Every Horrorthon winds up having a few loose ends, or at least they do when you're me and you're trying to watch all of a given series. For example, I'll have to wait until next year to watch the last Hellraiser movie, as my mailman had to stuff so many advertising circulars into my mailbox he accidentally ripped off the address part of the Netflix envelope and just delivered that. The part with the movie in it got separated, and since it had no address on it they mailed it back. Rat farts!
One such loose end from Horrorthon 2005 was Army of Darkness. I managed to review Evil Dead and Evil Dead II as part of my Classics Roundup, but it got a little crazy squeezing all those Freddy and Jason movies in there and I had to make sacrifices. Fortunately, this was one of the envelopes not savaged by my mailman.
After the supreme achievements that are the first two Evil Dead flicks, it's difficult not to be a little disappointed with this one. It's not the same animal. We left our hero Ash stuck in the middle ages, and we rejoin him here not as a revered warrior but as a prisoner. He's tossed into a pit with a couple of demon monsters in it, and watching him take out the fiends with his chainsaw does indeed feel like old times. That feeling doesn't last.
One of Evil Dead II's great achievements is balancing the funny stuff with the genuine horror, and by those standards this movie tips that balance over and never looks back. As Ash sets off on his quest for the Necronomicon (which I hope you all know by now is a Lovecraft reference), things move into a goofy zone with miniature Ashes and double Ash, replete with a lot of Three Stooges eye-poking and sound effects. Yeah, it's not what we ordered.
Nevertheless, the character of Ash as forged in Evil Dead II's hellfire is still the same obnoxious hunka love we're used to. Bruce Campbell owns that role like Anthony Perkins owns Norman Bates, and it's a real hoot watching him jut his chin powers at his backwater allies and demon monsters alike. With his knackered, dependable Oldsmobile and endless supply of one-liners, he channels the moxie of every B-movie hero before him and takes on an army of prop skeletons.
I don't think I'd watched this whole movie since it first came out, and as such was kind of surprised at the level of silly that kicked in when the dead army was on the move. Still, it didn't harsh my buzz like the snickering spiders in Eight Legged Freaks. It's a Sam Raimi movie, after all, and prior to Spider-Man 3 that comes with certain guarantees. The action never fails, and it's good fun watching how well it flows when a lot of it involves skeleton arms being moved by offscreen production assistants. There's one scene in which Bruce Campbell is taking out non-articulated dummies that are just being tossed on him, and he makes every punch work.
And God bless 'em, this movie actually features combat with stop-motion skeletons. So dear to my heart.
So it's not the mad brilliance of the other Evil Dead movies, no. But in its goofier fashion Army of Darkness totally delivers the goods. Ash might get the magic words wrong, but he won't let you down.