Any movie geek worth their salt can tell you all about Army of Darkness. It's almost a rite of passage for budding film buffs, not to mention the most user-friendly of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy. The preceding installments were geared with gorehounds in mind, but Army of Darkness has a little something for everybody. Elements of horror, comedy, fantasy, and action are blended together, along with a nice hunk of gouda Raimi and star Bruce Campbell are more than happy to provide. With all of these aspects executed with such vividly cheesy zeal, it's no wonder the film ranks as a king of modern cult cinema.
Campbell reprises the role of Ash Williams, a dude who really has no interest in being a hero. His battle with the demonic Deadites cost him his hand in Evil Dead II, and as this film begins, he finds himself transported back to medieval times. There, Ash arrives as a kingdom wages war against the very evil he thought he 86'ed. Thanks to his prowess in dispatching the undead; Ash assumes the role of a savior prophesized to free the land of the supernatural terror ravaging it. All he really wants is to get back to his own time, but a bungled quest results in the eponymous army's resurrection. The dead may outnumber the living, but with a chainsaw and endless snarky one-liners, Ash won't have any trouble sending them back to the grave.
Raimi, Campbell, and their cohorts all got started in the trenches of indie filmmaking, but even with an increased budget, that shared camaraderie still shines through. Sure, the film can look a little ungainly at times, but that's the point. The flick's very reputation is based on the self-aware spirit its creators carried throughout production. Army of Darkness was never meant to be typical multiplex fare, and had it possessed a bigger price tag, it likely wouldn't have anywhere near as much charm.
While it doesn't exactly challenge Hollywood convention, Army of Darkness has so good a time as to leave with its soul intact. Set pieces range from showdowns with pit monsters and possessed witches to stop-motion skeletons engaged in full-scale battle. Humor also plays a large part here, as nothing is ever taken too seriously. Some scenes could almost come from a missing Stooges escapade (including Ash's attempts to fend off some unruly graveyard marauders). Thus, Campbell's role is less Errol Flynn and more Buster Keaston, but his inherent cheesiness and snappy dialogue make him an ideal anti-hero.
Some say Army of Darkness was Raimi's last hurrah before being recruited to toil in the blockbuster mines. He is a filmmaker who's more creative the less resources he's given; however, the man's can-do spirit is safe and sound. Though few films are as fun to watch as they presumably were to make, you can count Army of Darkness among their numbers.
Screwhead Edition Special Features:
• Creating the Deadites is a 21-minute behind-the-scenes documentary showing how the KNB effects studio devised the film's ghoulish effects.
• An alternate ending shows Ash to a much bleaker fate than in the theatrical cut.
• The theatrical trailer gives viewers a taste of the film's screwball nature.