The Sanctum

Welcome, traveller. This be the realm of Jay Niner, where everything be possible, and nothing ever happens. If, perchance, thou wisheth to tarry, then find thou a page from the Grimoire and read. For we are here in eternity, and we are in medias res.

22.1.11

Review: Army of Darkness a.k.a. Mediaeval Dead (1992)

Sam Raimi's masterpiece is still considered the height of not only horror, but screwball comedy as well. Those of you familiar with his cult classic series, the Evil Dead, will remember Ash Williams.
Comic addicts may even know him from an epic 3-way crossover- "Freddy vs Jason vs Ash," where Freddy Krueger (Nightmare on Elm Street), Jason Vorhees (Friday the 13th) and the aforementioned Ash Williams participate in a royal rumble.

Ash Williams, played by Bruce Campbell, makes for one of the most badass protagonists to be seen in horror so far, especially if you take into account the I'm-too-sexy-for-my-shoes characters or the There's-something-evil-in-the-darkness-but-I'll-still-take-a-look types. The guy has a fricking chainsaw where his right hand should be; I'm pretty sure that makes him enough of a badass. When you have dialogue to match that of Duke Nukem, a script that turns what looks like a killing spree into screwball mayhem, a sexy chick thrown in for keeps, a semi-psychotic store clerk cum deadite slasher, his evil twin, and about a few hundred skeletons, you'll have on your hands Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness.



Army of Darkness, or "Mediaeval Dead" (and this is really one of the film's alternative titles), picks up where Evil Dead 2 had left off, with Ash having discovered a book called the Necronomiconexmortis, or the proverbial Book of the Dead, which brings into being a power that shouldn't be on Earth at all- but like Rachel Weisz's character in The Mummy, he reads up on his ancient sumerian and causes the whole mess in the first place, which not only possesses his girlfriend Linda but his right hand as well, which he saws off laughing maniacally the whole time. How he attached that chainsaw is anyone's guess.
Ash gets teleported back to King Arthur's time, where he gets hailed as the "Promised One who will deliver us from Deadites" by Merlin and "Ignorant Buffoon fit for The Pit" by Arthur. The Pit, of course, is where the deadites wait. Alongside Duke Henry the Red. 
Henry the Red: "I am Henry the Red, Duke of Shale, Lord of the Northlands..."
Ash: "Well, hello, mister fancypants. You ain't leading nothing here but jack and shit.. and jack just left town."
"It's a trick. Get an axe."


Following a daring escapade, Ash knocks out Arthur, kills the deadite and proclaims himself discontented saviour, at which point he agrees to Merlin's pestering after another deadite attack.. and gets his newest (and one of his best-remembered) pieces of equipment, a prosthetic chainmail hand, while getting some from a particularly demure young lady by the name of Sheila.



"Groovy."


And then he rides off to find the Necronomiconexlibris. Only this time he gets chased by the camera (you can literally hear the lawnmover/dolly/whatever that the camera was mounted on, thinly covered by a curious growling) and locks himself inside a windmill.
Little Ash... I mean Ash's.
Then he goes on to break a mirror, and spawns a dozen-odd thumb-sized versions of himself. At this stage the macabre humour resembles that of Tom and Jerry. There's just no way the human body could stand being poked by a fork, burnt for minutes before being lifted off the hot stove with a spatula, get hit in the head by a thick iron pipe, be forced to step on a nail, and finally endure the boiling hot water Ash pours down his throat to kill one of the little pests that jumped into his stomach.
By and large the whole film reminds me of exactly that- Tom and Jerry getting cut, chopped, smashed, detonated.. it's all here, and Ash goes on not only to deal it but also to get served at several points in the film.

An interesting plot twist- the main villain of the story is not some hyped-up zombie lord or an undead psychotic killer or even a cunning Dr. Lecter.. it's Ash himself. Or to be correct, his evil twin.

"I ain't that good."
Who he promptly buries and leaves for dead. 

Then it's off to the graveyard, where Ash faces a dilemma- there are three necronomicons and he's forgotten the words Merlin tells him to say before he picks up the right one. Hilarity ensues as the first one tries to suck him down into hell with weird side-effects- see illustration.





The second one bites him but good, and still Ash manages to get away without too much trouble, and finally, when he picks up the third, nobody except him expects any more mayhem, as all hell decides to break loose. The skeletons have a particularly good time with him- or rather, their hands do, thinking about sticking their fingers into all sorts of places.

"I've got a bone to pick with you."



And finally, when he reaches the castle, the Army of Darkness is already mobilizing.
This may have inspired Terminator.
The battle royale ensues, with Ash and his gunpowder and his beat-up-car-turned-bulldozer, where his evil twin, amazingly still alive, has converted Sheila to a Queen of Darkness (read homicidal zombie).

Surprisingly she survives being tossed into a fire and gets reunited (although not for very long) and even makes an appearance in the comic series from Dynamite Comics, a one-shot where Sheila attempts to travel to the future to find Ash.
The endgame appears all too soon; but when it does, things are such a huge mess and you're collapsed in your chair, LYAO. Because at this stage not only have things taken a turn for the worse, they also begin to look like the TMNT series that came on weekends, the live-action one, not the animated, where the turtles are more jokers than ninjas.
Ash finds the passage in the book that allows him to leave for home, which in this case means he must take exactly six drops of a potion to sleep for six centuries, and wake up in the late 1970s (approx) and that he does. 
Then why the long face? Because Ash being Ash, something very comical has gone very wrong.
But that's to be seen, as this ending was only added to the Director's Cut.

Overall, in a genre where cliches have reduced huge brands to quivering wrecks, Army of Darkness can claim not only to have invented those cliches but also to have exploited them so often and well. Jump shots are the norm for this particular section of cinematography, which is also rather odd considering the genre; horror films have usually demonstrated slow, wide-angle shots that cover a large distance so that the evil can hop right in between the frame inspite of the distance shown.
At times the story is a complete blur, some scenes over in less than a couple of seconds whereas others can drag on for a while. 
By far the most memorable of the Evil Dead Trilogy, Mediaeval Dead a.k.a. Army of Darkness can very well claim to be one of the best Horror movies of all time, and while horror may not go very well with comedy (the best proof would be the Scary Movie franchise) Army of Darkness does not have one single moment of true, spine-chilling horror in it, but a lot of gore, slashing, infinite amounts of zombie parts, skeletons, demented evil twins, an evil queen, King Arthur, Merlin, a 1973 Oldmobile with chemistry and Mechanics Textbooks in the trunk among other memorabilia.
Conclusion: A must-watch for comedy aficionados, zombie fans, and bakchoders.
Rating: 4.5

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