Army of Darkness
May 15, 2003
As a self confessed Evil Dead fan with an eight inch figurine of Ash towering over my PC I jumped at the chance to review the Army of Darkness Collectors Edition. But then I have a lot of toys on top my machine, including a He-Man, Jar-Jar Binks, Mr. T and a flexible Templeton Peck alias the Face Man, so maybe my views should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Still, it’s Army of Darkness we’re concerned with here, and concerned we probably should be. Sam Raimi shocked the world when in 1982 he directed the very low budget, and intensely scary Evil Dead. This film had that all important realism feel to it. It was so cheap and dirty that what you were witnessing could very well be actual events. More so than any Blair Witch for sure. Then in 1988 he remade the original Evil Dead and titled it, well, Evil Dead 2 of course. To extent and purposes this was a remake, with better effects, better acting and more emphasis on comedy. Don’t forget though, that while Evil Dead 2 was very funny, it was still very disturbing at times.
Army of Darkness on the other hand bears little or no relation to original two movies. It’s more of a three stooges meets Jason and the Argonauts than any Evil Dead descendent. The horror that was so prevalent in the first two movies has been replaced by all out slapstick, with Bruce Campbell using it very much as a star vehicle for his comic talent. Raimi only stamps his stylish direction on things in small doses, almost turning the whole thing over to Campbell.
So what’s it all about then? Well, unlike the first two which were very claustrophobic in feel being set in one cottage, Army of Darkness is set in the middle ages. This freedom that the characters have, coupled with the daylight and ‘out of our time’ setting removes any apprehension the viewer would have felt while watching the first two. There is no tension in Army of Darkness, no suspense. In fact you could go as far as to call it a spoof.
At the end of Evil Dead 2 (Dead by Dawn to give it its full name) Ash is sucked into the portal of evil together with the book of the dead. He winds up in the Middle Ages where some armour clad knights are under attack from a winged demon. A quick blast of his boom stick sees off the demon, winning the admiration of his new found friends. Army of Darkness ignores some of that to have him arrive through the portal only to be captured by a group of knights and treated as an enemy. They throw our hero into chains and lead him towards his execution, which naturally involves being flung into a pit of demons. Luckily Ash knows how to take care of demons, and gets real groovy on their hides. This apparent ability to put the dead back in their place, coupled with the ability to bandy around some electric one liners, convinced the frightened people that Ash would be their savour. Speaking some gibberish about a prophecy they talk the square jawed Ash into retrieving the Book of the Dead, that will return him to his own time and save their world.
Getting some good loving from a Middle Aged babe also helped convince Ash that he was doing the right thing. When I say Middle Aged, you know I mean ‘from the Middle Ages’ as opposed to some woman in her forties? Good. Ash instigates this brief romance with the immortal line ‘Give me some sugar baby’. That’s one I’ll be trying out myself this weekend.
From here the film starts to get very slapstick indeed. Ash rides off to find the Book of the Dead and ends up battling some tiny versions of himself. One of these ‘little Ashes’ dives inside of big Ash and begins to grow out of him, eventually resulting in two Ashes. This new evil Ash, despite being something of comic relief, as if the film needed it, develops into the film’s main bad guy.
As horror goes, Army of Darkness isn’t one. It’s neither scary, nor engrossing enough to succeed as a horror film, instead relying on out and out comedy to get its point across; a far cry from the original films.
In this double disc set you get both the theatrical version, and the extended version. There are also two different endings for your enjoyment. Both have been previously released on video though so there’s nothing new there. You also get some deleted scenes complete with commentary from Bruce and Sam. They explain the method to their madness in quite what they were intending with the film, yet it still seems no clearer.
If you’re a fan of horror, then this film won’t appease your appetite. If however films like ‘Deathstalker and the warriors from Hell’ are your preferred viewing, you’ll find Army of Darkness the perfect film for you.
Groovy? Not really, but it is rather comical.