Note: This is another Old Movie Review, written for a class and posted here so it wouldn’t rot away on my external hard drive. Enjoy!
In October of 2008, I attended the Dallas Sci-Fi Expo/Star Wars Fan Day. Bruce Campbell was the special guest, and while walking the convention floor, I saw no less than four people wearing Ash Williams costumes, Campbell’s character from the Evil Dead series. One was a teenage boy probably no older than 14, dressed in Ash’s trademark dirty khaki pants and ripped shirt, complete with poofy hair and chainsaw hand. The line of fans waiting for their turn to meet Campbell stretched the entire length of the entrance hall, and it wasn’t uncommon at all to hear con-goers quoting lines from Army of Darkness to each other.
Army of Darkness, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Campbell, had a ready-made cult audience at the time of its release in 1993. It is the third film in the Evil Dead series, following The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987), both of which were well-received by critics and horror genre fans alike. Army of Darkness, which follows immediately after the end of Evil Dead II, moves away from the gross-out horror of the first two films and instead blends horror with the sword-and-sorcery conventions of high fantasy, relying on slapstick comedy and campy dialogue instead of the graphic violence and gore of the first two films.
The film is silly, but it was not made to be taken seriously. It was shot using highly exaggerated camera movements and cheesy visual effects–one of the opening shots of the movie, a flashback to the end of Evil Dead II, features Campbell flying through the air toward a time-travel vortex, and his harness and the wire suspending him are clearly visible. Special effects in the early 1990s look primitive to a 21st century audience, but the effects in Army of Darkness are corny even by 1993 standards. The deliberately bad effects are meant to jar the viewer into laughter, adding to the overall feel of self-mockery that pervades the film.
One of the most prominent effects in the film is also an intertexual homage. The evil army that Ash must fight are composed of skeletons animated by evil magic. Raimi chose to use stop motion animation in a style very similar to that used by Ray Harryhausen in Clash of the Titans, among his many other films, and the skeleton army functions as a tribute to Harryhausen’s groundbreaking work in film effects. Other instances of intertextuality in Army of Darkness include the Necronomicon as well as the magical phrase that should send Ash back to his own time. The Necronomicon, which features prominently in all of the Evil Dead films, is the book which, when read, will unleash the evil dead. This book was invented by influential horror writer H. P. Lovecraft as an account of his fictional Cthulhu mythos and is a common device in the horror genre, whether in Lovecraftian stories or otherwise. The magical phrase, “klaatu verada nikto,” is taken from The Day the Earth Stood Still, albeit misspelled.
One of the major attractions for cult fans of Army of Darkness is its quotability. The aforementioned magical phrase, which was butchered by Ash, is a particularly popular quote: “Klaatu… verada… necktie. Nectar. Nickle. Noodle. It’s an N word. It’s definitely an N word. . . . Klaatu! Verada! N (indistinct coughing)!” Other favored quotes come from Ash’s pithy or cheesy one-liners, which make up a large portion of his dialogue: “This… is my boomstick!”; “Good, bad. I’m the guy with the gun.”; and “Gimme some sugar, baby.”
The film has had multiple DVD, and recently Blu-ray, releases, and has expanded beyond film into other media. There are numerous Army of Darkness and Evil Dead comic books, published by Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Entertainment, and the Evil Dead series has recently been adapted into a comedic stage musical. Army of Darkness and its predecessor films have carved out a niche for themselves in the hearts of horror fans, and their popularity is such that even though the last film was released seventeen years ago, the series is still going strong.