Black humour in dark times

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 February, 1993, 12:00am

ARMY OF DARKNESS, starring Bruce Campbell, Bridget Fonda and Marcus Gilbert. Directed by Sam Raimi. On Park and Liberty circuits.

SAM Raimi is probably best known for his two Evil Dead films, stylised splatter movies with a great sense of black humour. With Army of Darkness, he delivers more of the same.

It doesn't do to scrutinise the logic or premises behind Raimi's latest offering, it is best to go with the flow and blindly accept what your hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) tells you in the opening voice-over.

This explains Ash was once a shop assistant who, on a weekend trip with his girlfriend (Bridget Fonda), comes across a book bound in human skin and written in blood. By reading the book he awakens an evil force which infects his hand (which Ash promptly chainsaws off) and then transports him back to the Middle Ages.

This opening sequence is full of the fast cuts and hyper-real imagery that are Raimi's trademark. Impressive special effects are used to animate the evil book against a background of seething colour and movement, while a camera set at ankle height and sent rushing though the forest after Ash manages to convey the malignance of the mysterious force to great effect.

Once back in medieval times, Ash finds himself having to explain away the chainsaw he has attached to his wrist stump and the 1973 Oldsmobile which the evil force also saw fit to transport back in time. He makes a terrible job of this explanation and is condemned to death by Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) as a sorcerer.

On the forced march to the place of death, Ash laments the loss of his old life and when confronted by the means of his execution - a pit full of foul beings - breaks down and behaves in a most craven fashion. Once in the pit he discovers in himself a nerve of steel and an ability to fight.

Ash becomes Arthur's new champion, a situation which Campbell plays for some silly, yet amusing enough laughs.

Army of Darkness is stylish, funny, horrific and self-satirical, and would have been an excellent film had Raimi managed to sustain the suspense and comic invention of the first half hour. Instead, the film becomes bogged down. It is worth seeing, but itis a pity Raimi so narrowly missed the opportunity to put a classic of this genre together.