Picture this: you’re a film director, and you want to continue a series of zombie films. Most film-makers find themselves in this situation settle for rehashing the same film over and over again, attempting to milk the same sense of horror that drove the previous films. Sam Raimi, however, opted for a different direction, subverting his own Evil Dead series, and turned it into an enjoyably silly action-comedy film that dropped the “Evil Dead” title entirely. Indeed, this film had its own personality, calling back to the matinee tradition of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion yarns.
In this film, Ash Williams, the protagonist of Evil Dead, somehow got pulled through a time portal and arrived in the 14th century, along with his car, his shotgun, some science textbooks, and his chainsaw (which is supposed to act as a replacement arm). At first, he’s mistaken by the locals for an enemy agent, but he soon proves himself to be a hero, albeit in very brutal fashion. He then learns that the only way back home is to find the Necronomicon ex Mortis, an ancient book with magical powers, and recite a specific incantation. When he accidentally bungles the chant, however, he has to contend with an army of the undead that only he could stop.
At this point, Army of Darkness takes on a very outlandish approach, and that’s precisely why it shouldn’t be taken very seriously. The story takes on several clichés of the matinee fantasy film, but it always leaves plenty of surprises. If anything, the film’s outlandishly silly approach gave the writers plenty of imaginative freedom, leading to some refreshingly fun moments, like the scene where Ash has to fight miniature versions of himself. The film is presented often billed as a horror film, but it plays out like a “sword-and-sorcery” action film, perhaps almost like it’s a parody of such films.
The film’s central character really knows how to take charge, and I mean that in the literal sense. He gives a powerful performance as a chainsaw-wielding action man who gets straight to the point. Brutally competent, and not one to take any nonsense, Ash Williams makes John McClane look like a rookie by comparison, though the director insisted on passing him off as a fool. Sam Raimi certainly admitted that he liked torturing the character a lot, but if Ash is tortured by anything, it’s slapstick.
Adding to the film’s old-fashioned appeal, the film makes extensive use of stop-motion animation, favouring practical effects over computer-generated effects. However, there are plenty of moments where the film tends to briefly look cheap, though that doesn’t seem to ruin the overall charm of the film. It’s fun watching Ash charge his way through hordes of bad guys while delivering witty quips. It may not be perfect, but it delivers in terms of laughs and exciting action. With its imaginative and often genre-defying approach, it never ceases to entertain, and if didn’t, well then I don’t think a know what to tell you.
- Score: 81%
- Grade: B