Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hail to the King, baby: Army of Darkness still holds up

A couple days ago I re-watched Army of Darkness with a buddy of mine (Scott of Scott's Thoughts). Scott had never seen the film previously and it had been years since my last viewing. I didn't know if he'd like it or if it was actually as funny as I remembered.

Man, was I thinking this one through way too much. I'm glad to say that this 1992 cult classic of comedic horror/action remains as hilarious and as quoteable as ever. It's no surprise that Scott is now corrupted: I've yet to meet someone who watches Army of Darkness without latching on to at least one of actor Bruce Campbell's famous one-liners. Sure enough the next day Scott was dropping lines like "that's just pillow-talk baby" and "You ain't leading but two things right now--Jack and shit," into casual conversation with our confused wives.

Mission accomplished.

I have a long history with the "Evil Dead" trilogy, of which Army of Darkness is the third (and arguably the best, though Evil Dead II with its Lovecraftian vibe is in the running). Although I'm not the type to shout "there first" with cult films and other media that become popular only years after their release, I can (and will) stake that claim that with the Evil Dead trilogy.

Travel with me back in time to 1989 or thereabouts. Neither I nor any of my friends had ever heard of The Evil Dead, nor the name of Bruce Campbell. One night while watching HBO late at night with my father, we happened upon a scene of a unconscious man on a dirty kitchen floor being dragged, painfully, on his face through a pile of broken plates--by his own possessed hand. We paused and watched. Seconds later the man--Campbell, of course--proceeded to plunge a knife through through his hand, pinning it to the floor.

"Who's laughing now?" he asked, grinning/grimacing through the pain. I was certainly laughing--howling, in fact--and by the time Bruce chopped off the infected member with a chainsaw, I was hooked. I watched the rest of the film in laughter and awe, and when the credits rolled I wrote down the name of the movie on a scrap piece of paper--Evil Dead II.

That weekend I hurried to the local video store (remember those?) and was thrilled to find a VHS copy of Evil Dead II in the horror section with its grinning skull-head on the cover. Soon I showed it to all my friends, and our own local chapter of the cult of Bruce Campbell was born. Needless to say I was pleased when these films became "cult classics" years later, and could smile inwardly knowing that I had been in on their coolness long before most of the horror underground discovered them.

Although I like all three movies in the Evil Dead trilogy, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness are my favorites because of their bizarre humor. These latter two films' success owe a great deal to the talents of Campbell, who may not be a great (or even good) dramatic actor, but succeeds remarkably at playing Ash, a wise-cracking, arrogant, unlucky yet tough and resourceful anti-hero. Campbell can play other roles (he was great as "Elvis" in Bubba Ho-Tep), but he'll always be Ash, just like William Shatner will always be Captain James T. Kirk. And that's good enough.

Indeed, while watching Army of Darkness I was struck by how much this film's success depends entirely on Campbell. He's in virtually every scene, and has to carry Army of Darkness' mostly awful special effects (stop-motion animation? The 7th Voyage of Sinbad used this technique better in 1958). But he succeeds remarkably well, in my opinion.

No one's ever been better than Campbell battling the undead with a chainsaw and a sawed-off shotgun. Which gives me a lot of hope for My Name is Bruce.


Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments concerning the "I was there first" crowd. It's not big, it's not clever and nobody's impressed. However, I must confess to a small amount of confusion in your "I was there first" claim regarding the Evil Dead Trilogy. Do you mean that you were first amongst your group of friends to discover these gems? I assume that you must, given that Evil Dead was released in 1981 and Evil Dead II in 1987. Anywho, they are bloody marvellous films and Army of Darkness is eminently quotable, so thank you for the mostalgia blast. Remember, "Shop Smart. Shop S-Mart."

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Sacha, what I meant was, nobody that I knew (in my admittedly small circle of friends in high school, and later college) knew about these films. After I "discovered" Evil Dead II I felt like I was spreading the gospel, one VCR tape at a time. Obviously others had already been indoctrinated into the cult of Bruce Campell...

Anonymous said...

Indeed a classic film. Bruce is the king of B-movie heroes, baby!

James Maliszewski said...

I was laughing out loud while reading your post, while my wife looked first in confusion and then in horror.

Mission accomplished indeed.

Falze said...

You had to know I'd chip in here somewhere.

However, to prove simply how amazing the movie is, I cannot even come up with one 'best/favorite' quote from the movie to throw out there. So I'll refrain from using any.

Maybe AOD is better than EDII, yeah, and maybe I'm a chinese fighter pilot.

Oops, there I go. ;)