Braindead – Army of Darkness – tape 1664

A horror double bill on this tape, starting with Braindead, Peter Jackson’s third feature, and the best of his early gore films.

I first saw this film at a late-night showing, at the London Film Festival, I think. It was at the Prince Charles Cinema, and was introduced by Alan Jones. We were told, among other things, that they used more fake blood for this movie that for any other in history.

It starts with an expedition to Sumatra by an official from the New Zealand Zoo. They’re taking something off the island.

The indigenous people of the island don’t want them to take it. I’m not sure if this is racist or not.

The official gets bitten by the animal, and his bearers take immediate action, amputating his hand, then his arm, then his head. The film wastes no time to set the tone of the movie. And these are restrained compared to what’s coming.

The creature is still taken to New Zealand, and the action moves there. I wonder how difficult it was to get the shots of period New Zealand, since the film is set in the early 1950s.

Our hero is Lionel, a rather pathetic young man.

He meets Paquita, a young girl who’s looking for love, and whose grandmother foretells will fall in love with Lionel. This fits with the overall silly tone of the film, but it’s really there only to ensure she sticks around when any sane person would have stayed well clear of Lionel, given the subsequent events.

Lionel is living with his domineering mother.

She spies on Lionel and Paquita at the zoo, and is attacked by the Sumatran Rat Monkey, the one from the opening scene.

This kicks off a cascading series of ever more disgusting scenes as his mother, infected by the monkey bite, starts turning into a zombie. This is especially embarrassing at a dinner party.

She gets more and more dead, but continues walking around. Eventually she’s discovered, and has to be buried. The undertakers rather overfill her with embalming fluid. The undertaker’s assistant in director Peter Jackson.

At the funeral, Lionel’s Uncle Les turns up, hoping for some money in the will.

That night, Lionel goes to the gravesite to dig up his mother, presumably because he still feels he has to look after her, and some ruffians accost him. They are soon attacked by his mother, leaving them in various bad ways.

He’s helped out by the local priest, who’s a bit handy with the martial arts. “I kick arse for the Lord”.

The priest doesn’t make it out alive. Well, not very alive. Pretty soon Lionel has a houseful of zombies, and tries to keep them all quiet.

Two of them even have a baby. It’s a handful.

Uncle Les discovers Lionel’s guests, threatens to call the police, so Lionel offers him the house and his mother’s money. To celebrate, Les throws a party, and the house is filled with revellers. You don’t need to be a genius to see what’s going to happen.

The zombies in the cellar get out, start attacking the guests, who then become zombies themselves. It’s possibly the goriest scene ever put on film, but because of the film’s tone, it’s not repulsively overwhelming.

And when you think all the different ways for people to be disembowelled, disarmed, dislegged, beheaded etc, there comes a moment which, when I saw it at the Prince Charles Cinema, raised the biggest cheer I’ve ever heard in a cinema, as Lionel comes back into the house holding his hover mover.

And Jackson doesn’t hold back, although Lionel does have the presence of mind to protect her majesty.

It even has an emotional arc of sorts, as at the climax, Lionel confronts his mother about the hidden truth of his childhood, that she’d drowned his father and his lover in the bath. He even gets the catharsis of being born again.

It really is disgusting. Gloriously so. If you like your horror extra splattery, and delight in physical makeup effects (many of them by longtime Jackson collaborator Richard Taylor) you can’t dislike this film.

But steer clear if the sight of blood disturbs you.

Following this classic horror/comedy, next on the tape is another one, Sam Raimi’s third in the Evil Dead trilogy, Army of Darkness.

I have to confess, I don’t love this film. It’s a lot of fun, but having to follow Evil Dead II is a tall order, as that’s an almost perfect film, so this one doesn’t quite hit those heights.

It opens with an “I bet you’re wondering how I got here” opening that allows Raimi to take us back to even before the events in the first films, as Bruce Campbell’s Ash is working at the S-Mart store. “Shop Smart! Shop S-Mart!”

There’s a tiny cameo from Bridget Fonda as Ash’s girlfriend.

The film sort-of recaps the first (two) films (although Evil Dead II was already a virtual remake of the first) then we’re back in the Medieval times. Ash is captured, faces a deadite in a pit and defeats it with his chainsaw. Then persuades the people to help him get back, for which he needs to find the Necronomicon again, and speak some magic words.

As he travels to get the book, he has to variously deal with a lot of tiny Ashes, and then he starts growing an extra head. It eventually becomes Evil Ash.

There’s an awful lot of Three Stooges face poking in the scenes where Ash is assailed by skeletons as he tries to get the book. Raimi has clearly decided to go for maximum Stooge.

Ash messes up the incantation – which was itself a reference to The Day The Earth Stood Still and “Klaatu Barada Nikto” although the pronunciation here is a little different. This summons up an army of skeletons and deadites, and Evil Ash takes command of them.

Raimi doesn’t miss the opportunity to have plenty of stop-motion skeletons.

This film has a couple of possible endings. The UK theatrical version ends with Ash messing up his return to the present, and ending up in some apocalyptic far future.

This version has a different ending. Ash makes it back to the present, and is telling his story, back in the S-Mart, to colleague Ted Raimi (brother of Sam).

They’re attacked by a deadite, and Ash has to stop it.

There’s plenty to enjoy here, as Raimi is really going for the epic, but as I said earlier, I don’t love it.

After this, the tape plays out with quite a lot of Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka. The tape ends during this film.

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4 comments

  1. “Lionel! Your mother ate my dog!”
    “Not all of it!”

    Interesting double bill because they’re both gory 90s horror comedies paying attention to the power of good, quippy dialogue. Abbott and Costello would be proud (and disgusted, probably)

    That’s the cinema version of AoD you have, judging by the ending. There is another version that had a different one where Ash overshot to post-apocalypse London and was supposed to lead into another sequel. The TV show ignored it, though.

    1. Now it’s odd you say this is the cinema version, because it’s my recollection that I saw the post-apocalypse ending when I first saw the film in the cinema. I wondered if it was a US/Europe difference. I don’t think it’s my mind playing tricks, because I definitely saw that ending the first time.

      1. That is strange, because I saw AoD in the cinema in the UK, and it was the supermarket ending on that. I didn’t see the post-apocalypse ending till the DVD came out.

      2. I wonder if I saw it at a festival or something? I’m not imagining the ending I saw first, and I’m fairly certain it was in a cinema. So perhaps I saw it at the London Film Festival.

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