Following the events of Dead by Dawn, Ash (Campbell) is sucked into a vortex that transports him back in time many hundred years to medieval England. Following Ash's abrupt arrival, he's believed to be a spy and is condemned to death. He survives the situation that is supposed to be his execution, therefore presenting himself as a saviour to the people. It has been prophesised that a "chosen one" will quest for the Necronomicon - a.k.a. "The Book of the Dead". Ash wants to be returned to his modern society, and is informed that only the Necronomicon has the power to accomplish that. Soon after this (rather unsuccessful) quest, he's called upon to defend the people against the Army of Darkness. And there's also a corny love story happening between Ash and a woman named Sheila (Davidtz).
Just like the preceding films, there's very little in the way of plot. It embraces a simple premise, and from there it's a succession of imaginative (though somewhat nonsensical) scenarios. In this case there are miniature versions of Ash attacking Ash in many different ways, a random sex scene and the very humorous final battle during which Ash must battle an army of Deadites lead by the evil version of himself. Just like its forerunners, Army of Darkness has its tongue firmly in its cheek. If you're looking for a tribute to classic horror like the two original Evil Dead flicks, you'll be very disappointed. In no way is this third part a horror movie. It may have obtained an R-rating from the MPAA, but the content is very light. The gore is never ballooned to hyperbolic proportions unfortunately. It's a straightforward tribute to the swords-and-sorcery epics that we've all come to know and love.
I witnessed a lot of moments that are seemingly inspired by Monty Python and the Holy Grail, especially in Ash's hysterical antics. No longer is Ash the snivelling, uninteresting coward from The Evil Dead, nor is he the slightly badass bloke from Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. Now he's more sleazy and stupid. There's over-the-top slapstick and moments of absolute stupidity. The one-liners are side-splitting at times. As a result, Army of Darkness is definitely one of the most quoted films of all time...and rightfully so.
The film was made with a reasonably low budget, but it's overflowing with passion. Raimi competently combines moments of solid special effects with other moments that showcase some extraordinarily shitty special effects. The skeletal army towards the end is a classic example of this. That's the whole charm and appeal though: we're supposed to laugh at the generally poor effects on offer. It's this goofy appeal that keeps the film motoring along: it's a total balloon-sized laugh riot!
Army of Darkness is a film that clearly divides opinions. The hardcore Evil Dead fanatics generally detest it because they missed the comic horror tone and exaggerated gore. The film has almost as many detractors as it does supporters. Few people would stoop to call it their favourite Evil Dead movie, while others just don't appreciate what Raimi was trying to accomplish. While I did enjoy this film and admired Raimi's efforts, it's still the weakest in the trilogy by a long shot. Just like its predecessors, Army of Darkness soon joined the cult arena and many loyal fans still enjoy it to this day.
B-Movie king Bruce Campbell hits the ball out of the park with his portrayal of Ash. Campbell's charm perfectly suits the tone of his character. Although this is the weakest Evil Dead flick, this is by far the best version of Ash. He's snappy, witty, amusing and clever. The screenwriting duo of Sam and Ivan Raimi frequently give Campbell terrific quips that he fires off with overwhelming charisma. His catchphrases are hilarious and imitable. One can never forget the memorable "This is my boomstick!", "Shop smart. Shop S-Mart!", "Gimme some sugar, baby!", "Ooh, that's gotta hurt!", "Well, I've got news for you pal, you ain't leadin' but two things, right now: Jack and shit...and Jack just left town.", "Yo, she-bitch! Let's go!" and of course the immortal "Groovy!".
By this time in the trilogy, everyone wanted to get a laugh, and their committed attempts pay off nicely. Everyone else works in Campbell's influential shadow. No-one can equal or better him.
Overall, Army of Darkness is a fitting way to conclude Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy. As a whole, this series is almost unbeatable. "Essential" is a word I can confidently employ to describe this trilogy. All three films are campy, funny and great entertainment. Looking at the films, it's obvious that everyone had a ball making them. This fact is reflected in the performances, the terrific cinematography and the (purposely) mediocre special effects. This third instalment is overflowing with moments of comedy genius. Witness Campbell using a contemporary vehicle in the middle of a medieval battle to slice up a skeleton army (he yells "Say hello to the 21st century!!"), or even the final scene during which Campbell faces off with a hideous Deadite before getting his girl and delivering that quotable final line...