You need to watch the most unpredictable time travel movie on HBO Max ASAP
“Hail to the king, baby.”
Few genres are harder to get right than horror-comedy.
Blending the gruesome and terrifying with the hilarious and absurd requires a deft hand behind the camera, one capable of balancing vastly different tones and shifting between them on a scene-to-scene, even moment-to-moment basis. Oftentimes, most horror comedies fail to ride these tonal tightropes; when they do (see: Shaun of the Dead, The Cabin in the Woods), they can offer audiences thrilling, unpredictable viewing experiences like no other.
No filmmaker has proven as capable of creating memorable horror comedies as Sam Raimi, who’s significantly shaped modern perceptions of the genre. One of the greatest DIY filmmakers ever, Raimi arrived on the Hollywood scene with 1981’s The Evil Dead, a no-budget instant classic he followed up six years later with the gonzo horror-comedy thrillfest that is Evil Dead II.
But we’re not here to discuss the first Evil Dead, nor its memorable sequel. Instead, consider the franchise’s third installment, Army of Darkness, which leaned even further into Evil Dead 2’s comedic sensibilities while taking the series somewhere no viewer could have seen coming: the Middle Ages.
The result of this spontaneous trip back through centuries? One of the most ludicrous, fun, and playful time travel movies you’re likely to see. It’s streaming now on HBO Max; here’s why you should add Army of Darkness to your watchlist ASAP.
Army of Darkness picks up where Evil Dead II left off, with Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his Oldsmobile teleported back in time to 1300 AD. Once there, Ash realizes — through delightfully dangerous means — that King Arthur and his people are under attack from an army of Deadites. In order to save the kingdom and return to his proper place in time, Ash is forced to seek out the Necronomicon and lead the Once and Future King in battle against — well, it’s not called Army of Darkness for nothing.
To be totally frank, Army of Darkness shouldn’t work. A far cry from where the Evil Dead franchise began, the film’s plot is utterly absurd and doesn’t feel like a natural progression of the story that had been told up to that point so much as it does an amalgamation of ideas and genres that Raimi and company wanted to play around with.
And yet, Army of Darkness does work. It’s a hilarious film made by people who don’t take what they’re doing too seriously and want to have as much fun as possible. Fortunately, that imperative is palpable in every frame of Army of Darkness, filling the film with infectious joy.
Of course, Army of Darkness would not work were it not for Raimi and Campbell. As Ash Williams, Campbell is his most effortlessly charming, funny self. Playing the character as a Gary Cooper wannabe with a complete lack of self-awareness, Campbell manages to make every line sing — whether he’s giving a monologue about his “boomstick” to a crowd of awestruck medieval citizens or wooing a department store coworker.
Army of Darkness wisely roots all of its comedy in Ash’s character. That is to say that it’s a humorous and irreverent medieval comedy because Ash is a humorous and irreverent character — the kind who tries to mumble his way through important magical incantations and thinks it makes sense to plug his employer, S-Mart, while fighting for his life within the walls of King Arthur’s castle.
As a director, Raimi brings his usual, energetic style to Army of Darkness — ensuring that the flashes of humor in the film’s script and Campbell’s performance never feel out of place or artificial. He directs this movie with reckless abandon, constructing every one of its action sequences using flashy smash cuts and pure, madcap energy.
Indeed, in order to understand Raimi’s approach to Army of Darkness (and why it works so well) one need not look any further than the way he shoots the film’s department-store melee climax — with infectious bloodlust and a refreshing disregard for logic.
Army of Darkness is streaming now on HBO Max.