The Late Shift: Army of Darkness



All right you primitive screwheads, listen up. Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness, the third and final film in the Evil Dead trilogy, screened at The Belcourt over the weekend and it was perhaps the finest example of everything going exactly right in a midnight movie screening — at least since I started this project in January. Which is to say, if you missed it, you blew it. Big time. Hail to the king, jerks.

Chances are pretty good that, if you're reading a column about cult movies, Army of Darkness needs no introduction. Which is paradoxical, because that movie probably doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense if you aren't at least mildly familiar with either of its predecessors — Evil Dead or Evil Dead 2.

In a nutshell, the movie is about the continuing adventures of Ashley “Ash” Williams (played by modern B-movie superstar Bruce Campbell), a one-handed supermarket employee who has taken to fighting evil with a chainsaw, a shotgun, an Oldsmobile filled with chemistry textbooks and an endless supply of one-liners. For whatever reason, the Necronomicon pulls him into a time portal, which deposits him in the Middle Ages. There, he must find the Necronomicon and speak the correct phrase to free himself from this real-life ren faire.

Of course, he botches the whole thing and accidentally summons the armies of the dead instead. You know, as you do.

I'm going to level with you guys — I hadn't seen Army of Darkness in its entirety since high school, and I wasn't exactly stoked to see it at midnight. I figured it: a) wouldn't age well, and b) would be about as entertaining as the last nostalgia-core midnight movie I saw. I enjoyed AoD in my day — as did every 16-year-old dork — but I figured, like my one-time inexplicable love of Hot Shots! Part Deux, that day had long passed.

Boy, was I wrong.

I've never had so much fun at a movie, without the fun being at the movie's expense. This, in effect, the equal and opposite reaction to the “let's watch this horrible thing” subsect of the midnight-movie canon. Everyone in the theater was one the same page: cheering when Ash frees himself from the pit, laughing at all of the gags, repeating key one-liners along with the movie. A couple of hecklers were in the crowd, but they were drowned out by people whose sincere appreciation of the movie borders on the literal side of cultishness.

In terms of how they function as midnight movies, there's a stark difference between Army of Darkness and a popularly maligned shitstorm like Birdemic. I've had this discussion with Jim Ridley once or twice, but a creeping influence of irony has been invading the pantheon of midnight movies for the past decade or so. Movies that are objectively bad like The Room, Birdemic and Troll 2 have become cornerstones in the midnight movie rotation, edging out movies that are genuinely enjoyable on their own merits. Even I, a big supporter of the schlock, can admit that these movies aren't fun to watch without the addition of antics.

In contrast, Army of Darkness was more like the time I saw Grindhouse in a packed sneak preview. Or when I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World at midnight on release day. (Now there's a movie I wouldn't mind seeing again on the big screen.) Nobody in the crowd of any of these three movies was interested in watching the movie ironically — it was 100 percent fans. Of course, that can go the wrong way, where the fans are so intent on reverence that they turn into fun police. Thankfully, that didn't happen. Bless you, Army of Darkness fans.

It also helps that Army of Darkness totally holds up as a comedy. Sure, the juvenile moments are more hilarious when you're a teenager or a stoned college student, but the movie's quick pace and the amount of jokes packed into its 81 minutes makes it pretty much perfect for this setting. Not to mention the fact that it's a great movie. Spider-Man 3 aside, Sam Raimi is a hell of a creative force and the off-the-wall bonkers shots in this thing still hold up. Yeah, the little Ash scene is kinda dopey, but the visual effects on things like Ash's face getting sucked into the Necronomicon (see above) are amazing.

You know what else was perfect? The “This Is My Boomstick” drink. Holy hell, guys. A combination of whiskey, lemon juice, habanero-ginger syrup (!), soda water and scotched bitters — which is to say, bitters that have been lit on fire — it tasted like gunpowder. Delicious gunpowder. Or maybe I'm just biased towards drinks that you have to set on fire. Whatever, don't judge me.

If more midnight movie audiences could be more like the one who turned out to Army of Darkness and less like the one that turned out for House by the Cemetery, I think we'd be living in a better world. At least marginally so.

In two weeks: The Belcourt makes my wildest dreams come true by screening Battle Royale, one of my absolute favorite cult movies, on my 25th birthday. May the odds be ever in your favor!

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