Army of Darkness (1992)

Army of Darkness (1992)

Army of Darkness (1992)

Army of Darkness‘ is the third installment of the Evil Dead series, written and directed by Sam Raimi, and starring Bruce Campbell.

Although horror purists will always prefer the first two of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, Army of Darkness is by far the most accessible and the most fun. Evil Dead and Evil Dead II were, and probably still remain, the pinnacle of the genuine horror/comedy; undeniably funny, but scary in equal measure. Army of Darkness does not even try to be as scary as its predecessors, arguably it’s not trying to be scary at all, it’s a fantasy/action/comedy and a joyous tribute to the films that the Raimi brothers (Sam, Ivan and Ted) love.

Although made five years later, the story picks up directly from where Evil Dead 2 ends, with Ash (the inimitable Bruce Campbell) stranded in the year 1300 and surrounded by medieval knights. There’s a brief ‘previously on Evil Dead’ section to explain such details as how Ash got there and why he has a chainsaw in place of his right hand, but this doesn’t slow down the relentless pace of the film, which clocks in at just 80 minutes including credits.

The story follows Ash as he tries to get home; winning the respect of the knights, securing the Necronomicon, and finally leading a battle against an army of the risen dead commanded by an evil version of himself whom he beheaded earlier in the movie. It’s one hell of a battle scene, recalling Helm’s Deep from The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers, but made with a fraction of the budget and achieving many times the entertainment value.

Army of Darkness (1992)

Army of Darkness (1992)

But to be honest the plot is not all that important. What the film really feels like is an exercise in seeing just how much cartoon violence Ash can take. He’s attacked by a swarm of tiny versions of himself spawned from a broken mirror, acquires two heads, has his face stretched out, gets fish-hooked by skeletal hands reaching from the earth and that’s not even the half of it. There’s so much riotous slapstick that this verges on an evil Three Stooges film but Ash suffers through it all still managing to come out the other side as the coolest man on film.

Army of Darkness (1992)

Army of Darkness (1992)

However much this film is an over the top expression of everything Sam Raimi loves, directed in his breathlessly kinetic style, I just don’t think it would work without Campbell. Ash is a marvellous character and it’s a tribute to Campbell that even as he utters lines like ‘Hail to the king baby’, he remains a very real character. He ought to be a barely believable caricature of an old-school action hero, but in Campbell’s hands Ash becomes the ideal cult leading man; an everyman who can kick ass and always has a witty parting shot. As Fede Alvarez proved in his recent remake, Evil Dead just doesn’t work without Ash. On the other hand, you sure as hell can’t recast him!

The in-references and sly tributes are as much a part of this film as its story and characters and they range from the classic (Raimi’s ever-present Oldsmobile and the cameos of his brothers), to the subtle (the copy of Fangoria in Ash’s car), to the pivotal. The words that Ash must say before touching the Necronomicon are ‘Klaatu, barada, nikto’, the same words that Patricia Neal uses to command the robot Gort in 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still. Ash forgetting the last word, causing the dead to rise, is probably the funniest scene in the movie and underscores his everyman status; what sort of hero forgets that?! But the most obvious tribute Army of Darkness pays is to the skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts, and to their creator, the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Raimi, like so many genre film-makers was hugely inspired by Harryhausen’s extraordinary stop-motion creatures and salutes his hero with his skeletal army of the dead. Realising this many skeletons with stop-motion alone would be almost impossible but key scenes use the technique to great effect.

Army of Darkness (1992)

Army of Darkness (1992)

You could argue that Army of Darkness is pure self-indulgence, just made so that it’s makers could have some fun with their creation. But as long as we in the audience are having at least as much fun as they are then I’m all in favour. This is an utterly brilliant film, ridiculously entertaining, endlessly watchable and a showcase for the talents of all involved.

Groovy.

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Written by: Robin Bailes