Army of Darkness (1992)
Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness is not a great horror film. Not an auspicious start to any review. Let’s take it one step further. Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness is not a horror film at all. It’s a madcap comedy, avec zombies – but don’t expect Shaun of the Dead either. This third and (thus far) final film in the Evil Dead series is an amalgam of Three Stooges and Monty Python style comedy antics and groovy Harryhausen-esque special effects, all squeezed into an Evil Dead plot so thin it looks ready to rupture at any moment.
The long-suffering Ash (Bruce Campbell) was, if we remember, transported back in time at the end of Evil Dead II. For those of you who don’t remember, never fear: an inexplicably re-shot flashback sequence will explain all. Suddenly, Ash finds himself responsible for saving the Medieval world from the deadites. This, in true Ash parlance, really pisses him off. Campbell is in fine form here, turning a wispy plot and weak script into a whole that merits its unquestionable cult status. He has more lines in this film (the film being generally a lot more ‘talky’ than the previous two) and, despite having little to work with, really develops the antiheroic, arrogant yet lovable character of Ash.
One aspect of Army of Darkness that might truly be called classic is the playful creativity of the special effects. In one particularly memorable sequence, Ash smashes a mirror, and from the shards spring dozens of reflected mini-Ashes who proceed to attack their original in a most ungrateful manner. Eventually they force Ash to swallow one of their number, causing him to grow an evil twin from his shoulder. One gets the impression that Raimi poured all his comic tastes into the character of ‘Evil Ash’, who is far more silly than he is scary, especially in the hilarious fight scene between Ash and his evil clone.
Then again, the whole concept here is more silly than it is scary. The deadites, for instance, seem far more inclined to swing a farcical punch than to swallow anyone’s soul. Resurrected skeletons scream and get blown up – and if you listen carefully you can hear one utter a whispered threat to rip off certain tender parts of Ash’s anatomy.
Embeth Davitz is another predominately comic foil as Sheila, Ash’s love of the moment, whose function (like most women in Evil Dead films) appears to be to scream a lot and become possessed. Unlike Evil Ash (also played by Campbell), she is, unfortunately, not very funny at all. Raimi is a miracle-worker in many ways, but Davitz would be better moulded by a carpenter than by a director. Still, her performance and those of some of the other non-actors in this film cannot take away from Bruce Campbell’s no-holds-barred performance. He’s a great physical actor, he works brilliantly with Raimi, and this combination of actor and director will always be classic.
Watch this film with expectations of comedy, and you won’t be disappointed. It’s good fun, even if it ain’t art. However, I would urge you not to expect horror, or you certainly will be disappointed. Finally, if you’re deciding between editions of Army of Darkness, choose a copy that includes the alternative ending. Look out for this cracker of a sequence. It includes the best line in the film and, in my (never humble) opinion, one of the best closing lines in film history.
An alternate ending (shown in Europe and available on the official "bootleg" DVD amongst others) has Ash waking up a century too late in a post-apocalyptic world.