Rixflix A to Z: Army of Darkness (1992)

Director/Co-Writer: Sam Raimi // Universal/Renaissance; 1:21/1:36 (director's cut); Color
Crew Notables: Ivan Raimi (Co-Writer), Danny Elfman (theme), Joseph LoDuca (score), Bill Pope (cinematography)
Cast Notables: Bruce Campbell (Ash), Embeth Davidtz (Sheila), Marcus Gilbert (Lord Arthur), Ian Abercrombie (Wiseman), Richard Grove (Duke Henry the Red), Bridget Fonda (Linda), Patricia Tallman (possessed witch), Ted Raimi (cowardly warrior/2nd supportive villager/S-Mart clerk), Bill Moseley (Deadite Captain), Angela Featherstone (girl in S-Mart), Sam Raimi (knight in sweatshirt & sneakers), Josh Becker, Don Campbell, Charlie Campbell, Harley Cokeliss, William Lustig, Ivan Raimi & Bernard Rose (fake shemps, amongst many others...)
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

Alright, bitches. Where were you? I remember the snowbound February of 1993 very clearly. No one wanted to go to the movies, even on a Saturday afternoon when nothing else was going on, and so I slogged through the snow to check out the newly released Army of Darkness at the University Cinemas. And then I hung around the theatre to check it out again. And then I made a series of phone calls to see if anyone wanted to join me for the evening show, and I managed to get one, just one, other person to join me, and that was the wife. My friends, where were you? The armies of the frickin' dead were attacking!!! Haven't you ever heard of a call to arms, bitches?

When it came out, mainly due to Fangoria and Variety, I knew this film was really Evil Dead 3, though I understood the studio's need to make it seem as if it weren't part of that series. After all, the last film had been five years earlier, and this was the first in the series to get a major studio push, so there was apparently a desire at Universal to make this seem like a completely off-the-top fantasy film. Though I am no fan of numbered movie series, at least, I thought, maybe the words Evil Dead 3 would appear on the title within the film. But, they weren't. However, an even better surprise (and a great in-joke) occurred as star Bruce Campbell's name appeared (writ by smoke) on the screen, and was immediately joined by the following words: Vs. The Army of Darkness! Oh, if only the studio had seen fit to make this the true title of the film -- what a glorious B-movie heaven I would have been in!

I still ended up in that heaven that wintry Saturday afternoon when I saw the remainder of the film. Army of Darkness manages to not only capture and retain the elements of weird horror and over-the-top Three Stooges-style wackiness that director Sam Raimi and his pal Campbell introduced to the world in the first two films, but also extends itself into an unapologetic parody of sword-and-sorcery epics, Harryhausen-style skeleton animation and the very ideal of the heroic male protagonist.

Campbell's Ash may have the skills needed when the time calls for it, but up until then he is a blustery, slang-slinging braggart who basically bluffs his way through every situation. It's as if Twain's Connecticut Yankee ended up in King Arthur's Court, but while does manage to wow the "primitive screwheads" with his futuristic technology, he barely has any more grasp of the mechanics than they do at first glance. "Don't touch that!", he yells at one point. "Your primitive intellect wouldn't understand things with alloys and compositions and... things with... molecular structures." It's not that Ash isn't smart, though; of all the things that he has stored in his car's trunk (including a copy of Fangoria), he has a volume on Steam Plant Operation (for obscure reasons), so either he is someone with technological ambitions, or a healthy interest in furthering himself through reading, or more. But above all, he is an S-Mart working-stiff goofball who has been called into duty as "The Promised One", and thrust into a situation that would be enough to make anyone lose his cool. Except Ash. He's fought the Evil Dead before, after all...

...and that is where I point out my only real problems with this movie. It's not the first two movies. I wanted more outright horror from it. I love it unabashedly now, and while I recognized at that time that it was an interesting way to expand the series, the little gorehound in my soul was disappointed from that angle of things. My other problem was the length: I felt it was far too short at only 81 minutes, and just knew that Universal had trashed the film in the editing bay. Turns out, I was right: the director's cut that is now widely available on DVD (and which features an awesome commentary by Bruce, Sam and co-writer (and brother) Ivan Raimi), adds a full quarter hour of bits and snippets, as well as including the original ending of the film, which keeps more in line with the closing mood of the first two films. It is a wild conclusion, and Campbell considers it the true ending, since it was the original one written and filmed, before Universal had it changed to please the test-screening idiocracy. Raimi, perhaps considering his position in the studio world, seems a little more forgiving of the altered ending and seems reticent to really denounce it. Me? I didn't know there even was an "original ending" to miss, so how could I miss what I had never known? And besides, the "Hail to the King" ending is terrific. If the studio decrees that Army of Darkness has to end on a happy note, what better way to do it? After all, even though Ash may have a babe on his arm and the respect of his peers, he is still mired in a world where the Evil Dead are at large and on the attack. I love both endings.

Still, there is the fact that I had helped Ash fight the Evil Dead those first two times in the theatre. Even with my love for this third installment of the film, my loyalty has always been with the original film, one of those to which I kept dragging people kicking and screaming for another showing. As always, some cursed my movie radar, others loved it. Eventually, they would all come around. But I had never considered the viewpoint from the other end of things: that the third movie could be someone's first introduction to the undead world of Ash, and that they would consider it far superior to the original pair of films. I have met many people who are barely aware of the the original entries in the series, if at all -- they just know of Army of Darkness, and I also met people who totally disregard the first two, mainly because they are
more horrific in tone (even with the funny parts), and the genre of horror is most decidedly not their cup of tea. They consider this one to be more of a fantasy epic (which is true), but somehow can't make the leap past the "horror" thing.

Jen is almost in that group of people, but she had an earlier introduction to the series, and manages to get past her own disregard for the genre because of Ash.
Her fierce attachment to the character, and especially Bruce Campbell, stems first from Evil Dead 2, which her mother let her watch when she was much younger, though my guess would be that this film is probably her favorite of the three (Brisco County, Jr. has a hand in it, as well). Horror is not her cup of tea, either, but she ended up seeing both Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, and turned out an Ash nut. How can she not? But it is passing strange that of all the numerous ways that our personal movie worlds don't match up that these films, with their outrageous gore, kung fu-like action and Three-Stooges comedy stylings end up being the litmus test.

And the gang? Sure, everyone that wouldn't heed my original call to arms saw it by the next weekend, and while we managed to thwart the Deadite hordes, it was a close one. Too close. But everything turned out groovy in the end.

If only we had seen the real ending...

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