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Film review: Army of Darkness

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 23 1993 12:00 a.m. MST

OK, we're in "Buckaroo Banzai" territory here.

"Army of Darkness" is as loopy a movie as you have ever seen. An anachronistic, comic-horror, time-traveling, gonzo-reveling, wacked-out adventure, as silly and crazy as it can possibly be.

This is high-camp, bad-movie making like we just don't get very often these days.

And it's also kind of fun.

While it's true that "Army of Darkness" is not going to appeal to everyone, this is the kind of zany film that cries out for a cult following.

Director and co-writer Sam Raimi, whose wild comic-book thriller "Darkman" flopped at the box office but found an audience in its video incarnation, made "Army of Darkness" as a bigger-budget followup to his two underground "Evil Dead" movies, a pair of no-budget, very gory and sometimes amusing horror yarns.

This time, our one-handed hero Ash (again played by Bruce Campbell), finds himself thrust into the past, the Dark Ages to be precise. There, he must once again battle evil spirits to save the world — and to get back to his own time.

The only things he has with him are the ripped-up clothes on his back, a 12-gauge shotgun, a broken-down chainsaw and his trusty 1973 Delta 88 Oldsmobile . . . which isn't running at the moment.

Upon landing in this poverty-ridden medieval place, Ash is corralled with a renegade band of criminals and taken to a castle, where he must duel with monsters to gain his freedom.

With wisecracks and his shotgun — which he explains is his "boomstick" — he manages to gain some control of the situation and makes plans to get back to his own time. But to do so he must first go on a quest for a book, uttering the magic words, "Klaatu barada nikto!" (OK sci-fi fans, what's that line from?)

Of course, when he finally gets the book, Ash forgets the phrase, which leads to an army of the dead — a band of skeletons, mostly — rising up to do battle with Ash and his reluctant comrades.

The special effects here range from spectacular to cheesy and the humor from hilarious to stupid. Meanwhile, Raimi gleefully steals from any number of other, better movies — the Indiana Jones trilogy, Clint Eastwood's "Dollar" trilogy, Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad pictures, etc. Even the Three Stooges. And a case could be made that the plot is really just "Beastmaster 2" in reverse.

But Raimi, with his ever-roving camera and brash, in-your-face style, along with Campbell's droll impersonation of an obnoxious yuppie playing hero — he's sort of Indiana Jones as a twit — make this unlikely adventure more fun than it has any right to be.

What can I say? It made me laugh. Out loud. Several times.

(By the way, look fast for Bridget Fonda in a quick flashback as Ash's dearly departed girlfriend.)

"Army of Darkness" is rated R for violence, gore, profanity and vulgarity.