Over the course of its 81 minutes, Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness swells like a tidal wave of unadulterated goofiness. To enjoy any of it, even just a little, the viewer must allow themselves to become drenched. If you’ll allow, Army‘s puerile one-liners and dazzling practical effects will carry you away in a current of knuckle-headed escapism. On the other hand, try and take even one millisecond of it seriously, and this film could transform into a slog of audacious idiocy. And there’s not really an in-between: Few movies have ever been so completely tied to the attitude you bring into them.
And that freewheeling attitude is just about all you need. Even though Army is the third ride in Raimi’s Evil Dead carnival, you don’t really need much knowledge from the previous films: It begins with a whirlwind of backstory that gives you a giddy whiff of every hint of plot you might need. Basically, Ash (Bruce Campbell) is a squared-jawed Marlboro Man who spent both Evil Dead flicks battling Deadites, a horde of demonic zombies. Army opens with Ash getting pulled into a supernatural vortex and sent back in time. He and his clunky Oldsmobile ’88 crash into the Dark Ages, where they are seemingly trapped.
Ash quickly discovers that the Deadites are on the move in this timeline, as well. Also, he learns that his fortunes may be tied to the Necronomicon, a book of dark magic that can help him return to the present day and open a can of whoop-ass on those damn no-good zombies. As with any competent medieval fantasy, this leads to a quest to find the Necronomicon and unleash its secrets.
Naturally, Ash interacts with a few locals along the way. This includes the denizens of a local castle, where Ash impresses the surrounding townsfolk with his “boomstick” (shotgun), and the functioning chainsaw he uses as a prosthetic arm. (Yes, you read that right.) It also goes without saying that Ash is gonna find a lady at this particular Renaissance Faire: That would be Sheila (Embeth Davidtz), a local maiden. At first, Sheila incorrectly blames Ash for the death of her brother. Once she learns the truth, Sheila can’t help but be drawn to Ash’s roguish charm. (“Gimme some sugar, baby!”)
The bulk of the film is dedicated to a series of wacky, gory vignettes, as Ash searches for the tome. This includes three demons who take the form of miniature Ashes. We also see a haunted forest, a surprising incantation (which Ash mumbles his way through), and the expected showdown at the castle. All of this is really an excuse for Raimi’s incredible special effects (the demonic Ashes sprout from shards of a broken mirror) and gloriously cornball dialogue.
Campbell makes the perfect center for this carnival of horror. His impeccable comic timing and total commitment to the lead character set the tone for the entire rest of the movie. In fact, much like Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones, it’s doubtful that this franchise could’ve ever hit the same high notes without him. Campbell dominates the screen so well, it’s easy to forget about the other players. Davidtz has some fun, and Elaine’s boss from Seinfeld shows up, but this film belongs to Bruce Campbell.
In summation, Army of Darkness delivers 81 minutes of guilty-pleasure entertainment. Sometimes, that’s exactly the cinematic experience you need. Just put your brain in Airplane Mode and let wave after wave of sheer silliness wash over you. “Hail to the king, baby!”
81 min. R. On demand.