Army of Darkness (1992)

The ending of Evil Dead II went to an unexpected place, which was medieval times.  Not the restaurant, even though as goofy as Sam Raimi gets I wouldn't have been surprised, but the actual time period.  The Necronomicon ex Mortis, the Book of the Dead featured in the series, contained a picture of a "promised one" being worshipped by the masses, and the last scene shows Ash (Bruce Campbell) being so worshipped after dispatching a winged Deadite.  

Although I hoped that maybe one day I would get to see that movie I knew it would probably never happen.  Though filmed on a bigger budget than The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II was still a low budget cult film.  Most everyone who saw it loved it and it was most fans' introduction to both Raimi and Campbell. Usually referred to as a remake, it's more of a continuation, since everything that happens after Ash is attacked by the demonic force at the beginning and then becomes human again as the sun comes up occurs after the story in the first movie.  Raimi just didn't have the rights to show flashbacks nor the money to re-enact so, instead, it was just Ash and his girlfriend Lisa. 

What internet there was in 1992 was primitive so I didn't know Army of Darkness was coming out until I saw a preview for it in the movie theater.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing, since I was sure Raimi would have been more interested in a sequel to Darkman or going on to some other project, but there it was.  Ash in a medieval castle fighting Ray Harryhausen-style skeletons and acting like an idiot.  I was there as the movie premiered, as were by chance a number of other friends I knew that were fans of the series.  Unfortunately, not much of anyone else was.  As the movie gained popularity on cable and video I found myself introducing people to the second film, as many didn't even known that the introduction was a recreation of an ending of a completely different movie, this time with Bridget Fonda in a brief cameo replacing Denise Bixler as Lisa. 

After a quick recap Ash falls out of the sky in the middle of a battle between Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) and his bitter rival, Duke Henry the Red (Richard Grove), in the year 1300.  Mistakenly thought to be one of Henry's men Ash is captured despite the protestations of Arthur's Wiseman (Ian Abercrombie) that he fits the description of the promised one.  Both kingdoms are under attack by Deadites, and both think the others traitors.  After Ash, with the help of the Wiseman returning his faithful chainsaw, dispatches a creature in a pit, Arthur agrees to help him in return to his own time if he will help rid the land of Deadites.

To do so he must retrieve a copy of the Necronomicon from a cemetery so that the spells can be used to both send him back as well as dispel the curse upon the land.  Ash, as usual, mucks it up and instead unleashes an army of the dead, led by an evil doppelganger of himself.  Originally intent on going home he decides to stay and help after his new lover Sheila (Embeth Davidtz) is captured by Evil Ash.  With the help of his 20th century knowledge and a few textbooks sitting in the trunk of his Oldsmobile, Ash sets about helping Arthur and his people repel the evil at their door.

Famously there are various versions of this movie.  Universal had taken the movie away from Raimi and re-edited it after using the funds to finish the film against producer Dino de Laurentiis as a negotiating ploy for other properties.  For whatever reason the studio wanted this sequel to be PG-13, something the MPAA was unwilling to relent on, so Army of Darkness, the first movie in the series to even get a rating, was released with an R.  In the U.S. it ran a quick 81 minutes because of the cuts, while in Europe it made it to 88 minutes with a different ending.  

Later director's cuts - including a cut favored by Bruce Campbell - lengthened the movie more, adding in footage that was used for television versions or had been removed completely, with the extended versions using the European ending.  Despite that being the preferred ending for many by the time Army of Darkness got famous enough for the video game Duke Nukem to steal many of the famous lines from it most people in the U.S. were familiar with only one version, which became the canon version due to the television series Ash vs. the Evil Dead.  The bleaker original one got some love with the end of the series, however. 

Many situations that would be problems for other movies add to the charm on this one.  It was filmed, not in a place that looks like medieval England, but around the Vasquez Rocks area in southern California, with some parts filmed on soundstages and a large castle set built in the Mojave Desert.  Despite the success of Darkman this project still only received a small amount of money, forcing Raimi to utilize much of the same matting technology of the old 1960s movies he was referencing.  It was somewhat noticeable when the movie came out and now, with each new iteration having a clearer picture than even when I saw it on release, it's even more noticeable.

Although a bit of it would remain in The Quick and the Dead this really the last movie in which Raimi used many of his early, innovative techniques in directing.  The use of Steadicam to denote the presence of an evil force as well as quick cuts, zooms, long pans and showing shots from the point of view of projectiles is all here and, if anything, in more abundance than Evil Dead II.  Ash becomes even more of a heel and Campbell obligingly does some of the best physical comedy seen in any movie of the 1990s.  The whole setting has a feeling of a Renaissance Fair more than anything else, but there is always something happening on screen to keep the viewers' attention.  Even in the longer versions there are rarely points where the action lets up. 

By adding even more comedy to the third film Raimi pretty much takes this out of the horror realm, something that would be rectified with the series, but it doesn't hurt the movie at all.  It works as a goofy send-up of both horror and fantasy while also being a tribute to the movies many of us grew up with and loved.  While technically the first two are better this is the one that finally introduced Ash to a greater audience, even if it did take a few years.  

Army of Darkness (1992)
Time: 81 minutes
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Ambercrombie
Director: Sam Raimi



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