By the third part of his Evil Dead trilogy, which admittedly has never been encumbered by chronological or tonal obligations (number two is a bigger budget remake of number one), Sam Raimi is mostly concerned with having a laugh. In fact, it is difficult to classify this tribute to the stop-motion thrills of Ray Harryhausen as a horror film at all. What it definitely is, sophistication apart, is huge amounts of fun.
Bruce Campbell’s snappy, snarly, part-deranged hero Ash, who expends most affection on his handy chainsaw (it is mounted bodily by the end) brings his 20th century bad-temper and arsenal of comebacks to his confrontation with a hoard of wicked knights, skeleton warriors and a varied collection of freakzoid ghouls and demons. Thus, rather than terror, it is a goofy charm that keeps the film motoring along, all ambitions set to limited. The gore count, too, is way down on the video nasty status of the original.
Apart from the budget-tempered ineptitude of the effects, which most would count as part of its deliberate whimsy, it is relying almost completely on Campbell’s oafish humour. Part Elvis, part geek, a kind of unstable compound of Fraiser Craine and Basil Fawlty, only Raimi ever really understood his baritone charisma and lanky mania. Embeth Davidtz, not quite in on the joke, seems at a loss how to play love interest Shelia, although the band of least likely olde knights since the heyday of Hollywood, are having a ball first demanding Ash is an enemy spy then a prophesised “Promised One”. Neither role he’s too keen on.
In his own ragged way, Raimi is channelling the spirits of Monty Python, The Three Stooges as well as a spell book of trad-Hollywood referencing. And, cleverly, he also doesn’t hang around long enough to let its copious weaknesses matter. The director’s cut, ten minutes longer, on the other-hand, shows too many cracks.