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.

Forbidden Zone

Before his incredible collaborations with Tim Burton, before developing a cult-favorite band new wave band with such hits as Weird Science and Dead Man’s PartyDanny Elfman was part of a musical theater group called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.  I do not have words to explain just how strange they are so here’s a clip from The Gong Show

Danny’s the one wearing a rocket.

After having watched that, it should come as no surprise to you when I say that when these people decided to make a feature length movie, they created one of the most disturbing things ever captured on film.

Forbidden Zone is nominally about the Hercules family after they moved into the former residence of a heroin dealer named Huckleberry P. Jones, which is exactly what I plan to name my first child, regardless of gender.  The basement of the house features a doorway to “The Sixth Dimension,” a land of utter madness.

After having watched this movie several times, I have come to the conclusion that the Sixth Dimension is-in fact-HELL.  Frenchy Hercules (Marie-Pascale Elfman) decides to check out the Sixth Dimension and finds, among other things: King Fausto (Herve Villechaize) , a few torture chambers, a frog person, some concubines, The Princess (who never puts a shirt on), the Kipper Kids, a number of cross-dressers, and Danny Elfman  himself as Satan... doing a Cab Calloway impression.

Still with me?

This movie doesn't have a plot so much as a bunch of connecting segments between musical numbers, which consist of original songs by the Mystic Knights, and older 40's-style recordings to which the cast lip-syncs.  Admittedly, I am a big Danny Elfman/Oingo Boingo fan, so I may be biased, but I really love the music in this picture. This was the first film Danny ever scored.

The film’s director, Richard Elfman (Danny’s older brother), made Forbidden Zone with almost no money, and it shows.  He shot the film in black and white not for artistic reasons, but because he couldn't afford color.  The sets, predominantly two-dimensional Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-esque paintings by  Marie.  Most of the cast were not professional actors and yet were encouraged to ham up their performances as much as possible.  Furthermore, at any given moment, the film switches to animation a la “Monty Python.”

These factors contribute to the movie’s overall charm, which it has in loads.  It’s just hard to notice that charm, as the film offends the senses on almost every level. To begin, there are more bodily fluids, nudity, and/or sexual situations here than most porn films. As the director explains on the commentary track, “I love to put people in their underwear. Be they beautiful, young ladies or mature gentlemen playing 12 year old boy scouts.” There are also situations that he claims are not meant to be racist, but come off-well...let's just say the film begins with Huckleberry P. Jones being played by a white man in blackface.  Amusingly, Forbidden Zone has also been criticized for being anti-Semitic, despite the Elfman clan being Jewish.

Forbidden Zone is a semi-animated nightmare that keeps me up at night whenever I watch it.  After just watching it now, I am still flabbergasted. While I can't recommend it highly enough, I can never seem to get anyone to watch it.

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.

Evil Toons

After the enthusiastic response to the screening of Idle Hands, Event 8 was picking up steam, with the crowd clamoring for more. Admittedly, I wasn’t prepared for a fourth movie that night. Fortunately an extensive DVD collection saved the day yet again with a copy of Evil Toons!

Any fan of crap-tastic cinema knows they’re in for a show with good ol’ Fred Olen Ray. Occasionally working as a “T&A specialist” for low-budget, direct-to-video flicks (as-in they hired him to inject more nudies), his ability to find excuses to have actresses strip down in movies is unparalleled, even by Paul Verhoeven. He’s made over a hundred movies, and what can I say? They're fun, if just for the simple fact that its easy to see that the guy loves what he’s doing.

Well, that and they are so. Incredibly. Dumb.

Take this particular picture, where 4 college girls (Madison StoneBarbara DareMonique Gabrielle, and Suzanne Ager) take a weekend job cleaning up a creepy mansion for a more than slightly pervy Dick Miller, only to have the ghost of “some guy” (David Carradine!) appear, give them a flesh-bound demon-book, which they promptly set down to read-thus unleashing the titular animated demon.

The fact that 3 out of 4 of the girls in the picture were either actively, or were about to start, working in the porn industry at the time the picture was made, is a pretty clear indication of where the movie’s gonna’ go. Before the bad-book even makes an appearance, four breasts already have. And when the demon-who for the record, is only seen in the picture in full animated form for about 39 seconds-initially attacks, it performs one of the funniest bits of sexual harassment ever committed to film, carefully yanking off the top of his intended victim in full view of the camera…with his tongue.

He then, conveniently for the budget, assumes her blood-covered-yet-still-topless form, and continues stalking the rest of his prey (who all also achieve various stages of undress before being eaten). Between all of this we get scenes of bad Three Stooges-style skits of varying lengths, and some daffy cameo-ish appearances by Arte Johnson as yet another pervy old guy. All-in-all, a fun-filled ride for the whole family!

Words cannot begin to describe how much this film warms the cockles of my heart. Not only that, it was a perfect closer to Event 8, with the crowd really getting into how bad it was, all while still appreciating the film’s…other qualities. If we’d stuck with the last two movies of the night, the Halloween event would easily have been remembered as one of the best.