Army of Darkness

Army of DarknessSynopsis: Trapped In Time. Surrounded By Evil. Low On Gas.

Bound in human flesh, inked in blood – and amazingly hard to pronounce – the ancient “Necronomicon” (Book of the Dead) unleashes unspeakable evil upon mankind in director Sam Raimi’s (Darkman) outrageously hilarious sword-and-sorcery epic.

Back to do battle with the hideous “Deadites,” Bruce Campbell reprises his role from the Evil Dead series as Ash, the handsome, shotgun-toting, chainsaw-armed department store clerk from S-Mart’s housewares division. Demonic forces time warp him – and his ’73 Oldsmobile – into England’s Dark Ages, where he romances a beauty (Embeth Davidtz) and faces legions of undead beasts, including a ghastly army of skeletons. Can Ash save the living from the evil dead, rescue his girlfriend, and get back to his own time?

Overflowing with spectacular special effects, Army of Darkness will make you scream with fear and laughter.

***********************************************************************

Army of Darkness 8.0

eyelights: Bruce Campbell. its novel combination of slapstick humour and horror. its motion picture score.
eyesores: its poor optical effects. its astounding lack of logic. Ash crashing his windmill-mobile.

“I may be bad… but I feel gooood.”

‘Army of Darkness’ is probably the first bad-but-good movie I’ve ever seen and enjoyed. I don’t know how many I’d seen before this one, but I remember clearly how blown away I was with this high camp horror masterpiece. I had never seen anything quite like it, and ended up showing it to anyone who was willing to spare the 80 minutes.

A high school friend of mine had seen the picture and insisted that I see it. He was not a horror film buff (and still isn’t), but he insisted that it was hilarious, a must-see. He then told me about the other two ‘Evil Dead‘ movies, and I went and got those to watch. Although I enjoyed them, they did not match the manic zaniness of this one.

For many years, ‘Army of Darkness’ would be my favourite comedy of all time.

When Sam Raimi made ‘Evil Dead II‘, he fully intended to send Ash back in time at the end, to fight his way back from the early 14th century. Unfortunately, they had budget constraints and couldn’t complete the picture the way that they wanted to. So what they did was to film enough of it to send Ash back in time and trap him there, to great comic effect.

When they decided to do a follow-up, they took the story from where they left it. Originally intended to be called ‘The Medieval Dead’, Raimi for some reason couldn’t use the title and had to settle for the less evocative and amusing ‘Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness’. By the time the film was released, it was merely called ‘Army of Darkness’.

‘Army of Darkness’ takes us to approximately 1300 A.D., where Ash must fight an army of Deadites. But it begins with a quick recap of the story for those who are new to the franchise. Interestingly, they reshot the footage of the previous film but with Brigit Fonda as Ash’s girlfriend, incorporated some of ‘Evil Dead II’, and reshot the 14th century footage.

It doesn’t merge together especially well: there’s a distinct difference in quality between the old and new footage. But I couldn’t tell the first time I saw it. Anyway, all of this is enhanced by Ash narrating the backstory in the present, whilst at work at his job – as a clerk at S-Mart (“Shop smart. Shop S-Mart”, he advises). It’s hilarious stuff.

Then we go to the 14th century, where Ash finds himself in the middle of battle between two armies. He is immediately captured as an enemy combatant, despite his assertions that he isn’t with the defeated soldiers, or the fact that he looks nothing like them – or anyone from that era, for that matter. All logic would escape King Arthur and his men.

This would become a recurring issue with ‘Army of Darkness’: nothing much makes sense. It defeats all logic from start to finish. Further to this, the picture is riddled with anachronisms, continuity errors, and various inconsistencies. This is an ambitious picture, but it was either beyond the filmmakers’ ability at the time or they purposely made these errors for laughs.

The focus of ‘Army of Darkness’ is predominantly comedy – even more so than ‘Evil Dead II’. In fact, it’s so outrageously nutty that one feels that the humour took precedence over any other consideration, whether it be plot or logic. The film is heavily influenced by The Three Stooges, a huge inspiration of Raimi’s: the slapstick routine are outrageous.

In so doing, Ash becomes even more of a caricature than he’d become in ‘Evil Dead II’. In ‘Army of Darkness, he’s a corny action hero, more arrogant than brave, more selfish than heroic, and more pretentious than intelligent. He became a cheesy one-liner spewing douche-bag – with none of his one-liners being actually witty (which is exactly the joke).

Because if there’s anything that can be said about Raimi and company, it’s that they don’t take themselves seriously enough that they can’t see the absurdity of what they’re proposing. So they poke fun at their own protagonist, make him look like a schlep, and put him through the ringer. He is meant to be the butt end of the joke, even as we cheer him on.

Bruce Campbell was absolutely brilliant in the part. Although his career has been undermined by an inexplicable number of horrible Z-grade movies, he’s quite an under-rated actor: he can inject gravitas and then switch over to comedy with the best of the best. In this version of Ash, he gets to chew the scenery, being a spineless idiot one moment, the other being a confident hero.

And also being a bad-@$$ undead villain.

Because, yes, ‘Army of Darkness’ features an evil version of Ash. In our story, we find that Ash’s only way of returning back to his time is to get the Necronomicon, so that the local mage may cast a spell from it. But, in the process of seeking it out, he is tormented by evil entities who create an alternate version of him and then raise the dead to attack him and King Arthur’s contingent.

The process by which the evil Ash is borne, is utterly inspired by Raimi’s love of slapstick comedy (as are most of the film’s best sequences): on his way to grab the Necronomicon, Ash hides from the evil spirits chasing him by going into a windmill, only to find himself attacked by miniscule versions of himself after he looks at himself in a mirror and breaks it.

These other selves are the reflections of Ash in the shards on the ground, and they team up to trip him, poke him and irritate him until he pecks them off one-by-one in the most ridiculous fashion. But they are more clever than he imagined and one of them gets inside his mouth. And although Ash pours boiling water inside himself, he is unable to get this tiny villain out.

From there grows the other Ash, who grows to the point that Ash becomes a Siamese twin with two heads, eventually splitting off into two of him. The absurd physicality of this moment is beyond description: Ash is in struggle with himself as the evil Ash tries to get his way and then, in a unforgettable split-screen, the two duke it out… to the death.

Not that death can stop the Deadites…

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

Some of the moments that make me squeal with glee include:

  • Ash is thrown into the pit with the Deadite by King Arthur and she sucker-punches him brutally, like a man. It’s like watching wrasslin’, but with Ash on the receiving end.
  • Ash’s chainsaw is thrown into the pit by a helpful mage, and he jumps up in the air to connect his stump with it. Which it does, perfectly, without a glitch.
  • When Ash introduces his “boomstick” to the “primitives” by going into his S-Mart spiel – and actually captures their attention as though they were customers. Consumerism knows no borders – not even time. Too funny!
  • The POV shot of an arrow. Who came up with this “arrow cam”? It’s just so weird and silly…
  • The ridiculous POV shots of the evil entity coming after Ash – it looks like it was shot on a motorcycle. Which, let’s face it, it probably was.
  • The moment in the windmill when Ash is tripped, falls onto the hot stove face first, and has to use a spatula to scrape his face off. That it takes him multiple tries adds to the moment.
  • Ash doing a four-legged race with the evil Ash at his side. It’s such a weird sight in a horror film!
  • Ash is tied down on the ground, and all the skeletons hands pop out to taunt him. He has to resort to Three Stooges moves to protect his face, something that’s patently absurd not just in concept but in execution.

And that’s just a few of them!

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

The key problem, aside from its overall lack of logic, is the quality of the effects that Raimi uses to create this fantasy environment. He used a variety of options, including stop-motion animation, puppetry, front-projection, and it looks like crap. The problem is that none of it looks convincing and, together, they amplify the ineptitude of the picture. You just don’t buy it.

Obviously the problem here is the film’s low budget, which couldn’t handle the demands of the piece. This is further evidenced by the cheapness of the costumes, unbelievably bad wigs and the non-actors who populate the picture (their p!$$-poor accents were a real earsore). It’s amazing that they could afford Bridget Fonda to cameo and Danny Elfman to write the theme of the picture.

(It’s completely unrelated, but the Fonda and Elfman would hook up a decade later and raise a family together.)

The music is one of the picture’s greatest assets. Joseph LoDuca, who was also the composer for the previous two installments in the ‘Evil Dead’ series, put together an excellent score. Admittedly, Elfman’s “March of the Dead” stands out the most, but LoDuca also injected some fine moments, not least of which was this Western adventure-type theme that enhanced the horseback scenes.

The release of ‘Army of Darkness’ is a confusing one. Not only was the title changed from ‘Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness’ to ‘Army of Darkness’, thereby noting no association with the franchise, but in the UK it was released as ‘Army of Darkness: The Medieval Dead’, somehow combining Raimi’s preferred title with the North American one.

Was it studio interference? Very likely. After all, they also demanded that the ending be changed: Raimi’s original ending has Ash screwing up his return back to the present and instead winds up trapped in a post-apocalyptic future, in a reversal from ‘Evil Dead II’. Unfortunately, Universal refused to distribute the picture with a downbeat ending, so they reshot the scene.

In the end, ‘Army of Darkness’ sold more tickets than its predecessors, but it was hardly profitable, having cost more than twice what the others had cost combined. It would be the last installment in the series until the 2013 reboot, ‘Evil Dead’. There have been persistent rumours that another movie is in the offing, however, and one can only hope that some of them are true.

One of them, my favourite, would have a sequel to ‘Army of Darkness’, a sequel to ‘Evil Dead (2013)’ and then a another film that follows up both and brings them together. Now that’s something I would pay to see. I have yet to see the reboot (although that’s coming soon, I promise!), but I simply love the idea of taking two alternate realities and blending them like that.

In the meantime, however, there will always the originals.

I’ve watched ‘Army of Darkness’ too often for me to still enjoy it as much as I once did: the jokes aren’t as funny to me now and, consequently, its many blemishes bother me more – I’m not distracted by the humour as I once was. But it remains a high camp masterpiece, and I wuvs it. It’s flawed, it’s even sloppy, but it’s so wonderfully zany that it’s well-worth seeing.

Hail to the King, baby!

Story: 8.0
Acting: 7.5
Production: 7.5

Chills: 3.0
Gore: 3.0
Violence: 7.0

Date of viewing: October 5, 2014

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