5.30.2008

Army of Darkness (1992)

DIRECTED BY
Sam Raimi


STARRINGBruce Campbell - Ash
Embeth Davidtz - Sheila
Marcus Gilbert - Lord Arthur
Ian Abercrombie - Wiseman
Richard Grove - Duke Henry of Red
Year - 1992

Running Time - 81 minutes [Theater Version]/ 94 minutes [Director's Cut]

Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4

In 1982, the world was introduced to both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell when THE EVIL DEAD was released to an unsuspecting public. While the extremely low-budget film was gory, highly energenic, and grossly entertaining, the film hardly made any money until it was released to VHS and DVD. Rental sales and buys helped Raimi gain financial backing for his 1987 sequel, EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN. It was just as entertaining and gory as the first film, but had more comic aspects infused as Bruce Campbell's Ash became a one-liner anti-hero. The ending where Ash is stuck in the Middle Ages left fans waiting for the next installment. However they would have to wait five years for it.

In 1989, Raimi directed DARKMAN, a film that did very well at the box office, making more than twice its budget back. It also put Raimi's name in the mainstream, leading to his monster success today. However, Raimi didn't forget about his EVIL DEAD series, deciding to finally direct the third and final installment of the franchise called ARMY OF DARKNESS [although THE MEDI-EVIL DEAD was its original name]. Using a $11 million budget and 100 days of shooting in California during the hottest days of summer in 1991, Raimi's final act for Ash Williams and the Necronomicon was released in 1992 to little fanfare. However like the other films in the series, its cult status grew on VHS and now DVD. And while ARMY OF DARKNESS isn't as good or as scary as its predecessors, it's still a highly entertaining film that will make you laugh from beginning to end.

PLOT
Continuing from the final moments of EVIL DEAD II, Ash (Bruce Campbell) is stuck in the Middle Ages by the portal created by the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead. Ash is captured by the troops of Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) who believe he's working for a rival army led by Duke Henry of Red (Richard Grove). After being thrown into a prison pit and surviving the demons that inhabit the pit with the use of his "magic" shotgun, chainsaw, and car, Ash is seen as the savior that's supposed to rescue the town from the demons brought upon by the Necronomicon. A wise man (Ian Abercrombie) tells Ash that he needs to retrieve a copy of the Necronomicon from a graveyard by repeating three words. Ash, however, doesn't remember the last one but takes the book anyway. This not only brings out the dead from their slumber, but creates an evil doppelganger of Ash who leads this Army of the Dead. The final battle between the dead and the living begins as Ash uses his knowledge of future technology in the living's favor.

REVIEW
ARMY OF DARKNESS isn't as scary as THE EVIL DEAD or EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN, but it is sure funny as hell. Excellent direction, a simple A-to-B-to-C story, cheesy special effects, and a fantastic performance by Bruce Campbell make ARMY OF DARKNESS one of the best horror films of the 1990s.

ARMY OF DARKNESS is more slapstick action in vein of INDIANA JONES than an actual EVIL DEAD film. You get Three Stooges-like comedy moments, like when Ash tries to escape the graveyard with the Necronomicon as he battles newly awakened skeletons. You get hilarious one-liners spouted perfectly by Bruce Campbell, such as "Hail To The King!", "This is my BOOMSTICK!", and "Good...Bad...I'm the one with the gun." They're so good that Duke Nukem, a Playstation video game that's being turned into a film itself, stole them proudly. And you get a massive battle in the final act when Lord Arthur's army led by Ash fights Evil Ash and his Deadites. Watching this battle shows how much Sam Raimi's produced HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS and XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS television shows were influenced by it. The budget was used very well here.

Sam Raimi can direct these films in his sleep. You get actual POV shots of flying forks, arrows, and anything that can be shot as a projectile. You get crazy angles and quick cuts to raise the intensity of the film. And of course,you get the classic "Raimi POV shot" of the demons chasing after Ash in the woods [he really needs to stay out of there]. The shot is not as effective because it takes place in daylight, but it still works greatly and shows what an inventive director Raimi is. He needs to get back to this style down the line. Hopefully in his next non-SPIDER-MAN film.

The acting was great of course. Embeth Davidtz didn't get much to do but be possessed and look pretty, but she does them both well. I wouldn't have minded making out with the dame either. Marcus Gilbert was the straight man of the film, which worked extremely well with Bruce Campbell's manic performance.

But the real star is Bruce Campbell of course. This is his best Ash performance, as he goes all out to create a bumbling anti-hero we can all root for. The guy knows how to ham it up for the camera and make lines funny. He's also a great physical comedian, as he's pretty much thrown around all over the place and beaten up by demons and even himself [love that tribute to Gulliver's Travels]. Plus he handled himself extremely well during action sequences. There's a reason why so many of us [especially women] love the guy so much. Watch this film and find out why. Hail to the King!

And while the comedic aspects of the film make this film feel less like an EVIL DEAD film [this movie is not scary at all - and where was the GORE??], I laughed for the most part. Especially those wacky skeleton soldiers during the final battle. Their reactions before getting killed by Lord Arthur's army cracks me up every time. And the U.S. ending of the film with the supermarket is kind of cheesy after watching the original European ending. The original ending is more EVIL DEAD-ish and a lot darker in nature. I have nothing against happier endings but I think the original ending fit the Ash character more. Still, seeing Ash at S-Mart still puts a smile on my face.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE FIGHTING WITH MY EVIL DOPPELGANGER
1. The opening credits read "Bruce Campbell vs. The Army of Darkness". The same happened with "Britney Spears vs. Talent" for the movie CROSSROADS. Or at least I think it did...

2. There's evil inside of a pit where criminals are pushed into. It's probably the same evil that's inside Paris Hilton's pit, which had me scratching and itching for days.

3. An arrow pierced into a knight's armor. Someone chose the piece made by Reynold's Wrap...

4. Being trapped in the past has its perks. You get to be fed grapes and chicken by beautiful women who think you're a God. Must be that Old Spice!

5. Ash knows how to handle his boomstick in every way. No wonder he gets all the chicks. I guess every girl does love a man who has total control of his gun!

6. Growing an eye on your shoulder shouldn't be a freaky experience. At least someone is watching your back!

7. Some books literally bite you when you touch them. I heard words hurt and were dangerous, but this is going a bit overboard!

8. Remember this when fighting skeletons: The Three Stooges' defense techniques only work on idiots, not on the living dead. Post it on your fridge.

9. Ash has bad luck with women. All of his girlfriends have turned into demons. Maybe he should think about an alternate lifestyle. Or Scientology.

10. Evil Ash does a mean call like Xena used to do. Wow...Lucy Lawless really let herself go!

THE FINAL HOWL
ARMY OF DARKNESS may not be up to par with
EVIL DEAD or EVIL DEAD II, but it's still a very fitting end to a trilogy more people seem to love and appreciate day to day. If you're expecting to be scared, this is not your film. But if you're looking for a good laugh and some great action, this is definitely worth checking out. This is a film for movie geeks and dammit if I don't appreciate it! ARMY OF DARKNESS is one of a kind and I doubt it could be duplicated again. I'm still waiting for EVIL DEAD 4, no matter what Raimi and Campbell say. I don't think there's one person who's not interested in seeing it. Until then, stay groovy.

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