Medieval Madness: rewatching the Evil Dead trilogy part 3 of 3 – Army Of Darkness (1992)
Had enough of cabin fever? Raimi ramps up the action, Ash becomes a hero and the Evil Dead are having too much fun to be evil.
Army Of Darkness
(Sam Raimi, 1993)
It’s hard to get away from that cabin. Sam Raimi might have ended Evil Dead 2 by slinging hapless hero Ash back in time to the Middle Ages, but no sooner has Army Of Darkness begun than the inevitable recap – this time with Bridget Fonda cameoing as ill-fated lover Linda – starts the whole story again. It’s probably a wise move: not only to explain to newcomers why there’s a guy from the present day duking it out with the undead in medieval times, but also to assure the faithful that Raimi hasn’t sold out.
Army Of Darkness came after Raimi’s Hollywood calling card, Darkman – and, indeed, it was only really possible because of that film’s success. Raimi took the money (huge by his standards, if not quite what was needed to satiate his ambition) and ran with it, swapping claustrophobic horror for a barmy Harryhausen-style creature feature. Years before Peter Jackson made the move from euuch to epic, Raimi paved the way with a full-scale knights vs skeletons battle sequence.
But that Evil Dead spirit lingers on. Army Of Darkness is the natural progression from its predecessors, finally giving in to Raimi’s need for slapstick without really bothering to scare us. Similarly, Bruce Campbell’s Ash, once a traumatised survivor, is now a battle-hardened veteran with possibly the greatest set of one-liners ever given to a single character. Not for nothing do the credits actually pitch the title as ‘Bruce Campbell vs Army Of Darkness,’ for this is the actor’s finest hour.
Budgetary limitations keep the cast to the barest minimum, with Embeth Davidtz the nearest to a fellow star; instead, Raimi recognises what worked best in Evil Dead 2 and takes Ash off on his lonesome on a quest to find the Necronomicon, where his greatest foes turn out to be, respectively, a gaggle of miniaturised Doppelgangers and a full-size evil twin. Raimi and Campbell delight in making the actor a one-man tribute act to the Three Stooges, and there are plenty of delirious laughs in the film’s mid-section.
There’s a buoyancy to the camerawork, too, as Raimi brings his breakneck, experimental movement into the mainstream. CGI has made this kind of live-action cartoon commonplace, but credit should go to Raimi’s pioneering efforts. If there’s a fault, it’s that – for all the expanded scale – Raimi is at his best within constraints; he needs something to bounce the camera off. That’s why the final battle, while giddy and gleeful in small doses, quickly palls because there are only so many times you can blow up a skeleton.
Curiously, Army Of Darkness ends at a crossroads with two equally strong endings. One is cheesy and obvious, but an absolute blast: a signal of the crowd-pleaser who would win over the world with Spider-man. The other is wry and pessimistic, throwing Ash into a post-apocalyptic future and showing the dark side of Raimi that would flourish with A Simple Plan and Drag Me To Hell. With rumours that a fourth film is on the cards, surely this conundrum will need to be resolved at some point, presumably by sending Ash back to the cabin one last time to get us up to speed with the story so far.