Saturday, October 03, 2009

“Welcome back to the land of the livin’…NOW PICK UP A SHOVEL AND START DIGGING!”

1992 brings us to the close of “The Evil Dead Trilogy” with Army of Darkness. Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi returned to the screen to cap things off with something a little…different than the first two movies.

After the events of the last movie (and the opening recap), a sole survivor of a haunted cabin in the woods finds himself thrown back in time to the Not-England of the middle ages. Managing to impress the locals with his weaponry and attitude, he tries to find a way back home by recovering the Necronomicon from its resting place, but ends up taking part in a war against the risen army of the dead.

Ashley J. “Ash” Williams: Bruce Campbell once more is Ash, only this time the character is developed to his final form. A loudmouthed braggart and man of action, his trademark weapons are still the chainsaw and sawed off shotgun, but he also picks up a sword and gains a very “clockpunk” right hand to replace the one he lost. Catchphrase spouting, borderline sexist, and not quite as bright as he thinks he is. He’s a rare thing in modern horror franchises: a hero character that you want to root for against the monsters. Ash is without any question, a certifiable badass in this film.

Bad Ash: Bruce Campbell again, except, well, evil. The Evil finds a way (uncomfortable, I assure you) to make a carbon copy of Ash that gets all kinds of messed up by Ash. That doesn’t stop him from finding a way out of the shallow grave he’s been dug into and becoming the leader of the Deadite Army.

Sheila: Embeth Davidtz plays Ash’s medieval love interest. A woman who’s brother was killed by Duke Henry’s men in a battle, she assumes that Ash is with Henry when he’s brought to the castle in chains and starts things going. Obviously, she falls for him after that. Obviously.

Lord Arthur: Marcus Gilbert plays the lord of a land beset by evil. He’s a serious-minded wet blanket that takes a while to warm up to Ash, but once he does, he proves to be a competent fellow.

The Wiseman: Ian Abercrombie plays the Merlin-like sage who advises Arthur. He immediately feels that Ash is the chosen one, prophesized to arrive from the sky and will rid the land of the Deadites.

Duke Henry the Red: Richard Grove plays a rival warlord that Arthur has been fighting with before the movie begins. Captured in battle, he meets Ash as the two are in chains awaiting execution.

There are a couple of other characters, like the always ill-fated Linda (this time played by Briget Fonda) and Ted Raimi has several very small roles (though sadly without a Ted Raimi Death Scene).

A bigger budget than last time, the film features more of Raimi’s signature style as innovative camera angles, over-the-top, comedic fights and very noticeably, locking the camera onto an object in motion. An arrow in flight will appear motionless as the scenery around it will whip by. The tone of the film is mostly one of High ADVENTURE!, not Horror, but the middle sequence where Ash rides out alone to get the Necronomicon is rife with bizarre events, special effects and crazy horror elements that build on what the first two movies had.

The buckets of fluid spilled on-screen aren’t quite as plentiful, but the movie makes up for it with loads and loads of Deadites. Actors in big masks, actors in makeup and an army of puppet & stop-motion skeletons that are gloriously Harryhausen-esque. The special effects are, admittedly, rather low-budget, but really, that’s actually part of the whole campy charm of the thing, and honestly, I’d rather have intentionally bad special effects that make a B movie great than unintentionally bad effects that make an (aspiring) A movie terrible.

The action scenes are also stepped up, with a climactic siege of the castle where Ash has to fend off the titular Army of Darkness and has a throw down with his evil twin. It balances that line between cheesy and badass, and if that’s not enough to sell you on this movie: Skeleton Bagpipers. SKELETON BAGPIPERS!

The script is by Sam and Ivan Raimi, and while the tone goes for more hilarious-level B movie status, everything about the movie ups the ante for Ash. He’s lost in time and has to live up to the expectations of a bunch of people who think he’s the chosen one, and he has to achieve that by stopping some kind of undead apocalypse with a handful of troops. It actually feels pretty epic for 81 minutes, and the pacing is spot on.

The dialog deserves special attention. Army of Darkness is one of the most quotable movies I’ve ever seen. Pretty much anything coming out of Ash’s mouth is either comedy gold or simply awesome, and it was real tough trying to choose something from him for the title quote and I’m sure people would’ve been like “why didn’t you use this or that?” So I saved myself that trouble and didn’t use any of his lines.

Out of the trilogy, this movie has easily the best soundtrack. Sure, Danny Elfman gets the credit for composing “The March of the Dead,” and it’s a fantastic theme, but the heavy lifting is done by Joseph LoDuca again, and the rest of the score is just as good. As with the script and direction, the tone is purely in the ADVENTURE! Camp with hints of grotesque horror peeking through. The music really helps cement the epic feel of the film (and the sound effects aren’t quite as prominently crucial, though still there) and LoDuca did a great job.

There is a reason why Army of Darkness is a cult classic of the modern era. The entire Evil Dead trilogy is great, but each film is unique for what it is. Army of Darkness is easily the best known of the three, the one most often shown on cable, and the one most quoted by fans. I’ve got a theory about this movie that goes something along the line of “if Army of Darkness is on and a male happens to pass by or flip to the channel playing it, that male will, guaranteed, have to watch the movie from wherever he walks in on until the ending. No exceptions.” Not only is this this movie required cult cinema, if you actually don’t like it, then, well, you’re probably not welcome here.

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