Army of Darkness (1992) / Fantasy-Comedy
MPAA rated: R for violence and language
Length: 81 min.
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove
Cameo: Bridget Fonda, Ted Raimi, Sam Raimi
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Review published February 24, 2013
Army of Darkness represents the third and (so far) final entry in the Evil Dead trilogy by Sam Raimi (Darkman, The Quick and the Dead), further continuing the trend away from the more straightforward horror of The Evil Dead and going far more into the slapstick comedy realm than we witnessed in Evil Dead II. The Looney Tunes lunacy continues, this time incorporating tongue-in-cheek pop culture references into the mix, as well as elements of fantasy flicks, especially those old Ray Harryhausen adventures from which the 'Army of the Dead' within the film pays great homage to.
As had been the case with Evil Dead II, Raimi retcons the story in the intro, introducing Ash's (Campbell, The Hudsucker Proxy) former life before the strange cabin from college student to department store assistant, and introducing, in a cameo role, Bridget Fonda (Singles, It Could Happen to You) as the new Julie. The 'Book of the Dead', hereby called the Necronomicon, transports Ash into some sort of fantasy realm mixing medieval knights and witches, along with his trusty 'boom stick' (shotgun), his attachable chainsaw, and an Oldsmobile Delta 88. Ash is seen as the savior of legend in these parts, catching the eye of the local damsel Sheila (Davidtz, Schindler's List) , and proves himself worthy against some powerful adversaries, but he also inadvertently unleashes an army of skeleton warriors as he tampers with the Necronomicon (he can't remember the cryptic words that are, in reality, an homage to Day the Earth Stood Still) in a bid to return to his own time and place.
Raimi wisely expands the scope of his series beyond the claustrophobic small cabin in which he has spent two entire films shooting in, and makes a film that incorporates plenty more 'Three Stooges' moments, as well as a helping of Mel Brooks and a dash of Monty Python for good measure. The script isn't much, though fans do enjoy Ash's oft-quotable lines, but the visual energy is off the charts, employing the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach that worked well enough in Evil Dead II. Those who love the series for gore will be less enthusiastic, as a few F-bombs could be edited out and possibly have gotten a PG-13 rating, which is quite a turn-around considering the first two entries had initially been X-rated by the MPAA. It's so far removed, I wouldn't even classify the film as horror, despite the Deadites and living skeletons, as the comedy is first and foremost, followed by elements of fantasy, and even science fiction if thrown in the mix with its inter-dimensional time-travel premise.
Rubber-faced (and yet still chiseled) Campbell does what he does best, which is to jump head-first into his role, putting his body on the line with some rather dangerous stunts (Raimi seems gleeful in seeing just how far he can punish his friend), while cocking his eyebrow and delivering 'manly' taunts to baddies, like 'come git some.' Some might see the Campbell/Ash influence of the film in such fare as the video game 'Duke Nukem 3D' and Jim Carrey's equally manic performance in The Mask. It's not exactly a script brimming with wit, as Raimi plays mostly for sophomoric silliness much of the time, but Campbell is certainly in tune with the crazy energy, enough to carry the target audience through audaciousness alone.
Army of Darkness may feel more like an crazy offshoot than an Evil Dead film (Raimi coyly wanted to title this film 'The Medieval Dead'), but as a flick made just for fun, it is a worthwhile romp for lovers of juvenile gags and physical humor galore. As with each entry in this series, the ideas are spread mighty thin, with only Raimi's ceaseless visual style and campy enthusiasm to get us from one silly story angle to the next. As an escapist lark, it's fine, but unless you really need to see Bruce Campbell toss quips at people from every historical age, there's very little place for the series to go from here.
Fittingly, the series that borrows much of its visual style and dialogue from comic books would further Ash's adventures in actual comic book form for many years afterward.
©2013 Vince Leo