Horror Bites - Listen Up Screwheads

ARMY OF DARKNESS (1993)


The third instalment in the Evil Dead series is a dumb, dumb movie. Skeleton puppets without any articulation get smashed to broken crockery sound effects. Store clerk Ash teaches medieval peasants how to fight better than their castle knights somehow. A car wrecked after falling from a great height is fitted with a working steam engine, including a train whistle. Ted Raimi has multiple cameos, in one instance playing two characters in the same scene. Perhaps that's why I can't stop watching it. In some ways it was a logical regression into madness; the original film had some goofy splatter moments but was generally quite gritty, and the second introduced real slapstick to widen the scope. This one barely has any violent gore in it at all, even if you watch the extended cut. But while these changes in tone seem a little incongruous the result is still fun; a total guilty pleasure viewing experience.

There are many things I enjoy about this absurd time travel adventure, whether it's the inclusion of  stop motion skeletons that have real Harryhausen frowns, or the nonsensical montages where working prosthetics and machinery cogs are forged with medieval tools. The classic Oldsmobile just happens to have all they need to have the advantage in battle, including steam power and chemistry text books. We could talk all day about the reinvention of the protagonist as an action hero; while still reluctant he no longer resembles the unlikely college kid survivor from the original film. Bruce Campbell's character is now overflowing with both bravado and cowardice whether he's running from trouble or spouting cheesy Ivan Raimi dialogue. It's what makes it such an entertaining mix.

As a stand alone story it comes together in terms of the amusing battle sequences and the fish out of water narrative. The second Lord of the Rings film has noticeable references to this, Peter Jackson must have been a fan too. Costumed zombies and monsters are slain, and models are set alight and blown to pieces as zany voices yelp and scream. The spectacle is accompanied by a score which is way too classy for this production, whether it's the marching theme Danny Elfman provided or the many other rousing tunes by series composer Joseph LoDuca. It's all way too grand for the silly, often farcical events of the plot. Whether it's chainsaw hand attachments being fixed on in mid-air, or the facial features of our hero stretching like a Chuck Jones animation, this is a feature that can never be taken seriously.

Maybe that's where my complaints really come in. I know, it's blasphemy. These are things that I generally care less about in the grand scheme of things but have to be discussed. Dead by Dawn is the peak after all. The acting of Lord Arthur and his enemy Henry the Red is all over the place, and things like Evil Ash's brain popping open and the Three Stooges routine during the graveyard escape push the limits of what is live action and what is a cartoon. Their repeating The Day the Earth Stood Still joke was always too on the nose for me. There are even odd moments like the chained women being taken away by the resurrected army that don't seem to have a pay off, which is kind of strange. The purpose of the Necronomicon didn't make much sense before but it's even more vague here, these are not major problems but you catch my drift.

Generally speaking the darker films resulted in funnier gags, and that contrast is less sharp with an overall jokier tone. Perhaps they just had too much fun making it instead of the pain and misery it took to get the other two finished. In the end these problems don't stop repeat viewings, and it stands as a cult favourite as I'm sure you must know reading this. I even prefer the lighter studio ending with the added quips, so it's all a bit hypocritical on my part. It's a wacky laugh filled ending to a trilogy that never really had much consistency to begin with. If you want to see Bruce Campbell drink boiling water to kill miniature clones he swallowed or drive a rotor blade fitted steam car of death, this is the film for you.

3/5