Is 'Army of Darkness' the 'Jackass' of horror films?

Among the many horror offerings coursing through the Twin Cities entertainment blood stream this Halloween season, the most unique has to be director Sam Raimi's 1992 pageant of blood Army of Darkness, showing this Friday and Saturday nights at the Riverview Theater. Though filled with the gore, blood, and bile that are crucial to the genre, Army of Darkness, with its dark humor, bizarre action sequences, and, especially, its sickeningly inspired stunt work, could be seen as a precursor to Jackass, whose latest chronicle of death-, and taste-defying feats is currently also splattering across movie screens.

Perhaps this is because Raimi's, with Evil Dead I and II, and this conclusion to the trilogy (which originally was given the much better title: Medieval Dead), main goal was to make audiences laugh at the same time they are screaming. This is not to say that his contributions to the genre can't be as scarifying as those of directors George Romero and John Carpenter, or author Stephen King. But, like Tobe Hooper, the mastermind behind the seminal The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Raimi has always laced his eviscerations, decapitations, and other insults to the body with slapstick worthy of Laurel and Hardy. In fact, one of his cinematic influences was The Three Stooges, to whom he and childhood friend (and future leading man) Bruce Campbell paid tribute to in a number of home movie explorations.

Army of Darkness is the pinnacle of this clownish carnage as Ash, the one-armed super market employee and unwilling adventurer played by Campbell, finds himself transported back to the 14th century. Wielding the chainsaw that he is stuck with in lieu of a prosthetic arm, Ash defends himself and the villagers who look upon him as a savior against the "army of darkness" besieging the area. With his painfully square jaw and his comic-book handsome features, Bruce Campbell has helped make Raimi's horror entries a cut above most in the chiller genre. The incredible cinematography of Bill Pope, utilizing Introvision, a process that eliminates the need for elaborate sets, helped Raimi become a director to be taken seriously by Hollywood. In fact, Raimi would subsequently leave the horror genre and branch out with the Western The Quick and the Dead, the locally shot heist drama A Simple Plan, and the blockbuster Spider Man movies. (He is not, however, reportedly connected to The Three Stooges feature to be directed by the Farrelly Brothers.)

Critics, not normally warm to the slash and gore cinema, were impressed enough by the style and even substance of Army of Darkness to single Raimi out as a director with a future in and out of horror. In an admiring 1993 review, New York Times film writer Janet Maslin noted:

Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness comes closer to comic book sensibility
than many a real comic book does, thanks to Mr. Raimi's broad, jokey
visual style and his taste for pre-teen-age humor. If your favorite
reading matter comes with pictures, you may well appreciate his
directorial verve. It is best watched as a string of wild visual effects that, as in
recent films like Death Becomes Her, take on a life of their own.
Among these are tricks showing the film's hero, Ash (Bruce Campbell),
growing an extra head and splintering into chattering Lilliputian
versions of himself. Moments like these understandably upstage the rest
of the action.

If you must limit your creature feature diet to just one screening this Halloween, make it the inspired, absurd, and, rest assured, scream-inducing Army of Darkness. Admittedly, Jackass 3, being more or less a documentary of actual physical abominations, may be even scarier.

Shows are this Friday and Saturday at 11:30 p.m. For more info, visit the Riverview Theater's website. Watch the trailer below:

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