I’d like to start off acknowledging how awkward this is, reviewing ARMY OF DARKNESS without first reviewing THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD II. ARMY OF DARKNESS is the third film in a trilogy of sorts (even though they’ve been talking about a fourth film forever, but that might be scrapped now, seeing how they are turning the antics of Ash and the deadites into a TV series), an awesome trilogy.
I at least need to say that there’s a progression throughout the films. THE EVIL DEAD is as straight up horror as you can get, partly why it billed itself as THE EVIL DEAD: THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE IN GRUELING HORROR. There’s multicolored blood and gore everywhere, and it concentrates on being scary. EVIL DEAD II (often referred to as EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN) somehow manages to ride the line between campy humor, and horror. It’s about half and half with the sequel. Once we hit ARMY OF DARKNESS, it’s full on three stooge’s comedy with a tiny, tiny, tiny, bit of horror. I can’t crawl into Sam Raimi’s head and see what made him do that progression from the first to the last film. If I were to take a guess, it’d probably be to keep things fresh and new. THE EVIL DEAD did straight up horror so well, it’d be hard for the sequel to not tread all over the same ground with the same tone as the first. I mean, yes EVIL DEAD II does several similar things to THE EVIL DEAD, but comically, giving it a different tone and therefore the illusion that it’s something new. Anyway, enough of my hypotheticals, let’s get to ARMY OF DARKNESS.
Bruce Campbell returns as everyone’s favorite anti-hero, Ash. In his newest adventure he finds himself thrown back in time to days of old, with castles, and horses, and knights, and…deadites? Huh, I guess they cut those scenes out of CAMELOT. Anyway, this man with a shotgun in one hand, and a chainsaw as the other (yes, I said AS). So of course, immediately he is taken and thrown into a pit with a deadite. Once he has killed the deadite he is recognized as the hero that legend says will rid the deadite menace, and save the inhabitants of the castle.
This film is just slathered in classic one-liners. Going back and thinking on them, it seems that the whole film was written as one-liners that are great to quote. There’s a classic quote for almost any occasion that comes from ARMY OF DARKNESS. Whether you’re having a passionate moment (“Gimme some sugar, baby”), or you’re kinda apologizing (“Look, maybe I didn’t say every single little tiny syllable, no. But basically I said them, yeah”. That one is my favorite), or you’re just showing off how bad-ass you are (“Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun”), ARMY OF DARKNESS has you covered.
As much as I love ARMY OF DARKNESS, I will admit that the Three Stooge’s humor is a bit tiring towards the middle of the film, the windmill section of the film especially. The comedy works great in the beginning of the film, as well as toward the end, but it’s that 20 or so minutes in between that just doesn’t work for me. Not because I’ve seen it so many times, I didn’t like it all that much the first time I saw the film. Lilliputian Ash’s just don’t do it for me.
The thing that really pisses me off about this film is one line, and I can’t tell you why it pisses me off, maybe because it’s a three-to-four second cutaway shot, actually, I’m pretty sure that’s why. When Ash retrieves the Necronomicon after botching the three words (well…two out of three ain’t bad, I guess), the earth starts to shake, and we cut back to the castle where people are running around, terrified, and the magician says “Something’s wrong, Something’s amiss!” Grrr. Argh. I hate, hate, HATE, that cutaway and line!!!
Of course, my favorite part of the film has nothing to do with script, or performances, or great one-liners. It’s the March of the Dead that plays when…well…when the deadites are marching. This song, part of the musical score, was put together by Danny Elfman. I love Danny Elfman’s scores, my favorite score of his was the one he did for the Kathy Bates film DOLORES CLAIBORNE. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do the entire score, he just does the March of the Dead.
It should be said that it seems that the EVIL DEAD series is the most absurdly distributed film. There are several different DVD and a blu-ray release for THE EVIL DEAD, which are pretty much the same as each other. The multiple DVD releases have different special features, but the blu-ray combines them all into one disc. There was even an ‘ultimate’ edition released on DVD that had the widescreen version on one disc, the full screen version on another disc, and special features on a third disc. Not to mention the Book of the Dead edition of the first film, as well, which is awesome as it is an actual book with pages and writing in it (which is a garbled version of actual letters). Then there are nearly as many releases of EVIL DEAD II, which includes a tin (which used to be a big deal), and its own Book of the Dead version, and a blu-ray edition. When it comes to ARMY OF DARKNESS, it can get just as confusing. There were a few DVD releases, one a limited edition that had the alternate ending on it as well as the theatrical editing. This wasn’t available on DVD again until they came out with ARMY OF DARKNESS: BOOTLEG EDITION, which had the original ending on the film itself, instead of the theatrical ending. It also has a blu-ray version. Just looking this all up, I’ve discovered that you can buy all three in a blu-ray trilogy bundle, which ALSO has a special edition that comes with the dagger. It’s the most convoluted and (possibly) greedy series of releases that has ever been. I really should do a giveaway of some kind to get the non-Book of the Dead editions off my hands, seeing how I own all of them on blu-ray now.
Even though this review is for ARMY OF DARKNESS, I think you should definitely watch the first two first. It’s not necessarily a story where if you missed the first film you won’t understand what’s going on in the second, I just think it’s interesting to watch the progression of horror, to horror comedy, to comedy. It’s really interesting to watch. When the TV series comes around (on STARZ, no less. Meaning the gore the merrier), I hope it’s more like a mix of comedy and horror, like EVIL DEAD II, instead of being purely one or the other. As for the recent remake of THE EVIL DEAD…we’ll talk about that later, when we get to the ‘E’ section.
Perhaps I should post an EVIL DEAD series quiz to give away my extra copies of each of the films. What do you think?