An Ode To The Army Of Darkness Skeleton Puppets

The skeletons in “Army of Darkness” reach a level of sublime comedy with their cheapness. They aren’t terribly well articulated, with each one moving maybe its jaw, its arms, or — in one case — its flute-playing fingers. Some skeletons still seem to have scraps of mummified skin wrapped around them, allowing Evil Ash’s lieutenant to speak out of a lipped mouth. Some of them have the remnants of beards still clinging to their skinless chins, while others still seem to have their eyeballs intact. The skeletons with eyeballs, however, may not denote the state of their decomposition, so much as Sam Raimi’s quick filmmaking leaving the stunt performers’ eyes visible through their masks.

In one hilarious shot, the skeleton in question is not articulated at all. It’s clearly a rubber model being thrown at Bruce Campbell by an off-screen stagehand. Campbell picks up the skeleton and breaks it over his knee. Each one of the skeletons mutters comedically to itself as it makes an attack. From off-screen, you can hear lines of dialogue like, “I’ll tear their bones out,” “I’ll cut your gizzard out,” or, most frequently, “Aaaaaaahhh!”

In John Kenneth Muir’s 2004 book “The Unseen Force: The Films of Sam Raimi,” the director laid out his SFX process in making his skeletons come to rubbery life. Raimi, fond of the animation work of legendary stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen, said he wanted to recapture the same uncanny look as in Don Chaffey’s 1963 film “Jason and the Argonauts.” Raimi used a front-projection system, having his live actors stand in front of an actual on-set film screen with pre-made skeleton effects on it.

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