Wednesday, October 29, 2014

31 Days of Horror: Army of Darkness

Bruce Campbell shows us his boom stick in Army of Darkness.
In addition to our regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing will be bringing readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we make our way to Halloween. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror here, and be sure to check back each day for a new suggestion.

Day 29: Army of Darkness (1992)

Bold, charismatic leaders may not win wars, but they lead great armies. By the time Army of Darkness, the third film in the Evil Dead trilogy, rolls around to its epic conclusion, Bruce Campbell’s Ashley J. Williams has completed the metamorphosis that began in Evil Dead II. He is a leader of men, ready to take his troops into battle against a strong, superior, and supernatural enemy.

Onscreen evolution is easy to chart: We see actions translated either as cowardice or bravery, and we see competence translated as either success or failure. What is more difficult to appreciate is the evolution of the leader behind the camera, and like his heroic creation, director Sam Raimi is a bold, charismatic leader of men and women.

By the third film in his legacy-making trilogy, Raimi has gone from clearly talented novice to impossible-to-deny master of the craft. Army of Darkness is Raimi’s fifth feature film and would be the last time the horror maestro would tackle the genre for nearly two decades until his near-perfect Drag Me to Hell. For the lead into a 17-year horror hiatus, he threw everything at the wall, including a couple kitchen sinks. What he and his highly qualified cast and crew produced is a glorious exercise in excess, an over-the-top, genre-bending mash-up of everything Raimi holds dear.

Ash has been transported back to medieval times along with his car, his chainsaw, and his shotgun.  These accessories – which by this point, in ways both literal and figurative, are as much a part of Ash as his good hand – make him virtually a god in this mostly in-the-dark society. The first impression he makes is to kill a couple of the un-killable Deadites, an act which is now so commonplace as to almost be beneath him.

There is no denying that even at a rapid-fire 81 minutes, the plot gets convoluted, and it gets there quickly. To vanquish the Deadites for good, Ash must find the “Necronomicon,” which you may recognize as the book that got him into all this trouble in the first place. Along the way, there are wenches and women, wizards, magic, an army of tiny Ash’s, and the evil version of our intrepid hero –named Badash, no doubt with a wink and a nod.

Raimi’s influences are as much the Three Stooges and Jason and the Argonauts as anything from the first two films in the series. The comedy and old-school effects come flying from moment one, and coming from someone who has loved just about everything Raimi has done, I have to say this film feels the most like the one he was born to make. He clearly relishes the vastly increased budget – going from about $350,000 on The Evil Dead to $13 million on this picture – and puts every dollar on screen.

If some of the effects look hokey to modern eyes, well, they looked that way to viewers in 1992, as well. It is a purposeful effect, and if you are on Raimi’s wavelength – which you must be if you have made it this far in the series – you will love it. This is a director who showed enough talent and achieved enough success to warrant this kind of investment from a studio, and he used it to make the kind of movie he would have made for free in his parents’ backyard with even a few of the same actors.

The reason Army of Darkness hold up after all these years and what makes it worthy of rewatching is the do-it-yourself spirit of the cast and crew. Raimi went on to make some of the biggest, most expensive movies of the new century with the Spider-man series and Oz: The Great and Powerful, and there are wonderful thing about those movies, but when I really want to enjoy myself and be reminded why movies are fun, I will take Army of Darkness and the brilliant glow of a guy making a movie with his friends.

Tomorrow, for the penultimate entry in our series, we go straight to the top. We have explored the bloodiest, the most violent, the craziest, the darkest, and my personal favorite, but on Day 30, we are just looking at the best. I know we said this is not a best-of list, and it is not, but the month would not be complete without a superlative exclamation point somewhere.

No comments: