Today: February 24, 2024

Evil Dead Legacy Part Three

– By Edward Boff – Welcome back to the third and final part of Ed Boff’s three-part homage to the Evil Dead franchise … with a look at the final film in the trilogy, and the series’ ongoing legacy.

By Edward Boff

Welcome back to the third and
final part of Ed Boff’s three-part homage to the Evil Dead franchise … with a
look at the final film in the trilogy, and the series’ ongoing legacy.

Army Of Darkness
Once a by-word for blood and gore, Army Of Darkness is a very different
beast from the films that came before – although the transition from cult
horror to action adventure had already been foreshadowed. The first film in the
Evil Dead trilogy had some notable stop-motion effects work, which the second
expanded upon. However, the idea of taking the series down the Ray Harryhausen style adventure route
was postponed as there simply wasn’t the budget to realise Sam Raimi’s vision.
Finally, though, with the backing of Universal Studio, the franchise
that started on a shoestring in the woods of Tennessee evolved into a
multimillion dollar extravaganza, originally titled The Medieval Dead, but released as Army Of Darkness.

After the spell to defeat the Evil in the last film goes wrong,
Chainsaw-handed hero, Ash (Bruce
), finds himself flung back into the Middle Ages (looking oddly
like southern California). After a
lot of impressing the locals (“Listen up, you primitive screw
heads!”), he finds that the only way to get himself back home and also to
stop the rise of the Deadites is to get the Necronomicon from its resting
place. So, with a new armoured
hand and an oddly familiar spell, he sets off in search of the book. Can’t see
any way this can go wrong…

The first and foremost thing to mention about Army Of Darkness was that by this point the series is focused 100%
on Ash. By now the character had
been fairly well fleshed out and Ash has finally become comfortable with the
action hero persona developed in the last film. With it comes more than a bit
of an attitude problem, with Ash being pretty self- obsessed this time around.
(That being said, if you’d gone through all the crap he had, wouldn’t you have
a few issues too?). So it’s actually
appropriate that the main form the Evil takes this time round is a copy of Ash.
You don’t need to know film theory to recognise the symbolism there.

This change in character fits well with the overall change in tone of
the all film. With bigger scope,
style and cast, the “spam in a cabin” format has been left well
behind. In return we get a grand fantasy in a classic mould, but with more of
that Three Stooges style
humour. In many ways the change of
title is appropriate too, as it doesn’t feel much like an Evil Dead film anymore, apart from the obligatory “Ash being
driven mad in the middle of nowhere” sequence. Even the Deadites have
changed their MO quite a lot and the tone is more openly comedic. None of this is really a problem
though, as Army Of Darkness is a damn fine adventure with much to enjoy, but
when you look at it in the context of the rest of the series, it can have you
going “Wait, how the hell did we get from there to here?”

Army Of Darkness is still a
lot of fun. It just shouldn’t be looked at as a horror film at all (if this is
a horror, so is Jason And The Argonauts!). It has Bruce Campbell at his…
Bruce-est, incredible battle scenes (including a superb modification to Raimi’s
“Classic”), and who doesn’t love something with this many stop-motion
skeletons in? There are more than
a few signs of studio tampering in the editing at points and some might bristle
at the slapstick humour, but this is still a big, silly, enjoyable romp of a
film. What’s more, Army Of
Darkness famously has two alternative endings. The theatrical one that lets Ash
show off his action hero skills more and Raimi’s original that continues Ash’s
streak of most messed about protagonist in movie history. Try watching this film with both and
see which you prefer.

The Legacy
So what sort of impact has the Evil
trilogy had in pop culture?
In terms of tributes, there are tips of the hat to the series everywhere. For a start, video game character Duke Nukem stole all bar one of his
best lines from Ash for Duke Nukem 3D (the only one he didn’t, he stole from They Live). Shaun Of The Dead
worked in more than a couple of subtle nods, and earlier in Spaced there were some more overt
references. An episode of the 90s
CGI cartoon ReBoot was a full on Evil Dead II pastiche (with a lot of Thriller thrown in), complete with a
Bruce-alike User. Films like Braindead, Re-Animator and last year’s The
Cabin In The Woods
also owe the series a huge debt.

In terms of the series’ continuation, rumours of a fourth film had been
floating around for years before the remake. One major possibility came in 2004, after the success of Freddy Vs. Jason. The idea was to
follow it up with Freddy Vs. Jason Vs.
, which would have expanded on the fact that in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, the Necronomicon was in
Jason’s house (along with the crate from Creepshow). This idea did get developed but never
came to a finished film, although it did get a comic adaptation a while later,
and a sequel series – both far from shabby. Speaking of comics, Dynamite
have been running an ongoing Army Of Darkness comic series since 2004
in which Ash has Herbert West
, Darkman and even
zombie versions of the Marvel
! Also, Dark Horse Comics did a comic
adaptation and expansion of the original Evil
in 2008.

Away from comics, there have been a lot of Evil Dead videogames over the years – the most notable one being Evil Dead: Regeneration, which gives
Ash an undead sidekick called Sam, played by regular Evil Dead bit part player Ted
(Sam’s baby brother!).
In a last note on spin-offs, mention must be made of the very, very off
Broadway Evil Dead: The Musical

The biggest legacy of the series though has to be the creator’s
careers. Army Of Darkness lead Raimi
and Rob Tapert‘s Renaissance Pictures to try similar
fantasy adventures on TV, thus creating the wildly successful Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, where Bruce and
Ted Raimi had regular roles.
Campbell has since become a cult icon, with many notable titles under his
belt, like his current success in Burn
, The Adventures Of Brisco
County Jnr.
and his self-parodying My
Name Is Bruce
. Sam Raimi of
course has gone from strength to strength as a director, from the excellent
thriller A Simple Plan, to his
return to horror Drag Me To Hell,
and currently Oz The Great And Powerful,
which has more than a few similarities in plot structure to Army Of Darkness. Finally, of course, there’s not only
the remake out very soon, but also word is that a follow-up to the original
trilogy, provisionally titled Army Of
Darkness 2
, may be on the cards!

However, the great thing about the way the franchise has evolved is
that, whatever your preferences are when it comes to more genre fare, there’s
sure to be part of the series that’s right for you. More serious; go with the first. In the mood for a laugh; put on the second. Not sure about excessive gore levels:
try the third. So give them a go
before the remake, and see what so many cult film fans have been raving about
for thirty years. Join… Us…

The Evil Dead remake is in cinemas Thursday 18th

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