- Directed, Co-Written, and Co-Edited (under the pseudonym R. O. C. Sandstorm) by Sam Raimi
- October 9, 1992 (Sitges) / February 19, 1993 (US)
Ash, trapped in the Middle Ages, must fight a Deadite army in his quest to return to the present.
Army of Darkness was the first film in the series that I watched. I knew of the other Evil Dead movies and I was aware that this was connected to them but watch them before this? Nope. But the commercials I saw on television made this look so fun and entertaining that I had to watch it. Something about it looked like it was right up my alley. And you know something? It certainly was.
This combines fantasy, comedy, and horror into a weird and quirky action mix that is rarely seen on film or television. And in those instances it tends to be much more of a comedy than the last one. In fact, the humor takes on a Three Stooges vibe rather than just purely dark comedy. Heck, you could even look at this as an absurdist fairytale.
That’s not to say this is without attempted scares. It certainly does that, but it deftly mixes it with the with the present comedy. It’s scary (kinda) but aims for laughs. Nobody has done it better than Sam Raimi. This is a movie smart enough to be dumb at all the right moments. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but also doesn’t treat everything as a joke.
The prosthetics and practical effects are fantastic. In that it is horror art. These are monsters but crafted in appearance with a tinge of fun. They’re creepy but not disturbingly creepy. That pit creature for example looks as if it sprang from a child’s nightmare.
Army of Darkness is probably the last significant use of stop motion that I can recall. This was in the days shortly before CGI was much of a thing and those graveyard skeletons for example had to be moved and manipulated by hand frame by frame or the skeleton puppets needed to be worked on set.
Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) is a great horror hero. He’s equal parts heroic and certifiably idiotic. He succeeds despite his stupidity and willingness to wing it when a full-fledged plan is a better option. I think Bruce Campbell is at his most Bruce Campbell in this part. He handles the goofy material with a level of seriousness that only adds to the humor.
There are plenty of jokes in this either based on the character or based on other media. One of the best is him using the magic words. If you’ve ever seen the original The Day The Earth Stood Still (skip the remake) then you know what those magic words really are. There are also visual nods to all sorts of things such as the windmill in Frankenstein. This is after all a Universal film.
They do a good job of mocking the trope of modern men dealing with the technologically less advanced. It’s been a staple of time travel science fiction for ages where the things we take for granted are far beyond the understanding of those in the past. A good example is of the caveman being amazed by the lighter. They are portrayed as thinking it’s magic. That’s bothered me a bit. It’s not as if people were generally dumber, but they just hadn’t made the technological advancements.
There was a time when action heroes were as much about the one-liners as anything else and Bruce Campbell gets plenty of good one-liners in Army of Darkness. “Groovy.” “Give me some sugar, baby.” “Well hello Mister Fancypants. Well, I’ve got news for you pal, you ain’t leadin’ but two things, right now: Jack and shit… and Jack left town.” And many others that are downright hilarious.
The action takes on a comedic kung fu film style. Lots of flips and impossibly long and focused shots of the people doing them. There had to of been a ton of wire work on this movie. It borders on superhero work as well.
This is a very good sequel and feels as if it belongs with the other films yet takes the story in a new direction by doing things differently. It is not a retread by rather an example of narrative growth. The story itself picks up almost immediately at the end of the last film and uses elements of that to get the story going. Yet as a story it stands completely on its own. And if you do what I did and watched this first you will not be lost. They give you enough to understand what is going on without needing to watch anything else.
Army of Darkness is a great continuation of the Evil Dead universe. It has action and scares and humor. In other words, it’s everything you expect from a good Evil Dead film. Fans of the Evil Dead, horror, or good comedy will find plenty to enjoy here.
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