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!]

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Is every moment a fresh beginning? If you’re TS Eliot, you’d say so…but a series like Friday the 13th? Lately it’s been more whimper than bang.

When did chinks start appearing in the Jason armor? Maybe here, with Friday the 13th: A New Beginning? Possibly, but there’s still so much nuttiness that it makes for a very compelling series entry indeed.

Friday the 13th Part V, follows up on the tale of young Tommy (Corey Feldman), who managed to escape the clutches of the Butcher of Camp Crystal Lake. This was a point where recent Hollywood whistle-blower Feldman had yet to become a star big enough for his agent to pull him away from this project (The year this was made, 1985, was the same year Corey’s career took off in The Goonies).

Here, Tommy is at the grave site of Mr Jason Voorhees. It’s a disturbing scene, in more ways than one, as Jason’s supposed “final” resting place is being beset by grave-robbers. In a downpour, Tommy watches as Jason re-animates (maybe a misnomer, as he wasn’t really dead) and eviscerates his two desecrators.

Tommy is then taken to the local sanitarium, one Pinehurst Halfway House (run by the Unger Institute of Mental Health), a secluded residential treatment facility for youngsters. He’s got the flop sweats, and has still got his creepy masks in tow, mostly as a tie-in to the fourth movie in the series…But not really. It’s at the facility where Tommy is introduced to his fellow misfits, as well as the centre’s overseers and staff.

This includes: a Blondie knock-off, Violet, a Goth-lite whose bad akimbo dancing matches the lurching Crispin Glover in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter; Reckless Reggie, a little African-American kid whose grandpa is Pinehurst’s chef; chunky chocolate aficionado, Joey, and an assortment of townsfolk lifted straight out of the Beverly Hillbillies.

Meanwhile, two of the town’s greasers have been murdered by their ride, two lovebirds laid waste in a thicket, and a masked man is on the loose, even as the mayor proclaims Jason is, “a handful of dust!”

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is wacky and lovable, with a bunch of illicit drug-taking heretofore unseen in the series. There’s a cat jump scare that could’ve appeared on Mad TV, and death-by-shears ripped off from the proto-campground gore-fest, The Burning.

Good times!

***1/2 (out of 5)