90s movies

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!]

Lake Placid

Placid rhymes with…and this limp d*cked effort, best described as Jaws with Claws, wastes a lot of top-drawer acting talent and awesome effects.

In fact, the above alone could count as a uber-succinct review of Lake Placid, but let’s dive beneath the brackish waters and explore a bit more, eh?

Maine has never been so mountainous (as cheapo movie aficionados, we recognize the locale as obviously British Columbia) and for a movie set in New England, there are no Peter Griffin accents, only central casting types.

There’s an attack in Black Lake, and the animal perp left a calling card: a tooth. A paleontologist (Bridget Fonda) is brought in from New York’s American Museum of Natural History to investigate, because as we know from the tour manager in This is Spinal Tap — nearby Boston is “not much of a college town.”

That sets off the Big Apple city slicker / hick cop dynamic, but not only is Fonda’s Kelly ill-prepared for the bush, she’s terrified of of the outdoors (seems like a first for a paleontologist).

A mythology expert, a croc-obsessed shyster Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt of Chicago Med) donates his time and equipment to help get to the bottom of…well, the mystery and um, Black Lake (“they were going to call it Lake Placid, but it turns out that already exists.”).

Meanwhile, a mammoth crocodile is taking out moose, and making cops half the men they used to be (there’s some dynamic practical / animatronic / CG effects courtesy of Terminator dude Stan Winston).

But what holds Lake Placid back, is the weird tonal dynamics. Sure, there are some amusing tongue-in-cheek humor, in keeping with the kind of thing you might get from John Sayles (Alligator), but it’s more goofy than gallows.

The cast, which includes Bill Pullman as a Fish and Game official, Mariska Hargitay as “the other woman” in New York and even Betty White, is game…but things get silly and sluggish.

Lake Placid has one fantastic set piece, which is not worth spoiling here, but is worth half a star in of itself.

**3/4 (out of 5)