“Evil Dead II” has a surreal ending: the Necronomicon opens a time vortex, sending Ash back to the Arthurian era. “Army of Darkness” retains the horror and the slapstick, except in a totally different setting from the first two films. The first two films had a confined setting, but Ash has to go on a quest to get home this time.
This quest becomes more and more surreal as the film goes on. Before departing, Ash receives a metal hand to replace his chainsaw — unfortunately for him, his groovy new armament doesn’t come with dignity. When he takes refuge in a windmill, a mirror shatters. Ash’s reflection gives birth to about a dozen mini-duplicates who menace him in a sequence right out of “Tom & Jerry.” The Mini-Ashes ram a fork into Ash’s behind, drop a bucket on his head and trip him so his cheek falls flat on sizzling metal. Even after he crushes one, the clone gets the last laugh by puncturing his foot with a nail.
While he’s gotten more physically capable, Ash in “Army of Darkness” is also noticeably dimmer than in the first two movies. When he finally retrieves the Necronomicon, he forgets the incantation needed to take it — “Klaatu barada nikto” — and causes the titular undead Army of Darkness to rise. It’s not just the universe itself kicking Ash around, he’s creating his own problems too.
It takes a bold director to make a film like “Army of Darkness” after starting with a rather normal horror movie like “The Evil Dead.” More horror directors could take lessons from the approach of Sam Raimi.