Catching Up With: Army of Darkness – 1993

I mentioned in my review of “Evil Dead 2” that the movie disappointed me in the fact that it didn’t provide enough of a fresh spin on the demon/cabin/mayhem formula set down by the first movie. Luckily, “Army of Darkness” has no such problem. At the end of “ED2” Ash (Bruce Campbell) was sent back in time to the year 1300 by the Necronomicon, unwillingly fulfilling the prophecy of a chainsaw-wielding “Hero From the Sky.” Stuck in medieval times and immediately captured by the nearby kingdom, Ash once again has to fight off the evil curse of the Book of the Dead.

Time travel is a great way to bring something new into the crazy universe this series exists in. “Army of Darkness” also has a huge cult following, just like the Evil Deads. But the legions of “Screwheads” may be disappointed to learn that “Army of Darkness” is an ecstatic lark of a comedy-adventure but not much more  from director Sam Raimi, But before you arm your boomsticks, I don’t think it’s a complete waste of time and effort.

Ash is in captivity at the hands of Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), until he proves himself in battle against one of the “Dead-ites.” Wowing the primitive “screwheads” with his chainsaw and sawed-off shotgun, he quickly earns their adoration, and he demands that the wise man of the court send him home, which can only be accomplished by securing the Book of the Dead. That’s a sketch of a story, and for the most part it’s a sketch of a movie. What gives it some life however is , like the first two films, Raimi’s insane wit and sense of style. With an even bigger budget, “Army of Darkness” is gorgeously shot, with colors bursting off the screen, truly creating a living comic book, along with some still-impressive special effects. Also, Bruce Campbell is a freaking rock star in this movie. He still gets put through the ringer, with an undead clone literally bursting from inside of him. But he is in full action-hero mode, selling the bounty of one-liners (“Good, bad, I’m just the guy with the gun”) like an extra-gonzo Han Solo.

But, the movie doesn’t have much else. It’s a good thing this movie runs a scant 80 minutes, because it may have worn out its welcome if it ran longer. The film mostly consists of the epic battle between Ash and Arthur’s army against the legion of Deadites, who have ensnared the maiden Sheila (Embeth Davidtz). Made up of legions of animated skeletons (a tribute to “Jason and the Argonauts” and the work of  FX legend Ray Harryhausen). The battle is a mixed bag; it is funny and cleverly shot and staged, showcasing Raimi’s affinity for Three Stooges slapstick. But the humor comes from one of my motal enemies: puns. There are so many painfully lame jokes that will have you rolling your eyes quite often. I just don’t find enjoyment in a skeleton saying he has a “bone to pick” with someone. It’s annoying on “Sex and the City” and it’s annoying here. The campy humor and tone gave me the same reaction that I had to Raimi’s first “Spider-Man” movie: this is a Power Rangers episode with a bigger budget and better acting. I know “Army of Darkness” is self-aware, but there is only so much stupidity one can take. It stops being enjoyable and starts being exhausting.

But this film still has style to burn and the wacky charisma of Bruce Campbell to keep it afloat, but just barely. Overall this series has been a slight disappointment for me, with “Army” and “Evil Dead 2” being mild disappointments after the fantastic first movie. Neither one came close to Raimi’s excellent 2009 horror comeback “Drag Me to Hell.” It might be expectations, it might be my prejudice of beat-up old Oldsmobiles. There is still plenty of gory, irreverent fun to be had.

Grade: B-


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