"Hail to the King, Baby" 25 Years of Army of Darkness
Is there any wonder that Army of Darkness didn't light up the box office? When you look at the movies that came out, around the time it was making its trip to the cinema - its USA wide release was 19th of Feb 1993 making today its official 25th Anniversary - very few films released at this time had anywhere near the mad and gutsy creativity, inventiveness and fun that Army of Darkness has. Fun and creativity was for the 80s. This was the 90s and movies had to suddenly become either serious, formulaic blockbusters, bad comedies or just plain dull.
The thing that is rarely mentioned about the Evil Dead franchise is just what an innovative, entertaining and down right ballsy franchise it is. Lots of people talk about the gore, the gags and the chin - all valid points - but few mention just how out and out weird and wonderful it all is.
On this, Army of Darkness’s 25th Anniversary it’s the perfect time to remind ourselves of this fact.
Evil Dead 1 was revolutionary and inspirational for its drop-out-students turned backyard filmmakers making-of story, who all made a film that reinvented the possibilities of indie horror for every generation that followed.
Evil Dead 2 invented "splatstick" - the perfect blending of gore and comedy, was instrumental in kickstarting KNB Effects, gave Jim Carrey almost every one of his ideas and brought Ash - and in turn Bruce Campbell - into the spotlight. Tom Cruise can hang off planes all he likes, there isn’t a more incredibly, physically enjoyable and yet grueling performance ever given by an actor.
For many of my generation Army of Darkness was the first film we saw in the franchise and, arguably, it’s the film that lead to the first wave of fandom, BC worship and merchandising that, indirectly, lead to where the franchise is today - Ash Vs Evil Dead Season three starts next week on February 25th.
Army of Darkness, especially the uncut, full length version is one of the most inventive and crazy studio movies ever made - for definitive detailing of all the different versions of the film look elsewhere as, while I could talk about the difference between the US theatrical, directors, European and MGM released Japanese cuts, it would take too long and take valuable time away from praising and discussing Army of Darkness as a movie.
It plays like a deranged, gonzo retelling of 1940s Saturday Serials meets Ray Harryhausen creature features meets Warner Brothers Cartoon meets The Three Stooges meets A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. The studio, of course, stripped it of its Evil Dead III or 'The Medieval Dead' monikers, slapped a heavy metal goofy soundtrack on the trailer and hoped they could some how sell it like a Mel Brooks spoof or something.
It features wild and beautiful, practical and intricately technical special effects - techniques that were lost to time and bizarre the moment they were invented like Introvision - techniques that were basically the midi disc player of special effects. There for but a minute to bridge the gap between CDs and digital streaming. Nipping at its heels were more technologically advanced films like Death Becomes Her and Jurassic Park, the latter, especially, utilised, really for the first time successfully, computer generated, realistic creatures. Yes they were supplemented by the brilliant practical work of Stan Winston Studios, but it marked the beginning of the end of old school style practical effects in studio produced blockbusters.
Army of Darkness, on the other hand, joyously and tirelessly throws every conceivable effect in the book at the screen, often all at once. Introvision, back projection, animatronics, puppets, stop motion animation, make up effects, camera effects, pyrotechnics and Bruce Campbell, who is truly one of the most under utilised special effects in the business.
The other thing that makes the Evil Dead franchise markedly different to any other franchise is that each film adds to and changes the mood and feeling of the previous film. ED 1 is a straight, scary horror film - those who get drunk and/or stoned and laugh at it for being cheesy are just plain wrong and probably assholes - ED 2 is a comedic, gory horror comedy masterpiece and Army of Darkness is a time-traveling, fish out of water, mad swashbuckling adventure film with tinges of its horror roots occasionally. Most franchises will tell you to not mess too much with what worked the first or second time but Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan (who co-wrote AOD) had other ideas. Had the planned Evil Dead 4 taken place in the future with Ash fighting cyborg deadites it only would have added to the blissfully erratic and downright genius trajectory of this amazing series of films. That we were deprived that sequel because of studio meddling and poor box office (despite doubling its budget in takings - Hollywood fuzzy math means that is still poor box office) is one of the greatest crimes to cinema ever perpetrated. Who doesn't want to see Ash fight cyborg deadites? People are morons.
Bruce Campbell stepped up to the plate and seemingly took the changes of his character Ash in his stride. Effortlessly, over three films, becoming the deadite killing, one liner spewing, action anti-hero and loud mouth braggart that we know and love today. It wasn't without effort, of course, and no other lead in a studio movie has been put through his exhausting and interminable paces like Campbell was by Raimi over Army of Darkness's agonising and insanely hot 100 days shooting schedule. By all accounts, that anyone remained friends after a shoot like that was a testament to their hardy Michigan upbringing.
Thankfully now, as I said at the beginning, the cult around Army of Darkness has gone mainstream and the journey of Ash is able to continue on the small screen in one of the weirdest, wildest, most frustrating but also brilliant TV series of all time Ash Vs Evil Dead.
You just don’t get movies like Army of Darkness anymore and you don't get filmmakers like Sam Raimi who are willing to make films like it anymore. It's a crushing shame and films, as a whole, are worse off. It features every single thing that made me absolutely adore cinema. From its mad script, its throw back, golden-age-of-Hollywood plot, effects and soundtrack, to its carnival like camera work and the sheer brilliance of the lead performance. When I first saw Army of Darkness I remember thinking - I have never seen anything like this and I wish there was a lot more like this. Afterwards I was forever changed. Here's to the next 25 years!