The Test of Time: Army of Darkness (1992)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they continue to be must see? So…the point of this here column is how a film stands against the Test of Time, if the thing holds up for a modern horror audience.

Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell and other people who aren’t Bruce Campbell

I can’t really explain my love for the EVIL DEAD series. For about a solid decade, I was kinda obsessed with it, most likely annoying the hell out of all friends who I forced to watch the movies over and over and over again. Eventually I had to put them away for a while so I didn’t wear out the fun, forever kill them. Director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell denied and teased another sequel, but after years - no, decades of waiting - I gave up on it. And then… well damn it, Raimi and Bruce finally resurrected Ash with the TV show Ash vs Evil Dead. Talk about a long wait.  

Anyway, while THE EVIL DEAD is a fantastically mean and dark film, and its sequel essentially had a bigger budget to remake the first film only to get weirder with it,  I think it’s a safe bet that not a single fan predicted where Part 3 would go. So after nearly 25 years after its release, what a perfect time to see if the third EVIL DEAD film stands up to the Test of Time.

Under the examination: ARMY OF DARKNESS.

Now that is dramatic lighting.

Oh…a note: If you’ve never seen ARMY OF DARKNESS or only caught the original theatrical cut (butchered by the studio), it’s required to see the director’s cut. It adds roughly 15 minutes to the flick, allowing the story to make sense for once.  

THE STORY: After our hero Ash survives his battle with the Evil Dead (twice), his luck doesn’t get much better as he’s transported back in time to the medieval days. Immediately, he’s captured and thrown into a pit for certain death. Ash, however, isn’t a punk. Once he reobtains his chainsaw and boomstick, the man is ready to defeat evil once again, this time leading a castle in a massive battle against the undead.  

A new Game of Thrones scene?

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: Out of the EVIL DEAD trilogy, ARMY OF DARKNESS remains my favorite because in a lot of ways, it could be the perfect B movie. EVIL DEAD 1 and 2 were by definition B movies. With no budget ($350,000 and $3.5 million respectively), and no real theatrical run, they had to find an audience through drive-ins, VHS, and word of mouth.

But ARMY OF DARKNESS is a rare studio film that’s actually just a B flick with an decent budget (costing between $11-13 million and it remains Campbell’s only starring effort in a major production). I really can’t imagine how the hell Raimi and company even got funding because the appeal here isn’t exactly universal. Think about it: Raimi ditched the focal point, their most identifiable part (the cabin) and went medieval with castles and swords at a time when that was a dead genre. Essentially, ARMY OF DARKNESS is a demented Three Stooges movie on a meth binge as they wanted to make slapstick horror using an outdated comedy group as inspiration. 

Consider the scene when Ash swallows a mini-version of himself only to have a duplicate head emerge on his shoulder. That scene could have played for pure horror. Instead, the head becomes a full body and Good Ash and Bad Ash have a show down, where lines Bad Ash dances around and starts name calling: “You’re a goody little two shoes.” Good Ash shoots him in the face with a double barrel shotgun, blowing him back ten feet against a tree. Its madness, merging so many tones and styles that people might have thought Raimi was spoofing his own film. And it’s f*ckin’ great. 

Double the pleasure. 

ARMY OF DARKNESS also has perhaps some of the best corny one-liners ever put to film: “That’s just what we call pillow talk, baby.” “Well hello Mister Fancypants.” “Yo, she-bitch! Let’s go!” “Hail to the king, baby.” And, of course, “Groovy.” I could add about ten more but I think the point is there. So many damn movies try to succeed at creating witty, catchy phrases. Most end up cheesy and embarrassing (looking at you, BATMAN & ROBIN). Very, very few films can continually hit them like they're the Kansas City Royals. 

And it’s not just the fantastically insane script written by Sam and Ivan Raimi. It’s also Campbell’s annoyed delivery at everything. “What? Were you raised in a barn? Shut the door!” Ash’s ridiculous confidence in every situation, even if he knows he’s completely overmatched, makes the character so likeable. It’d be hard to pin down my favorite scene, but when Ash emerges out of the pit to encounter the group of screwheads gawking at him, he intimidates and owns the crowd with the most ridiculous speech ever put to film.  

Evil looks hungry. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW It would be easy to knock ARMY OF DARKNESS for the lackluster effects, but it is an EVIL DEAD film. Perfection should never be expected. The one thing that truly does bug me is the horrible use of split screen, where Ash might be clear, but everyone else is grainy as shit. It’s not a good look. I could also issue a complaint about a franchise losing focus. With the first two contained to a one mile radius of the cabin, those films play claustrophobic and tight. ARMY OF DARKNESS is anything but.

Then again, I give credit to Raimi and Campbell for not just repeating the same idea. Make the thing crazier than ever and throw out any and all expectations. Why not?

Bad Ash looks badass. 

THE VERDICT: ARMY OF DARKNESS might have bombed at the box office with about $11 million (which is why we never got a sequel), but thankfully, fans found it, becoming the perfect cult movie. It's still as hilariously insane as ever.

And much like STAR TREK, the franchise has a loyal fan base which is why 20 years after the last film, the original players have finally reunited for another round of mayhem. Instead of 90 minutes, we’ll get 300 minutes, and more after that (as season two is already a go). I’ll take that over a film any day.



How great is that picture...



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