‘Army of Darkness’ (1992) Review

“It’s a trap. Get an ax.”

As we wrap up Time Travel Month here at ScreenAge Wasteland let me take a moment to give thanks for you, our readers –the faithful Wastoids and the occasional folks making their way through the internet desolation, stopping by our doomed oasis to take a cup of irradiated water before moving on. Man, that’s a convoluted metaphor. Anyway, we appreciate you folks and we’re happy to have you stop by and read our ramblings. Hope you’re keeping safe and the suits seals are tight enough to keep out the radiation and sand. It IS a Wasteland here, after all.

This week’s Time Travel shananigans included our list of the 50 Greatest Time Travel Movies of All Time, Romona Comet’s review of Somewhere in Time, a Pop Quiz of Time Travel Movie Quotes and a ‘Who’s’ Your Favorite Doctor from Doctor Who Poll. Check ‘em out if you have the time! I’m sorry. Don’t worry, the month’s almost over and the time jokes will be carefully put away until next time. Dammit. I did it again.

And sorry, this review is a little late. As usual. If we had a time machine I’d go back and post it when it was due. Yes. That’s exactly how petty I’d be about using it.

I first saw Army of Darkness (AKA Bruce Campbell VS Army of Darkness) in the theater. I took my girlfriend to see it. She ended up marrying me anyway, but she still brings it up once in a while. I enjoyed the outing, and Army of Darkness is a regular at any parties, game days, long weekends or birthday get-together or… well, any of the stuff we didn’t get up to this year. I don’t often watch it by myself, though, unlike it’s predecessors, Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, and I think it’s actually been a few years since I watched it last.

The Medium
I finally broke down and picked up a copy of the Scream Factory 3-Disk set of Army of Darkness. I have a couple of different DVD versions – including the Anchor Bay Director’s Cut with that glorious Renato Casaro Poster cover of Ash looking like Conan – but this is the first time I’ve seen it in high definition. It looks way better than I thought it could, and I’ve got no hesitation in recommending picking this up. There are three different cuts of the film included (four if you include the TV version, which is a SD Fullscreen scan). I watched the Theatrical release rather than the Director’s Cut purely because it retains most of the one-liners and while the extended/new scenes are interesting they also drag a little.

Army of Darkness isn’t available for subs on any service, currently. It can be rented or purchased from any number of online platforms, however.

The Movie
Poor Ashley Williams just cannot catch a break. After the events of the previous Evil Dead films (helpfully recapped once again, this time with Bridgette Fonda in the role of Linda), he finds himself shackled with a number of other prisoners sometime in the middle ages, having been sucked backwards in time by the portal created by reading pages from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. Yes, his arm without the hand is shackled. If that bothers you, you may want to turn off the film now, it won’t start making any more sense to you. (How many shells in that shotgun?)

In short order he’s defeated a Deadite, freed his fellow prisoners, including Duke Henry the Red, impressed the locals with his BOOMSTICK and agreed to quest for the Necronomicon in order to help defeat the Deadites and allow the local wise-man to send him back to his own time. All in his usual Ash style – which means a ton of one-liners and sleazy charm/cowardice/misogyny.

When I did my review of Evil Dead 2 earlier this year Sailor Monsoon commented that the series is a trilogy made up of three different genres, and that each works. He’s right, of course – don’t tell him I said that – but I have to admit that Army of Darkness is my least favorite of the series. For me, it just gives itself over almost entirely to the comedy while dialing down the gore to almost non-existent. This was the only one of the series that I saw in a theater and I remember being disappointed at the time. I think it felt too commercial, that it had been dumbed down or something. I was expecting a rough, gory version of Ash in medieval Europe, and instead got The Three Stooges Meets King Arthur via Ray Harryhausen.

That being said, I love the movie now. It’s a non-stop quote-fest, with great lines coming fast and furious. “This. Is my BOOMSTICK!” “Give me some sugar, baby.” “Good, bad, I’m the one with the gun” and so on. It’s also full of fantastic set pieces like the tiny Ashes at the windmill, the multiple Necronomicon’s (‘definitely an ‘N’ word’) and the sword fight during the castle siege. I can put this movie on at any time and anyone who’s over will sit down and have a good time watching it. Well, not my wife, but ALMOST anyone.

The Theatrical version has the ‘good’ ending, in which Ash returns to his own time and his job at S-Mart (“Shop smart. Shop S-Mart!”), but not without mangling the magic words – again. Just for fun I also checked out the Director’s Cut ending in which a distracted Ash drinks a drop too much potion and sleeps longer than he should, waking to a post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s funny and very Ash, but apparently the Studio found it too much of a downer. (Rather than “Lady, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave the store.”) Some of this has apparently found it’s way to the third season of the Ash vs the Evil Dead tv show. Which I still haven’t seen. I know, I know.

It’s a bigger film than either of the two previous installments, but it’s still not quite big enough, even at an $11 million budget. The Army looks more like a small expeditionary force, some of the indoor sets are very weak and there’s only one really nice monster effect by KNB. There are also really good bits (the windmill scenes, for instance), but you get the sense of a budget corset constraining the filmmaker’s imaginations in a way that you didn’t in the previous films.

None of that much matters, though, if you set aside your gory expectations from the previous films and enjoy it on its own merits. It’s hilarious and imaginative and a damn good time.

The Bottom Line
Army of Darkness eschews the excesses of violence and gore of its predecessors for excesses of humor, both physical and verbal. It’s a blast to watch, though, and may be one of the best films to view with a group of like-minded folks and a bunch of beer and snacks – though maybe wait a year or two. Packed with quotable quotes and hilarious set pieces, it’s a masterpiece of horror comedy. Check out Ash vs the Evil Dead for the continuing adventures, if you like what you see. I’ll get to that final season myself one of these days.

Author: Bob Cram

Would like to be mysterious but is instead, at best, slightly ambiguous.