Friday, September 25, 2009

Army of Darkness (1992)

Movie quotes:
[Upon getting the powered glove in place of his right hand]
Ash (Bruce Campbell): Groovy.

Possessed Woman: I'll swallow your soul!
Ash: Come get some.

Ash: Lady, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to ask you to leave the store.
Possessed woman: Who the hell are you?
Ash: Name's Ash. [cocks rifle] Housewares.

At a glance:
This loose sequel to the Evil Dead films lets Bruce Campbell flex his slapstick comedy and action hero talents while we watch with guilty pleasure in Sam Raimi’s fun-filled sword and sorcery / horror romp

Our review (with spoilers):
Army of Darkness is a loose sequel to Evil Dead 1 and 2. Once again, Bruce Campbell stars as Ash, but unlike the other two films (which were straight horror), Darkness add time travel, sword and sorcery, and slapstick comedy to the formula. Here’s the story: the evil force that tormented Ash in films 1 and 2 propels him, his car, and the chainsaw (that fits over the stub of his arm) through time and into the middle ages. There he is viewed as the chosen one sent to defeat the evil forces that torment the people of that time. For his part, Ash only has an interest in returning home, but since the goals of defeating evil and returning home both require that he obtain the nefarious Necronomicon (book of evil), Ash agrees to the plan. When he messes up and incorrectly recites an incantation (in a hilarious scene), Ash unwittingly unleashes a skeletal army, commanded by a gruesome walking corpse (a former Ash clone – and also played by Campbell). His medieval girlfriend (Embeth Davidtz) is captured, prompting Ash to lead the forces of good into battle.

Campbell’s dream role has him on screen about 97% of the time. He has the chiseled good looks of a matinee idol or a superhero, and no one delivers a ‘groovier’ hero catchphrase line than him. But he’s not just a pretty face; he’s a face so pretty that Maryann Johanson (the Flick Filosopher) ached to push Campbell’s wife out of the picture and marry the big lug. He exudes charm and camp (and he has gone on to assume the unofficial crown as the King of Camp – making his "Hail to the King, baby" closing line strikingly prophetic), but he also can act. Even in this script that wavers between a sincere sword and sorcery epic and a Three Stooges movie, Campbell still manages to make subtle physical changes to his gaze – that faraway regal bearing when he commands his army against the evil - that made me believe that Ash had assumed the responsibilities of leadership. The weakest bits are probably the overlong slapstick scenes pitting Ash against graveyards of skeletons or miniature copies of himself, and the somewhat anticlimactic final battle. Some viewers will say that the skeletal army was done before and/or better in Jason and the Argonauts; others will consider it homage. The high points are the pure camp, and director Sam Raimi’s use of zoom and blackout (with no dialogue) in a scene where Ash is building his robotic hand. The film is a highly entertaining, guilty pleasure; aspiring Campbell ‘brides’ should add at least another half ratings point.

I’ve watched Army of Darkness at least four times now, starting in about 1995, when good friend Carlos was leading me through the Evil Dead films. Carlos considered Darkness the weakest of the ‘trilogy’, but I was thrilled to be treated to something funnier, nobler, more inventive, and with less horror (a genre that is not my favorite).

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Camp isn't just an undercurrent here--it's the grindhouse force that drives the movie, with Bruce Campbell clearly happy behind the wheel."
- Christopher Smith (Bangor Daily News [Maine]

"Raimi and Campbell (who also produced the films) are among my indies heroes, mortgaging houses and maxing out credit cards to finance their wonderfully silly flicks."
- Maryann Johanson (Flick Filosopher)

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