Army of Darkness is the final instalment of the original Evil Dead Trilogy. After being tossed through a portal at the end of Evil Dead 2, Ash finds himself in England, in the year 1300. At first he’s mistaken for an enemy clansman by Lord Arthur, but Ash quickly and hilariously proves himself to be “The Chosen One”. He begins a quest to find the Necronomicon, “The Book of the Dead”, that started out all this mess in the first place two movies ago. It goes about as well as can be expected… terribly. Ash ends up waking an army of undead, an Army of Darkness, if you will… that leaves Medieval England up shit creek without a paddle…
Army of Darkness ends up completely abandoning whatever semblance of horror and seriousness that could still be found in Evil Dead 2, and instead chooses to go completely over the top with foolishness, camp and cheesey B-Movie greatness. If Evil Dead 2 is tongue-in-cheek, Army of Darkness’ tongue has pierced through.
Somehow, Raimi and company pull it off again, and create one of the most entertaining, funny, exciting, quotable adventure movies ever made.
Army of Darkness isn’t a movie I needed to watch again to review. For one, it’s only been about 4 years since I last watched it. Secondly, I’m pretty sure it’s my #3 all-time watched movie, just behind Dazed & Confused and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It could even be above T2, but I doubt it. I first watched it opening weekend of it’s widespread North American release (which was apparently February 19th, 1993 according to IMDB) with the old man. At the time, I hadn’t even realized it was a sequel to Evil Dead 2, and we didn’t know what to expect from it. It turned out to be an incredible time. My father and I both remarked as we left the theatre that the movie was so enjoyable, time seemed to fly by.
I think this time around, the biggest key to the film’s success is Bruce Campbell’s charisma. In the first two entries, Ash goes through descents into madness which are hilarious to watch. At the end of Evil Dead 2, he’s become almost a cartoonish superhero. From beginning to end in Army of Darkness, Ash is cocky and brash. There’s not even a glimmer of The Evil Dead‘s Ash anymore. While this new, one-dimensional Ash has less character development, he is a hilarious caricature of a typical alpha-male movie asshole. Nearly every line uttered by him in the movie has garnered cult-classic quotability status. In fact, half of his one liners were adopted by another alpha-male caricature, the video game character Duke Nukem.
If I was going to complain about the movie, I’d have to say after watching the trilogy so close together for the first time in 14ish years that the shift in tone from The Evil Dead to Army of Darkness is a bit disappointing. There really isn’t any horror element left by the time we get to Army of Darkness. The first film is a horror film that is largely unintentionally funny. The second film is a horror-comedy. This is a fantasy-comedy-adventure. There’s not much blood, and most of the on camera violence happens to walking skeletons. This might bother me, if it wasn’t just so goddamn good at being a fantasy-comedy.
One of the things that has always fascinated me about the choices made for this movie is that this time around. Abandoning the true horror element must have felt risky at the time. Raimi also added a few new tricks to his bag. There’s still a Build Sequence (Groovy.) but there’s also a Build Montage, as Ash teaches the primitive screwheads of medieval England the wonders of modern technology. There is much less use of Evil-Vision™. Instead of what seemed to be Raimi telling Campbell and the Deadites, “Just go nuts,” this time there are several actual choreographed fight scenes. They’re every bit as entertaining as any other swashbuckling scene, and clearly paved the way for Raimi’s big TV hits, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Ash’s evil twin even fires off Xena’s warrior cry.
In addition, Sam Raimi and company were given a real working budget. It shows through in the movie’s climactic battle sequence, where the army of undead soldiers storms Lord Arthur’s castle. The funny thing is, though, the way it shows. Instead of going with some particularly realistic looking practical effects, they seem to instead go for mass quantities of average looking practical effects. We get to see a lot of undead storming the castle, and it sometimes looks fantastic. But frequently, we see a lot of undead and some look really great, and others look fake. Incredibly fake. Humourously fake. It’s frequently noticeable when movement is involved. The animatronic creatures used in the movie look worse than Thunderbirds. After repeated viewings, these creatures start to stand out more and more.
Of course, this choice lead to more noticeable flaws, and noticeable help turn a good party movie into a great party movie. Watching Army of Darkness alone just doesn’t feel right. I guess it’s fine, if you’ve seen it before. But if you’re reading this now, and haven’t watched it… Find someone who loves a great campy cheesefest and watch this movie with them as soon as your schedule allows.