[This post refers to the 96-minute Director's Cut of Army of Darkness, and comes with a WARNING: the third of the randomly selected frames from the film gives away the ending, and you should not proceed, or even cast your eyes down the page, if you haven't seen, and plan to see it.]
[See also The Evil Dead Randomised and The Evil Dead II: Randomised by Dawn.]
The final entry in this trilogy of randomised Evil Dead posts is Army of Darkness, a lighter, sillier installment of the franchise that takes the story in a different direction. Ash (Bruce Campbell) has been transported in time to a medieval period where the locals are living in fear of the deadites, and he becomes a mighty champion. Of sorts.
The randomiser has selected the 6th, 21st, and 87th minutes of the film. Come get some…..
The first thing you’ll notice about Army of Darkness is the daylight. Director Sam Raimi immediately announces a change of tone by opening the film in bright sun, eradicating the previous films’ restricted palette of blue and grey and replacing it with sandier shades. Gone is the shroud of darkness, along with the splattery, mucid gore. Gone is the sense of encroaching evil and petrifying isolation. It is replaced by battlefield action and sword-fighting. In this shot, Ash is brought in chains to a village living in fear of the deadites. He is to be sacrificed to a pit demon, but at this stage is still enslaved and marched towards his fate. While the others are picked out of the composition by their red tunics, Ash is relatively anonymous, blinking from the glare of the sun (he’s just spent two movies in perpetual darkness) and suddenly confronted by the company of other humans. Our hero’s humiliation has gone through repetitive beatings and self-mutilation. He has failed to protect his companions and been left alone, transported through time to an unspecified medieval location, presumably in some mythical version of England. His new degradations comprise the more traditional forms of stocks and chains and imprisonment. The crane shot that rises over the heads of the figures here reveals a bigger set, a bigger budget, and an expanded purview – this is no longer a drama contained by the walls of a wooden shack, but a trip into history, albeit a vision of that history which is filtered through cinematic renditions of period setting.
Almost a romantic shot, with Ash in the foreground, and the beardy Wise Man (Ian Abercrombie), as if there were any other kind of medieval wise man, advising him of his destiny from the back of the composition. The candlelight softens everything, a rare visual relief from the relentlessly dark bloodiness of the franchise. It’s not real candlelight, of course, but movie candlelight, which gives much better illumination from the side and from behind. Ash’s position in the frame, downstage and off-centre, gives him a pensive air, his thoughts a little distant. He hammily faces the audience. as if ready to declaim a monologue about what he has lost and the dangers he is soon to face. It’s all part of the mock-heroism of the Evil Dead franchise, with Ash’s self-conscious performance of the hero part routinely compromised by a series of punishing indignities. He has lost his hand, lost his love, is far from home and charged with a quest to save himself and deliver the villagers from evil in the process. It’s a conglomeration of classical tropes that finally grant Ash the grand status he has long seemed to see in himself anyway. This version of history is his chance to play out a fantasy of epic awesomeness.
I hope you noted the spoiler alert at the start of this post. If not, sorry for giving away the ending, but I did try to warn you. Ash has accidentally consumed too much of the potion that was meant to put him into a deep sleep until he would awake back in his own time. Instead, he arises to find himself in a a post-apocalyptic vision of England. London has become a rusty junkyard of landmarks, girders and rubble beneath a glorious sunset seemingly seen by no living thing. Big Ben pokes through the middle of the composition, serving its customary cinematic purpose of signposting the British location for non-British audiences. Perhaps the busiest shot of all three films, it’s a mess of detail, a collapse of civilisation signified by the collapse of architectural order: this is the tactic of the disaster movie, wreaking havoc on buildings to demonstrate the sheer spectacular power of large-scale destruction. Army of Darkness shows Ash arriving on the scene having missed this particular disaster movie – we are left to speculate on what it was that laid waste to the metropolis, but it is clear that Ash is alone. Like the first image in this post, this is another crane shot, drawing back and up to show the scale of the end-times mess that stretches to the horizon. If Ash has so far been subjected to attacks on his person and his manhood, this is the ultimate insult, the biggest fail. He has blinked and missed the world. This twist ending was rejected by test audiences – perhaps it was too much of a betrayal, and instead the theatrical release had a coda tagged on where Ash returns to his supermarket shelf-stacking day-job and has a final battle with a female deadite. He gets the girl (any girl will do), saves the day and restores order. Maybe the audiences who rejected the Rip-Van-Ash version missed the point of the films that this was never about what Ash wanted. He was always going to end up rolling around in despair somewhere, preferably at the end of the Earth.