Title: Army of Darkness
Year of Release: 1992
Date Viewed: October 30th, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
My friends like to reference my love for Army of Darkness as proof that I am a very strange human being. This is the only film from my guilty pleasure collection that I do not feel the least bit guilty about. Packaged in this twisted narrative is a story that doesn't make any sense, characters that do not act realistic, dialogue that nobody would ever dare to use in real life and special effects that aged worse than milk. I wouldn't want it any other way.
Army of Darkness is the third installment in director Sam Raimi's cult-popular Evil Dead trilogy. Picking up almost precisely where Evil Dead II left off, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) continues the worst weekend of his life by accidentally transporting himself and his Oldsmobile back to England's Medieval age. The evil spirits known as "deadites" that have been haunting Ash back in the present time seem to be running rampant in this timeline as well.
Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) initially mistakes Ash as a soldier serving under rival Duke Henry (Richard Grove). Ash escapes captivity by defeating a pit monster and then impresses the locals by easily thwarting a possessed witch. The castle's Wise Man (Ian Abercrombie) informsAsh that his only hope for returning home is to venture off in a quest to find the Necronomicon a.k.a. The Book of the Dead. Located in its pages is a time-traveling spell and enough supernatural power to deflect future evil from Arthur's castle. But due to an error in judgment, a massive army of deadites awaken in the woods. They are hellbent on getting the book for themselves, jeopardizing the future of mankind. Ash has no interest in playing hero until things get personal. An evil clone of himself kidnaps Shelia (Embeth Davidtz), his romantic interest. An epic battle commences between humans and deadites to determine the fate of the world.
Just as it was with Evil Dead II, Bruce Campbell is practically a one man show. The supporting characters are really just cannon fodder for Ash's ridicule. Campbell is one of those actors that can probably read a phone book and still manage to be funny. And he's the only actor I can think of that can rival Jim Carrey and Jim Varney in a funniest facial expression contest.
But even with Campbell's charisma and the movie's self awareness of the ridiculous, there are some lines of dialogue that are cringe worthy and probably sounded better on paper. When Shelia is possessed by the deadites, the first line spoken by her evil persona is "I may be bad but I feel good." For every person that laughs at that statement, there is someone who facepalms.
Sam Raimi isn't exactly one of the most innovative directors. But he has a style of his own and it's easy to recognize here. Camera shots pan back, forth and sideways for comedic effect. Homage is paid to his low budget roots by continuing a running gag where Ash is chased through the woods by an unidentifiable creature or spirit. We only know the creature is where when the movie switches to its point of view, so we are left to our own conclusions. Raimi's sense of humor is a bit self-depreciating and doesn't ever attempt to be high class. Each situation that Ash finds himself in is more bizarre than the last. Just when you think you've seen it all, the movie dares to reach inside its bag again for another twisted imaginative joke, usually at the expense of Ash's pain.
Declaring a favorite among the three Evil Dead films is a good test for discovering what your tastes most appreciate. Each one has vastly different attributes and its own identity. The first movie is straight up horror. The second movie blends horror and comedy. This third movie doesn't try to scare anyone and only goes for the laughs. Ironically, it's the laughs that will scare away a crowd that comes in unprepared. Watching Army of Darkness is a Halloween tradition in my household and I decided this was the year to introduce it to my mother. She can appreciate ridiculous humor as much as I can but we were divided over this one. While I was laughing and pointing at the screen, she sat silently and had the look of someone that wanted to say "This is too weird for me." There is no definitive test for finding out if the movie works for you or not. You just have to experience it for yourself. At the very worst, it's only eighty minutes of time risked to lose. At the very best, it'll be the most fun eighty minutes of your day.