In cinema history, few risks were bigger than the one taken with the third Evil Dead movie Army Of Darkness. It wasn’t just a whole new movie in the Evil Dead franchise, it was a new Evil Dead movie in a completely different genre with a lot of the horror elements removed. Army Of Darkness is a comedy fantasy film set in medieval ages, there’s no cabin, no spooky forest, very little blood, minimal gore but plenty of undead, deadites and Bruce Campbell being awesome as usual. It’s a completely different experience, a film that could stand on its own or as part of a very varied franchise. Nonetheless, despite all these changes, Army Of Darkness was a success at the cinemas – garnering over $25.5 million at the box office – and it was an incredible hit on vhs becoming one of the most recognisable movies of the 90s. Army Of Darkness has an incredibly dedicated cult following to this day and it is supposedly one of the highlights of Sam Raimi’s cinema career before moving onto making the Spider-Man movies in the early 2000s.
Firstly, I would like to address something. I have a keen respect for those who go out and make medieval period movies. As someone who knows the hard work, planning, trials and tribulations that go into a normal movie, the creation process behind a medieval period movie is simply astounding to me, second only to the work that went behind Jim Henson’s fantasy movies. So much work has to be done to keep an audience believing that a movie is set in medieval times: a film-maker needs the perfect locations, perfect costumes, a wide variety of perfectly made medieval props. Also, they need to be incredibly careful as to keep a perfect mis-en-scene which entails the use of closed sets, careful cinematography and a ton of post-production work all needed to keep up that medieval aesthetic. To make a medieval movie a film-maker needs planning, time, manpower and lots of money at hand to pull it off and Sam Raimi pulled off the medieval aesthetic beautifully on a reasonable $11 million budget (for reference: 1988’s Willow was made on a $35 million budget and 1987’s The Princess Bride was made on $16 million). Army Of Darkness is a movie where from start to finish the medieval mis-en-scene never breaks and Sam Raimi manages to incorporate a lot of detail into the props and medieval era machinery featured in the movie, so I definitely commend Sam Raimi for his hard work especially seeing as Army Of Darkness was the first period film Sam Raimi ever directed.
Storywise, Army Of Darkness is quite simple and feels like a twisted game of Dungeons & Dragons with a drunk DM moreso than an Evil Dead movie. Ash Williams gets transported to 1300s and has to embark on a quest to recover the Necronomicon and return back home; but of course, it wouldn’t be an Evil Dead movie if Ash didn’t make a stupid mistake and manage to make everything worse. In a strange way, Army Of Darkness feels very self aware, much more so than the other movies in the franchise with it’s constant use of one-liners, fantasy film cliches and copious fan service. The movie begins with another recap of the events of the last 2 films, but it’s still completely different. According to the intro of Army Of Darkness: Linda has short hair, the Necronomicon looks completely different, there’s no mention of anyone other than Ash or Linda in the cabin when the deadites attack, and Ash apparently cut off his hand in the living room, not the kitchen. After seeing the same thing in Evil Dead II where it felt out of place, I actually completely understand why Sam Raimi did this in Army Of Darkness: it’s become a running joke. If Army Of Darkness hadn’t ended the original movie franchise then I bet that Evil Dead 4 would have recapped the last three movies like this. It’s out of place, but Army Of Darkness knows it’s out place and decides to do it anyway, and it does not diminish the final, self-aware product.
However, when taken as a whole, Army Of Darkness has a pretty damn good story. It’s a movie chock full of memorable characters, unforgettable sequences and one of the best medieval battle scenes ever seen outside of a Lord Of The Rings movie. Aside from a few ‘plot coincidences’ similar to Evil Dead II and multiple continuity errors which, in all honesty, feel like they were done on purpose to reduce any serious tone this movie has – such as Ash’s disappearing/reappearing shotgun and how apparently 4 shots can come from a double-barreled remington according to this movie – the plot is quite logical and well-written. Even the “Three Stooges’ style of comedy that is now quite overt in comparison to the previous movies is very welcome and it adds a very light, humorous tone to the movie. The dialogue is quite believable for the medieval era and Ash Williams is now more badass than ever with a whole bevvy of wise-cracks and one-liners that are funny to hear again and again. All in all, although Army Of Darkness is a ‘bait and switch’ from it’s horror movie history, I don’t believe that there’s nothing wrong with the story or the characters that could hurt its acclaimed reputation.
As for the legendary Bruce Campbell? In Army Of Darkness he definitely is on top form. His performance in Army Of Darkness is far better than his acting in the previous Evil Dead movies. He’s funny, charismatic and much less awkward than he was in the previous films. He embodies the character of Ash Williams and his performance is near perfect in my opinion. Not only that, but Army Of Darkness gives Bruce Campbell the chance to show off even more of his acting chops as he plays evil versions of himself, silly tiny versions of himself, and he even gives a funny performance during spliced post-production effects. That is something that’s quite hard to do as well, as an actor won’t have a co-star to effectively bounce off of when they’re being recorded in order to convincingly interact with themselves in post-production, but Bruce Campbell succeeded with gusto. His performance stands out amongst all the others. He is the lone star of Army Of Darkness and his performance is near-impeccable. Nonetheless I still don’t think that Army Of Darkness was Bruce Campbell’s greatest performance, but it is definitely one of the greatest he’s ever done.
Even the production aspects of Army Of Darkness are astounding. The cinematography is fantastic, the lighting is amazing, the post-production effects are eye-popping and the time and effort that went into props, monster design and ADR’d dialogue really shows onscreen. Army Of Darkness is a feat of talent and skill from everyone involved from the make-up department, to the special effects department, to the costume department and even the gaffer has his standout moments. So much work went into this movie and the payoff is absolutely fantastic. I can’t really say much else, I just think that the production elements are top notch and that Sam Raimi really displayed his talent in directing a large production team with this movie.
However, there is one thing I do have to address: the endings. It’s common knowledge that two endings were made for this movie. One for home video, and one for cinema, and each ending addresses the point where Ash can return home by drinking a vial of potion. The original home video ending sees Ash drinking a precise amount of drops and sleeping until the 20th century. Instead he ends up falling asleep for too long and waking up after the destruction of earth Planet Of The Apes style. This ending is another self-aware nod to the franchise as the ends of each of the Evil Dead movies ends with Ash being screwed over in some way. The theatrical ending, however, sees Ash drink the potion and recite words to end up back in the 20th century. He does so and is back at work where it’s revealed that he didn’t say the words correctly and brought the deadite menace with him. He fights a deadite, kisses the girl and finally saves the day. This ending was concluded because the producers didn’t really like Sam raimi’s original ending. Now, I can’t really say that one ending is objectively better than the other because each one depends on the personal preference of the viewer. Me? I prefer the theatrical ending. After watching three films of Ash being screwed over and life threatened by demons, I feel more satisfied seeing him win the day in a good ending rather than suffer in a bad ending. Also the good ending gives one of the best one-liners from the entire movie that’s still an iconic saying to this day: “Hail to the king, baby”.
If it’s not obvious enough, Army Of Darkness is my favourite entry into the Evil Dead franchise. It’s much more polished, more well made and more varied than the previous entires. With this film I can look past any flaws that it has and just sit back, and enjoy the movie. I always have such a great time watching it. Upon reflection of the series as whole, however, I was quite pleasantly surprised with these movies as I re-watched them for these series of reviews. I genuinely thought that I would find more things wrong with the Evil Dead franchise that I could talk about. It seems that not even my pre-judgements could prevent me from liking these films. Each one offers something different to the audience, and so it doesn’t really matter which entry into the franchise a viewer prefers. Some people may prefer the first for it’s intense horror stying, others may prefer the second for it’s splatstick comedy styling, and others, like me, could prefer the third because it’s just a damn good action comedy romp. Netiher choice is wrong as it all depends on what a veiwer wants to get out of their movies. Are they more welcoming of intense horror, comedy horror or action horror?
In conclusion the enitre Evil Dead franchise is a must see for anyone who hasn’t seen it, never mind Army Of Darkness alone. It offers so much for varying types of viewers and even today it’s clear to see the power and magnitude of the movies, and the power and magnitude of Sam Raimi’s directing ability. I will definitely give a high recommendation of the entire Evil Dead franchise, a franchise which could possibly be one of the greatest horror franchises ever made.