Army of Darkness

Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 36 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A

All right, you primitive screwheads: listen up.

If I had to pick one movie as the flat-out most fun film of the Nineties, this would be it. It's a rambunctious charge of action, comedy and camp with some sword and sorcery, chainsaw action and a touch of horror thrown in for good measure. It even pays humble tribute to the Three Stooges and Ray Harryhausen.

This film is the third in the Evil Dead line of films, although hopefully not the last (wishful thinking on my part, I know). "Evil Dead" was a flat-out, balls-to-the-wall horror film, dripping with blood and providing a surprising amount of chills with its meager amount of plot. The second still provided a generous dosage of chills, but was a bit wittier than the first and had more humor thrown in to lighten things up. The third installment is content to be just a comedy. And I am content with that as well. Frankly, I don't need the horror. I love a good horror-comedy and this is one of the best. The horror-comedy is a proud filmmaking tradition that dates back to the Bowery Boys and their "Ghost Chasers" film. Martin and Lewis mined this field, Abbot and Costello met a fair share of ghouls in their time, and three guys in brown jumpsuits took the genre to a level of inspired perfection. And this movie, while not the best of its kind, certainly is on the upper tier.

The plot (such as there is) concerns a department store clerk named Ash (Bruce Campbell) who has already fought demons in the woods for two days when the story begins. And now he has been transported back to the Middle Ages to do it again.

He is understandably pissed. He doesn't really care all that much about helping the medieval people. All he really wants is to go home and not have to fight demons any more. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

The main reason this movie works is Bruce Campbell. He is a gifted physical comedian and this movie puts him through the wringer. Much of the joy in the Evil Dead films is derived from a very extreme form of slapstick. These movies are really just Three Stooges flicks with flying body parts and lots of gore. And Bruce's performance goes a great length to helping you buy into the whole thing. You really get the sense that this guy has been here, done this, seen-it-all before. He is cocky, arrogant, macho and more than a little on the slow side mentally. But he is not an overdone moron. He is more of a realistic moron, a more subtly crafted bonehead than we are used to seeing. You know guys like this, although you probably don't like any of them as much as you will like Ash. It's his bad qualities that make him human and, therefore, make us care. Bruce Campbell does this sort of thing better than anyone in the business. He can take a line like "Yeah, and maybe I'm a Chinese jet pilot" and not only say it with a straight face but make it seem like the most natural thing in the world. That is talent.

Speaking of boneheads, Ash's opponents this time around are an army of skeletons. The effects here are not up to the standards of a Star Wars film but, again, that is part of the fun. The effects are rather quaint and old-fashioned and they still manage to bring a wide smile to one's face. You don't need excellent effects if you believe in them and have such a loving way with them, as this movie certainly does. It has such a fondness toward its army of sword-wielding skeletons that you can't help but be swept along by it.

This whole movie is done in that same loving manner. It won't win any Academy Awards and, frankly, it doesn't want to. It wants to charm you, beguile you, make you laugh your head off. It means to put a big, goofy grin on your face and it achieves this as few other movies have. And it is definitely the most quotable movie of its decade. I don't want to give away all of the choice lines, because discovering them on your own is half the fun of the movie. For sheer fun, accept no substitutes.

Bottom line: if you want a movie that will put a loony grin on your face, something that will cheer you up after a crappy day of work and just make you happy, then this movie is the king.

Hail to the king, baby.