I’m going to cause uproar with the first few lines of this review, you see the last time I watched Army of Darkness was easily 8+ years ago. I remember it fondly for the silly humour and crazy effects…here’s the thing, Army of Darkness really isn’t that good of a movie. It’s poorly edited with glaring mistakes all over the place, Bruce Campbell overacts to such a degree that it’s irritating by the end and many of the comedic moments are cringe-worthy.
So following on from the events that took place at the end of Evil Dead II, Ash is sucked through a portal that takes him back to medieval times where he is captured by Lord Arthur & his men suspected of being an accomplice of Henry the Red, the lord of the Northern lands and rival to Arthur.
Ash, Henry and some of his men are taken to the castle where they are to be executed against Arthur’s wise man’s wishes who insists that Ash is the prophesied one, sent to help rid them of the Deadites that plague the lands. Ash is thrown into a pit that holds several Deadites & manages to hold his own much to Arthur and Sheila’s dismay. She is the sister of one of Arthur’s knights who fell in battle against Henry & blames Ash.
The wise man throws Ash his chainsaw and with it Ash is able to defeat the Deadites and escape the pit where he then terrorises the people (it’s an awesome scene) ending with him shooting an escaped Deadite. His actions convince the people that he is the prophesied one yet Arthur remains doubtful.
Ash is no hero though; he only wants to get back to his time but to do this he will need to travel deep into Deadite territory and get the book of the dead, the Necronomicon. The book is the key to ending the Deadite plague so he agrees to do this on the promise that he will be sent home straight after.
However, before he can take the book he must recite three important words otherwise something bad will happen. This does result in one of the funniest and well done scenes in the entire movie as Ash forgets the final word and tries to trick his way into getting the book. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work & by taking the book without saying the correct words he inadvertently causes an army of Deadites to rise with one goal in mind, to get the book back.
The story is sound; you won’t get many complaints there & it flows nicely never focusing on one area for too long. I could have done without the love story between Ash & Sheila but it needed to happen so Ash had a reason to stay & fight against the Deadite army. The final battle is exciting & filled with enough light humour & gore to make it extremely watchable. It’s a bit quip heavy but that’s a flaw in the movie throughout.
Sure Ash is a cheeky bugger but just on occasion I’d have liked him to shut up and take the situation seriously, it would be so much more impactful. When he does turn the serious on it’s excellent, Bruce Campbell is brilliant at those moments when he stops being a smart-arse & just becomes a badass.
It’s this situation that results in Evil Ash being born, a clone that erupts from his own body & that will end up leading the Deadite army. It’s a cool idea that falls flat because of the insistence of humour dominating horror. How am I supposed to take the Deadites seriously when every word they say is a joke? It reminds me of The Return of the Living Dead II where something scary was taken & watered down to such an extent that a child would struggle to take it seriously.
A lot of the effects haven’t held up well at all and where as before it seemed charming, now it just seems…well… crap. The lengthy section involving the Mini-Ash’s in a particular really shows this. It’s an old film made on a low budget, I get that but know your limitations. The Evil Dead II was made on a shoe-string budget and it looks ten times better than a lot of this.
Thankfully a lot of the make-up & costumes look great, effort went into making the Deadites look the part with the early pit ones in particular looking fantastic.
It’s worth noting that Army of Darkness is an editing mess because of a dispute that meant it sat on the shelf for a year before being re-edited. It’s glaringly obvious and not reflective of the effort that went in to make it a cohesive story that matched up to the films that came before.
Army of Darkness is well known for having two endings, one that sees Ash sleep for too long on his way back to the future and ending up in a post-apocalyptic world and another where he goes back to his old life but ends up fighting Deadites in the shop where he works. For years I never saw anything but the ‘bad’ ending and I was never a fan, it just feels wrong for a character like him to end up in that situation so I much prefer the S-mart ending.
This is a beloved film so criticising it is difficult but I do feel a lot of the love for it is nostalgia based more than anything. Go back and watch it, it hasn’t aged well & really isn’t as funny as you remember. Attempts to be funny should never over-shadow horror & here it does far too many times.
Army of Darkness