R. In my mind, Army of Darkness was always PG-13. It's so much more tame than the previous entries in the franchise. It almost feels like Raimi was going out of his way to make a PG-13 movie. (Wikipedia confirms my theory.) It's one of those movies that really toes the line. There's a lot of blood and chainsaw violence. There's kinda / sorta nudity and a rapey scene. Ash drops the f-bomb once, but the rest of the language is limited to s-bombs. The Deadites tend to be the most terrifying element of the movie, but most of the bad guys are skeletons, which aren't particularly all that scary. R.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
Man, I'm just pulling out all of the hits this October, huh? I'm going to just come out and say that Army of Darkness is just a weird movie all around. In terms of plot, it's weird. In terms of protagonist, it's weird. The tone is weird. The script is weird. The production history is weird. Like, the fact that Army of Darkness is so entertaining is an absolute miracle because everything in this movie absolutely should not work. Part of me relegates it to being a lesser movie in the series, but I know that it also is the most entertaining movie in a franchise that I really, really enjoy. It's truly bizarre what a corporate influence can have over an indie series of horror movies.
Tonally, Army of Darkness is just bananas. Following Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Army of Darkness is the first film that gets a wide release. I think there's a Paramount or a Universal title card in front of this movie, but that may be my absolutely dodgy memory. (I'm sorry that I'm not reviewing these in order, but I have a weird method to my madness that I may share one day in terms of what movies I watch and when.) The Evil Dead was this underground horror movie known for how brutal the film was. It was remade later with the attempt to outbrutalize one of the most disturbing films ever made. Evil Dead 2, for some reason, spends a lot of time remaking the first film and then adding a second plot to it. My guess was that not a lot of people were able to see the first entry, despite the iconic poster being in every nerd's bedroom in every movie. Evil Dead 2, tonally, is also bizarre because it starts off remarkably seriously and then adds some really weird,Three Stooges-styled humor to the film. And honestly, the comedy bits in Evil Dead 2 might be the most successful things. But Army of Darkness is over-the-top comedy surrounding a loose horror storyline. A lot of this is knowing that Bruce Campbell was born a comedian over being a heroic lead. It also has to do that these movies always seemed about a group of friends getting together to make fun movies.
But realizing that Army of Darkness is the third movie is completely bizarre. Considering that the third entry was the first movie to be shown to wide audiences, the first few minutes of Army of Darkness come across as a fever dream. Trying to summarize the events of Evil Dead 2 is insane. I have to believe that Raimi realized that because he never really lets up from that point. If the summarized points of the first two films were going to come across as nutbars, there's almost a sense of arrogance behind some of the choices that are in this film. It's not to say that Army of Darkness can't stand by itself. If anything, it does a lot to really sell that you can only watch Army of Darkness and be fine. But part of that is an agreement with its audience that details don't matter. The first five minute loop of the mythology of Evil Dead is crazy and almost incomprehensible. Every moment past that will also be incomprehensible. Why doesn't Ash use his shotgun against the Deadite in the pit? Who cares? It's cool when he threatens people with it. How do people get possessed by the Necronomicon for no reason? All I know is that the witch in the tower is kinda scary. Why go through all this effort torturing Ash when it seems that anyone could get possessed at any time? These are things that, if you think about them, can hold you back. Instead, Raimi weaponizes suspension of disbelief to create one of the most bizarre movies in the comedy-horror subgenre.
I don't think it is an accident that the title cards label the movie as Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness. Maybe I could have used an indefinite article in there to make it read a little better. But Ash as a character seems directly spiraled out of the persona that Bruce Campbell has created for himself. For those not in the know, Campbell is one of the cult film legends. Ash has elevated himself into the grand canon. In the comics, he's fought Freddy and Jason simultaneously. This character has become something grandiose. But none of his origin story justifies his behavior. As this series went on, the filmmakers decided to have more fun with their monster movie and make the character more playful. So I think that Campbell himself had a lot of influence over that. Ash and Campbell have this symbiotic relationship. As Ash became more of a chauvinist, Campbell became more like Ash, at least publicly. I don't know the man. I can't say how he acts with his friends. But his public persona really started mirroring the cocky mannerisms of Ash. Every interview I've ever seen of him is loaded with braggadocio. It's fun. But Ash is far from being a role model. He's fundamentally a selfish human being.
But what this does for the movie give Ash characterization. There's kind of a reason that few horror movies have repeat protagonists. When survival is the driving force for a character, rarely do they have to work on their emotional and moral development. But when we have repeat films with the same character, survival can be kind of boring for an audience. We get that Ash has become adept at fighting the Deadites, so there might need to be something else to watch besides some sweet chainsaw action. Raimi and company give Ash this really problematic personality 1) because Bruce Campbell has great delivery and comic timing and 2) it gives him room to grow within the film. It's not like we need a ton to grow. After all, Ash starts the movie as a cocky jerk and keeps making the same mistakes by the end. But we also have the moral shift from being self-focused to being outward focused. When Ash decides to stay in "the past" (I hope to talk about that for five seconds) and help Arthur and his kingdom fight the titular Army of Darkness, that's a change in the character's central moral philosophy.
But now I have to be the guy. I am being this guy who is calling out a low budget movie for its faults. I hate me too. I just want to point out some things that I may not have cared about the last time I watched this. I mean, I always thought it was weird that Ash has a high school chemistry textbook in his trunk. That's not the thing I'm going to go off on. The first question I have is "Is Ash in the past?" That's a big assumption. Everyone in this movie keeps referring to Ash going back in time, which is something I assumed as well until this viewing. Again, I've talked about suspension of disbelief being weaponized for this movie, but it's pretty in my face in some of these moments. The mirror was invented in 1835. Ash shatters a mirror to make a bunch of mini-Ashes, leading to the rise of Evil Ash. Okay, sure. But we're supposed to be in the 1300s. That seems pretty minor. But also, what part of England are we in? England isn't exactly known for its epic deserts. I'm sure that Army of Darkness isn't the only movie to give the English a dry background, but usually that is a part of the Crusades. Everything about this movie screams California, not England. There are just so many moments that make it seem like Ash is in a different dimension, not the 1300s. And I'm very cool with that. Remember, Game of Thrones is not in the past. It's a fantasy world. Why can't Army of Darkness simply be a fantasy world? Head-canon fixed.
Except, it's not. Ian Ambercrombie's wise man refers to Ash being displaced in time. It makes sense because Ash is the one who says that he has been thrown back in time. The wise man is simply repeating what Ash says. But the wise man is also the person sending Ash back home. He refers to it as sending him back to his time. Wouldn't the spell be something very different for time travel versus dark dimension full of Deadites? This is all stupid stuff I keep getting in my brain, considering that the movie plays up goofy physics any time it gets a chance.
But for all my "Excuse me, but..." that I'm doing, Army of Darkness is completely rad. With its borderline Muppets version of the fantasy horror, it's an absurd movie that hits every button right. When a special effect doesn't hold up (Tiny Ashes pinching big Ash's nose?), it doesn't really matter. It is fun for fun's sake and that's what good horror needs to do from time to time. Final result: It still holds up!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.