I imagine sometimes it must be great to be Bruce Campbell. Sure, the man has made so many cheesy fantasy movies he ended parodying himself in “My Name is Bruce,” but in the late 80s and early 90s he starred in one of the funniest horror comedy series of all times: The Evil Dead. The first “Evil Dead” was a straight horror film that told the old story of kids being haunted in a cabin in the woods. “Evil Dead II” essentially remade the first movie but with a healthy injection of humor and upgrading Campbell to full-fledged action hero equipped with a chainsaw. “Army of Darkness” closes the loop with a bigger budget as Campbell now finds himself stuck in the Middle Ages with his BOOM STICK!
I actually watched the entire trilogy in reverse, starting with “Army on Darkness” when it was playing on the ScyFy channel (of course), then “Evil Dead II” at the film club I attended at the University of Sherbrooke and then renting the first “Evil Dead” at the video store. As with most trilogies the second entry is the best, but “Army of Darkness” works very well as a stand-alone fantasy film. This isn’t the first time a character ends up thrown in the past, but if that character is Bruce Campbell, it’s going to be a fun ride. Come to think of it, this was the first movie I saw starring the author of “If Chins could kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor.” After seeing this, I knew I would enjoy a movie with a title like “Bubba Ho-Tep” if it starred Campbell as Elvis Presley fighting a mummy in a retirement home.
Picking up exactly where “Evil Dead II” left off, we find Campbell’s character Ash stuck in Medieval England after reading from a cursed book. He finds himself the prisoner of Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) who suspects him of being an agent of his enemy Duke Henry (Richard Grove). Once in Arthur’s castle, Ash is thrown into a pit to be killed by a hideous demon. It is not long before Ash regains his weapons of choice: a chainsaw and a sawed-off shotgun. After defeating the demon and impressing the locals with his “magic” Ash demands the castle’s Wise Man (Ian Abercrombie) sends him back to his timeline.
The Wise Man tells him to do this he must find the cursed book that sent him to the past in the first place: the Necronomicon. I wonder, is that a real book or did writer and director Sam Raimi found it while perusing comic books? Either way, that does sound like the name of a book that could raise the dead. Once Ash gets his hands on the book, all he has to do is say three magic words and he will be sent back in time. Simple, except he messes up the last word and instead raises an undead army that lays siege to Arthur’s castle. See this is why you should always pronounce your words carefully.
What follows is a battle between an army of demons and skeletons against Arthur’s knights aided by Ash and his chemistry books he conveniently brought with him in his 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. This is where Raimi makes good use of his increased budget, but the joy of the film comes from watching Campbell fighting all sorts of demons as though he was one of the Three Stooges. In fact, a pair of skeletal fingers even tries to poke his eyes. Then there is that swagger. Despite being catapulted centuries into the past, Ash still makes time tries to make out with Sheila, one of the castle’s maidens, with lines like “give me some sugar baby.”
The movie was a minor hit in 1993, but of course like the previous films it gained a cult following. Several official/unofficial sequels were made to the series in the form of video games, comic books and even a musical. This may not be high art, but it is undeniably entertaining. Plus, find me a better definition of escapism. An average man is whisked away to a far away place, saves the girl, beats the bad guys, while handling a chainsaw and saying “Hail to the king baby!”