31 Screams in October, #21: Army of Darkness (1992)

Posted: October 22, 2014 in Movie Review
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Army of Darkness (1992)

Director: Sam Raimi

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz

There are many periods in history which would be interesting to go back in time and visit. It would be perversely amusing to see how much the times have changed between then and now. I just wouldn’t want to become a permanent fixture of any bygone era. The early 14th century would not be high on my list of temporal vacation spots, especially not a 14th century populated by soul-swallowing demons.

Ash (Bruce Campbell) is stuck in 1300 AD England, though not by choice. At the end of “Evil Dead II,” he’d helped to open a rift in time that was meant to banish the evil that had been perverting the woods surrounding that Tennessee cabin he had traveled to with girlfriend Linda (re-cast once again, this time with Bridget Fonda in a non-speaking cameo). Unfortunately, he got sucked in with everything else that was meant to go. Presumed to be in league with Henry the Red, he is being led by Lord Arthur’s men back to the castle, where they mean to throw him into “the pit.” Once thrown inside, Ash fights off a Deadite (what they called the “Evil Dead” demons in that century), and kills another in full view of everyone once he has climbed back up out of the pit. Ash demands the release of Henry and his men, much to the chagrin of Arthur. Ash demonstrates his superiority with the technology he’s brought with him from our time: a chainsaw and a shotgun, a.k.a. his “boomstick”!

The movie’s main plot, the titular contest between the forces of good and the “army of darkness” arises when Ash is sent on a quest to retrieve the Necronomicon, or “Book of the Dead.” With it, Arthur’s wise men can send Ash back to the late 20th century. During this time, Ash has developed a relationship with Sheila (Embeth Davidtz), who initially had believed him to be responsible for her brother’s death. She believes, as the wise men do, that Ash is the one prophesied to deliver them from the evil of the Deadites, but Ash only wants to grab the book so he can get home.

“Army of Darkness” is filled to the brim with references to other movies. In a windmill, Ash runs afoul of another evil mirror (as he did in each of the first two “Evil Dead” movies). After he breaks it, several miniature Ashes jump out, subduing him just like in “Gulliver’s Travels.”  One of them enters his mouth, and an evil clone of Ash emerges before being killed, dismembered and buried. When he arrives at the book’s location, Ash misspeaks the magic words which anyone who has seen the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still” will recognize instantly, destroying the altar in an “Indiana Jones” sort of way, and restoring his evil clone to life. The clone raises his Army of the Dead, which looks like something out of “Jason and the Argonauts.” Hurriedly, Ash heads back to Arthur’s castle with the book. He knows he’s screwed up, but he’s still unwilling to accept a heroic role until a winged Deadite swoops in like one of the flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” and kidnaps Sheila.

“Army of Darkness” neither sinks nor swims by referential humor alone. The sight gags which made “Evil Dead 2” such a laugh riot are present here as well, but it is now the one-liners which provide the most side-splitting moments. The best of them come in these four scenes: 1) just after Ash climbs out of the pit, 2) in his fight with the possessed “she-bitch,”  3) while he’s trying to decide which of the three Necronomicons before him is the right one, and 4) during the battle with the Army of the Dead. Bruce Campbell is given such terrifically silly, unforgettable dialogue in this movie that “Army of Darkness” ranks right up there with “Ghostbusters” and “Young Frankenstein” as one of the great horror-comedies of all-time.

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