Black comedy

Taboo subjects, gallows humor and dark comedy.

Army of Darkness

You can’t spell “Swashbuckling” without A-S-H. Army of Darkness is a Herculean departure from the Evil Dead series, as different from the other entries as it’s possible to be. And to purists, this will matter a great deal.

The Evil Deal was so influential, and left so many imitators choking on its afterburners that it’s hard to really place this film, a matinee action outlier, into its rightful place.

So, there’s gonna be the temptation to treat it as a stand-alone, for better or for worse.

Ash and his iconic jalopy Oldsmobile, are transported back in time to the 14th century, when the Black Plague was ravaging Europe (here, blatantly and somewhat distractingly, California. At their sunniest, the British Isles would never be this sunny).

Ash is caught between opposing factions, a medieval turf war pitting Arthur against Henry, a kind of Scottish independence nod (probably) from the Clan of Campbell.

But all Ash wants to do, is get back to modernity (1980) and naturally, he needs “THE BOOK” to teleport his ass back to the land of cocaine, pastels and Reagan-era trickle down. That book Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (Also known as ‘Book of the Dead’ and ‘Naturom Demonto’ in the original script) is appropriately, the MacGuffin. Say that with a Scots brogue.

Ash finds the book, but bungles the incantation he’s supposed to repeat, unleashing a hell-storm of demons.

In Campbell’s book, Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor, he claims that he “lost creative control of the editing and generally had a miserable time making the thing.” The finished product kinda looks like it.

Episodic, Army of Darkness has a few dynamite set-pieces, like when Lilliputian lil’ Ashes break forth from mirror, and tie down our hero before dropping one of their ranks down his gullet. Ultimately though, things tend to drag on toward the end, with knights battling skeletons and not the kind of blood and guts, full-on frights and zingers that made the first two films so inimitable.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to our chat about Army of Darkness on the podcast!]

Cult of Chucky

The voices of Brad Dourif and Danny deVito sound so similar they could be… twins…Anyway, Cult of Chucky does double-up, but on Dourifs. Brad’s daughter Fiona (known for her role as a prostitute sent out to the badlands of Deadwood, and as Casey in True Blood) co-stars with dad in this, the 7th installment of the franchise based on a doll with a shock of red hair. And it’s a series which still has shocks to spare.

From the get-go, things seem bleak. You get the obligatory horror sequel exposition, told in flashbacks and you wonder whether this Child’s Play entry is headed straight for the sewer.

Then, we see dissevered Chucky’s head, stuck full of nails, and chained to a table. And like The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, Chucky lives on. Young Andy, all grown up and living in a survivalist, taxidermied apartment,  has been exacting revenge, taking a blowtorch to the doll’s dome and abusing what’s left of it.

In a nearby insane asylum, wheelchair-bound Nica (Fiona Dourif) has been going through therapy, institutionalized as the fall guy/patsy for Chucky’s murders. Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch, but she’s more than capable and compelling enough as a character to have the flick revolve around her.

As part of hers and her fellow patients’ rehabilitation, resident psychologist Dr Foley, introduces them to a ginger therapy toy, and filicidal Madeline (Elizabeth Rosen) takes to the Good Guy doll as if it were her own son, a fascinating twist.

Soon, each patient starts to claim that the doll is sentient, prompting the not-so-good doc to observe, “it’s fascinating to see mass hysteria in action!” (The Foley/Chucky dynamic is terrific: Turns out Foley has been dosing patients with Methohexital and abusing them when they’re under, and Chucky can’t help but be impressed by his malpractice maleficence).

Tiffany Valentine/Ray (Jennifer Tilly) arrives to fill in the backstory and provide Child’s Play franchise continuity.

But things get fun when Chucky cuts loose to do what Chucky does best: kill.

There’s even one thrilling horror movie weapon death that would have made it into our book.

Cult of Chucky is a pretty stellar entry in the Child’s Play series. This is one mean-spirited red-head who could give Oliver Cromwell or Axl Rose a run for their money.

*** (out of 5)