DIRECTED BY: Sam Raimi
FEATURING: Bruce Campbell
PLOT: Following the events of Evil Dead II, Ash finds himself flung backwards in time into a medieval land, where his failure to retrieve the Book of the Dead enables evil forces to muster a massive army of stop-motion animated skeletons.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Evil Dead II struggled mightily to obtain its weird credentials, and just barely qualified for its weird badge thanks to the “cabin fever” sequence in the middle portion of the film. In the third entry of the “Evil Dead” trilogy, director Sam Raimi distills what he thinks is the popular essence of Evil Dead II, emerging with a concentrated dose mixing ghoulish comedy with a stiff shot of badass working class hero Ash. Weirdness was discarded as a waste product, although traces remain.
COMMENTS: The beginning of Army of Darkness rewrites the tale of how Ash came to be recognized as the “Chosen One” at the end of Evil Dead II, but consistent storytelling (along with respect for the laws of physics) has never been a high priority in this series. Since the midpoint of the second film, Raimi’s Evil Dead emphasis for the trilogy has been comedy, and Army of Darkness is tongue-in-cheek from start to finish. As an action/comedy/fantasy/horror hybrid, Army of Darkness pulls in too many directions to hang together as a story, much less integrate itself with the rest of the series, but the manic energy is a lot of fun, and the film does work on a scene-by-scene basis. The flick dips into the Three Stooges tribute well even more than Evil Dead II did; in one funny scene, every orifice on Ash’s face is invaded by skeletal fingers from still buried corpses, despite his best defensive maneuvers (our hero never learned from Curly’s mistakes—don’t introduce your tongue as a new target by sticking it out in triumph after successfully blocking the dual finger eye poke). Gags aside, the comic momentum overwhelming comes from Bruce Campbell’s Ash, who has transformed from a much abused punching-bag for macabre forces into an arrogant, wisecracking hero. Campbell adopts just the right campy, parodic tone when reprising hit action catchphrases like “Groovy” or fresh favorites like “Just me, baby.” Ash’s overweening, usually unjustified bravado is the comic binding that keeps the scattershot script from blowing away in the wind. For fans of weirdness, the best bits are the hallucinatory scenes after Ash takes refuge from a shakycam assault inside a windmill: for unexplained reasons, he ends up by menaced by a gang of tiny Ashes in a “Gulliver’s Travels” parody, then sprouts an Evil Ash from his shoulder. These scenes take place at approximately the same stage in the movie as the “cabin fever” sequences did in Evil Dead II, and may have been intended as one of the many, many nods to the previous film. Another high point is the army of stop motion animated skeletons (a tribute to Ray Harryhausen). Each member of the bony horde is brilliantly individualized and detailed; particularly striking is the martial band, beating drums made from skulls and playing flutes fashioned from arm bones. Overall, Army of Darkness is a worthy, if commodified and popularized, sequel, and a solid roller coaster for fans of fantastic film who aren’t hung up on logic.
Army of Darkness was the transitional film for Raimi between campy experimental films like Crimewave and Evil Dead II and purely commercial fare such as the Spider-Man series. The large scale battle and professional action scenes in Army seem almost like audition reels for making a Major Motion Picture.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a goofy, hyperventilated send-up of horror films and medieval warfare, so action-packed it sometimes seems less like a movie than like a cardiovascular workout for its stars.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)