It’s that time of the year again. The month of October is upon us. So to celebrate, we at Full Circle Cinema put together another curated, month-long series with Screen Screams. This year, we will be checking our clocks as we wait in anticipation for the forbidden delight we call “the midnight movie”. And with midnight movies comes a variety of projects that are perhaps too niche for the masses. Today we’ll be once again venturing into the realm of the Deadites to discuss the final installment of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, Army of Darkness.
Evil Dead II is everything a sequel should be. Starting with the familiar set-up of the first movie, by the end Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) has been put through worse than hell. Just when it seems like things can’t get much worse, a portal opens up. The hapless Ash is sucked into a portal and ends up in the middle ages. It’s the perfect sequel set-up; the supernatural escalation of the crazy journey so far. Unfortunately, Army of Darkness is a marked step down from the previous two films, although it does have its charms.
Army of Darkness picks up right after that classic cliffhanger. Ash is a chainsaw-wielding fish out of water, and most of the film is his antics adjusting to his new time. To Bruce Campbell’s credit, he once again takes on the challenge of essentially putting on a one-man show. Moreover, he nails it! Sam Raimi loves to torture Campbell, and he has plenty of delightful wringers to put Campbell through this time around. Whether it be fighting off an evil version of himself sprouting from within, er, himself, or being held down by Ray Harryhausen-esque skeletons, he’s up to the challenge.
Campbell has more of the makings of a great physical comedian than he does a straight-laced action hero. Through the lens of comedy, Army of Darkness is hilarious! It’s difficult to get your fill of Ash spouting out immortal one-liners like “this is my boomstick!” and “yo, she-bitch, let’s go”. Nevertheless, Campbell had a lot more to work off of in the past films. Much of Army of Darkness, by comparison, feels a bit lifeless.
Sam Raimi directs with all the verve you’d expect from him. Certainly, journeyman cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix trilogy) understands the assignment, injecting a wallop of kinetic energy. There’s a definite sense of ingenuity having a camera mounted on a flying arrow. Yet, the typical Raimi & Pope grab bag of tricks falls flat with a story that’s thread bare.
The concept begins and ends with “what if Ash were in the middle ages?”. There’s not a whole lot of exploration into the lore so eagerly expanded on in the second film. Confoundingly, there’s not a lot of actual Deadites in the film, either. Save for a couple of fun slapstick moments, the blood is conspicuously absent. I don’t fault Raimi and co. for wanting to try something new. There’s simply just not a lot in their imaginations with this one. By the time the whole thing wraps up with a big battle with stop-motion skeletons, I appreciate the craft, but it doesn’t mean much without the chaotic feeling of the previous two films.
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It’s a blessing, then, that the film rests on Bruce Campbell’s shoulders, because he makes it worthwhile. I first saw Army of Darkness when I was 12, and was amused then by Ash’s antics and still am now. It’s a step down, but still an entertaining enough midnight movie on its own. Watch it through an undemanding, child-like lens, and you’re sure to have a chuckle or two. –James Preston Poole
Army of Darkness is now available on HBO Max, digital HD, and home video.