Army Of Darkness

Army Of Darkness posterRounding my seasonal rewatch of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy (as I watch it’s a few days before Halloween) we come to the most elaborate and different of the trio, Army Of Darkness (sometimes AKA The Medieval Dead).

Much like the shift from the first to the second films, the shift to third sees a rather sudden stylistic and story shift as we pick up with our hero Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) in medieval England and in chains — rather a change from his heroic moment at the end of the second film, but a quick recap retcons that neatly and so we are off on another surreal romp with the forces of darkness.

Rather than the splatter fest of the first film or the comedy horror of the second, what we get here is a kind of fantasy comedy, with hints of horror, that shares as much, if not more, in common with Monty Python And The Holy Grail as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or even The Evil Dead itself.

Army of Darkness - Bruce Campbell
Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams

That said, from the off, it’s wildly entertaining with Campbell in full on comic book hero mode as he dispenses ‘deadites’ with his ‘boomstick’ and generally rubs the locals (who have a bewildering array of dubious accents) up the wrong way before setting out on a quest to retrieve the Book Of The Dead from a haunted graveyard.

Really this serves as another excuse to get Campbell by himself so we get more slapstick comedy sequences as he fights a group of miniature versions of himself, a full size doppelgänger and then a very strongly Three Stooges aping sequence with some reanimated skeletons in the grave yard and, as before, Campbell is excellent in this.

Army Of Darkness - Evil Ash
‘Evil Ash’

As the film goes on, into its third act I guess you could say as certainly the structure here is more typical than in the past two films, Raimi and co add a new string to their bow by mounting a large scale battle scene made even more complicated by having the titular army largely made up by puppets and stop motion skeletons.

While this looks a bit ramshackle in places it is well done for the scale and budget of the movie, and the slightly clunky nature fits the over all tone that seems to know it’s not the most well made thing in the world and plays up to it in a genuinely fun way.

Army of Darkness - Ash and Sheila
Ash and Sheila (Embeth Davidtz)

In all of this is an attempt at a romantic sub plot (with a princess improbably called Sheila) that is more played for laughs than anything else, along with more quotable catchphrases than you can shake a boomstick at, making for a movie that is knowingly very silly but great fun and entertaining for it, with a few good moments of gruesomeness and body horror thrown in for good measure.

I should probably note that I was watching the theatrical cut here with the ‘happy’ ending and that there is a slightly longer cut with a few additions and, most notably, a climax that sees Ash propelled into a post apocalyptic future.

Army Of Darkness - alternative posterWhile I like the idea of that alternate ending, and it sort of feels more in keeping with the rest of the series, the happy ending rings more true to this film and leaves things on a suitably cheesy, comic-y high point that left room open for more sequels which never, directly, materialised — though there is now a remake of the original and a TV series starring Campbell – making this a nicely complete feeling trilogy despite the chopping and changing of events and styles that occurs throughout.

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