Thursday, October 3, 2013

Army of Darkness

31 Days of Horror: Day 3
All right, now we're talking.  After watching The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II on consecutive nights, now it is time for Army of Darkness, the third and possibly final entry in Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell's Ash trilogy.  This was the movie that I had some peripheral awareness of, even before I became a fan of horror movies, if only because this movie poster was on the back cover of every comic book I bought in 1992.  One of my fondest Army of Darkness memories involves a few of my moderately normal friends in college asking me to choose what we watched on a movie night; they wanted "strange" things they hadn't seen before, and I chose Army of Darkness and Labyrinth.  They were (obviously) excellent choices, but I don't recall receiving any standing ovations.  Anyway, Evil Dead II has made me like it more and more with each viewing.  Will the same go for Army of Darkness?
Last time we saw Ash (), he had been sucked into a void (along with his car) after he defeated the evil wood spirit/demon/thing that plagued the Evil Dead movies.  When he landed on the other side of the void, he was in Medieval times and he was once again faced with possessed monsters.  This time, though, they have a name: Deadites.  While it is possible for Ash to find his way home again, it requires him to go into a haunted cemetery and retrieve the Necronomicon, which is the book Ash burned in the first film.  All he has to do is brave the challenges ahead of him and say some magic words, and all will be right with the world.  Since not much has gone right for Ash in the last few days (Is that math correct?  Do the events of the first two movies take only about two days?), the Deadites rise up and mount a large-scale attack to retrieve the Necronomicon.  Who will lead the miserably primitive Medieval peons against the Deadite army (of darkness)?  The only man with balls big enough to carry a shotgun and a chainsaw hand, of course.
Pictured: General Ash and PFC Boom Stick

Army of Darkness stayed true to its acting roots, once again going out of its way to not try to impress audiences with the talent of its cast.  This time around, got to be even more of a cartoon character, both with his physical humor and with the special effects.
Following true cartoon logic, shaking his head fixes this disfigurement
What I like best about Campbell's performance his fantastically over-macho swagger.  This isn't something we've seen in the other Evil Dead movies, but it's a big part of what makes this one special.  plays Ash's love interest, and she gives the best performance of any female in this series so far.  That's not saying much, and it's saying even less in AoD because Ash spends a hefty amount of time sharing the screen with evil versions of himself.  Still, she was perfectly acceptable with only a few lines.  and were okay as the leaders of the non-Deadite forces, but neither really had much to do.  sounded as wise as his role required.  has a brief cameo as Ash's dead girlfriend in a flashback, but she doesn't even get a line.  did a little better, playing three brief bit parts.  There's not much to say about the acting outside of Campbell because the movie relies so heavily on him.
For the villain, they cast the only man who could hold his own against Bruce Campbell: Bruce Campbell

Sam Raimi returned as director and co-writer for a third round with Ash and the Deadites in Army of Darkness.  By this point, Raimi had just had his first mainstream hit, Darkman, and got a substantially larger budget for this film as a result.  With that in mind, a lot of his choices are curious.  Why go the Jason and the Argonauts route with the skeleton army?  Sure, I guess it looks cool, but it makes the inclusion of non-skeleton warriors --- who suddenly appear whenever there is a castle interior shot --- seem a little out of place.
None of these brave soldiers make it inside the castle gates
I would have thought the cost for the skeleton FX would be greater than costuming people (which he ended up doing, anyway).  This movie is kind of like Baron Munchausen in that it is pretty obvious where the budget went, and it's not always clear if the cost was worth it.  I'm not complaining, by any means, about Raimi's love of old-school special effects.
A rubber suit, water, a fog machine, with fake moss and rocks still make for fun scenes
He just made some unusual choices.  Chief among those was making Army of Darkness skew heavily toward its comedic elements.  It is strange to think of a sequel that purposely strays from the tone of its predecessor --- I can't imagine that happening today --- but I guess Raimi & co. had already gotten the ball rolling with Evil Dead II, so why not go all-out in the final chapter?  Raimi's direction did a good job emphasizing the one-liners in the script, and he made the special effects look good.  Beyond that, this movie just feels like he was having fun.
...or possibly on drugs

While I would probably categorize Army of Darkness as more of a comedy than a horror movie, it does have enough gross imagery to stay in the horror genre.  One of the odder things about this movie, though, is its rating.  Army of Darkness is rated "R."  For a movie with relatively little gore (aside from some ridiculous over-use of fake blood in the beginning), no sex, and little profanity, that seems a bit harsh.  If you just look at the stills, then sure, I can see Evil Ash looking a bit gross and scary.
But his grosses moment just had him trying to kiss a girl.  That is a pretty soft "R."  If I was making the movie and received that rating, I would have gone back and gored things up a bit to make the rating worthwhile.
In my "R" cutting, Bat-Deadite is touching her boobies

With its toned-down feel, how does Army of Darkness stack up?  As far as horror-comedy blends go, it's one of the better ones.  The lines are often corny, but they are classics worth memorizing.  That doesn't make it a good horror movie, though.  I find myself entertained by this movie every time I watch it, but I'm laughing at the same parts every time, with dwindling results.
"It's not THAT bad.  Throw us a *bad pun*"
Maybe I need to watch this with a first-time viewer, to remember what it was like when "Groovy" and "Boom stick" were brand new to me.  Will I watch Army of Darkness again?  Absolutely.  When I have kids, this will be one of the first "horror" movies they will see.  Is it my favorite Evil Dead movie?  Not anymore.  That distinction now belongs to Evil Dead II.

2 comments:

  1. When the features have those women on chains in the cemetery one of them is topless

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  2. Funny, when I was reading the review to Evil Dead, I too was sure that I had seen it. So this means, not only do I have to watch the first one for tree-rape, but now I have to rewatch Army of Darkness for a topless cemetary chick. Add this to my newfound knowledge that Miley Cyrus posed topless (OMG!), and I have one busy day!

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