ARMY OF DARKNESS: The Director’s Cut (1992)
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I know some fans will disagree with me, but Army Of Darkness is my least favorite of the Evil Dead films. I was blown away by the intense and deliriously gory roller coaster ride that was the first flick and was never completely satisfied by the sequels which got lighter as they went along…though I have come to really enjoy them. Evil Dead was a blood and guts horror with a fairly serious and grim tone and by the time we get to AOD, it had become a supernatural Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Sure it’s a lot of fun and Bruce Campbell really has a blast with Ash, but I was always disappointed that Raimi abandoned the ferocity and bloodthirstiness of the original.
Story picks up at the point we left Ash at the end of Evil Dead II. He has been thrust back in time and has arrived in the Dark Ages where the deadites are terrorizing a land of feudal kingdoms. He is at first mistaken for an enemy by ruling Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), but his slaying of a deadite soon has him believed to be a long prophesied hero. Ash only wants to get home and to do that, he needs the Necronomicon. In true Ash style, he screws it up and now the armies of the deadites are descending upon the castle of his new allies. Can he defeat the army of darkness and save the kingdom of Lord Arthur, as well as, rescue the fair maiden, Sheila (Embeth Davidtz) who has caught his eye?
Putting aside the disappointment that might arise from this flick straying even further from the tone and gore of the first Evil Dead, this is a fun fantasy adventure with a twisted sense of humor. It does evoke the fantasy adventures of yesteryear, especially with some charming stop motion animation sequences that pay tribute to the works of Ray Harryhausen and some of his classics. The flick can get very goofy at times and sometimes it is a little too silly for it’s own good, as director and co-writer…with Ivan Raimi…Sam Raimi is a bit overindulgent in places, as he can be. There is little bloodshed and the film’s effects were modest at the time and some appear cheesy now by today’s standards…though there is a nostalgic charm attached to it as a result. There is a lot of action and one of the best sequences is a deliriously lunatic bit set in an old windmill with Ash battling a horde of miniature versions of himself. It is here were Raimi’s absurd camera work and overindulgence works and works well, not to mention the physical comedy of his star, Campbell. It’s one of the best sequences and the film never really reaches that fever pitch again. To add atmosphere, Danny Elfman and Joe LoDuca share scoring chores, while cinematographer Bill Pope gives the film an old fashioned fantasy adventure look. Obviously, as this is the director’s cut, this version features the far more bleak, yet more suiting to Ash, ending. It does work better, though the S Mart ending does have merit, too.
As for the cast, aside from Bruce Campbell, it is fairly unremarkable though Davidz is a lovely damsel, but doesn’t get much to do until she is possessed. Then the actress has some over-the-top fun. Campbell on the other hand, is in top form with both his sarcastic and overblown swagger, to his physical comedy and even outright heroics. Once again he creates a character who is both jackass and James Bond at the same time. Campbell doesn’t get enough credit for being able to walk a fine line between hero and buffoon and without a misstep. He really is very good at it.
Overall I like this movie, but have a hard time accepting it as one of the Evil Dead series, despite the involvement of Ash and having been led to this point at the end of Evil Dead II. It is a fun and sometimes very charming fantasy adventure with a twisted sense of humor at it’s center. It does get a little too overindulgent with the silliness at times, though it’s leading man successfully plays a character who is jerk, fool, hero and Romeo all at the same time…and not many can make that claim. It is well directed by Sam Raimi and there is cleverness in the script with brother Ivan, it’s just that it is as far removed from the original Evil Dead as one could get…and while that is somewhat refreshing, it also alienates it from the film it was spawned from. Thankfully, the recent Ash vs Evil Dead TV series returned us back to the over-the-top gore from the first flick without losing the sense of humor from the following two.
3 chainsaw arms.