Army of Darkness (1992) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
"Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas."
--- the tagline for Army of Darkness ---
These comments refer to the Director's Cut:
Here's a question you can debate amongst yourselves. Who is the best looking man to do silly, lowbrow, slapstick, rubber-face comedy? You might make a good case for Jim Carrey, who is a good-looking guy and began his career as Ace Ventura and The Mask, but I'd have to say Bruce Campbell has an even better case. He is an extremely handsome guy, probably the best looking guy in the history of comedy, possessing looks on a par with Errol Flynn or Robert Taylor or Brad Pitt or any of the great leading men, but also possessing a silly sense of humor that makes him more comfortable doing the kinds of physical schtick you might expect from Carrey or Chris Farley or John Cleese. In essence, he is Curly Howard in George Clooney's body.
The big questions are: "How many roles are there for Curly Clooney? And what kinds of roles?"
The answer came from the genius of writer/director Sam Raimi. We all know that Sam broke the box office bank with the Spider-Man movies, but before he did that he had one of the most diverse resumes in Hollywood. He directed The Gift, and was thus the only guy to get Katie Holmes topless before Tom Cruise came along. Before that he created the Evil Dead horror franchise, which pitted the living against the resurrected dead. Army of Darkness is a part of the latter, and was originally to be titled Evil Dead 3 until some studio mucky-mucks determined that it should have a more mainstream title that would appeal to those who hate fanboy movies. That actually made some sense, because Army of Darkness is only a horror/adventure movie in its basic structure. At its heart, it is pure slapstick comedy. In fact, it is filled with conscious homages to the Three Stooges and others who created the slapstick landmarks in cinema history. The lead role therefore called for a guy who could look like George Clooney, deliver snide zingers like Harrison Ford, and do schtick like Curly Howard.
Talk about a custom fit for Bruce Campbell.
Campbell plays Ash, the hero of the Evil Dead movies, who is normally a clerk in the housewares department of one store in the S-Mart chain of discount mass merchandisers. His job doesn't sound like a bona fide occupational qualification for an anti-zombie warrior, but his knowledge of hunting shotguns and power tools actually comes in quite handy in the wars against the dead. He wields a chainsaw over his severed right hand, and shoots the shotgun with his left hand. Never mind that he never needs ammunition, or even to reload the shotgun. That's all part of the fun. For you see, Army of Darkness is not an action/horror movie, but a spoof of one written by an insider. There are plenty of genuine feel-good moments in the battle against the dead, but the film is a comedy first and foremost. It is to sword and sorcery movies as Police Squad is to cop films, or as Blazing Saddle is to Westerns.
Imagine Conan the Barbarian armed with modern weapons and driving a car, and you'll get the general idea. Our housewares clerk gets transported to England in the 1300s, where he proceeds to play the ultimate "ugly American." He refers to the locals as "primates," and tells the wenches to "give up some sugar, baby." When he's not insulting them, he's screwing up their lives by unleashing an army of the dead, all because he was too lazy to memorize some magic words properly. Fortunately, he can get the locals out of their predicament by using the stuff in the trunk of his 1973 car, which was transported to the past with him. There's his shotgun, his chainsaw, his Chemistry 101 textbook (he's obviously one of the more scholarly S-Mart employees), and the car itself. Along the way there are several comedy set-pieces in which Ash battles a full-sized clone of himself, or several Lilliputian clones. At one point he becomes a two headed man and has to engage in a fistfight against himself.
It's a lot of fun, but the director's cut is also one of the most maddening films I've ever watched, because of the inconsistency of its pacing. There are some great action scenes with almost no comedy, and those flow along beautifully. There are some scenes with no action which are carried by Ash's zingers, and those flow as well. Where the film annoys is in the comic battle scenes. Some of the slapstick action is so funny and so liberally peppered with Ash's barbs that it has me laughing out loud, while there are other times when it's so silly and so dragged-out that I just have to reach for the fast-forward button. I'm sorry, Raimi, but the Three Stooges have to be taken in very small doses, and some of the comic schtick-fights in Army of Darkness just go on and on and on. Having said that, though, I'll add that this is one of the ultimate movie experiences for boys 8-14! Nyuck, nyuck.
Anchor Bay has released a two-disk special edition of the movie, and it's well worth the look. The first disc is the usual stuff. There's a 4:3 theatrical version of the film, and a 16:9 as well. There's a "behind the scenes" featurette. Solid, but nothing so memorable. The treasures are to be found on Disk Two, in which Raimi presents a widescreen version of his original director's cut, which includes 15 minutes of fully-integrated footage which has never been seen in theaters, as well as four more deleted scenes which are not in either version of the film. There is also a full-length commentary by Raimi, Campbell, and Raimi's screenwriter brother.
It's fanboy heaven.
Even if you are not a fanboy, there are at least two good reasons why you should watch the director's cut.
1) There is a brief sex scene involving Campbell and Embeth Davidtz. If the lighting had been favorable, this would be a major reason to watch the film, but the scene takes place at night, outdoors, and in the 14th century, so there aren't a lot of light sources available. The one source of light, a bonfire, is behind them, so they are basically in silhouette. You really can't even tell whether Embeth is topless. Even at that, it's still nice to watch.
2) The director's cut includes Sam Raimi's original ending. Raimi screened his original version of the film for the suits at Universal Studios, and they weren't satisfied. They thought it was too long and the ending was too depressing, so they made him re-write the ending and chop some fifteen minutes of footage elsewhere.
WARNING! SPOILERS FOLLOW:
The studio guys may have been right about the pacing of the film. My comments above are about the director's cut, and you will note that I also found some scenes to drag on much too long.
But the suits were VERY wrong about the ending.
The original conclusion is one of the greatest endings in film history - sheer genius - a brilliant comedic riff on the ending of "Planet of the Apes." Ash seals himself in a cave where he cannot be disturbed over the centuries, then takes the magic potion which will make him sleep from the 1300s until his own time. He wakes up and crawls outside. We see his face. He is in shock. The camera then shoots the next scene from behind him, so we can share his P.O.V. It is a post-apocalyptic London, lifeless and nearly destroyed. Big Ben is to this scene as the Statue of Liberty is to Planet of the Apes. Ash shouts something like, "Shit! I overslept!" Credits roll.
On the other hand, the revised ending is just plain lame. Ash rides off into the sunset from the medieval castle. In an abrupt cut, he's is back at S-Mart, telling his co-workers, " ... so I took the potion, and here I am," as if all the preceding action had merely been a whopper of a tale spun by a pathological liar. His colleagues are understandably incredulous until some evil entity or another chooses to show up in the housewares department, whereupon Ash, normally a humble store clerk, turns into an action juggernaut and destroys the monster, impressing the hell out of those who came for the Blue Light Special.
Note that the film's low scores from the contemporary critics are largely irrelevant to what I am a writing about above. They were reviewing an 80-minute film with a lame ending, and I am reviewing a 96-minute film with a great ending. Big difference. The director's cut of this film, while not without flaws, is much better than the two and a quarter stars received by the theatrical version (57/100 per Metacritic). It is definitely recommended for those with the appropriate interests and an agreeably juvenile sense of humor.
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