Hail to the King: The Teratology of
Army of Darkness
|In Heaven, all movie posters will be as cool as this one.|
Unintentional cult movies are the result of colossal mistakes that balance out. A movie like Troll II can’t be manufactured—it just happens. Making an intentional cult film takes skill, guts and vision; a single misstep and your movie is just a giant wink to the audience. You have to be a tightrope walker. Sam Raimi is a director who knows how to walk that rope.
He made his bones in the industry with the Evil Dead trilogy. The third installment, Army of Darkness (1992), continues the saga of Ash, the wisecracking, Oldsmobile-driving S-mart employee whose trip to a secluded cabin with his girlfriend was derailed by the discovery of recordings from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the Sumerian book of the dead. Demons from another dimension (called Deadites) systematically kill and possess Ash’s loved ones. Ash isn’t immune; ultimately, he must exorcise his own Deadite by cutting off his hand (which he replaces with a chainsaw). Army begins with Ash and the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (and his Oldsmobile Delta 88) being banished to 1300 AD. Ash battles knights, the undead and himself to find his way back home.
|The scene where Ash saves President Obama from Tea Partiers was left out of the theatrical release.|
I like this movie—not as much as the first two (1987’s Evil Dead II is responsible for my descent into horror), but I do recommend it. Army is campy, it’s funny and action leads it around by the nose; it manages to be zany without being cutesy. Raimi is one of the few directors who does cult intentionally and does it well: The movie oozes cult. The trilogy is a master class on how to make a genre film. Army teaches two things to directors trying to craft their own underground classics.
First, know your cult: Who is the audience for your film? Raimi is writing for teenage boys—he was only 22 when he started the series. Ash is the man every zombie-loving geek wants to be: a cutup with a heart of gold who isn’t afraid to play rough (“Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun.”). The film focuses on gadgets more than a film set in the middle ages should: Ash manufactures a robotic hand a la Luke Skywalker—he also converts his Oldsmobile into an engine of death. It features women with heaving bosoms that spend half the movie wanting to sleep with Ash and the other half wanting to kill him. It even has an issue of Fangoria, a magazine that’s been catering to the gorehound teen since 1979.
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Second, send your cult a strong message: If laws of physics are diluting your message, change those laws. A cult film is one that bends reality to tell a story with style—there’s a reason why noir films are filled with low light and shadow. In Raimi’s case, he set out to make a live action cartoon. Characters don’t just spurt blood when eaten by a demon: They shoot it out like a fire hose. In one scene, a Deadite does a somersault after being shot by a double-barreled Remington. In another, Ash is attacked by skeletons using a Three Stooges eye poke. The first ten minutes of this movie are a goldmine of comedic style.
Army of Darkness is Raimi at his best. It is a film that has embedded itself into the geek lexicon (when someone says “boomstick,” they have this movie to thank). His style is so distinctive that it has become an adjective: When a film uses extreme gore as a sight gag or gives the viewpoint of a fast-moving object, it’s being “Raimi-esque.” When Raimi sticks to his style, he walks that tightrope discussed earlier with ease (see 2009’s Drag Me to Hell).
|If you haven't seen this movie, stop reading and watch it. NOW.|
|Sitting dejectedly in the rain was also how most audience members responded to this film.|