Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Brandon Peters's Evil Dead franchise retrospective part IV: Army of Darkness (1992)

Brandon Peters has returned! Leading up to the April 5th release date of the new Evil Dead remake, Mr. Peters will be doing his voodoo with the Evil Dead series. He continues with a look at Army of Darkness. As only a casual Evil Dead fan, this was an extra-special treat as this isn't a film series that I've memorized by heart. This was as informative for me as I hope it will be for you. So without further ado...

Army of Darkness
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Ian Abercrombie, Marcus Gilbert, Richard Grove…also Bridget Fonda and a line-less Linda, Night of the Living Dead remake’s Patricia Tallman as a deadite and Wedding Singer’s Angela Featherstone as an S-Mart girl
Rated R

Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun.

With the success of Darkman, Sam Raimi was finally able to bring to life his vision of Ash fighting deadites in medieval times.  Originally titled The MediEvil Dead, the film was the first in the series to be backed by a major studio.  However, the film is still done on the cheap.  Bringing the comedic aspect of Evil Dead 2 to the forefront this time around, Raimi unleashes an insanely fun, quotable film featuring an encore performance by Bruce Campbell and a tribute to the comedy and adventures Sam Raimi enjoyed growing up.

Army of Darkness treats us immediately to another recap.  This time it features new footage mixed in with footage from Evil Dead 2.  This time around Linda is cameo’d by a young Bridget Fonda, which is pretty fun.  We also learn that Ash worked at a department store prior to taking his long weekend vacation to the cabin in the woods (zing).  If Army of Darkness 2 actually comes to fruition, I can only hope the tradition of re-shooting and retelling the events of the first film is kept around and had fun with.

The film finally progresses this story far away from the cabin.  This doesn't stop it from keeping around the series tropes.  A lot of the acts we loved in the first to film are revisited in creative ways here.  The mirror is here, the quick cut workshop montage, the crazy breakdown, all present.  This time the scare factor is at an all time low.  Maybe it’s the setting (I really doubt it), but the horror is played for scenery and monsters.  Everything’s a little cartoon/comic book-esque in presentation. 

Replacing a lot of the horror, but keeping with the insanity is even more of the physical comedy tour de force by Bruce Campbell.  Its clear why we love this guy, and this movie just gives us ultimate Ash.  He’s in full schmuck mode, acting arrogant as he feels he is an advanced being and above all people in the kingdom because he comes from the future.  Most of this derives from his new-found confidence in Evil Dead 2, this time taking him overboard, creating his own conflict and leading to his own peril.  The villain is “Bad Ash” who comes directly from him.  Ash puts everyone in danger in this film, but learns to take the reigns, become a leader and fix best he can what he created.  In the beginning he’s only wanting to go home and get away from everybody, but in the end, he wants to leave, but he wants to make sure the kingdom is a better place than when he got there.

Sam Raimi pays a lot of tribute in this film.  We get a Gulliver’s Travels segment, some more 3 Stooges love and the final battle is a massive love letter to Ray Harryhausen.  The finale is also done in a very fun, swashbuckling fashion akin to something like Princess Bride meets Jason & the Argonauts.  Its quite the spectacle for the type of low budget movie it is.  Once again, a low budget does not stop Raimi.  He goes incredibly ambitious and acts as if he’s got the budget twice of what he has.  Skeletons are given a surprise amount of detail and character during the battle.  Its quite a joy and charming to watch.

While production went smoothly, Universal butted in during post production.  The film’s original ending was scrapped as Universal wanted an upbeat happy ending.  Raimi found Ash to be a schmuck and wanted the ending to reflect as such.  In a weird choice, the ending overseas was Raimi’s original and domestically Universal go their ending.  If we’d have Raimi’s original ending of Ash awakening to a desolate future, I’m sure we’d have seen an attempt at an Evil Dead 4 before now.  The S-Mart ending seemed to be a nice wrap up.  Which do I prefer?  I think I slightly lean toward the S-Mart ending.  Its more fitting in the tone of the film and feels more complete to the journey taken in Army of Darkness. As a young lad I thought the idea of the ending I couldn't have was cooler.  Its fun, but…what if we never saw a continuation to this?

Army of Darkness might be the “for everyone” entry in the Evil Dead franchise.  Yes, it’s the third film, but its probably the most easily accessible from general audiences.  A person who isn't in to horror or doesn't get horror comedy could easily dig this movie.  Its not very graphic at all and has a much lighter tone.  I’m not gonna say kids should be watching it, but I'd say if you got a target age for you kid to watch horror movies, you get start them a year or two earlier than that on this.  It's a fun time, and you'll definitely be quoting Ash, trying mock his voice or ripping him off with your own property (looking at you Duke Nukem).  It's just as an enjoyable romp as the previous entry and caps off what is currently a trilogy, making three highly enjoyable parts and pretty much a perfect trilogy.

“Join Us” next time for:  A bonus piece on a film I consider a “sister movie” to the Evil Dead franchise

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David said...

Absolutely right about this being the "for everyone" film, Brandon. I've never seen the others, but I love this one (and I own it - on VHS, in fact, which somehow makes it feel more authentic).

Laura Peters said...

"I’m not gonna say kids should be watching it..." --- this was probably the most appropriate "horror" movie you showed your kid sister back in the day

Also...you are responsible for me watching this series in backwards order.


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