Sam Raimi’s “Army of Darkness” (aka “Evil Dead 3 “, aka “Bruce Campbell vs. Army of the Dead”), is a low-budget film with a big budget. What that means is, despite having a big budget and guaranteed international release, “Army of Darkness” is approached by co-writer/director Sam Raimi (“Spiderman”) as if he was still filming on the weekends with a cast made up of his buddies. The result is a cheesy film that will probably only interest people who adores the “Evil Dead” series. It’s a good thing then that I love this franchise!
Here’s the setup: Ash (Bruce Campbell) is sent through a “time tunnel” after he defeats evil creatures called “deadites” at a remote cabin. The deadites are essentially zombies with kung fu skills and pizza for face. Ash ends up in a medieval period (think sword and sorcery) where the people, led by their king (Marcus Gilbert), are fighting off more deadites. It seems the whole country is plague with the dead things, and only Ash, with his modern weapons (one of his hand is molded to a chainsaw and a shotgun with an endless supply of bullets — don’t ask) can save the day! Groovy!
First of all, “Army of Darkness” is as goofy and silly as they come. Writers Sam and Ivan Raimi, with a lot of input from star Bruce Campbell, is intent on making things as silly as possible. No one could watch this film and take it seriously, and that seems to be the whole point. Besides a litany of Three Stooges-like gags, there’s references to the last two film in the series (the original “Evil Dead” and its bigger budgeted sequel, “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn”, which is essentially a remake of the original). Anyone who has seen either of the last two films in the franchise will get the recurring motifs (the sun going down, the quick zoom shots). It’s almost ironic in a way because Raimi and Campbell are really doing homage to their own movies!
Besides having to fight off the evil (but not terribly scary) deadites, Ash has to get over his own cowardice. You see, despite having gone through two rounds with the deadites and have already cut, maim, and shotgunned numerous loved ones, girlfriends, and strangers (since that’s the only way you can be really sure of killing a deadite, by bodily dismemberment), Ash is still something of a, well, dork. He’s brave when he has to be, but he’s mostly an average Joe with moments of heroism — but more moments lacking said heroism. In a word, the guy is just average — that is, until it’s time to kick deadite butt.
There’s a romantic interest in Embeth Davidtz (“13 Ghosts”), who gets possessed by the deadites, but most of the film is really watching Ash getting into one jam after another. They include fighting 6 tiny versions of himself, an evil Ash, and an army of skeleton deadites! While each jam he gets into seems hopelessly above his head, he keeps coming out alive — just barely! “Army of Darkness” is a swinging good time — that is, if you like this kind of thing.
The “Official Bootleg Version” is an oddly titled version of the movie that includes about 16 minutes of extra footage not shown in the original theatrical release, including an alternate ending that the studio found too “gloomy.” The re-included scenes include longer versions of the windmill scene, a love scene between Ash and Sheila (Davidtz), and more hilarity that was cut out of the original. If all of that isn’t enough, the running commentary by Campbell and Raimi is a hoot.
Sam Raimi (director) / Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi (screenplay)
CAST: Bruce Campbell …. Ash
Embeth Davidtz …. Sheila
Marcus Gilbert …. Lord Arthur
Ian Abercrombie …. Wiseman