Army of Darkness (1993)
Release Date: February 19th, 1993 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Sam Raimi Actors: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove, Bridget Fonda, Patricia Tallman, Ted Raimi
hile “The Evil Dead” attempted to be a serious horror film, and the sequel spilled over into sillier thrills, Sam Raimi’s “Army of Darkness” (also known as “Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness” and “The Medieval Dead”) capitalizes on pure schlock. It takes every element that was terrifying in the pokerfaced original and morphs it into self-aware, satirical, straight comedy. And what a brilliant decision it was, as the film has since gained a cult classic status and a far-reaching following. Hilarious and unexpectedly adventurous, this horror/comedy is like Indiana Jones meets Sinbad in the three worlds of Gulliver.
After getting transported through time to 1300 A.D. with his car and a shotgun, S-Mart department store clerk Ash (Bruce Campbell) is nabbed by soldiers and dragged to a nearby castle for execution. He narrates the events that led up to his capture by Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), which include the battling of possessed demons from the first two movies. The Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, is responsible for his arrival in medieval times, and he must seek it out once again to return back to the present. Along the way, he’ll have to unite Arthur and his nemesis Henry the Red (“Well hello, Mr. Fancypants!”) to defend a kingdom against an undead army of darkness.
Considering that the second film in the Evil Dead trilogy is something of a remake and a sequel to the first picture, the events that are recapped at the opening of “Army of Darkness” hardly matter. The entirety of this film is refocused and redirected in a purely humorous manner. Spotlighting Ash’s signature, bad one-line insults and quips, the production never surrenders a chance to crack a joke, intentionally peppering the dialogue with goofy contrasts to the encircling carnage.
Visual humor is utilized abundantly as well. Having comically lopped off his hand in “Evil Dead 2,” Ash now wields a chainsaw mounted on his bloody stump; at one point, he even builds a mechanical metal hand before journeying in search of the Necronomicon. He similarly makes use of his legendary “boomstick” shotgun to frighten the primitive screw-head natives in a clash of time-disoriented cultures. The slapstick and gags that arise from his outrageous confrontations with knights and various possessed creatures are constant – he fights an army of mini-Ash’s like a sadistic Gulliver; duels an evil version of himself like an accelerated, mutant version of Denis Dimbleby Bagley in “How to Get Ahead in Advertising”; combats a pit witch like Luke Skywalker against Jabba the Hutt’s Rancor (and escapes via his belt like a tongue-in-cheek Indiana Jones); and brawls with all sorts of skeleton warriors like Jason and his Argonauts on crack.
Stop-motion animation, innovative makeup effects (by K.N.B. EFX Group and Alterian Studios), and dated CG/rotoscoping account for much of the film’s splendid nonsense, while striking prosthetics, wry training montages, and epic medieval battles account for the rest of this unpredictably swashbuckling horror-adventure. It’s much more of a dark, fantasy actioner than it is a supernatural thriller, though Raimi’s attention to terrifying details and bold visuals hasn’t faded. Ash recounts at the still-jesting conclusion that, in his own way, he’s still a king; and in its own way, “Army of Darkness” is the king of over-the-top, laugh-a-minute horror comedies.
– Mike Massie