‘Army of Darkness’ – ’92 Cinema Revue Halloween

Army of Darkness – Premiered Oct. 9, 1992, at Sitges Film Festival (Releases Wide Feb. 19, 1993)

All-Time Domestic $11,502,976 | International $2,949
All-Time Worldwide $11,505,925

Army of Darkness wraps up a rollercoaster of a trilogy, shining a light amid the dark to bring thrills and chills, with Campbell delivering the laughs along the way.

My introduction to Evil Dead was through friends in high school bringing up Ash Williams and Bruce Campbell. I had no familiarity with Campbell outside of cameos in the Spider-Man trilogy. Seeing him in Evil Dead 2, I saw the appeal of Campbell as an actor. He can handle the goofy insanity amid the horrors that await him. He has the good looks of Errol Flynn but an edge to him more akin to Roddy Piper or Rick Rude. His collaborations with director Sam Raimi remain a joy.

Raimi is a master of horror and genre filmmaking, as I discussed in my reviews of his Spider-Man trilogy last year. Evil Dead is his baby 100 percent. He shows his care for the series by managing a strange but seamless transition from the pure terror of the first outing to the dimensional-action-horror-comedy of Army of DarknessArmy of Darkness acts as the finale years before the Ash vs. Evil Dead television series (which I have yet to see). It delivers on the odd premise established at the end of Evil Dead 2 to give a chaotic, hilarious ending to a trilogy that has been a joy to watch. Darkness continues that trend, having an absolute ball that makes the 80-minute runtime never feel wasted. 

Ash Williams (Campbell) was sent to Medieval Europe by accident due to the previous film’s events. To return to the future (this is a Universal movie, after all), he must retrieve the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis to recite a spell to return him. While stuck in this time, Ash earns the respect of Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), swoons Arthur’s sister Shiela (Embeth Davidtz), and goes toe-to-toe with his evil self after screwing up the spell itself. Once all hell breaks loose, his evil version leads an uprising of the Army of Darkness to thwart Ash from ever returning home.

Army of Darkness is a fantastic time as only Raimi could direct with significant special effects work, Looney Tunes-style humor, and Campbell going above and beyond as Ash. Much like Harrison Ford was born for Indiana Jones, Campbell was born to play Ash. Campbell has bravado about him that he is hilarious, stubborn, and a bit of a jerk with a heart to him. He talks a big game with the skills to back it up but is a bit of a doofus when it comes to it. The bit of him forgetting the chant, a reference to The Day the Earth Still, by sneezing his way out of it is hysterical. His one-liners are memorable, being delivered with utter confidence. 

Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) announces to the people of the Middle Ages that his shotgun is his boomstick.
Source: Universal Pictures

Campbell also knows how to handle the wackier aspects, from having to be the smaller Ashes in the windmill in an homage to Gulliver’s Travels. What makes Campbell shine in this film is him as his Evil counterpart. Under heavy makeup designed by Tom Sullivan that is terrifying and gruesome is Campbell being able to be the big baddie. He has the same bravado as Ash, if a bit more hideous and lecherous. Seeing Campbell expand his role by going the foil route with it is fantastic.

Speaking of effects, this is a showcase paying respect to effects past and present. The designs throughout the film are phenomenal, with the witch looking scary beyond reason, the possessed Sheila being horrific, and a whole stop-motion army of skeletons. I am pro-skeleton armies in films. The skeletons are a tribute to Ray Harryhausen, with stop-motion and puppet skeletons doing battles against Ash and the knights. It’s fun to see in a movie from the 90s when CGI was starting to become more prevalent. The effects of the little ashes are fantastic, going with chroma key and rear projections to make it all possible. Some effects can look a bit dated due to the apparent bit of bad green screen, but most of it still holds. Those skeletons still look natural, even with beards playing the bagpipes.

Evil Ash (Bruce Campbell) leads the Army of Darkness to take down Ash and hold onto the Necronomicon Ex Mortis for good. Source: Universal Pictures

Raimi’s direction also carries over, hitting the same marks as expected. The quick close-ups, the dolly, and the handheld chase shots are all in unhinged glory. Those who have seen Raimi’s other work, such as Darkman or Drag Me to Hell, will be familiar with the route he goes showing action and horror in a surreal and jarring manner but with a wacky edge to it. There’s a reason Raimi was hired to due Spider-Man later on, having the eye for the whimsical nature of comics. He manages to weave a fun film in less than 80 minutes that most films would have trouble expanding on in two hours. Yet, it does not take away from the film and should be. 

The windmill sequence can go a bit long in the tooth as a minor detriment. Another aspect that can feel off is how quickly the romance between Ash and Shiela happens. Of course, Ash draws attention to it, softening even the most minor complaints about it. “First, you want to kill me. Now, you want to kiss me. Blow,” he says while chewing and spitting out bits of apple, knowing this is ridiculous. There’s no real lingering on a relationship, but no one is here for a romance or an actual epic; they are here to see a man with a shotgun and chainsaw hand mow down an army of skeletons. That is what audiences are here for, and that’s all that matters. The quick cameo of Bridget Fonda as his girlfriend Linda was a fun addition, as is Ted Raimi because there is a rule to add Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell in all Raimi projects to a point.

Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) comes face-to-face with a witch in a pit of despair.
Source: Universal Pictures

Army of Darkness wraps up a rollercoaster of a trilogy, shining a light amid the dark to bring thrills and chills, with Campbell delivering the laughs along the way. The film is nothing but a good time for fans alike and those seeing it for the first time. Even with a basic knowledge of Evil Dead, one can get a kick out of this film for being perfect for a movie night with pals or on Halloween night after the trick-or-treaters have left.

Revue Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next time this week, we head into our third Best Picture nominee of 1992 with The Crying Game to wrap up the October films as we head into November.

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