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ARMY OF DARKNESS

1993, dir. Sam Raimi
81 min. Rated R.
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz.

Review by Noel Wood

Well, since we're only a couple days away from my favorite holiday, All Hallow's Eve/Samhain/Halloween, it would only be fitting for me to talk about one of my favorite horror movies of all time. Even better, the final chapter in the greatest horror movie series of all time. THE EVIL DEAD series, the brainchild of Sam Raimi and the launching pad for Bruce Campbell's career, is perhaps the most enjoyable and rewatchable horror movie trilogies that ever existed, and it's amazing to see how it evolved over the course of three films. The first in the series, released in 1992, was an ultra-low budget piece of horror schlock that became a suprise underground hit. A little more budget and a little more camp went into its sequel, EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN, and wound up becoming an instant cult sensation. Finally, in 1993, with the power of a major studio and a Hollywood budget, ARMY OF DARKNESS became the widest-released of the three, and became one of the most unique horror/action/comedy hybrids to ever see the silver screen.

    

In a way, it's my favorite of the trilogy. Sure, EVIL DEAD II is far better as a balance between the campiness of this one and the indie-horror aspect of the first, but AOD has the most value for rewatchablity and quotability. Bruce Campbell, one of the most entertaining actors in Hollywood's history (and one of the nicest celebs I've ever met), has taken the character of Ash from a generic slasher protagonist to one of the most ingenious, charismatic, animated, colorful, and memorable action heroes in recent memory. Watching AOD is like watching a comic book come to life. Everything is so vividly depicted, all of the action is perfectly exaggerated, and it's just so over-the-top that you just can't help but love it.

    

There is a bit of a discrepancy here between the epilogue of EVIL DEAD II and the prologue of this film. At the end of the second film, Ash and his trusty Oldsmobile (a Raimi trademark, it's been in every one of his films, all the way up to SPIDER-MAN) are sucked through a time portal and wind up somewhere in England during the dark ages. However, at the end of ED2, Ash is practically worshipped, but at the beginning of AOD he's being carted off with a string of captives in the stocks. But nobody ever said this thing had to be completely accurate to the other movies. I mean, it is a sequel, but it doesn't really need to be. It works on its own as a seperate entity, and I think that's kind of what Raimi and company had in mind. You see, the first two movies, while huge cult hits, had little to no bearing on the masses. SO when the third film was being produced for a wide release, it wasn't exactly a budding move to make it sound like the third in a trilogy that nobody had seen. That's why the title didn't mention EVIL DEAD at all. Of course, the title could have been CAPTAIN SUPERMARKET, THE MEDIEVAL DEAD, or HORROR, which are all alternate titles suggested by the IMDB. But ARMY OF DARKNESS works just perfectly in this case.

    

After the opening sequence where Ash is hauled back to his captors' kingdom, the action starts right off the bat. After a sequence in a right-out-of-a-comic-book pit of death and terror where Ash reunites his severed hand with his trusty chainsaw, he earns the respect of the men and women who enslaved him. It helps that his trusty "boomstick" is at his side as well. As a result, the elders call upon Ash to retrieve the "Necronomicon", or the Book of the Dead, in order to send him back to his own time. The lovely Shiela falls for Ash, prompting him to ask her to "give me some sugar, baby". Along his way to retrieve the book, Ash encounters a handful of obstacles, including a horde of smaller versions of himself, who in an ode to Gulliver's travels, pin him down and torment him. The smaller hims evolve into a doppelganger of sorts, a "Bad Ash" if you will. After their confrontation comes to an end with Ash proclaiming that "Good, Bad...I'm the guy with the gun", Bad Ash becomes Evil Ash, and once our hero inadvertently unleashes the Army of the Dead on the world (in a hysterical sequence paying homage to both the Day the Earth Stood Still and the Three Stooges) his evil twin is there to lead them into battle.

    

AOD doesn't take itself seriously for one minute. It just wouldn't work otherwise. The special effects are wonderfully campy. The poorly animated living skeletons that invade are hysterical to watch in that B-movie sort of way. The makeup and costuming are wonderfully exaggerated, and all of the stop-motion and bluescreen effects used to make this film are so obvious thatyou can't help but chuckle at the pure audacity of it all. I've given away some of the one-liners in the previous paragraph, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's toms more where that came from. Of course, it's ALL over the top, slapstick, Three-Stooges-meets-the-Twilight-Zone camp, and God knows I love it with all my being.

You may be aware that this movie was shot with two seperate endings, one seen in North America and the other seen primarily overseas. The best-known one involves Ash returning to his time and returning to the S-Mart where he was employed before his adventure began. In the alternate version, Ash miscues his instructions to get back, and winds up "oversleeping" to find the world a post-Apocalyptic wasteland. Both endings are hysterical, and are available on the DVD.

    

Speaking of the DVD, This film has been released both by the original studio, Universal, as well as the version I own, by Anchor Bay Entertainment. Here's a word of warning: Don't get the Universal version. It contains almost no special features. Sure, it's got the way cool original theatrical poster for the cover, but it just ain't worth it. The Anchor Bay version is the one that features the alternate ending and a featurette, although no director's commentary is to be found on either. The anchor Bay version has crappy cover art, so if you can find a way to procure the original keepcase with the good DVD, you're in good shape.

You should really read Bruce Campbell's book, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor as well. He goes into detail on the making of all three EVIL DEAD films, and generally comes out as a genuinely cool guy. Hail to the King, Baby.

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All Material Copyright 1998-2006 Movie Criticism for the Retarded.

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