Dir. by Sam Raimi - 1 hr. 21 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
"Army of Darkness" is a tough one to write about. Either you get it or you don't. I have, at various times, fallen into both camps. This is actually one of the very few films I've ever walked out on from a theatre (I'm claiming extenuating circumstances), but upon re-watching it, it made a lot more sense. It's just difficult to watch a comedy in an giant, mostly empty theatre, and without any frame of reference for what goes on here. I'd certainly never seen anything like it (including the two "Evil Dead" films that preceded it), and I've never been big on horror films anyways.
Ash (Bruce Campbell) goes on a camping trip with his girlfriend Linda (Bridget Fonda) in the woods, but they are attacked by something that kills Linda and sends Ash and his Buick back in time to the medieval era. He's rounded up with some other enemies of Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), and is thrown in the pit to die. Instead, Ash survives, and takes over Lord Arthur's village. There is only one way to return Ash to his time: retrieve the Necronomicon. Ash must quest to retrieve this unholy book, at which point he'll be able to return to his own time, and his own job at the S-Mart.
That might not sound like the greatest movie ever made, but this is a comedy foremost (and not one of those comedies that gets mileage out of pointing out anachronisms and the conventions of the genre), so the best stuff is hard to explain in words. Maybe the quickest explanation is that this is like a Three Stooges movie, but with skeletons and demons and the such. And the hero isn't much of a hero, he's pretty much 100% asshole, so when he suffers misfortune, the audience doesn't have much trouble enjoying seeing him take a fork in the rear-end. And since the hero is Bruce Campbell (and this is the role where he became "Bruce Campbell"), you'll end up yelling about your boom-stick for days after you finish watching "Army of Darkness."
The key here is that "Army of Darkness" is a film that's distinguishing feature is director Sam Raimi's personality - very aggressive camera work, overblown (in a good way) acting and effects, all on top of a genre film. There are parts that might sound funny when described (like Ash battling an army of tiny versions of himself inside of a windmill), but the actual visual approach taken by Raimi amplifies these scenes into something riotous. And it works well, partly because it's grafted onto a genre that's not particularly realistic to begin with, and it also celebrates and distracts from the low-budget nature of "Army of Darkness." If you can't afford to make a glossy film, for heaven's sake, pick up the freaking camera and move it around some! There's no need for loving, languid takes that will just expose that you're using puppets and skeleton masks. Instead, Raimi's take is to introduce dynamism and energy into every take, and to use P.O.V. shots whenever possible.
The entire film is over-the-top, and energetically so, and it's that full-tilt commitment to the absurdity here that makes it nearly a great film. In terms of entertainment value, if you're of a certain attitude and disposition, this is definitely a great film. It still blows me away that the guy who did the "Evil Dead" series is also the guy who got the chance to helm the blockbuster "Spider-Man" franchise, and we got a couple of top tier super-hero films out of the three. But at the same time, I found it hard to believe that the guy who made "Meet the Feebles" got the chance to make "King Kong" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. So, if you know Sam Raimi only from his bigger movies, check out the youthful energy and enthusiasm of "Army of Darkness," and you'll be quoting along with Ash in no time.
4 / 5 - TV (HD)