BREAKING NEWS!!!

The horror genre is a favorite around here at Film’s Okay (I Guess), and what better time of the year to celebrate the macabre than October? Therefore, the editors of this blog will post on horror and suspense films until the 31st passes us by (with one or two exceptions). There will be a series of guests posts, a theme week revolving around The Nightmare on Elm Street series and discussion on all different types of film found in the horror genre, from Monster Squad to Cannibal Holocaust. And remember no matter how intense it gets, no tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering.

Editors 1/2/3/4

Advertisements

The Master (2012)

In the not-too-distant past, I found myself in Boone, North Carolina, for the first time in what seemed like ages, and I was lucky enough to spend a good chunk of time watching and conversing about film with two of the editors of Film’s Okay, John and Adam. For those not in the know, John’s film collection is gargantuan (taking up a large portion of one room), so it has become common practice for me to sit among his collected cinema, wading through it for new treasures that might have slipped under my radar, all the while geeking out to the tune of a high-level movie conversation that would doubtlessly sound like a foreign language to most people if they chose to listen in. In the course of our talks on this particular voyage to the tip-top of the mountain range, our colloquy included a rather long dissertation from all parties on how we like to display our agglomeration of DVDs and Blu-Rays, John mentioning how he kept his movies separate from his FILMS (capital letters are important here, not superfluous). Under this filing system, popcorn flicks and movies that he would find entertaining but didn’t adhere to the auteur theory or add anything new or noteworthy to the cinematic landscape would go into the larger section of his collection. Annexed in the hallway adjoining his room are the films from the masters of the medium, your Hitchcocks, Goddards, Fullers, Fords, Clouzots, and Jarmuschs. Cinematic efforts from legendary filmmakers; movies that cineastes cherish when much of the general population doesn’t get them and doesn’t want to; films from visionaries that are still in the game that we often anticipate from the moment we hear production begins. Paul Thomas Anderson is one of these directors, and his new film, The Master, is walking on rarified air; it’s a movie that manages to transcend the traditional narrative structure, allowing the movie and its subject—along with its own peculiar creative process—to illustrate exactly what the film is about.

In Anderson’s latest, most challenging effort, Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, an author and self-proclaimed philosopher (read instead, charlatan) who is in the midst of starting up his movement, “The Cause.” The mission statement of his life’s work is to explain, and hopefully cure, man’s ills by rummaging through their past lives in an effort to seek out the historical roots of their malady. When Dodd comes across Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix, he realizes he has found his greatest challenge, and he focuses on containing all of Freddie’s rage and madness. Quell represents the film’s true protagonist, a former sailor who found himself stationed in the Pacific during the war, and who, upon returning stateside, has been diagnosed with an unnamed emotional disorder. The audience is already clued in on this fact, however. As the film opens we watch Freddie, on R&R with his fellow seamen, as he divides his down time by humping an anatomically correct sand sculpture and masturbating in the surf. Not your typical behavior, to be sure.

Once cut free of his obligations to the Navy, Freddie sets forth on an alcohol-fueled odyssey of debauchery. Even in this way, Quell is atypical, choosing to get loaded on his own concoctions, generally created through whatever ingredients he can find at the time, items like fluids from the insides of a torpedo, paint thinner, and film darkroom chemicals. This man that is ruled by nothing more than the sum of his impulses and addictions finally bottoms out, finds himself on the lam from the authorities, and decides to stow away on a boat that happens to be the home of a party and wedding Dodd is throwing for his daughter. The Master immediately feels a connection to this strange individual, insisting that they have met before in a past life, having shared an important interaction. Maybe he is attracted to Freddie’s primitive impulses, maybe the attraction is sexual in nature—or it’s also possible that he genuinely wants to help this man, to heal his broken mind and get his life back on the right track. Whatever the reason may be, from that point on, the writer takes the social outcast under his wing.

Simply put, The Master is a relationship story between these two men. Anderson’s work has always carried the intent to examine the American nuclear family (Boogie Nights) or, more frequently, the dynamic that exists in father-son relationships (There Will Be Blood), and his latest effort is no different, as much of Dodd and Quell’s relationship can be seen as paternal rather than fraternal. But this time it seems that the director has more on his mind as the characters also seem to be two sides of one coin. The Master seeks nothing but calm and order, but his pupil represents pure chaos. Both of these characters have the capacity to indulge in the opposite side—Freddie, when he has to, can morph his thought processes into direct action; Dodd is prone to instant outbursts when confronted with a nay-saying nonbeliever or nitpicky followers get his dander up—making them a true yin and yang, even if their colors aren’t solid, instead swirling around with a drop of their opposite in the mix.

As Dodd’s wife, Peggy, Amy Adams seems to be more of an observer rather than participant, but in the few scenes where she is called on to make an impression, the actress proves herself more than capable, diving into a role that may make it hard for some viewers to rectify her character in this with her past onscreen persona, that of the cheery rom-com genre. I wish there were more to her character, as she puts forth a fascinating performance, one in which lays the heart of a true zealot, consistently pulling Dodd’s strings from the sidelines, course correcting his actions and keeping him fully focused in times of weakness. It becomes obvious that she will (has?) crushed anyone who opposes The Cause, and her mistrust of Freddie leads us to believe she could be the end of him. It is a wonderful, vanity-free performance, I just wished there was more of it.

Joaquin Phoenix’s work here is beyond reproach and I remained astonished at his level of commitment to his character throughout the runtime of the film. The actor creates a performance that is a bundle of ticks and mannerisms, making Freddie appear as if he is always on the verge of a complete and total meltdown. The actor looks 20 years older here, his eyes sunken into his gaunt visage, his gait and posture reminiscent of Quasimodo, perhaps weighed down by his unbridled anger or the poisons he continually pumps into his body. Quell has no doubt been worn down by life and Phoenix truly makes the audience uncomfortable; the performance is committed, real, and no safety net is employed, made all the more thrilling as the actor sticks the landing. Meanwhile, Hoffman continues to show why he is the best actor of his generation. His Dodd is the perfect vision of a preening, phony intellectual, only convincing enough to the lonely and lost around him that he is the only one with answers to their plight. It’s a performance in which the actor is called on to use every ounce of charisma he has as Dodd must constantly slide from cordial and welcoming to authoritative and domineering, and he does it without breaking a sweat.

The Master and its director aren’t interested in point A to point B storytelling;, instead Anderson takes his sweet time, letting his characters be who they are and letting the audience become familiar, all the while explaining The Cause through their practice of it rather than exposition. This allows the viewer’s reactions to seep in slowly, creating a magnificently rewarding (though no doubt trying at times) cinematic experience. The unique and alarming score by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood throbs with menace, helping to accentuate the film’s rotten underbelly, and the photography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. (Coppola’s go-to guy as of late) is nothing short of dazzling, proving that shooting the film in 65mm was the way to go, especially when close-ups of the actors’ faces fill the screen. The homage to Ford’s famous shot in The Searchers is wonderfully done and fits snuggly within the texture of Anderson’s current creation, giving us film nerds another point in the film when we can just look over at one another and nod silently.

The sum of its parts makes The Master the type of film that just doesn’t get made all that often, it doesn’t fit comfortably into the studio system’s cookie cutter frame of mind or fit the profitability mold they prefer. But with Anderson’s persistence and vision to see this effort to competition—which wasn’t easy with Scientology, the most litigious religion ever breathing down his neck—he has been able to guarantee that The Master succeeds in almost every way, fully worthy of the admiration and accolades it has received. It’s as rich and thought provoking as film gets and I can’t wait to see where the director goes from here.

-David

My Name Is Bruce (2007)

Bruce Campbell has achieved a level of cult stardom that few have ever reached. If you add in the film My Name Is Bruce to his resume, then he may be in a class by himself. Campbell directs himself portraying himself in this send up of his own B-Movie fame. In the fictional mining town of Gold Lick an ancient Chinese guardian spirit named Guan-Di has been awakened by, who else, but kids fucking around in a graveyard. The only kid to make it out, just happens to be a huge Bruce Campbell fan who decides to kidnap the actor, who happens to be filming a sci-fi movie nearby, and ask for his help in saving the town. Campbell thinks the whole thing is a gag set up by his agent and falls into his fast-talking, smart-arsing, womanizing, machismo persona. When he realizes that this spirit means business, Bruce must decide if he’s a true hero or just in it for the paycheck.

Obviously, for every fan of Bruce Campbell this is a no-brainer must see movie. But, honestly I’d have a hard time recommending this one anyone but Campbellites (I just made that up, does it work? Nah I didn’t think so, I’ll stop). This film relies heavily on inside jokes relating to Campbell’s career for most of its laughs, so if you haven’t done your homework you’re getting two things out of this movie. Jack and shit, and Jack left town. Many of Campbell’s past co-stars from the Evil Dead films make humorous cameos including Ted Raimi (who actually has three different stereotypical roles), Ellen Sandweiss, Tim Quill & Dan Hicks. Grace Thorsen plays the leading lady and love interest of Mr. Campbell. She fits the bill nicely, as does most of the supporting cast in the town of Gold Lick. It’s not all comedy though, this movie does earn it’s R rating with a slew of decapitations & dismemberments, as is tradition in a Campbell horror outing.

Bruce Campbell’s directing chops pale in comparison to his on-screen presence, so don’t expect him to turn into Clint Eastwood in a few years. Though, I’d actually love to have seen Bruce in the leading role of Gran Torino. If anything, just for the whole “Get off my damn lawn” scene with the shotgun. That kind of a dramatic lead role has never been Bruce’s style. If he’s the lead, it’s gonna be corny as hell, most likely. Though his more serious work has landed him bit parts that he has handled very nicely. The Coen brothers took a shine to him, giving him ample screen time in The Hudsucker Proxy, as well as cameos in Intolerable Cruelty & Ladykillers. He plays a matinee idol in the Jim Carrey drama The Majestic, though his part is merely in the films being show at the theater. Campbell seems to be a perfect fit in period films set in the 1930’s & 40’s. It’s a shame he’s not cast this way more often. Bruce is and probably always will be stuck in this kind of role and in this kind of film. But the way he embraces his fame it looks like that’s fine with him and it’s more than fine with me and his millions of fans. Keep ’em comin’, Bruce.

-Wes Kelly

Mindwarp (a.k.a. Brain Slasher)(1992)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Given that this is the week of all things Bruce, I’ll confess that when I rented the VHS of Mindwarp (also known as Brain Slasher) several years ago I did so because of one name and one name only, which was of course Mr. Campbell’s, emblazoned across the top of the cover. At this point I had watched The Evil Dead trilogy and fallen madly in love with it, so anything that had more Bruce was a good thing in my book. But would that hold true with this blind watch? The self-proclaimed King of B-movies is known for starring in, well, B-movies. And B-movies aren’t exactly known for being high-caliber, quite the opposite. But there are good-bad movies and bad-bad movies, and sometimes the line between the two is thin.

Mindwarp takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting; our protagonist, Judy (Marta Martin, credited as Marta Alicia), lives in a tiny room with her mother. Here, they (and presumably everyone else in this complex) plug themselves into Infinisynth, a virtual reality program where they can do whatever they want; only pausing to eat and take care of bodily functions. Not terribly original, but at least it predates The Matrix (1999) by 7 years or so. Judy, however, is unsatisfied with virtual reality; she yearns for something more “real.” After getting in an argument about her missing father with her mother (who can’t even remember her name), she accidentally kills her mother by interfering with her virtual scenario. She is summarily accosted by a SWAT-like team and given an injection that makes her pass out.

She wakes up in a wasteland with crucified skeletons everywhere, and is attacked by a band of cannibalistic mutants (think Mad Max (1979) + mutants) and is about to be carted off when Stover (Bruce Campbell) rolls in and saves her. Back at his shack, he tells her how the remaining population was left on the surface to fend for themselves while the well-off shut themselves up in the Infinisynth facility. That night they are both dragged into the hellish underworld of the mutants, full of scrap metal, parasitic fish, slave workers, and mutants snacking on human remains. The Seer (Angus Scrimm) has created a religion around human sacrifice that the mutants adhere to, and proceeds to explain how he’s doing a great thing by giving these mutants something to live for and so on. So it’s up to Judy figure out how to free Stover and escape back to the surface.

Now, all that sounds appropriately cheesy and campy, but is the movie any good? Well, if you take it a face value, probably not. Mindwarp is a Fangoria Films production (as in the popular horror movie magazine Fangoria), so that alone should tell you heaps about the kind of film this is. The acting from our lead, Marta Martin, is pretty god-awful. Her lines all have a fairly stiff delivery, and her dialogue is just bland in general. It’s unfortunate that the lead character is far less compelling than the supporting roles, which would, of course, be horror legends Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm. Campbell gives a passable performance as Stover; it’s not terrible, but it certainly doesn’t have the charm of his Evil Dead 2 (1987) and Army of Darkness (1993) performances. Angus Scrimm (best known for his role as the Tall Man in Phantasm (1979)) is probably a little too over-the-top for his own good, but at least he dominates the scenes he has with his lengthy bad-guy speeches. The film quality is fairly muddy, and this is exacerbated by the darkness in the underground scenes. Whether or not this is just a bad transfer I can’t say, but with both the versions I’ve seen it this was the case. The soundtrack is forgettable (I don’t even remember it, and I literally just watched it), but the special effects are acceptable, given the budget.

When it’s all said and done, Mindwarp is moderately entertaining, and horror buffs / fans of Mr. Campbell and Mr. Scrimm should definitely check it out. I can’t really recommend it to anyone who’s not a horror fan or can’t enjoy a campy movie though, because although Mindwarp has a decent premise and some cool set pieces and effects, it’s just not “must-see” material for anyone but fans of cheesy horror / sci-fi who are looking for something new.

-Adam

-My apologies for the lack of a trailer. I have scoured the internet and simply cannot find one, all I could find was a clip that was mostly the last scene of the movie. Mindwarp must be too obscure to be granted such glorious privilege.

 

Grace Kelly: A Tribute

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From time to time here at Film’s Okay (I Guess), we like to have special posts about entertainers/directors we enjoy or talk about movies that are important to us on the anniversary of their release. September 14, 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the passing of Grace Kelly. The editors of this blog are pleased to bring you this guest post on the legendary performer and humanitarian.

The summer of 2002 was significant for two reasons. I watched Rear Window for the first time and my family went on vacation to Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles, we made a pit stop in a Burger King near Graumann’s Chinese Theatre. Inside were huge pictures of old movie stars and one of them was Grace Kelly. I begged my mom to take a picture and while she thought it was silly, she took it anyway. It was the highlight of my day and one of my favorite pictures from that trip. You see, Rear Window was my first Hitchcock film and it was the beginning of my love affair with Grace Kelly. I was completely enthralled by her ability as an actress (I was an impressionable young actress myself) and I soon wished I had a tenth of her talent, poise, and presence. Rear Window is now one of my favorite films of all time, and in the decade since I was first introduced to her, my admiration has not waned but only intensified. I’ve read several books about her, including one about her impact on the fashion world, and I own all but 2 of her movies.

Grace Kelly had a very short but brilliant career. She made 11 movies in 5 years and her first two films, High Noon (1952) and Mogambo (1953), were well received, but she was hardly the main draw. High Noon was certainly Gary Cooper’s movie but she made an impression as his young Quaker bride trying to reconcile her thoughts between violence and pacifism. Mogambo featured an aging Clark Gable and a radiant Ava Gardner, who stole the movie. Gardner and Kelly were excellent foils for each other as they vied for Gable’s affection. Mogambo is truly the only film Kelly ever did where her character was hard to root for, but she pulled it off with aplomb. In 1955 she managed to swipe the Academy Award for Best Actress from Judy Garland for The Country Girl (Kelly was nominated the previous year for Best Supporting Actress in Mogambo). She played Georgie Elgin, the wearied wife of an alcoholic has-been entertainer. Up until this point, Kelly played characters that were incredibly feminine and wore clothes that accentuated her beauty. Here she wore unflattering sweaters, skirts, glasses, and no makeup to speak of. There was no hint of the Grace Kelly America had come to love and there was a sarcastic, bitter tone to her performance. She dealt with every hard knock she was handed and she still had the strength to care for her sick husband, even when she desperately wanted to get out from under him. It was quite the transformation and the Academy took notice (one might say that Kelly’s The Country Girl and Olivia de Havilland’s performance from The Heiress started the make-under phenomenon that nets starlets acting nominations).

Her most fruitful collaboration was with Alfred Hitchcock. She made three films with him: Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955). Hitchcock was a man renowned for his love of blondes and Grace Kelly came to represent his ideal woman: reserved with a fire inside them (he once called her a snow-covered volcano). Dial M for Murder was a turning point for Kelly. You can see with her performance in this movie how much she grew as an actress and how comfortable she was working with Hitchcock. She was more at ease in front of the camera. But Rear Window is where she really started to shine. Her character introduction is one of cinema’s all-time bests and it certainly captures how stunning she was (show below).

Kelly’s chemistry with James Stewart set the screen ablaze and one couldn’t help but wonder why he was so damn hesitant about settling down and marrying her. In the end, she proves that she can be elegant, work in fashion, help solve a murder, and still go with Stewart on his photography assignments. In truth, she played the perfect woman. To Catch a Thief was her last film with Hitchcock and it’s one of his most frothy screen delights. Half of the fun watching this movie is seeing her seduce Cary Grant’s cat burglar who is out to prove his innocence from a series of copycat thieving. She radiates sex appeal, humor, and warmth in this role and she is definitely at her playful best here.

Her last two movies, The Swan and High Society,which were both released in 1956, continued to show her range. In The Swan she plays a very shy and awkward princess with the weight of securing the crown on her shoulders. Her rapport with Alec Guinness is hilarious and her chemistry with Louis Jourdan is sweet. It’s a very subtle performance and one worth checking out if you haven’t seen it. While art imitated life shortly after the release of this film (she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956), her last film to be released to the public was High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. She was reunited with her Country Girl costar Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra also starred. This film has excellent music from the aforementioned gentleman and Louis Armstrong. Kelly herself sings a sweet duet with Bing Crosby that spawned a platinum record. It is the only platinum record ever given to sitting royalty as Grace Kelly had become Princess Grace by the time it was awarded.

Grace Kelly left at the height of her career in Hollywood to marry Prince Rainer and she never looked back. One can’t help but wonder what her career might have been had she not left to live out her own fairy tale ending. Nevertheless, she was beloved by her subjects, devoting herself to her family and causes close to her heart. She worked extensively with the Red Cross and was active in improving the arts institutions of Monaco. On September 14, 1982, she suffered a stroke while she was out driving with her youngest daughter, Stephanie. She died the following day. She once said, “I would like to be remembered as someone who was a kind and loving person.” Grace Kelly no doubt succeeded in that endeavor.

–Hilary

Hilary is a long time movie buff, with a staggering love for, and knowledge of, TCM style features. She is an actress by trade, appearing in plays throughout the North Carolina region. As a child, Jack Nicholson, frozen alive at the end of The Shining, gave her nightmares for weeks. As an adult, it was just one night.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Sadly, we all know the King is dead. But what if the King were still alive? What if Elvis Presley switched places midway through his career with the world’s greatest Elvis impersonator and continued on living off the grid? What if he set out to make a new life? What if that life sadly ended in a nursing home? Oh…and what if Elvis’s dick was rotting off and he and a black John F. Kennedy took on an ancient evil that devours souls and then ultimately defecates them out. The answers to these age old questions can only be found in Don Coscarelli’s low-budget 2003 cult classic Bubba Ho-Tep.

The nurses and orderlies just shrug it off as alzheimers or craziness but our bedpan saddling hero is truly Elvis Presley (played with charismatic greatness by Bruce Campbell). In the mid 1970s Elvis switched places with Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff (Bruce Campbell, again) and set off to begin a new life, only to find himself in the same old trailer park shenanigans and lifestyle of hard partying. When Sebastian Haff spent years succumbing to all things fried and peanut butter, and eventually kicked the bucket as the famous Elvis Presley, the real King took to the stage as an impersonator. Several decades and one hip thrust too many later Elvis has left the building…and entered The Shady Rest Retirement home.

The number of guests in the retirement home starts depleting and Elvis meets an elderly black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy (played by the late, great Ossie Davis), apparently dyed black after the assassination and abandoned by Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy shows Elvis ancient hieroglyphics carved into a bathroom stall and together they discover an Egyptian curse unleashed upon the retirement home when a mummy was stolen from a museum in West Texas and the thieves crashed their getaway bus into a nearby river.

What ensues is a madhouse of horror and hilarity as two old, slow-moving icons go head to head with an equally old and slow-moving corpse. Played with an energetic, jazzy tone and true sense of self parody, Bubba Ho-Tep becomes a laugh riot. Campbell is the master of not “bad acting” but “acting bad”. Under gobs of aged makeup and a classic Elvis pompadour, Campbell gyrates and scenery chews his way into the hearts of fans. Campbell is given the greatest of one liners and a hilarious voice-over narration which includes such epic quips as “its been two presidential elections since I’ve had a boner like that” and “man, you are one big, bitch cockroach”.

The epic battle in the film’s climax involves all the wheelchair gags, slow moving chase scenes and using-a-walker-as-a-weapon fight scenes the plot would suggest. And the teaming of Campbell with the great Ossie Davis is a wonderful choice. One could even argue that Ossie Davis is serving in a master/apprentice capacity with Campbell in the world of great character actors. They are certainly two people who, just their inclusion in a film alone, automatically earns a movie bonus points and credibility. Also, this film to a degree had killed the movie The Bucket List for me. Despite them being completely different movies, every time I saw Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman together in that old folks home I immediately wished that somehow killing vampires would be on that list.

-John

Army of Darkness (1992)

Alright, you primitive screwheads, listen up! See this? This is my review for Army of Darkness, the final entry into Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead trilogy, and it needs to start off with a confession:

Up until 81 minutes ago, I had never been able to see the entirety of this film.

I know, I know. My head is hung low as I write this, weighed down by my ineptitude as a cineaste; but I would like to remind you, dear reader, that this has been rectified and it was a most enjoyable viewing experience. I would also like to offer up an excuse of sorts, as I tried to watch Bruce Campbell wage war on the Deadites in the year 1300 AD way back in 1993 or so, whenever the film first hit video. I, along with a close friend at the time, Jerry Warren, ventured forth to our local Blockbuster to get some films to watch one Friday or Saturday evening, and plucked this horror-comedy off the shelves along with Unforgiven and White Men Can’t Jump. I remember these titles specifically, not because I am some sort of savant, able to remember the particulars of when and where and with whom I’ve seen every movie, but because these were the three titles that we guessed had boobs in them.

As a wise knight in a now classic film once said (paraphrased to fit in this review comfortably):

“They chose . . . poorly.”

There wasn’t one goddamned boob in the runtime of Army of Darkness! Or, more accurately, there wasn’t one goddamned boob in the first 30 minutes of Army of Darkness*! Jerry was incensed by this, and insisted on turning it off around the time Ash is in the windmill being attacked “Gulliver’s Travels” style by multiple miniature, prankish versions of himself, deeming in “stupid.” A sequence I thought was pretty cool, by the way. But instead of watching the end of Raimi’s trilogy, we put in Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning western, Unforgiven, only to encounter the same result. My friend, growing impatient at the lack of breasts, chose to fast forward through all of the movie after 15 minutes, all the while getting more and more upset as he realized that, for the most part, he would be coming up dry yet again. At this point in the evening, Jerry, driven into a rabid, puberty-fueled rage, insisted on us watching a scrambled feed of the Playboy channel for the rest of the evening; his transformation into Ahab complete, the mammary gland becoming his white whale.

Now that my admission/atonement is (somewhat embarrassingly) out of the way, laid bare for all to read, what you should know by now, either from being a fan of the series or from reading Adam’s and Wes’s earlier posts on the prior entries in Raimi’s ternion of horror, is that The Evil Dead was a straight-up micro-budgeted horror flick, and that The Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, was part remake/mostly sequel, only this time, Raimi turned it into a splatter-comedy of titanic proportions. For the third film, the creative team has—for all intents and purposes, left the horror genre behind, instead electing to move into the realm of slapstick, concocting an epic (at least as much as its succinct runtime allows for and also given the lack of locations in the first two) campy adventure. If you were to throw together the collected works of Ray Harryhausen, a dog-eared copy of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and an unholy union of the comedic stylings of The Three Stooges and Monty Python, you would be on the right track in guessing the overall mood and tone. In other words, Army of Darkness is essential viewing.

For newbies to the series, the film does a quick recap of the circumstances that Ash (Bruce Campbell) found himself in; how he got a chainsaw for a hand, how he had to eradicate his girlfriend once she turned into a Deadite via “bodily dismemberment,” how squaring off against an ancient evil isn’t exactly anyone’s idea for a relaxing weekend in a cabin in the woods, and how he managed to get stranded in the past, roughly 700 years before his time. Before Ash has a chance to, you know, get his bearings after falling through the pesky time portal responsible for his current situation, he gets rounded up and sentenced to death, mistaken for an ally of Henry the Red, enemy #1 for a bunch of warring Brits. Despite pleas from their learned men—that Ash may indeed be the prophesied savior of their peoples—the townsfolk elect to toss him into the pit-o-doom where he has to exchange in fisticuffs and deflect the kung-fu stylings of a Deadite, gets to partake in the Ash version of He-Man’s “I Have the Power”** motif (the broad sword replaced with a chainsaw), and survive an encounter with a spike-encrusted wall, all the while exhibiting a flare for the dramatic akin to Indiana Jones.

After crawling back out toward the sun and impressing the town with his “boom stick,” Ash is indeed hailed as their savior, the chosen one that will rid their land of the Deadites. The problem is, all he wants is to trot back to the future and forget this ever happened; to go home, like, NOW. Unfortunately, Ash needs that pesky Necronomicon to do so and is also assigned the menial job of memorizing (sort of) a couple of magic words to prevent the unyielding armies of the undead from being unleashed and allowed to run roughshod over the land. How difficult could that be, you ask?

Plenty difficult, I answer.

And with that Army of Darkness is off to the races, never stopping to allow the audience to catch its collective breath. Once the first manic, bat-shit insane sequence is over with, another is already lurking in the darkness, ready to spring forth and take its place; there is no filler, no bland B-movie subplotting, hell, no monologues even. There is, however, a riotous string of events involving a two-headed Ash and enough one-liners to make Arnold’s head spin, all delivered with relish, accompanied by a pompous grin and flair for the ridiculous that only Bruce can get away with. Greg Nicotero truly puts the “special” in special effects, with a heavy dose of stellar foam and latex work, with the standout being the “Pit Bitch” (brought vividly to life by Bill Bryan, who did the same with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters all those years prior). All the practical effects are so lovingly put together that, if you don’t get a kick out of the final battle, especially after seeing our hero, Ash, driving his modified Oldsmobile Delta 88 through a horde of undead skeletons (all voiced by the director himself), chopping and eradicating them with extreme prejudice, I just don’t think we can be friends anymore. No seriously, don’t call me, I’ll call you.

All that being said, its no wonder this one bombed and caused disconcertion in its studio-head backers, who found its original ending too depressing (I’m not sure what it says about me that I found it just as funny as the finale of the final cut, albeit in a different fashion), calling for reshoots and a “happier” ending, and combative MPAA board members who wanted to slap the film with the dreaded NC-17 (the studio wanted a PG-13) due to the violent manner in which a Deadite is decapitated. If you ever need a definition to the term “cult film,” look no further than this sweet little nugget of ’90s excess. It’s a creative bit of nonsense that answers to no one, happily existing in its own cinematic time and space. You either get on board and take the ride of your life or it leaves you staggering at the station in a daze, wondering what in the world you just saw. For me, it’s a trip I plan on taking again soon; I’m sorry that it took me so long to take the initial voyage, but at the same time, it was worth the wait.

-David

*To clarify, there isn’t a fully exposed breast in the entire 81 minutes, another fact just learned today, and one that kept building in suspense over 19 years and hit its zenith as I finally got to watch the entire film. There is, however, some side boob, if you’re interested in that type of thing.

**Yes, I’m fully aware this reference dates me to the early days of the Triassic period. Get off my front lawn, you rotten kids!