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!

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