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With: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove, Timothy Patrick Quill, Michael Earl Reid, Bridget Fonda, Ted Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Directed by: Sam Raimi
MPAA Rating: R for violence and horror
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/10/1992

Army of Darkness (1992)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Boom Sticks and Evil Shemps

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Some movies just get the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Army of Darkness was director Sam Raimi's blowout third chapter in his brilliant Evil Dead trilogy. It was done for a big studio (Universal Pictures) and for producer Dino de Laurentiis. But thanks to lawsuits completely unrelated to Raimi and his movie, and to skittish studio suits, the film was cut from 96 minutes to 81 minutes and given a phony happy ending. The original cut has long been a Holy Grail for cult movie fans.

Now, thanks to Anchor Bay Entertainment, the official Army of Darkness director's cut is here. And the world feels whole again.

The new DVD has the full 96-minute cut and includes supplemental outtakes as well as commentary by Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, and co-writer Ivan Raimi. The only thing that's missing is the original happy ending, which I saw in the theater in 1993 but can't really remember now.

The movie is a jaw-dropper. It was one of the first U.S. pictures to be influenced by the new wave of Hong Kong movies like A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). Raimi's camerawork and cutting capture the loose fluidity and rapid movement of those now-classic gems. I continually harp on movies that are careless in their photography and cutting, going for a jagged and hard-to-see style instead of clarity. Army of Darkness is an example of how action movies should be done.

The story picks up where Evil Dead 2 (1987) left off with Ash (Campbell) being whisked away through a portal of some kind and landing in the 12th century. (Bridget Fonda--a fan of the Evil Dead pictures -- appears briefly in the flashback, even though she wasn't in Evil Dead 2.) Ash must now retrieve the Book of the Dead so that he can go back to the future. But he inadvertently awakens an army of the dead (portrayed as Ray Harryhausen-like animated skeletons), which he then must battle and destroy. He must also save the beautiful girl he's fallen for, played by the lovely Embeth Davidtz (who went on to appear in Schindler's List).

This was Campbell's one big starring role and he should have become a huge movie star. He has charisma to burn; he can be tough and mean, or cuddly and comical. His Ash is a Homer Simpson-like loser with a good heart but a short attention span. He talks in cowboy and detective movie talk ("Gimme some sugar, Baby") and indulges in Three Stooges-like routines.

But Campbell's career and the movie were unceremoniously dumped by Universal. They most likely didn't know how to market it, falling into a kind of sketchy comedy/action movie/horror movie. Not to mention that horror films at the time were on the skids, well before the Scream (1996) renaissance.

DVD Details: The 2000 DVD, from Anchor Bay Entertainment, is a great package, though the footage of the movie is sometimes dark and the stock doesn't always match as a result of restored from various sources. The commentary is funny and strangely self-effacing, as if Raimi and Campbell were embarrassed by the movie (they shouldn't be). Ivan Raimi shows up in the middle of the commentary, having just come from work (where, he won't say). The outtakes are from the original cut, and not from the 1993 theatrical release. Fans can also watch the movie with storyboards and look at original production drawings. The menus are also among the best I've seen. Army of Darkness is being released in a limited edition, so check it out before it goes away again. It's a must-have. [Note: the previous edition is now out of print. The movie was re-issued in 2009 in the "Screwhead Edition."]

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