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25 Years Later: Hail To The King Baby! ‘Army Of Darkness’ is Still Groovy



Alright you primitive screwheads, listen up! It’s been twenty-five years since Bruce Campbell first showed the Army of Darkness his “boomstick,” and pop culture hasn’t been the same since. For anyone unfamiliar, Army of Darkness is the classic tale of a boy and his chainsaw being forced to fight the undead in medieval England. It’s a Sam Raimi-penned love letter to the Three Stooges and Ray Harryhausen, chock-full of stop-motion skeletons, eye gouges, and pratfalls. When it comes down to it, there’s only one word to describe Army of Darkness: groovy.

But that’s just what we call pillow-talk, baby. The truth is that Army of Darkness is an underrated gem that often gets overshadowed by its gorier, creepier predecessors. While It’s true that this third entry in the Evil Dead series isn’t as scary as Raimi’s previous horror outings, it’s also not trying to be. Though often categorized as a horror comedy by default, Army of Darkness is more of a comedy with some horror elements thrown in. Think of it as a modern day Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein — just with more chainsaws and body horror.


The lack of actual horror in Army of Darkness has lead some gorehounds to express disappointment with the film, feeling that Sam Raimi should have stuck with tree rape and exsanguination over sight gags and puns. Those people are wrong. In the six years between Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, Peter Jackson released the definitive splatstick film with Dead Alive, taking the carnage of Evil Dead 2 and turning it up to eleven. Jackson’s tour de gore features grotesqueries such as a priest mowing down zombies with a lawnmower, and oozing pustules of orange gunk bursting above bowls of custard before being consumed by oblivious dinner guests. Any effort by Raimi to outdo Jackson’s ode to evisceration would have fallen flat, and clearly Raimi had no desire to do so anyway.

Instead, Raimi took the Evil Dead series in another direction. By trading the splatstick of Evil Dead 2 for plain old slapstick, Sam Raimi made a swashbuckling comedy that pays homage to all of his childhood influences, while still maintaining the usual Raimi quirks. Army of Darkness might be the least gory of all the Dead films — even with a literal geyser of blood in one scene — but it more than makes up for that by being both the funniest entry in the series and the one that has had the biggest impact on pop-culture. Both of these things can be attributed to the film’s protagonist, and the man who played him.

Bruce Campbell created a horror movie legend with the character of Ash, one that has influenced countless flawed protagonists over the last two-and-a-half decades, ranging from subtle homages (Shaun of the Dead) to blatant rip-offs (Duke Nukem). Ash might be a smarmy douche, but he’s a smarmy douche who’s always ready to spank evil with his chainsaw hand and sawed-off shotgun.

Now, I can already picture some pedantic horror fan (not that there’s anything wrong with being a pedantic horror fan — ask me about my beef with brain-eating zombies sometime) rushing to be the first one in the comments to point out that the Ash in Army of Darkness is just the Ash from Evil Dead 2, but I’ve got some news. You ain’t pointing out but two things right now: Jack and s**t, and Jack just left town.

While it’s true that Army of Darkness isn’t Ash’s first physical appearance on screen, it is the first time his character is defined as the Ash we all know and love. The Ash in Evil Dead isn’t so much a character as he is a punching bag for everything the Necronomicon (and Sam Raimi) can throw at him. By Evil Dead 2 he’s been reduced to a stark raving lunatic driven mad by the death and resurrection of his friends, and his subsequent possession by an evil entity. It’s not until Army of Darkness that Ashley J. Williams becomes the archetype for a certain kind of protagonist — the inept jerk that gets yanked from their humdrum life into some manner of supernatural tomfoolery, going from jackass to bad ass in the process (all the while maintaining some if not all of their bad manners).

The list of movies featuring brash losers who appear to be either loosely or directly inspired by Ash is longer than you would think. Both the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead and its American counterpart Zombieland have Ash-like characters, as well as pretty much every other zombie movie that has come out since 1993. If a show or movie features an average Joe (or Josephine) suddenly thrown into a world of occult horrors, there’s a good chance the character will have at least a passing resemblance to Ash from housewares.


The long, chainsaw-equipped arm of the chosen one has also touched the medium of television. You can feel the spirit of Ash in shows like Reaper, Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, and Supernatural. Ash himself made the jump to television a few years ago, and even though the title of the series is Ash VS The Evil Dead, the show — or at least its characterization of Ash — owes more to Army of Darkness than anything else.

Who’s next, huh? You, Video Games? You want a little? HUH? Aside from the aforementioned Duke Nukem, Lollipop Chainsaw was also heavily influenced by Ash, along with practically every survival horror game and FPS in existence. You can’t throw a rock in GameStop without hitting a game where someone either spouts Ash-like one liners, carries a shotgun, or wields a chainsaw — sometimes all three.

Even comic books aren’t safe from the Deadites’ influence! In addition to various Army of Darkness standalones, the property has also crossed over with several other series, including (but not limited to) Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator, Marvel Zombies vs. The Army of Darkness, Darkman vs. Army of Darkness, Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, Army of Darkness vs. Hack/Slash and Army of Darkness / Xena. There’s even an Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama four-issue miniseries!


If all of that isn’t enough to convince you that Army of Darkness is a big deal, then your primitive intellect also probably wouldn’t understand alloys and compositions and things with molecular structures…

Look, all of the imitators and homages that Army of Darkness has spawned aren’t what make the film great, but they are a testament to its greatness. Whether you watch the theatrical or director’s cut, Army of Darkness is pure fun, and has only gotten better with age. In the two-and-a-half decades since its release, there hasn’t been another movie quite like it, and there probably never will be. Sure, there have been horror comedies since 1993, but none with the quotability of Army of Darkness, and certainly none that even begin to approach Sam Raimi’s gonzo visual style or penchant for vaudeville style physical gags. And yeah, there have been plenty of Ash copycats over the years, lovable a-holes adept at dispatching demons and other nasties with a quip and a smirk, but none of them are as memorable as the Ashley J. Williams. In his own way he’s the king… Hail to the king baby!

Zack Zagranis is a stay-at-home dad by day and a writer by night. Occasionally those two get switched around. His interests include Star Wars, Batman, his family, and transcending space and time...but not necessarily in that order.

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‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past



Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.

Rojo vacation

After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.

The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.

Rojo locker room

The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.

However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.

A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.

Rojo teens

Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?

The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.

‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.

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‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire

Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.



Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous. 

This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection. 

Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom. 

When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness). 

These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us. 

Queen of Hearts

Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results. 

Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.

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‘Ford v Ferrari’ Drives Fast with Little Under the Hood

A classic Hollywood drama with fast cars and a stellar Christian Bale performance that feels great despite a lack of emotional substance.



Ford v Ferrari

Many directors always struggle with producers and other businessmen to retain their vision. What might work most for that vision may not be what focus tests and audiences have proven to enjoy, so the film gets reworked and reworked until it becomes a box office hit, and potentially retains a director’s intent. Ford v Ferrari doesn’t necessarily feel like that — this is a James Mangold film in many regards — but by the end of its story of vision and skill versus marketing and business agendas, Mangold’s latest wrestles with placing trust in an individual against an entire body of suits.

When Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is approached by Ford Motors to create a car fast enough to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (an annual racing event where drivers go all day and night around the same track), he is forced to fight tooth-and-nail to get the best driver for the job: Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Shelby’s fight is singular; he wants to win the Le Mans, and knows that Miles is the only one who can do it. Yet, Ford Motors is still a company with many eyes on them, and employing the hot-headed Miles as a driver could be disastrous. So begins a struggle for Shelby and Miles to have their desires met by a company looking at the bottom line. That struggle — one that underscores every decision made by the characters in the film — is what sits at the core of Ford v Ferrari, and keeps things interesting. Set that aside, however, and the film loses a lot of momentum.

Ford v Ferrari

Still, the racing will grip audiences throughout. The final Le Mans challenge runs for a decent portion of Ford v Ferrari and is engaging throughout, but there are several other races and practices where Mangold’s craftsmanship as a filmmaker shines bright. Miles sits in the driver’s seat of all of these moments, and Bale’s performance is never stronger than when his character has that need for speed. Miles is a passionate driver with pure intentions, and Bale gives him a lot of wit and heart in between huge swings of emotion. It’s a performance that stands tall but doesn’t distract, instead meshing extremely well with the action.

Meanwhile, the other performances are also solid. Matt Damon is very good in the role of Shelby, though his character is quite often reserved because he has to be. When you put him against Bale, however, it’s clear that Shelby pales to the race car driver’s fleshed-out character, as we follow the latter’s family, his rejections and successes, and his pure heart. In the backdrop is a wide array of supporting actors, including Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles, Josh Lucas as the thorn in Shelby’s side, Jon Bernthal playing a standard Jon Bernthal role, and Tracy Letts chewing up scenery whenever he can as Henry Ford II. Letts and Lucas in particular give great caricatured performances, planting Ford v Ferrari into a more standard Hollywood drama.

Ford v Ferrari

Largely that’s the problem: Ford v Ferrari is a technical achievement with some incredible craftsmanship and performances that just never feels as great at slow times as it does when it’s moving past 7000 RPMs. It has a need for speed, and the pacing shows that, but it also doesn’t really rise very high above what’s needed to please an audience. Mangold is great at deriving emotional substance out of a subject, but a lot of that in Ford v Ferrari is left on the shoulders of Bale’s performance. Instead, the film focuses heavily on the bureaucratic side of things, and how that hinders talented people from being who they are destined to be. While fun to watch, there isn’t much more that will have Ford v Ferrari lingering with audiences. Instead, this will be a movie that resonates with racing fans and those that struggle against restrictions, keeping general audience satisfied in their big Hollywood dramas for the time being.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14 as part of our coverage of The Toronto International Film Festival.

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