Army of Darkness

Third movies are tricky, even when filmmakers have a trilogy planned from the start.  As it stands, I have yet to see a third superhero film that was anything less than dreadful.  Spider-man III and X3 , I’m looking at you!

Unfortunately, it is no less difficult with the third film in a horror series (though oddly enough, the 4th is usually a better one in the series), and it’s usually after a great second film.  Most do not appreciated Saw IIIeveryone hates Child’s Play 3 (even the director), and need I even mention reactions to Halloween III?  So, when a filmmaker nails a third act as Sam Raimi does with Army of Darkness, it's worth noting.

By the beginning of AoD, Ashley J. Williams (Bruce Campbell) has already had a rough couple of days.  On the first day of his vacation, his sister, girlfriend and two other friends all become possessed by Kandarian demons who can only be stopped through total bodily dismemberment.  I’ve heard worse Spring Break stories.  After barely surviving that, he had to cut off his own hand, deal with more possessed people and summon the inner strength to become the baddest-ass force for good in horror film history

After “defeating” the evil in the present, Ash was sucked back in time to medieval England, which looks an awful lot like California.  Cavalcade Fun Fact: England, medieval or otherwise, has never had deserts!  Ash is tasked with defeating the Deadites, including an evil version of himself, in the past in order to return to the future.  It’s a good thing he had a chainsaw attached to his right arm and his trademark “Boomstick.”

One cannot undervalue the skill of Sam Raimi as a director.  After showing what he could do with a budget on Darkman , Raimi was able to command just a little bit more money to bring a “big” budget Evil Dead to the big screen.  All of Sam’s trademarks are present: “Sam-O-Cam,” “Ram-O-Cam,” excessive amounts of blood, and, of course, entirely too many Three Stooges references.  To be honest, AoD does suffer in comparison to the earlier films.  Where Evil Dead was “the ultimate experience in grueling terror,” and Evil Dead 2 is one of the greatest horror-comedies produced, AoD is really just a comedy.  Granted, a comedy with chainsaws, but still, the movie is not neither scary nor particularly gross.  This is not necessarily a complaint, but for those that enjoyed the horror elements of the previous two films, AoD could be viewed as quite a departure in tone.  However, this drawback is more than excused since it allowed an even bigger, crazier performance by our hero.

Despite his every effort, most of us recognize that Bruce Campbell is Ash.  Well, he would be if he were put in that situation…and exposed to gamma radiation.  More than any other role, Campbell is identified as Ash with no small part due to his performance in AoD.  Playing not only Ash, but also Evil Ash, Campbell makes almost every line of dialogue quotable with his trademark sarcasm and over-the-top awesomeness.

I highly recommend watching the first two Evil Deads so you can get the full effect of Campbell and Raimi’s development of the character and mythology, but AoD is one of those sequels that can truly stand on its own.  Which is impressive for any third act in a trilogy.

Bubba Ho-Tep

The idea had B-movie gold written all over it: Elvis Presley didn't die, but instead switched places with the best impersonator he could find so he could live out his days in peace. Only, the plan didn't go so well and now he's just another old man in a nursing home with a "growth on his pecker" and his only friend is a confused black man convinced he's John F. Kennedy. Then, of course, there's the 3,000-year-old mummy stalking the other residents, sucking their souls out their a.... You know, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Let's get back to the mad mental case that concocted this story, shall we?

Don Coscarelli, the writer-director-producer-freak behind the mind-bending multi-dimensional alien zombie picture, Phantasm, and all 3 sequels. He also did the campy-yet-creepy Beastmaster (those bird people gave me no small number of childhood nightmares with their digestive hugs). The man knows his way around a smaller budget and frequently crafts quirkily interesting movies, so when I hear that the was teaming with no less than the King of B-Movies, Bruce Campbell (Elvis, a role he was born to play), and veteran actor Ossie Davis (as J.F.K), I'm all kinds of eager to check it out. Besides, there's a mummy in a cowboy hat!

By the time I'd gotten around to seeing it for the first time, Bubba had already won a handful of awards in the independent and genre film circuits. Plus other critics had given their stamps of approval, so my anticipation only continued to grow. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but the end result wasn't it...well, not exactly. Where I expected an action packed campy romp, I got a very rich and interesting character piece, with a captivating performance by Mr. Campbell, and good chemistry with Mr. Davis.

Eventually a giant scarab and the titular mummy show up and get with the face-eating and soul-sucking, but by the time said evil finally makes an appearance and the film begins to ramp up, you can almost forget what type of movie you came to see. This is not to say it's a bad movie, far from it. It's much more skillfully put together than just about any others of similar ilk. But it is deliberately paced in its establishment of the characters before it deals with the monster. Which is part of the problem.

The film doesn't entirely know what it wants to be. Is it a character drama? Is it a silly yet sometimes scary horror movie? It's not that these can't co-exist in a movie, that's not the case at all. It's that these pieces at times feel as if they're being culled from various different movies that the filmakers wanted to shoot, and crammed into this one. It doesn't entirely work, but it's still a fun ride.

But not a fun Cavalcade ride. For a group of people gathered around the screen, drinks in hand, deliberate pacing leads to distraction and boredom. While I love the movie for all its beautiful weirdness and loving care given to its characters, It isn't the best kick-off to a Cavalcade event we've ever had. If you do screen it, make sure it's not the opener. It's better served as a second or third movie, when the crowd is more relaxed.

Hmm. All that, and I never did get back to from where the Mummy sucks the souls...