Evil Dead 3 goes by many different AKAs. It is Evil Dead 3, it is the Army of Darkness and on the actual credits it is called Bruce Campbell Vs Army of Darkness. In fact the only thing more numerous than the titles is the proliferation of DVD editions – at least half a dozen different versions by my count.
However even though the film is nearly 20 years old and was low budget even then it still holds up. It remains unbelievably quotable and helped make Bruce Campbell move from a B movie actor into a B Movie Star, and the director Sam Raimi a bona fide Hollywood big shot, I think the Spiderman films might’ve helped though…
From a personal perspective: I hadn’t watched ED3 for a few years, shortly after I pressed play I was called on to perform an unplanned household task – that from memory involved cleaning up unexpected mess caused by small child or household pet – while fulfilling this duty I still managed to mumble every line said by Ash, supporting actor and extra for the first 5 minutes of the film.
In that time Sam Raimi had effortlessly managed to catch us up on the first two films by showing the summarised backstory, only now including new scenes and events that featured Bridget Fonda as Ash’s lady friend, and introducing his S-Mart career. Only a few details actually line up with the events of the first two films – which were in reality the same film made twice anyway – but who cares when the new elements are this fun?
In short we rejoin Ash as he is dragged inexorably into another dimension by the forces of evil, ending up in an earlier time of (say) the 1200s, when men were men, demons were prevalent and a constant threat, and American people spoke with thick and contrived British accents – especially the extras.
Ash immediately finds himself stuck between two warring factions, the heavily armed castle fortress of Arthur and his men, and the (allegedly) vicious and desperate forces of Henry the Red – so named due to his amazing flaming mullet. Both sides believe the other are responsible for bringing the evil to wreak havoc on one and all.
After Ash hilariously proves that he is neither a “Deadite” nor a disciple of Henry the Red – and with his shotgun nor is he a man to be fucked with – the local “wise one” declares him the “One” that has been foretold (look out Keanu, Eddie Murphy et al).
On hearing this and enjoying the subsequent grovelling and fawning that the desperate villages bestow upon him Ash reverts back to the wisecracking, self centred and cocky character that he gradually morphed into in ED2 – though it must be said that this attitude get ratcheted up a few notches with this film. If Evil Dead was a horror film with a few chuckles, and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn was a horror-comedy, Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness is a comedy-horror, with perhaps 75% laughs and 25% scares and gore. But even the scares are more funny and the gore is more played for laughs than gasps.
Ash heads off to find the magical Book of the Dead – the Necronomicon – which will banish the forces of evil and allow Ash to head back to his own time and minimum wage job. Of course his solo quest is destined to never run smoothly, and over the journey Ash must face and defeat a series of mini Ashes (in an amazingly creative Must-see scene), his evil doppelganger Evil Ash and his interred horde of undead minions who range from mere skeletons to more recently deceased zombie soldiers.
Along the way there is much over the top gore and action, some witty and incredibly arrogant dialogue, some “Three Stooges” homages and the extraordinary physical acting abilities of a young Bruce Campbell. He and Raimi are well acknowledged as longtime best friends, and they obviously had a ball making this film and threw everything but the kitchen sink into it… amazing considering this is only an 80 odd minute film depending on which version you have. Raimi is well know for revelling in the onscreen torture of pal Bruce so in the film Ash must perform some incredible “backwards acting”, get attacked by flying and biting books, get attacked by underground bones and perform lengthy and intricate sword fighting combinations.
The evil dead soldiers are often shown in stop motion animation, and there are some shots that I would guess are either homages or were influenced by the work of Harryhausen. Perhaps if they made the same film today CGI might make it look prettier and make some of the actions of the undead a little less herky-jerky, but it wouldn’t make the film any better. Every one of the apparently precious few dollars can be seen onscreen, with the diminished budget demanding that the film-makers and crew simply had to be more creative than ever before.
Thankfully Raimi, Campbell and co were up to the task, the rough edges of Army of Darkness don’t detract from the film at all, if anything they make it funnier. A scene in which one of Evil Ash’s generals asks for orders and then rides off is hilarious when you look at the General’s riding partner who is obviously little more than a skeleton shaped scarecrow, and the appearance of an unwitting crew member in the original version is another quirky and amusing oversight that enhances my enjoyment of this brilliant film.
The version I watched the other day was the Director’s Cut which must be said didn’t flow so well but was perhaps a little funnier. Both main versions clock in at under 90 minutes, and while the loyal Deadite fans of this franchise have been begging and pleading for another sequel for well over a decade it is worth stepping back and realising that the Evil Dead trilogy already represents some of the best examples, in horror, horror-comedy and simply comedy in cinematic history.
Not a bad effort for a few blokes with a miniscule budget and a few crazy ideas. After all look at what Michael Bay can do with hundreds of millions of dollars and ask yourself is that better?
I’ll break the suspense for you: Hell no it isn’t!
Final Rating – 9.5 / 10. A brilliant conclusion to one of the better trilogies in cinema history. Ash will go down as one of the horror genre’s defining characters.
P.S. I know a remake is slated for release next year. I often defend them when dodgy execution of the originals means they might not have reached their potential – this is one occasion where there is 0% chance of improvement on the originals. So why bother?