Sunday, October 13, 2013

Army of Darkness

Army of Darkness (1992), the second sequel to The Evil Dead. What else is there that can be added about this movie that hasn't already been said? It's the epitome of a cult movie, made by a savvy and inventive director, filled with all sorts outlandish scenes and absurd jokes and references, and stars arguably the most famous B-Movie legend of our time, the Chin himself, Bruce Campbell. I've started and stopped this post three times now, unsure of what I could discuss, but I shall press on as best I can.

Following the events of Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, our hero Ash (Campbell), who if you remember lopped off his demon-possessed hand and replaced it with a chainsaw, finds himself yanked back to the year 1300 AD where the local population, led Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), is also beset by the Deadites. Believing him to be the prophesied chosen, the local wise man (Ian Abercrombie) sends Ash on a quest to retrieve the Necronomicon, the power of which will not only be able to send him home but free them from the terror of Deadites. In the middle of all this, Ash finds time to romance a lovely feudal lass, Sheila (Embeth Davidtz). But when Ash goofs up while getting the Book of the Dead (he would, wouldn't he?), he unintentionally awakens the Army of the Dead, led by his evil doppelganger, that marches straight on the humans' castle. If the Deadites should recover the Necronomicon, all of mankind will be consumed by their evil, so it's up to Ash to rally the band of humans and save the day.

The Evil Dead, despite some campy moments, functions as a straight-up horror movie. Evil Dead 2 is a comedy-horror piece, balancing the scares and gore with laughs and slapstick in equal doses. In Army of Darkness, the pendulum has completely swung away from The Evil Dead. Sure, we still have demonic possession, zombies, skeletons, witches, dismemberment, geysers of blood, and treks through a haunted forest and cemetery, but Army of Darkness packs in way too much silliness and action-adventure elements to creep anyone out. If Evil Dead 2 was a cross between Dawn of the Dead and The Three Stooges, then Army of Darkness includes even more of the Stooges as well as Jason and the Argonauts and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

At a mere one hour and twenty minutes in length, Army of Darkness is a lean, cut-right-to-chase motion picture, propelling itself forward from one action scene to the next and from joke to gag, all tied together by Campbell's persona and one-liners. It's not deep, and it's not particularly smart, but it has a tremendous energy and subversive humor. Raimi, ever the stylist, almost never seems to restrain camera, whether it's chasing Ash through the woods as the unseen Evil Force or flying through the air, and it's impossible to not feel caught up. This entry also includes some real good stop-motion animation (something I'll never get tired of), and while some of the blue screen work isn't so hot, the silliness carries keeps it from being a problem.

The usual gross-looking demons, ghouls, and zombies turn up, but they're much goofier this time around in appearance, speech, and actions. When dozens of skeletal hands reach of the ground and pull Ash down, they proceed to re-enact a Stooges bit - eye pokes, slaps, etc. - complete with silly sound effects. Ash is also harassed by dozens of evil clones of himself that come from a broken mirror, and the sequence plays like a violent take on Gulliver's Travels. As I stated in my review of the previous entry, it's not enough the Deadites want to steal Ash's soul; they're going to be dicks about it by beating him up and insulting him in the process.

Campbell, for his part, does what he does best: being a not-too-bright wiseass jerk who must be the hero when all else fails.  He's in full-comic book hero mode here, always ready with a cool pose and catchphrase. He really goes all out in the dialogue, action, and slapstick, and he deserves some award for all the punishment he goes through. For me, this was my introduction to his brand of B-Movie glory, and it is simply awesome. It's hard not to spend the next several days after watching it quoting all the cool lines; "Good. Bad. I'm the guy with the gun" and "Hail to the king, baby" are just a sample.

Hardcore horror fans, the type who disdain comedy, are likely to be appalled by the series transformed into by the time it reached Army of Darkness. For cult movie aficionados, only word will suffice: "Groovy."

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