Monday, May 23, 2011

Cult Classic Movie Review: Army of Darkness

This is my BOOMstick!
This review is based on the Director's Cut DVD I own, a disappointingly poor transfer with additional and alternate scenes, most of which don't match film grade, spliced in.

Army of Darkness is the end result of what happens when a group of friends makes a marginally successful cult film and then a major studio gives them a serious budget for a sequel. It is the sequel to Evil Dead II, itself more a remake than a sequel of Evil Dead. It is what happens when a series of sight gags mostly inspired by "The Three Stooges" get stretched too thin until it lies gasping for air on the floor. Okay, I'm exaggerating to an extent, but I found myself a little bit bored through most of the final half hour.

It more or less follows on from where the previous film left off – with Ash (still portrayed by the dashing, self flagellating Bruce Campbell) being thrown back to the Middle Ages where he is prophesied to deliver the kingdom from evil.

Thinking about a lot of his work since Army of Darkness it's obvious Sam Raimi was beginning to get conmfortable with the visual style that would define films like Spiderman and his most recent, Drag Me to Hell – techniques like the shaky-cam and fast distorted push-ins. They are goofy movements that pair well with the goofiest aspects of his films and are employed to minimal effect (or for distinct purposes) in more serious fare like A Simple Plan.

What’s most fun about the first half of this third installment in the series is to see the way Raimi and Campbell make mincemeat out of the stock reluctant hero character. As Ash is meant to be the savior, but really he's just a guy from the late 20th century who came armed with a chainsaw and a shotgun (or his "BOOMstick"), he spends most of his time being self-involved in how to get back home. He laments being surrounded by "primitive intellects" and mutters insults under his breath, ignoring the fact that he himself is actually a bit of an idiot.

Just like the previous film, the plot is a bit superfluous, the film mainly being an excuse to make a ham out of Campbell. By the time he sets out on a solo quest to retrieve the Book of the Dead from a cemetery, the film is already running out of steam. It picks up quite a bit with some inventive comedic action set pieces including a small band of mini-Ashes who torment him until one enters inside his body and then emerges as his evil doppelganger.

Perhaps one of the funniest bits involves Ash's love interest, Sheila (Embeth Davidtz), despising him at first until he grabs her and gives her a strong kiss complete with inexplicable wind blowing her hair and his half-opened shirt, then a dissolve into some fire-lit lovemaking. Unfortunately, Davidtz is complete milquetoast, exhibiting little in the way of personality or character, which is hardly her fault as the script (co-written by Raimi and his brother Ivan) only bothers to flesh out Ash in the first place.

When he returns to the castle, trailed by the Army of the Dead, most of the comedy and nearly all the fun has been leeched from the script and the final act is devoted to a prolonged training and battle sequence (which occurs to me now may have served as a template for the climactic battle in The Two Towers). It's all obviously tongue-in-cheek, skewering the conventions of knights-in-armor films, but lacks any real wit to sustain the laughter through a full ninety minutes.

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