Picks and Pans Review: Army of Darkness

updated 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz

Blood-spewing, amputation-happy, sadistic and chaotic, this film is being sold as a spoof of schlock horror movies, but in fact it is a prime example of the genre.

Campbell plays a clerk for a shoddy discount store called S-Mart (that's as subtle as it gets), who happens on a magical Book of the Dead and ends up transported back to 14th-century England, where he joins some knights in battling hellish fiends called the Deadites (told you), using the chain saw and shotgun he presciently brought with him from the future.

There's whacking and hacking aplenty, and director Sam Raimi and his coscreenwriter-brother Ivan also seem to think there is lots of comedy potential in such things as burping, rape and shooting an old lady in the stomach.

The casting is lackluster. None of the villains are recognizable (although the guy with the visibly rotting facial flesh makes an impact). Davidtz, as Campbell's chaste 14th-century love interest, has a wan, Helena Bonham Carter charm. Bridget Fonda, slumming to unimaginable depths, has brief moments as Campbell's modern girlfriend.

The most fun lies in tracking director Sam Raimi's allusions to past films, such as 1963's Jason and the Argonauts (killer skeletons in stop-action animation), 1982's Blade Runner (handspringing villainess), 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still (the magical incantation "Klaatu barada nikto") and 1949's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (the anachronistic weapons and language).

Such trivia spotting is slim entertainment, though. Army of Darkness, only 77 minutes long, seems to last three hours. (R)

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