Horror Bites - Listen Up Screwheads

ARMY OF DARKNESS (1993)

The third instalment in the Evil Dead series is a pretty dumb movie. Skeleton puppets without any articulation get smashed to broken crockery sound effects. Shop clerk Ash somehow teaches medieval peasants how to fight better than their castle knights. A car wrecked after falling through a portal in time is fitted with a working steam engine. With a propeller and a train whistle. Ted Raimi has multiple cameos, sometimes as different 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. While the original film had some goofy splatter moments but was generally quite gritty the second introduced real slapstick to widen the scope, and in many ways it perfected the balance. This one barely has any violent gore in it at all even if you watch the extended director's cut. But while these changes in tone sometimes seem a little incongruous the result is still fun. Perhaps it's a guilty pleasure viewing experience. Perhaps it doesn't even matter.

There are many things I enjoy about this absurd time travel adventure, whether it's the inclusion of  stop motion skeletons that have bona fide Ray Harryhausen style frowns, or the nonsensical montages where robotic prosthetics are forged by a blacksmith. Later on the trunk of the classic Oldsmobile just happens to contain what they need to have the advantage in battle, including steam power and chemistry text books. We could also 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. But the way Bruce Campbell's character is now overflowing with both bravado and cowardice is what makes it such an entertaining mix, whether he's running from trouble or spouting cheesy Ivan Raimi dialogue.

As a stand alone story it comes together as an amusing medieval battle story 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. Zombies and monsters are slain while models are blown to pieces and zany voices 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 regular series composer Joseph LoDuca. It's all way too grand for the silly, often farcical plot that unfolds. Chainsaw hand attachments are fixed on in mid-air and the facial features of Bruce Campbell stretch like a Chuck Jones animation. This is a feature that can never be taken seriously despite the orchestral sounds accompanying it.


Maybe that's where my complaints start to creep in. I know, I know, it's blasphemy. Admittedly these are things that I care less about in the grand scheme of things, but they have to be discussed. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn is the peak and this is a notch below that. Some of the acting from Lord Arthur and his rival Henry the Red is all over the place, and in general some of the 'wilst thou' style dialogue is hit and miss. Other inclusions such case Evil Ash's brain popping open and the whole Three Stooges routine during the graveyard escape push the limits of what is live action and what is a cartoon. And the use of dialogue from The Day the Earth Stood Still as a joke was always too on the nose for me.

Comedy is always going to be subjective but there are even odd narrative moments like the kidnapped women being taken away by the skeleton army that don't seem to have a pay off. It's kind of strange even in the longer version of the film which restructures the final battle but doesn't add much in terms of story beats. It would have been a nice touch to actually explain the purpose of the Necronomicon too. It didn't make much sense before but it's even more vague here. These are not major problems but you catch my drift - there are some patchy elements that don't alter the general watchability factor, but certain ideas could have been expanded on to make it a stronger feature overall.

In the series as a whole the darker films resulted in funnier gags because the contrast was sharper. There was a nice knife edge between gross shock horror and sudden laughs. Perhaps they just had too much fun making this one, since the pain and misery it took to get the other two finished is well documented. But at the same time maybe I'm being hypocritical since I prefer the lighter studio mandated ending with the added quips. Ultimately these problems don't add up to much that prevents repeat viewings, and it stands as a cult favourite for a good reason. It's a wacky laugh filled finale to a trilogy that never really had too much concern for consistency. If you want to see Bruce Campbell drink boiling water to kill miniature clones of himself or run down skeletons with a car then this is the film for you.

3/5