The Halloween Top 13: Number 2: Army of Darkness

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Happy All Hallow Eve Eve to you fine folks. Tonight as you rush around to carve your pumpkins, make those last minute changes on your costume, or making sure you have enough candy or booze to make it, it’s time to kick back and watch a rarity in horror, the epic hero. Ashley J Williams, better known as Ash, had already survived the events of Evil Dead 1 &2, or just 2 perhaps. Needless to say he’s been having a bad time of it. Having crossed the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, he lost his girl. Then when his hand went bad, he had to cut it off. Now the book has sucked him into the past. To the land of kings and monsters, where it’s up to Ash to face the….

Army of Darkness (1992) starring Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, and Ted Rami tends to show up a lot. Directed by Sam Rami.

Synopsis

bruce-army-of-darknessIn the 1300’s, Ash has already been making enemies. After being captured as one of King Henry’s men, he is taken to the castle of none other but Arthur. After they attempt to sacrifice Ash to a ghoul, he escapes and with his trusty chainsaw and his boomstick in hand. Ash is eager to get back home, but he must first retrieve the Necronomicon. He prepares himself for his mission by building himself a new robotic hand and romancing a local wench by the name of Sheila. Soon Ash must leave on his quest. As an unseen force peruses Ash though a haunted woods, he takes refuge in a windmill. Once there his problems multiply in the form dozens of tiny mischievous Ash’s. They attack him like Gulliver’s ugly brother, and once they get Ash to swallow one of them, Evil Ash begins to split off of his shoulder. The two face off, and their fight ends when Ash shoots his evil counterpart in the face and says, “Good, Bad, I’m the guy with the gun.” Ash then hacks the body apart and buries it throwing dirt in the grave even as the mangled head curses him.

So Ash had had a pretty bad day once he gets to the books. That’s right books. He must choose the right book or face consequences. After facing all the consequences, he finally finds the right book. However, in his preparation to retrieve the Necronomicon the local wizard had taught him special words to say. Not remembering what the last one was, Ash attempts to fake it. The dark spirits are not buying it, and they raise an army of the dead to get the book back. As the army lead by his newly back to unlife evil twin closes in on the castle, Ash must decide between leaving the primitive screwheads to fend for themselves or becoming their champion.

Film Facts
–The magic words Ash can’t seem to recall are “Clatto Verata Nicto” – a reference to “Klaatu, Barada, Nikto”, the army-of-darkness-arms-in-air-poster-c10100244words used to command the robot Gort in The Day the Earth stood Still.

–Ash’s car actually is a car belonging to Sam Rami. When Ash goes into the trunk for supplies, you can spy a copy of Fangoria and a copy of a Dark Horse Presents comic which featured the first Sin City story by Frank Miller. None of the things in the trunk were put there. It’s just what he happened to have in there.

–The movie has a couple of endings. The original Rip Van Winkle ending was thought to be too much of a downer by the studio. They called for reshoots and the S-Mart ending was filmed.

–Army of Darkness came out the same year that Bruce also appeared in Eddie Presley, Waxworks II: Lost in Time, and Mindwarp.

Why Do I Love It?
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As we get to the top, this list has both been both a blessing and a curse. I’ve had a great time doing it, but I’ve agonized over every decision on this list. The number two film on this list has had several titles on it. Evil Dead 1 &2, Ghostbusters, Mulva:Zombie Asskicker, and the movie that became the number one title were all considered, but when it came time to make a choice, I thought about what would be the best good time movie to watch before the holiday. There was only one film that balanced the zany comedy and horrific elements so well, and that was of course Army of Darkness. Following Ash on what was probably his final journey is so full of laughs, monsters, fighting, and romance, they I find it hard to believe thre are people who don’t like this movie.

Lets take a minute to talk about Bruce Campbell. His portrayal of Ash is what grounds the films. As the everyman buffoon, he is at once as comic and broadly played as if he was a fourth Stooge, but Ash has another side. It’s the side that fights back against the forces of darkness and makes him at his most heroic transcend the madcap comedy and become the everyman hero. Ash gets the girl, although sometimes briefly, wins the day, see previous comment, and in the end always comes through with grit and determination. After all Ashley Williams is just a stooge at S-mart. He works a 9-5 and probably lives week to week on his meager income, but when given the chance, he can become the protector, however reluctantly, of all of mankind.

Sam Rami’s directing really makes this film great as well. It’s layered with trademark Rami cameras that whoosh armyalong the ground. The kind of sweeping shots that would allow Sam to land the Spider Man franchise a few years later. In Army and the other Evil Dead movies, he proved himself adept at creating the underdog hero. So it is no surprise that Marvel would come calling. Sam used every means at his disposal for this film. From Harryhausen stop motion, to animatronic, to practical effects they are all used in the film to create a seemless world of fantasy for Ash and the dead army to inhabit. In another directors hands, the balance between fantasy, horror, and comedy, would have been mangled, but Rami guides each of the genres though it’s paces and delivers on all fronts a crowd pleasing, pop corn munching, good time.

The movie itself is a thrill ride. The comedy bounces along so naturally, and is punctuated by the action and effects sequences. The laughs that can be derived from watching the skeletal army alone are worth the price of admission. Then there are the iconic lines: “”Boomstick”, “Gimmie some sugar baby”, “Come get some.”, “You got real ugly.”, and “Shop smart. Shop S-Mart.”. There are lines that read like a selection from the geek version of Bartlett’s. They and others from the film have creeped into the fanboy psyche to the extent where they are a measure of coolness to know them all. Army of Darkness is just the kind of film that is just fun. It’s not trying too hard. It’s not bashing you in the head with it. It’s working in the kind of understated cool that Elvis exuded in his youth. This is the kind of film that Halloween is for, and with only one day left to wait all I have to ask is “Who wants some?”

Today’s Top Five comes to us from a special young lady. She’s been a friend of mine for on to 11 years now. Since I’ve known her, she and I have explored the world of cult films together. We bring each other new titles, and we constantly show off our new purchases to each other. Out of everyone I’ve ever met, she has the only other film collection which I think rivals my own. So I must introduce my best pal, that zenith of zombie fanciers, that Vincent Price groupie herself… the one and the only Fran Goria!

1. Mad Love (1935) :Peter Lorre, obsession, murder…. what more could a girl want?
2. House of Wax (1953) Vincent Price is my favorite, and this is a good one.
3. Thirteen Ghosts (2001) Mr Monk sees a ghost… or 13 of them.
4. The Changeling ( 1980) George C. Scott in the best little ghost story ever.
5. Hide and Creep (2004) Who knew zombies were afraid of the dark?

and an honorable mention to
Living Hell (2000): Those Japanese, sometimes they scare the crap out of me.

Thank ya, Frannie, and thank you folks for joining us for the penultimate night of the countdown. So Tomorrow night get yer costumes on, and bring out the bowls of candy, then join us back here for the big bad, the main man, the number one movie on the countdown. Until then this is the blue eyed Lightning Bug signing off and wishing “Sweet Dreams” to all you Moonies out there in moonland.