Remember when Sam Raimi was more Motor City than Tinsel Town? For a little while, back in the '90s, it looked as though Royal Oak's native son might really turn Hollywood into Hollyweird. Army Of Darkness, Darkman, heck, even The Quick and the Dead boasted Raimi's film-geek goofiness and promised a career that would make Detroiters proud. But then Sam made the critically lauded A Simple Plan and his freak flag crumpled to the ground. He went studio, helming the Southern gothic drama The Gift and Kevin Costner's sports weepie, For the Love of the Game. Kevin Costner! Oh, Sam, where did you go wrong?
Luckily, Raimi saw the light, sunk his hooks into Spiderman and never looked back. Still, as good as the first two Spidey flicks were (we shall not speak of the third one), only flickers of Sam's trademark "splatstick" could be found on the screen.
Thank god for DVDs and late-night revivals. If you're feeling nostalgic for Raimi's glorious cheeseball period, a time when horror, fantasy and the Three Stooges blended seamlessly into 90 minutes of shameless entertainment, then see Army Of Darkness in all its screen glory.
Raimi abandoned the gruesome horror of his Evil Dead movies to pay slapstick homage to Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad epics and Jason and the Argonauts. Campy, brilliantly paced and boasting every hokey low budget effect known to man, Army Of Darkness is an exuberantly kitschy comic book gagfest.
The plot follows S-Mart housewares salesman Ash (Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 star Bruce Campbell) as he's sucked into a time tunnel and deposited into the Middle Ages armed with a 12-gauge "boomstick" and a chainsaw for a hand. Prophesied to save the locals from an undead army, all Ash wants to do is make time with the castle hottie (Schindler's List's Embeth Davidz) and get back home. Unfortunately, the sorcerers and ghouls have other ideas.
Campbell (another Royal Oak native) is the magic ingredient that makes the whole ridiculous dish work. With a chin that puts Jay Leno to shame and an uncanny ability to sell the corniest one-liners ("Well, hello, Mister Fancy-Pants"), he's deservedly become an icon of B-movie cool. Landing somewhere between Clint Eastwood and Homer Simpson, Campbell's buffoonish heroics perfectly match Raimi's deliriously hyperactive camera work and anything-goes storyline.
Does it all work? Nah, not really. For every perfectly timed aside there's a bit of physical shtick that goes on too long. Still, Army of Darkness is so gleefully cheesy and shamelessly entertaining it defines the term cult classic. Hail to the King, Baby!
Midnight on Friday and Saturday, July 27-28, at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].