You're Old: 'Army of Darkness' Came Out 20 Years This Week

You're Old: 'Army of Darkness' Came Out 20 Years This Week

Feb 19, 2013

You're getting older. We all are. We can't help you there, but we can make it more tolerable! Since one of the fun things about our slow march toward death is fondly (or even not-so-fondly) remembering the past, here's a little dose of nostalgia for you.

Do you say things like "Groovy" and "Come get some" and "Hail to the king, baby"? Then either an extraordinary coincidence has occurred or you're a fan of Army of Darkness, the fantasy-horror-comedy cult classic that concludes Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy. Before he became an A-list director with the Spider-Man films -- another trilogy that starts great, gets even better, then turns silly, by the way -- Raimi's fame was limited to movie-geek circles. But within those circles, he was legendary as a mirthful and devious trickster god whose Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987) were a relief from the low-budget slasher flicks that characterized the '80s.

Army of Darkness was released 20 years ago today on February 19, 1993. Contrary to what happens with many cult classics, it was not a box office flop as far as the accountants were concerned, taking in $21.5 million worldwide on a budget of $13 million. Its predecessors had earned more than they cost, too, largely because they didn't cost much: something like $400,000 for The Evil Dead and $3.6 million for Evil Dead II.

In terms of overall audience size, of course, Army of Darkness, despite being the biggest of the trilogy, was barely a blip on the radar. It didn't even place among the 100 highest-grossing films of 1993 (it was number 101, actually). And who could be surprised? To watch the film, with its outlandish mix of slapstick, fantasy, comedy, gore, horror and camp, is to think: this movie is not for everyone. What's surprising is that it got made at all, and that anyone saw it. Certainly there have been films less weird than this one that fared a lot worse.

Raimi was able to secure funding for Army of Darkness partly on the strength of Darkman (1990), a horror-tinged thriller that had been his first studio film and a bigger hit than anything else he'd done. (It cost $16 million to make and grossed $49 million in the U.S.) Darkman stemmed from Raimi's love of comic books -- indeed, he conjured the character because he couldn't secure the rights to Batman or the Shadow. He later sought to direct Batman Forever but was rejected in favor of Joel Schumacher. (Pause for a moment and contemplate the dark series of events that choice led to.) So when "the Evil Dead guy" was chosen to lead the Spider-Man franchise, it wasn't as out of nowhere as it sounded.

Even to casual observers, Raimi's interest in superheroes and comic books shouldn't have been a surprise. His Evil Dead leading man, Bruce Campbell, has as square a jaw as any crusader who ever donned a cape, and his character, Ash Williams, gradually becomes something of a superhero himself. In Army of Darkness, having already gotten some mileage out of having a chainsaw affixed to his wrist, Ash replaces it with a robotic hand fashioned from a suit of armor. His ambitions are not initially selfless (he only wants to get home), but he embarks on dangerous missions and eventually helps the kingdom defeat the army of the dead. It isn't hard to see a little bit of Tony Stark in him.

Now Raimi's first trilogy is relevant again, as the Evil Dead remake -- produced by Raimi and Campbell -- hits theaters on April 5, following its world premiere at the horror-friendly South By Southwest. (SXSW is Raimi friendly, too: his Drag Me to Hell also premiered there.) And the same day that Evil Dead makes SXSW audiences wet their pants (March 8), Raimi's next directorial effort will hit theaters: Oz: The Great and Powerful, a wizard-centric prequel to the familiar Oz-based tale. Will it bear Raimi's signature? So far it looks to be a blend of fantasy, surrealism, scariness, humor and heroics -- so, yep, pretty much. Die-hard Army of Darkness fans probably won't be surprised.

When Army of Darkness was released 20 years ago this week...

- Groundhog Day had opened a week earlier, and remained in the top spot at the box office. Army of Darkness was the highest-grossing new release, but it still opened in sixth place, behind Groundhog Day, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, Sommersby, The Crying Game and Aladdin (still going strong after 15 weeks).

- Michael Jackson had performed at the Super Bowl halftime show three weeks earlier -- the first solo artist to do so. Jackson's February 10 live prime time interview with Oprah Winfrey was still fresh in people's minds, too. Michael Jackson was pretty famous in early 1993 is what I'm getting at.

- NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street and the syndicated Deep Space Nine had recently premiered. MTV's Beavis and Butt-Head was three weeks away from its debut.

- You couldn't go five minutes without hearing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" on the radio. It was now in week 12 of its 14-week domination of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, soon to be replaced by "A Whole New World" (from Aladdin) and then "Informer" by Snow, who was only the fifth-worst white rapper of the 1990s.

- On this very day, February 19, 1993, Elton John was forced to end a concert in Melbourne a half hour early due to a swarm of grasshoppers overtaking the stage. This is not historically significant, but you're glad to know it happened, right?

- As of January 1, Czech Republic and Slovakia were two separate countries again, though they remained good friends who wished one another success in future relationships.

- Celebrities who had recently died included Audrey Hepburn, Dizzy Gillespie and Superman (in issue #686 of Action Comics), though only one of them came back to life again. At the other end of the spectrum, Cameron Bright (from some of the Twilight movies) and Victoria Justice (Nickelodeon's Zoey 101 and Victorious) were newborns.

- You know what was number one on the New York Times best seller list, and had been forever? The Effing Bridges of Madison Effing County, that's what. Other soon-to-be-movies on the list this week included James Patterson's Along Came a Spider, Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale, Nelson DeMille's The General's Daughter, and Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses.

Categories: Features, Horror, Geek
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