I first saw “Army Of Darkness” when I was about fourteen or fifteen. If I remember rightly, I bought an old ex-rental VHS of it (which had a gigantic case, does anyone else remember when rental videos used to have these?). This was some time after I’d seen the first “Evil Dead” film, but possibly sometime before I’d seen the second one.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember exactly what I thought of “Army Of Darkness” back then – but the comedy probably went completely over my head, since I probably expected it to be a gory horror movie like it’s predecessors.
A few years later, I learnt that virtually all of the classic 1990s FPS games made by 3D Realms referenced the movie in some way or another (in fact, the box art for “Duke Nukem 3D” is a blatant rip-off of the poster from this movie – so is the title image for this review). So, naturally, it went on my “to watch” list… for many years.
Last year, I found a cheap second-hand DVD of the Director’s Cut on Amazon (the 2002 UK edition, that also includes the original US version of the film) and – well- I just had to rewatch it!
“Army Of Darkness” is a horror/comedy movie from 1993. After a brief re-cap of the events of the second “Evil Dead” movie, Ash is thrown through a mystic portal back to medieval England (or, a version of Medieval England that looks a lot like an American desert). Captured by some nearby knights, he finds himself in the middle of a conflict between King Arthur and King Henry.
Sentenced to death, Ash is thrown into a pit to be consumed by one of the many zombies that are plaguing the land. Ash being Ash, the zombie soon ends up being chainsaw fodder. Amazed by his prowess in battle, King Arthur and his magician agree to help Ash get back to the present day. Of course, this involves finding the Necronomicon……
As I hinted earlier, this film is actually a dark comedy movie rather than a horror movie.
Although the film does contain some truly brilliant moments of dark humour, a fair amount of the humour is of the slapstick variety. Even though some of this is genuinely funny (such as when Ash is slapped by skeletal hands), it does get a little bit repetitive and predictable after a while. Still, some of the English accents in this film are literally “so bad that they’re good” and I should know, I’m English!
It may be because I’m more used to TV shows than movies these days, but the storytelling wasn’t as great as I remembered. The plot seemed to jump along too quickly in some parts, there are a few small plot holes and the characterisation is wildly inconsistent….
But, this is missing the point of what “Army Of Darkness” is supposed to be about! It’s a movie that’s meant to be fun! It’s a cheesy old American horror comic brought to life and infused with the sarcasm of the 1990s. It’s Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court“! It’s part of a great tradition of medium-budget American comedy horror films from the 1980s and 90s.
It’s a film where zombies are chainsawed mercilessly, where skeletons explode, where medieval knights duke it out with the undead, where the main character is a cartoon character in human form etc… It’s a horror comedy classic.
As well as lots of hilarious skeletons and cheesy zombies, the best thing about this film is the dialogue. There are so many great lines in this film that I’ve heard quoted a million times before in “Duke Nukem 3D” and “Blood” and, well, it’s interesting to see where they all came from. But, even if you’ve never played these games, then you’ll probably find at least a few brilliantly quotable lines here.
Like with the ex-rental VHS I saw when I was a teenager, the “Director’s Cut” keeps the hilariously cynical and pessimistic original ending to the film. This was removed from the original US version of the film and replaced with something that is ten times more badass, but slightly less funny. Having seen both endings, I’m really not sure which one I prefer.
Although I couldn’t spot every difference between the director’s cut and the version I saw on video when I was a teenager, the director’s cut is apparently 15 minutes longer than the original theatrical version. From what I’ve read online, one scene that was originally cut in the theatrical version was a totally bloodless zombie decapitation in the “zombie pit” scene.
Apparently, they had to cut this because the MPAA would have given the film a NC-17 rating if it stayed in. To call this censorship “bizarre” would be an understatement, given that far more violent films were passed by US censors at the time. Then again, it may be an example of the MPAA’s apparent ultra-harsh treatment of any film not by the “big five” film studios. Even the UK censors gave this film a “15” certificate in 1993, back when they were ridiculously strict.
Amusingly, the film was originally planned to have a “PG-13” certificate in the states. Although this is perhaps prescient of today’s cynical trend for watered-down sequels/remakes, the only real difference between this movie and the previous “Evil Dead” films is the relative lack of blood and the extra humour. The visual style of a lot of the film is still wonderfully gothic in the way that only films from the 1990s seemed to be able to be.
As for the special effects, they’re surprisingly good for a medium-budget film from 1992/3. There are epic battles, lots of stop-motion animated skeletons, dramatic explosions, cartoonishly distorted body parts etc… Although some of the effects may look a little bit old-fashioned by modern standards, I imagine that they would have been ten times more epic back in the 1990s.
All in all, this film is a classic. Yes, some of the slapstick humour gets slightly repetitive and the characterisation is a bit random, but this isn’t meant to be a “serious” film. It’s a film about time travel and zombies in the middle ages. It’s from a time when Hollywood actually made films that were meant to be fun!
A time before identikit superhero movies, “updated” remakes, CGI tech demo movies, generic dialogue-light action movies and endless reboots.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.