I truly believe in my heart of hearts that Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy is one of the greatest gifts cinema has ever given us. A trio of uncomplicated, unpretentious, super-energetic bursts of adolescent fun that gleefully fling such lofty pursuits such as logic and continuity out the window in favour of ghost train jump scares, chaotic slapstick and the lead performance of B-list, super-god Bruce Campbell, the trio of goofy epics are refreshing in their single minded quest purely to entertain.
Sort of following on from where the peerless Evil Dead 2 ended (seamless continuity between sequels isn’t really something the series is interested in), we find hapless twat and monster slayer extraordinaire, Ash J. Williams, trapped back in Deadite plagued medieval times and being led to slavery. Gaining respect the only way he knows how – killing some pit monsters, then mercilessly trolling everyone in the surrounding area – Ash is finally hailed as a prophesied chosen one who has come to rid the land of the Deadite menace once and for all and is sent out to reclaim the dreaded Necronomicon from it’s resting place in order to dispel the evil. All that stands between him and the way back to his own time is an evil version of himself and the ability to remember three simple words…
It goes without saying that Army Of Darkness is a truly silly movie – where else are you going to get a scene where Campbell gets slapped, punched and eye poked repeatedly by skeleton hands complete with BOINK! sound effects – and the only way to really pitch it is literally Jason And The Argonaughts meets The Three Stooges. But despite the fact that it’s studio butchered it for running time purposes, and despite the fact that it’s far jokier temperament makes it a much different experience than it’s two, gorier fore bearers, Army Of Darkness has amassed a deservedly sizable following over it’s many years of release.
It’s also – along with the role of an aging Elvis Prestley in Bubba Ho-Tepp – quite possibly Bruce Campbell’s finest hour, playing multiple roles – Ash, his evil doppelganger Evil Ash (well, what would YOU have named him?) and multiple mini little Ash bastards (it’s a long story) – there’s barely about 10 minutes in the whole film where he isn’t on screen and Ash’s arc from cowardly heroic idiot to less cowardly heroic idiot is crisp and cleanly played. Plus any devotees of Sam Raimi’s continued, on screen, brutalization of his frequent leading man are insanely well served here as the extended shit-kicking of Campbell is truly a sight to behold. Whether ingesting boiling water to ward off a parasitic tiny Ash he’s accidentally swallowed to emitting high pitched shrieking while he’s raked by a flying book, Cambell defiantly proves that in the world of the Evil Dead, dignity is not an option.
It’s just a shame that there actually is no complete version out there with multiple edits with various endings regularly doing the walk-through round for over 20 years thanks to the initial tinkering of the producers. If you can, try and locate the directors cut on region 1 DVD for best results, as it reinstates tons of footage (sadly, some of it quite grainy) and makes a lot of the jokes and plot clearer.
Sort of an ultimate cult pleasure, Army Of Darkness (somehow) isn’t going to be for everybody’s tastes – although anyone who isn’t on board for a scene where Ash is peppered with cheap shots as his evil double dances a jig while shrieking “little goody two shoes!!” is no friend of mine – but if you’re lucky enough to find yourself on it’s screwball wavelength it’s endless fun with repeat viewings.
An amazing central comedy performance by it’s legendary lead, a visual genius of a director stretching his mischief muscles and a world of snarky skeletons and cool monsters await you if you dive into this endearingly goofy maelstrom of insanity; plus it’s crazily quotable to boot.
Hail to the king, indeed.