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Army of Darkness
1993 - R - 82 Mins.
Director: Sam Raimi
Producer: Bruce Campbell
Written By: Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi
Starring: Bruce Cambell, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove, Timothy Patrick Quill, and Bridget Fonda
Review by: John Ulmer
His name is Ash. He is played by Bruce Campbell as the ever-reluctant, tired hero who just wants to get home. "Army of Darkness" marks his third adventure in the "Evil Dead" series, where he has found himself trapped in a cabin with his girlfriend, attacked by risen skeletons, and so on and so forth. Some people claim that "Evil Dead II" was basically a remake of the original with some extra comedy -- what Campbell describes as "splatstick," har-har. Campbell himself also claims that "Army of Darkness" is nothing like its predecessors, abandoning gore for silly slapstick laughs, not even riding the median like the second film, but becoming a sort of all-out comedy (which it really isn't). Campbell comes across as a mix between Hugh Jackman and Jim Carrey--charismatic and able to contort his face into the strangest shapes I've ever seen. In one sequence (which is actually not really Campbell's complete face), Ash's entire head gets stretched like rubber, and he has to shake off the effect to return to normal. This particular scene evokes the limitless physical exploration of the Looney Tunes characters. "Army of Darkness" is not a horror film. It's not even really that much of a comedy, when you look past the surface. It's very short, with the actual film itself clocking in at only 75 minutes (the credits, apparently, take up another seven, just barely meeting the unofficial bare minimum of movie lengths). So what *is* "Army of Darkness"? I'll quote another pretty famous movie: "You have to see it for yourself."

Basically, it resurrects the one-handed Ash character from the previous films (whose right arm happens to be a chainsaw). Campbell claims that the film is entirely different from its predecessors, and the only link is the skeletons and the hero. The similarities seem to stop there.

It picks up right after the second film. Ash has been time-zapped back to somewhere around 1300 A.D. Don't ask me why. There's something to do with a Book of Dead, or something like that with a complicated name, perhaps from the earlier films, perhaps not, and Ash has to find it so he can be sent back to his own time. Why? Who knows? Like anyone actually pays attention to a plot like this? The whole time travel thing should be the first indication that you're not meant to be analyzing it very deeply on a basis of reality. That being said, it's still a load of fun. Just don't pay attention to the plot. Or the acting. Or the special effects. Or the entire premise. Other than that, it's great!

The movie was directed by Sam Raimi, whose best realistic outing has been "A Simple Plan," and who met Campbell in the mid-'70s, at some sort of pantomiming class ("He sucked, which may explain why he became a director," Campbell explains). The two have reunited with many projects, but their most famous collaboration has probably been "The Evil Dead," which was released more than a decade before "Army" and became a cult classic. Campbell became one of the most unusual heroes of all time--wise-cracking, witty, brutal, and blunt. An everyday guy who gets caught in the middle of something pretty big and relies on one-liners to lighten the situation. As the sequels increased, the humor grew, and by "Army of Darkness," Campbell's iconic hero had some of the worst--but most suitable--lines ever spoken on-screen: "Gimme some sugar, baby." "This is my boomstick!" "Groovy." That's only the beginning. Sometimes, in this particular film, Campbell's self-aware dialogue gets a bit annoying (especially when he starts speaking to himself about what he's going to do and why, which is really for the audience), but for the most part he delivers a performance that makes or breaks the film. It makes it. Campbell is likable, a big-jawed actor who just has the appearance of a rugged humorous action star. He's got screen presence but doesn't take himself too seriously. "Army of Darkness" is like taking a bunch of your friends out into a Hollywood set and making a movie. It just looks like a lot of fun.

"Army of Darkness" was made with an $11 million budget and barely recuperated its losses at the box office, where it raked in just over that same amount in the US. Why the small reception? Perhaps the fact that the film had been shelved for quite a while turned off some of the fans. The trailer wasn't superb, either, giving the impression of a very goofy comedy with action. Interestingly enough, that is sort of what the movie is like, only...different.

"Army of Darkness" gained a huge cult following thereafter, becoming the most statistically popular entry of the "Evil Dead" series, if not the best (most people seem to think the second is the greatest). Its technical aspects are horrible, yet it is considered a horror-comedy classic. Why? What separates it from shelved disasters such as the recent "Envy"? Probably because "Army of Darkness" is very self-aware. It knows it's ridiculous, and likes to occasionally poke fun at its own ideas.

The movie received some complaints when it was released. Some critics found it childish and poor. That is true. The movie seems to appeal to youngsters, but it also appeals to older individuals on deeper levels--those who appreciate satires of horror films, with likable lead heroes and silly subplots. Let's face it: "Army of Darkness" is rather poorly made, at best. The dialogue is stiff. The plot is ridiculous. The romance is absurd. The accents are dire. The creature effects are corny and laughably inconsistent--one minute they're stop-motion and the next minute they're played by humans walking around in skeleton suits. (This was, after all, post-"Terminator 2," and quite incompetent.) It's all quite manipulative and silly--but it makes for a good story mainly because of Ash. And let's face it: Even though the very end is rather abrupt and cheesy, it's downright satisfying, and we all laugh when Ash is asked, "Who the hell are you?" by a possessed witch, and he replies, "The name's Ash. Hardwares." So stupid but yet so funny. And that pretty much explains the entire movie.

Notes: "Army of Darkness" has recently been re-released on yet another DVD, this one a 2-disc "Boomstick Edition" with both the theatrical cut and the extended director's cut, which features an added fifteen minutes of footage and commentary by Campbell, Raimi and his brother Ivan. A lot of the special features were taken from previous DVD releases, such as the strict Director's Cut (for which the commentary was originally recorded), and some of the trailers/documentaries, etc., are also available on previous DVD releases. So far, "Boomstick" is the best, but unless you don't own any of the previous releases, it's really not worth the upgrade. There will probably be another around the corner soon. And what is most unfortunate is that although the DVD is satisfactory (especially if you don't own any other releases of the film), much more could have been added, if Anchor Bay was really interested in what fans want (such as the split Raimi and Campbell commentary available on one of the earlier DVD releases). The back of the DVD cover explains that it is being released yet again due to popular demand by the fans. Which ones? Those who didn't already buy the other six, seven, or however many DVDs are out there? It seems that Anchor Bay is milking a cult movie for all its worth. And worst of all, and what above all else indicates sloppy work and profit interests, is a major typo on the back cover of the DVD. Here's a fun game: See if you can spot it!
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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