Army of Darkness (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Ash (Bruce Campbell) is a housewares salesman at an S-Mart department store before a venture to the house from The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead II sends him through a time tunnel into the Middle Ages. Suddenly, as the "Promised One" of prophesy, he is expected to save the locals from an upsurge in evil. Armed with a chainsaw and a 12-gauge shotgun, Ash sets out to put down an army of skeletons and woo one of the locals (Sheila, played by Embeth Davidz), all the while trying to find a way back home.

Army of Darkness is openly campy -- and proud of it -- blending a unique mix of horror, swords-and-sorcery, and the Three Stooges. If you've seen the previews, you know what to expect. They accurately depict the tone and content of the film without giving away all the slapstick and one-liners. While Army of Darkness isn't one gag after another, there's enough humor present to make it funnier and more enjoyable than the recent joke-packed Loaded Weapon One.

Bruce Campbell, returning after the two Evil Dead films (the working title of this film was Evil Dead III, but Universal requested a change to attract a larger audience), is in top form, delivering ridiculous lines with a deadpan seriousness that would make Leslie Nielsen take notice. As the reluctant hero, he's a walking anachronism who shoots up ghouls, turns his Chevy into a tank, and can't remember how to pronounce a series of magic words that pay homage to Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still.

There are some very memorable Three Stooges-type moments, complete with sound effects (pops, zings, and so forth). There's eye-poking, headshaking, and other slapstick standards. What makes these moments especially bizarre -- and effective -- is that most of the time, Larry, Curly, and Mo are represented by ghouls and animated skeletons.

Every ounce of fat has been trimmed from this production. It's a comic book brought to life, with no time for characterization, exposition, or subplots. Army of Darkness moves with breakneck speed, but its direction is straight, so there's little chance of anyone getting lost on the way. No matter what your opinion is of the movie, you're unlikely to be bored. The special effects are of a hit-and-miss variety. The skeleton and creature effects are superb, and look much more expensive to produce than they were, but the matte overlays are cheesy. During a send-up of Gulliver's Travels, the editing of the big and little people into the same frame is executed so poorly that one wonders if it may have intentionally been done like that.

Sam Raimi has never done a completely-straight film before, but Army of Darkness outdoes his previous efforts for sheer outrageousness. Those who like this kind of thing -- lots of action and gore, silly dialogue, over-the-top acting, and a self-mocking campiness that permeates all eighty-one minutes -- will love this movie. Anyone who prefers a more "traditional" motion picture will probably do best to stay away. Then again, you never know...

Army of Darkness (United States, 1993)

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidz, Marcus Gilbert
Screenplay: Sam and Ivan Raimi
Music: Joseph LoDuca and Danny Elfman
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:21
U.S. Release Date: 1993-02-19
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1