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‘Army of Darkness’

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 19, 1993


Sam Raimi
Bruce Campbell;
Embeth Davidtz;
Marcus Gilbert;
Ian Abercrombie;
Richard Grove
Under 17 restricted

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Few American directors would dare to show as much over-the-top glee in their chosen craft as Sam Raimi does in "Army of Darkness." A sequel to his "Evil Dead" cult classics, this was originally titled "Medieval Dead," since its chain saw-wielding, dead-defying hero, Ash, has been swept back to the 14th century. That particular pun fell by the wayside, but its spirit survives in a script that clearly aims for the jocular, not the jugular.

With the wisecracking Rambo of gore fighting off scores of Deadites, there's plenty of blood -- a geyser's worth at one point -- but nowhere close to the unrelenting flow of its predecessors. In any event, both genre fans and newcomers will be too busy laughing to be offended.

Those new to Raimi's dark world get a newly shot, somewhat clumsy flashback recap of the first two films (reportedly done at Universal's insistence), and then a setup of the new one where Ash's predicament is familiar: Once again he's trapped in an isolated structure, this time a castle, besieged by evil forces. In the "Evil Dead" films, the location was a cabin in the woods, the enemy an unseen esprit de corpse manipulating its violent, irrepressibly bloodthirsty minions. That's what you got when you messed around with the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, and by the end of "Evil Dead II" Ash was the only survivor, albeit one dumped (with his chain saw, shotgun and Olds 88) into the past after being swallowed by a dimensional vortex. Now he just wants to go home and resume his job at the home appliances desk at S-Mart.

This will not be easy, of course. Ash (Bruce Campbell) has a hard time convincing the locals that he's different, until his "boomstick" makes a big impression, particularly on damsel-near-distress Sheila (Embeth Davidtz). But Raimi's not interested in a love story, and it doesn't take long for him to wake the dead. When Ash tries to get the Necronomicon out of its graveyard site (a parody of "Let's Make a Deal"), he mangles the incantation (the historically resonant "klaatu baratu niktu"). That unleashes all sorts of problems: First a shattered mirror produces a platoon of mini-Ashes who visit Lilliputian indignities on him; then he develops a literally split personality, with Evil Ash rending himself away to lead that Army of Darkness; then Sheila turns on him, less bewitching now than witching.

As Ash, the only character to survive the "Evil Dead" experience, Bruce Campbell has suffered long and painfully at the hands (or is that fists?) of Sam Raimi and co-writing brother Ivan Raimi (and Campbell's the co-producer). It's unrepentant, visceral slapstick with the emphasis on slap, a Wile E. Coyote-Three Stooges energy run through a meat grinder. In that vein, nothing has changed, except that having sawed off his arm in "Evil Dead II" (it kept attacking him), Ash is now fitted with a mechanical arm that both Leonardo da Vinci and the Terminator would appreciate.

But "Army of Darkness" has clearly been made for a wider audience -- the title alone suggests that -- and Raimi wisely tempers his more intense instincts by focusing on the battle between Ash and his new Middle Aged pals and that army of skeletons and rotting corpses (its slogan is probably "Boo all that you can boo").

The fighting skeletons bring back memories of the seminal stop-motion special effects developed by Ray Harryhausen in the '50s. Here they are effectively integrated with live actors in "Mad Max" battle sequences that are both technically impressive and great fun. After the internally intense "Darkman," Raimi shows he's quite capable of bringing his quirky vision to life on a larger, action-oriented scale. There are some obvious budget compromises in the final cut -- the film was victim to legal wrangling between producer Dino De Laurentiis and Universal. -- but "Army of Darkness" has the last la


ghs."Army of Darkness" is rated R and contains comic g

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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