Army of Darkness (****) – Now that’s Groovy

Army of Darkness" by Paul Shipper - Hero Complex Gallery
Army of Darkness – 1993

Director Sam Raimi
Screenplay Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Starring Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove, Timothy Patrick Quill, Michael Earl Reid, Bridget Fonda, Ted Raimi

Before I ever saw Evil Dead I or II, I saw Army of Darkness in the theater. It’s the first time I ever knew I was seeing Bruce Campbell. I thought I was seeing the next big thing. I had little idea that his popularity was already cemented into cinematic history.

His portrayal of Ash for the third time sees him going through much of the same Three Stooges gimmickry we’d already seen twice. The difference this time is there is a story to back him. The effects are tenfold better. Even the worst of this film is better than anything in the first of the trilogy.

Much of what works for the film centers on the story, which is one they didn’t think they could pull off for the second film. Ash is teleported into the 1300’s and immediately taken prisoner. The wise man sees him for what he is, and he helps him.

From here there are two problems. The kingdoms of the time are being plagued by evil and Ash needs to get home. The wise man tasks Ash to solve them by seeking out the Book of the Dead, known to people of their time as the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. Ash volunteers because he has no choice.

This being a Raimi / Campbell production, there are plenty of hijinks. They’re just done better than we’ve seen them. The comedy intertwined with Harryhausen style upgrade of Introvision. The combination of director in star is perfected this time, as we get to know Campbell beyond being a punching bag. We discover a little of that wiseass dummy that makes the viewer think of Han Solo, without the lucky charm of a Chewbacca.

There are a portion of devotees to the first two films who look at Army of Darkness as some sort of sellout. A few more bucks and a storyline shouldn’t be a negative. I prefer the old adage of Paul Westerberg, from his song Knockin’ On Mine:

“…He who laughs first, didn’t get the joke…”

People have been crowing, extolling virtue and laughing long and hard at the inferior product, from this viewer’s vantage.

There is nothing here that qualifies as perfect in the film. In truth, this is what makes it better. We get to enjoy what is deceptively simple looking and appreciate it for its less than obvious craft. There is never a moment that looks like anything less than an artist created it. It’s just that the artist likes it a little sloppy on the edges.

Campbell is a master of the screen. He takes command from the first shot, tongue firmly in cheek. If I thought he were serious, this film might be genuinely horrible. When he takes more than two shots with a double barrel Remington shotgun, we aren’t thinking how this isn’t possible. We’re thinking:

“Shop Smart. S-mart.”

The physical comedy rarely stops being fun. We know what’s coming. When it arrives, we have joy. Taking on a woman who’s been possessed, we know it’s gonna require a head being lopped off and at least 3 more shotgun blasts. When Ash says, “Yo, she-bitch! Let’s go!” we can’t wait to go.

The scene in the windmill, added in post, is as brilliant as it is nonsensical. There is seemingly little point to it all, especially when many tiny Ashes seemingly disappear after one of them is ingested. It only has to be funny. That it is. Especially when they plug his nose.

Then the scene in the graveyard with the skeletons is straight out of classic Three Stooges. The willingness of a star with the incredible charisma and looks of Campbell to subject himself to something of this nature is nothing short of a gift from God.

This film will not appeal to everyone. Of the entire Ash series, including television, this is the one that should come closest to universal enjoyment. It manages to use the horror tropes we’re well used to, give it a comic spin, and still make them fun to watch.

This is my starting point for the world of Ash. It’s a pleasant enough world, with all of its dimensions. If I had just stayed here, I would be fine. Who’s counting, though. if I am in the neighborhood, I might as well turn a couple more pages in the book. I will just be sure to remember to say the phrase…what was it?

“Klaatu Barada N… necktie… nectar… nickel… noodle. It’s an “N” word, it’s definitely an “N” word! Klaatu… Barada… N…Okay then… that’s it!”

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