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.

Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn

It’s the middle of June during the Summer of ‘93. I’m 16 years old and instead of spending my vacation trying to pick up girls at the local pool or hanging out at the mall like any respectable teenage degenerate, I’m hunched over an easel in a studio classroom underneath the Corcoran Art Gallery. Sitting next to me is another kid of similar height and build, both of us in the 6-foot range, and neither weighing over 145 pounds.

His name is Kevin and we share a strange thing in common: We were born exactly one year apart. In the same hospital. You see, through a series of complications not important enough to mention, we were both forced to present our birth certificates to attend this particular class. It was then that we noticed we were both born on October 28th at 1:45 p.m. in George Washington Memorial Hospital. I in 1976, and he in ‘77. Using this and the fact that we were eerily similar as a springboard, we kick up a friendship, and it’s at this time he passes me a beat-up video tape with the words “Evil Dead 2” scrawled across the edge in ballpoint. Thus was my first exposure to the manic mind of Sam Raimi, and the reigning king of B Movies: Bruce Campbell.

The tale is a fairly simple one. Ash (Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda take a romantic vacation to a seemingly abandoned cabin in the woods, and before you can say “Klatu Verata Nictu”, Ash plays a found tape reciting passages from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the Book of the Dead-unleashing an evil force which soon takes possession of Linda. Romantic getaway effectively over, Ash is forced to kill, dismember, and bury her. But it ain’t over, because something in the woods remains and continues to terrorize Ash.

In other words: It’s a haunted house/woods movie. Only one with zombies, demons, and the Three Stooges thrown in the mix. A hyper-kinetic picture that effectively scares as much as it sparks laughter. A film that became such a success that it lead to a wide release sequel, Army of Darkness-which abandoned most of the horror in favor of Action/Adventure and is a cult-classic in its own right. But we’re not here to talk about the giddy glee that Evil Dead II inspires. No, we’re here to talk about the Chainsaw.

Roughly a third of the way through the picture, the evil pursuing Ash gets into his hand and it goes “bad”, trying repeatedly to kill him in one of the more memorable scenes of the picture. So Ash does the only sensible thing: he cuts it off with the Chainsaw. Then much later in the picture, when he decides he’s had just about enough of these Evil Dead causing trouble, he devises a mount that attaches to his wrist, enabling him to attach the chainsaw…thus creating one of the most famous monster fighting weapons in movie history, and cementing this flick’s place in our list.

Sure, you could argue that in the follow-up, Army of Darkness, we got the Chainsaw arm, Boomstick Kata, Plate Mail Fist, and the Death-moldsmobile. We certainly did. But nothing beats the first appearance of the chainsaw arm, so we’re going with the one, the only, Evil Dead II.

Groovy.