As I commented when writing about the tv series Ash vs The Evil Dead, the history of the Evil Dead series is a long and complicated one. The (very) short version being that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell made a low budget horror film, remade it as a comedy horror, then produced a sequel to that, and after a gap of 23 years a tv version which lasted three seasons, and though the quality varied as a whole it was enormously entertaining and vicious fun.
Army Of Darkness is quite the oddity when viewed as part of a very long story telling the tale of poor old Ash Williams (Campbell), as after falling through a vortex at the end of the second film he ends up in 1300AD with a bunch of knights including Henry The Red (Richard Grove), who is the Duke Of Shale, Lord of the Northlands and leader of its people, and also King Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) who is non too fond of Henry, and so soon Ash is thrown in to a pit filled with deadites. He’s a kick ass action hero now though, so manages to survive, and though there’s the occasional glimmer of cowardice he comes through and saves the day
The teenage me thought it was a lesser film because it wasn’t as gory as the rest of the series, but he was wrong, yet a-fucking-gain, to be honest I’m starting to get a bit embarrassed by how often that’s the case. Not that I didn’t like the film, I just thought it was a flimsier, less lovable piece and yet the opposite applies, the action scenes are stunning, beautifully choreographed and Campbell is astonishingly good in the lead role, carrying the movie on his broad, sexy shoulders for large chunks of it as he acts against himself or some skeletal bastards.
After Ash has won the trust of “the primitives” of the 14th century, going so far as to bed one of them in an amusingly deliberately melodramatic scene, he heads off to find the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, which he can use to get back to the present day. Along the way he has to do battle against tiny versions of himself, and a full sized copy too, and the slapstick is painfully funny and I laughed so hard I had to pause the film a good few times and rewind it as I’d missed a scene as I was laughing so much.
The gigantic battle scene at the end does everything right, and highlights just how wrong Game Of Thrones got it in its final season. Yes, when it came to the scale of the battle there were thousands more of the bad guys in Game of Thrones, but none of them had personality, none of them came even close to being as interesting as some of the skeletons who only get one line, or just a panicked moment of cowardice before dying, and it’s far, far more fun than the way George R. R. Martin’s epic nonsense ended.
A very minor complaint is that the heroic King Arthur and Ash’s love interest Sheila (Embeth Davidtz) could have been developed more, even if it was just one more scene which fleshed out their characters, but it’s not really an issue as overall this is just endlessly inventive and extremely funny action madness. It’s a film that bar the odd long shot of the castle looks amazing too, there’s the odd moment the effects look a bit clunky but most of the time they’re majestic, and the army of skeletons are fascinating to watch as they stomp about in various states of decay.
This may sound like hyperbole but I truly believe Bruce Campbell deserved at least a nomination for a Best Actor Oscar, the Oscars normally ignore comedy, especially so in the nineties when the majority of voters were shitty white old men, but this is an amazing performance. Not only does he have to dive all over the place and take an insane amount of blows to the face, and pretty much every millimetre of skin too, but as the evil Ash he turns in another superb yet very different piece of acting.
Sam Raimi deserved a boat load of awards too, this is a fast paced, frenetic beast that rarely lets up for a second, and when it does it’s only to move the plot along briefly or produce a really fun training montage. I’d go so far as to say this is the best film in the trilogy, and contains the funniest moments of physical comedy from all the films and the tv series, and if you love deranged and demented humour than this is essential viewing, and easily one of the best films of its genre.