Series – or, ick, franchises – aren’t something that are going to make a big dent in this list. I’m not averse to a sequel or two, but it’s rare that I’ll hold two films from the same series in equal regard. Most of the time, you can do everything you want to do in one film, even if it happens to be the fourth one.
…Not Army of Darkness, mind. It’s totally tied to the first two Evil Dead films, going as far as opening with a brief ‘previously on’. (The films are a strange exercise in Russian-doll-ery, given that Dead II starts with sort-of remake of the first film). But it almost ditches the premise of the previous Evil Deads almost entirely.
The last film ended with a huge portal sucking everything into its maw and, where that was a classic cabin-in-the-woods horror comedy, that transported us to a medieval fantasy world, throwing away the setting, all the supporting cast (who were dead anyway, to be fair), and cinematic style of its predecessors.
What it keeps is its greatest single asset: Bruce Campbell as Ash, the chainsaw-armed one-liner-spewing everyman, of the kind that every man wishes they were. The film, on my DVD at least, is presented as Bruce Campbell vs. The Army of Darkness. That’s more of a promise than a title.
And it’s one that’s fully upheld. The Charisma Machine vs. The Forces of Evil. A series of set-pieces, fights between Ash and whatever gets in his way, while the sweeping heroic narrative is distilled into armoury upgrades, generally accompanied by the camera whooshing into a close-up of that face as he delivers another insta-catchphrase.
Army of Darkness is fully aware of the inherent ridiculousness of the action film – one of those upgrade requires Ash to jump and catch the weighty chainsaw-attachment tumbling through the air, only for it to land on his stump – but embraces it, and makes it feel triumphant. Action isn’t a genre that regularly works for me, but it manages the air-punching moments that people come to those films for on a remarkably regular basis.
All of which is tempered with a deep, deep silliness. Sometimes this works against the film a bit – a strong stomach for the Three Stooges is recommended – but mostly it’s funny, in a way that’s so broad it borders on innocent. Except, oh yeah, for all the ultra-violence…
Severed hands fly through the air to slap an old man on the face. Ash peels his face off a hotplate using a spatula. And most of all, blood gushes forth in bright-red fountains. It turns out the physical comedy of slapstick, something else that has never really worked for me, becomes much funnier when you push the violence and bloodshed far enough.
…A lot of which is true of Evil Dead II too, thinking about it. I sure do hope it isn’t on this list and I have to think up a whole new lot of things to say about it…


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