’ll certainly entertain you.
The three discs in the collection are crammed full of bonus features including many features from previous releases. You can watch the original ending, theatrical trailers, TV spots, storyboards, vintage interviews, and listen to audio commentary by Raimi, Campbell and Ivan Raimi, Sam’s brother and the co-writer of the film.
There are some superb make-up and animatronic effects in the film. Some were provided by KNB, the studio best known for The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (for which they won an Academy Award), working with Tarantino and the zombies in The Walking Dead, and Tony Gardner’s Alterian Studios. Gardner and his band of artists are best known for their work with the Farrelly Brothers, the Jackass movies (including Bad Grandpa), Zombieland and Hairspray.
Full disclosure, Tony Gardner is a close friend and I worked with him throughout the 1990s. In fact, I was an intern at Alterian during the summer of 1991 when they were working on Army of Darkness. I spent two nights on set as a PA, helping with the Skeletor animatronic puppet. This was my first film set experience, so you can imagine that Army of Darkness holds a fond place in my heart.
You can also imagine how excited I was to watch “Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness,” the new 96 minute documentary about the making of the movie included on this Blu-ray. As the box promotes, interviews include Campbell, Gardner, Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger of KNB, as well as some of the featured actors and stunt people. Notably missing is Raimi, which is a disappointment. However, it’s not quite as disappointing, and frankly angering, as the point of view of the documentary.
Gardner and his team were responsible for all of the makeup effects on Bruce Campbell, the star, as well as Embeth Davitz (then a newcomer), the film’s leading lady. Anything that had to do with these two, especially Campbell (including his face stretching, his arms extending, his body splitting in two and the evil Ash gruesome makeup featured in the posters) came from Alterian. You wouldn’t know that based on this documentary, for the role of Gardner and Alterian is downplayed in favor of promoting KNB and the history of their company. If you were a newcomer to Army of Darkness and watched this documentary, you could come away believing that KNB was the driving force behind the movie’s effects, and that is not true. While it may be that KNB made statistically more monsters for the movie, the work that was prominently featured in the movie, i.e. the effects on Campbell and Davitz, was done by Alterian.
Making matters worse, the manner in which the documentary is edited implies that some of Alterian’s effects were done by KNB. For example, when Greg Nicotero states that KNB is one of the last shops doing practical makeup effects, the video cuts to work done by Alterian. Likewise, after showing KNB behind the scenes footage of one of their animatronic puppets, the doc cuts to the Skeletor rig (i.e. Evil Ash after his flesh has burned off), a creation of Alterian.
The documentary goes into great detail about the history of KNB and how they were a small studio and Army of Darkness was their first big movie. I have no problem with that, except that Tony Gardner and Alterian deserves equal treatment, as they were also a young company whose only big credits were the Chuck Russell/Frank Darabont remake of The Blob and Raimi’s own Darkman. While I understand the allure of having the input of a big name and Academy Award winning company like KNB as a part of the documentary, this is not a fair and balanced look at the making of the movie.
I’ve always stayed out of the fray when it comes to controversies involving my friends in the industry. While I never have a reason to doubt them, I’m an outsider and I don’t believe in adding to the rumor mill. However, this time I’m compelled to speak up. I was there, I know. I saw the hard work done by Gardner and the artists at Alterian. This documentary not only denigrates Gardner, but the entire crew at Alterian. Sadly, this rewriting of history taints this otherwise wonderful Army of Darkness Blu-ray release.