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Non-Review Review: Evil Dead III – The Army of Darkness

This is a post as part of “Raimi-fest”, the event being organised by the always wonderful Bryce over at Things That Don’t Suck.

It’s interesting how concrete the shift in genre is between the original Evil Dead and the final part of the trilogy. It’s grown from a bona fides video nasty into a dark age comedy I actually wouldn’t have too much trouble watching with my family. I think I’m significantly fonder of the third instalment in the series than most other reviewers are, but it’s a film which is solidly and consistently fun – pure, random, non-sensical fun.

"This... is my BOOMSTICK!"

There’s clearly a bit more budget here for the third film in the franchise than there was for the earlier two. It still looks more than a little cheap – as if Sam Raimi and his crew found the closest possible quarry and decided to do the bulk of filming there. However, part of the charm of the series has always been watching Sam Raimi’s demented imagination breath more life into a tiny production budget than most large-scale productions could ever imagine. Even the consciously fake sets (like the cemetery where Ash finds the necronomicon) seem to exist as a reverent homage to old-fashioned black-and-white horror serials, rather than as evidence of a low budget. Hell, Raimi would carry an element of this approach – not really trying to hide fake backdrops and props – into his Spider-Man trilogy, and it certainly adds to the charm.

Over the course of the film, we follow armies of moving skeletons, thousands of tiny clones of Ash, flying demons and countless other little creations – and it’s safe to say that most of them are intentionally hokey. Raimi is aware that his skeletons look like they are being controlled by puppeteer, but that’s entirely the point. Anyone looking for cutting-edge visual effects or verisimilitude might be best served to look elsewhere, but Raimi’s visual style is absolutely stunning. It’s a shame he couldn’t have had a larger budget doing this, because it would have been fascinating to see how it would have looked.

Two heads are better than one...

The movie picks up where the last film left off, and decides to opt for something completely different than anything we saw in the previous two films. Although the first two movies followed Ash’s night in the cabin in the woods, the third decides to have a bit of fun by dropping our lantern-jawed hero in the middle of the Dark Ages, to engage in a spoof of the sorts of medieval fantasies that were quite common in Hollywood during the eighties.

As such, it seems the movie has mostly grown a little tired of the hokey horror that defined the earlier films. Indeed, Ash himself has grown familiar with the clichés of horror films, having survived two by this stage. As a swordsman reaches out to check a seemingly fallen Deadite, Ash stops him. “It’s a trick,” Ash warns the warrior. “Get an axe.” Sage advice, as it turns out. So instead, we get more of a large-scale fantasy adventure. This is good, because it offers a significant change from the original two films – but it also means that the budget of the film is relatively apparent.

Wings of the demon...

Still, I think my fondness for the movie stems from the fact that Ash, as presented here, is such an asshole. The natives (“primitive screwheads”) refer to him as a “wretched excuse for a man”, and they’re not too far wrong. This is a man who can think of nothing more romantic to say than “give me some sugar, baby” and masks his own cowardice and incompetence with arrogance and bluster. He speaks to himself in a hardboiled tone that is almost a parody of manly machismo. “I’m through being their garbage boy,” he remarks to himself, ignoring the fact his own selfish and inconsiderate actions have doomed everyone. “I did my part. Now I want back. Like in the deal.”

Ash is a stereotypical action hero, but the film has great fun pointing out just how big of a jerk the typical action hero probably is. Here he lies his way into bed, promising his medieval sweetheart the world. “Oh that’s just what we call pillow talk, baby, that’s all,” he explains when he’s called on it. He shows the same self-confidence and rash impertinence as your regular movie lead, but here it all comes back to bite him in the ass when he can’t quite deliver on his bluster. It’s fun and cheeky and subversive, without ever being especially blunt or on-the-nose.

No bones about it...

It helps that Campbell has a wonderful charisma that really shines here, much more than in the original films. The actor is smug and confident, but he’s also great at delivering really bad (yet instantly quotable) one-liners. He actually seems like he’d be a genuinely nice guy to spend some time with. It’s a shame the actor never really found too much of a niche outside these films (though, if you can find Bubba Ho-tep, I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a viewing). It’s not every actor who can turn a line like “well hello Mr. Fanypants” into pure comedy gold.

And, carrying over from the last film, we have the wonderful physical comedy. It’s easy to spot the literary references that drive Raimi, but there’s one sequence which especially calls to mind Gulliver’s Travels – in which Ash finds himself subdued by a collection of smaller people. These antics call to mind things like the original The Three Stooges, as the audience watches a series of painful things happen to our lead in quick succession (a similarly wonderful sequence in a graveyard, with boney hands). It’s easy to spot Raimi’s genuine affection for classic cinema, which betrays him as more than some random director of schlock horrors.

That's a Bruce-y Bonus...

The Army of Darkness is just good fun. It’s got more energy and enthusiasm than most films at least twice its size. It does suffer from a relatively low budget, but that would seem to be at least part of the charm. It’s funny, well-written and well handled by all involved. If you can handle a little cheese on your burger, it’s well worth your time.

One Response

  1. Fine look at this. Thanks.

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