Top Non-Cartoons: Army of Darkness

I must confess: I was kinda leading up to this.


Let me begin by saying that I don’t like Army of Darkness. In fact, part of me — probably the serious, “artistic” part — hates Army of Darkness. I say this with no small amount of frustration, because I’m the kind of person who should love Army of Darkness. I love cheesy horror. I love irreverent comedy. I love bloody, anarchic, over-the-top violence for its own sake, and I love any movie that goes out of its way to piss people off — especially if those people are the film’s own fans. Why shouldn’t I enjoy Sam Raimi’s beloved cult classic?

Well, it’s probably because the movie is so stupid.


Here’s the third entry in a series lauded for its original approach to horror, and it gives us some of the clumsiest acting, the dumbest gags, and the most embarrassing stop-motion I’ve ever seen. The first time I caught AoD on cable, I came in at the windmill/mirror scene, and I spent the next ten minutes scratching my head, squinting my eyes, and wondering just how in hell a movie like this could get made. What right-minded studio executive would greenlight such a travesty?


I mean…look at it. Extreme mugging. Unfunny scenes drawn to their absolute limits. Three Stooges eye pokes with cheap-o skeleton hands. Zombie dolls tossed at actors to simulate fighting. I could forgive the bad effects if the comedy was sharp, but this stuff is so broad I almost feel bad for it. And I don’t buy the whole “it’s shitty on purpose” argument. There’s confidence here, and that makes it all the less pleasant. If I had seen this movie in the theater, I would have walked out of it, even at thirteen years old. It’s awful.

But…it’s growing on me, and oh dear god, it’s growing bigger.

Thanks to the constant references in video games, the continued recommendations of friends, and the recent TV follow-up, I’ve developed a strange fascination with AoD. My revulsion now mingles with a desire to understand, and I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere in that regard. We haven’t yet made friends, but we’re developing a language by which to communicate, and I’m willing to admit that maybe I was just a big old fuddy-duddy about it.


Army of Darkness is not a horror film. It’s more of a fantasy-action-comedy, and although there is no other movie to fairly compare with it, I can’t help but come back to Spaceballs. The two movies just remind me of each other in certain ways. While Spaceballs had a purpose in sending up Star Wars, however, AoD ricochets about with no real plan at all. If it’s making fun of anything, it’s the expectations of the viewers.

It retains Raimi’s distinctive style, of course, which I actually really love. The first Raimi film I ever saw was Darkman, and even as a twelve-year-old kid, I knew there was something special behind that one. That film moved and screamed and ran like nothing I’d ever seen before, and it’s probably the only instance in which a film’s camerawork actually disturbed me. There’s something Ren & Stimpy-esque about the details Raimi wants to show us, and the unique efforts he makes to do so can be unsettling. AoD, however, is not unsettling. Sure, it has one or two intentionally disquieting moments, but you’d better drink them up good because they don’t last long.


Each of the film’s acts has its own premise and tone: first we have Ash’s bonkers buffoon-out-of-water story, followed by a quest that reaches for scary but then goes full tilt stupid, and then a lengthy siege that’s neither scary or comical, just kinda dry.

The idea of Ash Williams, an angry wiseass teaching medieval Englanders what for, is actually quite appealing. Were I in Ash’s position, I’d be pretty pissed off too. Many of his quotes deserve their fame, especially the “jack and shit” line. The joke of the film is that our “hero” is an arrogant moron, gifted only with the ability to pull miraculous action stunts at will. Thankfully, this is enough to make a movie character likable, because he comes through when he has to. He chops up or blows up every monster he sees, and he always sees them before anyone else can.


Not that anyone else in the movie is really worth discussing. The titles read “Bruce Campbell Vs. Army of Darkness” for a reason, folks: this really is the Ash showcase. His journey for the Necronomicon (the Evil Dead McGuffin) is little more than a series of cartoon scenarios in which Ash bumbles about hurting himself. He bumps his head, burns his bum, and battles a bunch of baby Ashes.

After that, he pretty much sinks into the background as a host of stop-motion skeletons takes the stage. From here it’s nothing but a giant sword-fighting jubilee, plus a few explosions. Without Ash’s character at the forefront, the movie loses a lot of personality, though it tries to make up for it with some goofy puppet gags (as a Jim Henson fan, I do enjoy this). The action has a smidgen of that Raimi style to it, but overall it’s not particularly funny or ground-breaking. Even so, I get a unique sense from the siege sequence that this was not some rote exercise. No, Raimi was chasing something: he aimed to recreate the spooky spectacles of the Ray Harryhausen movies he grew up with, simply because he liked them. As a creative person, my motivations are often similar: I just want to make things that look like the stuff I always loved.


I can’t begrudge Raimi for taking this opportunity. I read Bruce Campbell’s book, If Chins Could Kill, and the story of making Evil Dead was not a happy one. For the Raimi boys, breaking into the biz demanded suffering, stubbornness, and on-the-spot ingenuity. Army of Darkness was the reward for their travails: a chance to finally have some big fun with a character and mythos that they invented. That I don’t get a lot of its humor isn’t a slight on the film, it’s evidence of a unique personal touch. It may be broad, but it’s no manufactured crowd-pleaser. On the contrary, it is something more precious than that: an unsullied bit of fun made by a small group of guys with earned capital — a movie that owes nothing to anyone. This finally came together for me when I heard Raimi’s last lines of commentary on the AoD Director’s Cut, and felt like a total asshole:

Sam-Raimi.jpg“Our goal was really to make an entertaining picture. That’s
all we want to do: an entertaining movie, that hopefully people would laugh at and get some jumps out of, and we hope that you were entertained.”

Well, shit. How can I, or any creative person, grind my heel on this movie, knowing the pure sentiment that birthed it? Entertainment really is the core of it, after all; any storyteller who aims for a higher goal than that has lost his or her way. Raimi didn’t care about prestige or money; he just wanted to indulge his passion. He made a film that is distinctly his own, proudly left his fingerprints all over it, and found an ironclad fan base in spite of withering odds. That’s more than I can say for myself.

I feel like crap now, so I’m going to change the subject and talk about the TV show.


Ash vs. Evil Dead is a good show. It does just what it needs to do, which is to update and expand the Evil Dead mythology, while keeping Ash exactly the way we remember him. The loony exuberance of the movies is still present, but it’s checked by a self-aware, 21st-century jadedness, as well as some impressive special effects. You won’t see any dopey puppets bobbling about here, but it’s still leagues away from any Walking Dead grimness, and I thank God for that. Since Raimi doesn’t have his hands on it directly, there’s still a je ne sais quoi missing from it, but it works, and I liked it from the first shot without any reservations.

It is, however, falling into a formula that I’m not sure it can maintain. Since the show is just an excuse for more Bruce, there’s not much room for real tension or plot. Most of the episodes play out like Popeye cartoons; the only differences between them are how the writers keep Ash away from his chainsaw, and for how long. Once the spinach can is opened, the audience gets exactly what it expects: deadites taunting, people crashing into walls, blood spraying on faces, and maybe a one-liner or two. I can’t really complain about this, though. With the horror genre as gray and predictable as it is now, Ash vs. Evil Dead is a refreshing reminder that scary can also be fun. Still, it needs more than nostalgia and attitude to be a truly satisfying experience. If it can’t figure out how to build off its novelty, it may have been better served as a feature film/reunion thing.


An Animation for the Hell of It

Here’s a little cartoon I had knocking around in my head after listening to an old podcast:

It’s full of in-jokes from the podcasts of and I know it’s silly, but I had fun making it. Did I mention I do commissions? 🙂


Speaking of shitty marketing….

A week ago, Slate put up a terrific editorial about the insulting (more so than usual) ad campaign being employed to roll out that new Mortdecai Movie. Read it here.


Uninformative posters, random hashtags, kooky tweets, it’s the suggestion of some grand event going on somewhere, one that you too can be a part of. That is, if you don’t mind doing a little research.

Wait a minute! Why am I doing the research? The marketers are hoping I’ll become invested in the movie by diving into the “world” of its ad campaign. By the time the movie finally premieres, they expect I’ll be so frenzied with curiosity that I’ll throw myself at the theater to “complete” my Mortdecai experience. Insidious. The Slate writer does a terrific job of delineating his outrage at such manipulation, but I’m a little surprised that this seems to be his first exposure to it. Mortdecai is hardly the first offender.

mindy-kaling-02This goofy shit has been around for a long time. Batman logos, Bubsy the Bobcat, Who is Keyser Soze? I don’t know! You tell me! I’m not giving you my money so I can find the answer to some question you keep buzzing in my ear. Social media has only made it worse. Advertisers are wicked, manipulative people. They know we like to feel smart, busy, and savvy, so they throw us tidbits of silliness that are only marginally related to the product they’re selling, and then shove a hashtag in our faces. If we see it enough, and lord knows we will, one day we’ll be looking on Twitter when that little turd they planted in us will float up to the fronts of our minds. “Huh. What about that #invisiblemindy thing? Search.”

And, they’ve got you.

I have a problem with hashtags in general. They’re specious little things that give people delusions of significance. I imagine they can be helpful for people who need to coordinate, say, a governmental revolution, but less ambitious citizens are throwing them all over the place now. What, exactly, is #marking #every #word #in #your #tweet #with #a #freaking #octothorp supposed to accomplish? Do you really believe there are crowds of people out there searching for the subject #mykids? Why would strangers be interested in your kids?

When the internet first got to its feet and started walking, and became accessible to the average computer user, a lot of people (including myself) went through that delusional phase: “Oh, I can’t wait to see what the world thinks of my website! I hope I don’t offend some guy in Luxembourg with my witty opinions! I’ll put a guestbook up so I can see the signatures that flood in from around the globe!” Then we got fewer than ten hits, most of them from family members, and the truth hit home: the standards of fame may be a little lower on the net — or in the case of YouTube, a HELL of a lot lower — but you still gotta have it before you’ll get any attention.

tothereader (should you exist): I write this blog more for myself than anyone else, as a fun little exercise. It helps me get my frustrations out. I don’t expect that anyone’s looking for it, or actually interested in what I have to say. Whatever tags I put on my entries, they’re usually related to vague subjects so they might show up in searches, if people really do search for blogs at all (I don’t). In other words, I know I’m nobody, and I’m all right with that.

But now we have Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, and a whole new generation of internet virgins is diving into the pond with the expectation that the whole world is watching them, like this is a game of Big Brother or something. So now we get hashtags for every fucking thing.

I know my rant here won’t be heard in the maelstrom of “lols” and “omgs” that clogs the internet these days, but I’ll rant just the same: No one’s watching you, okay? Get over yourself! Unless you’re threatening to kill the president, no one gives a shit!

But the hashtag curse has another evil effect. People with a lot of money can use a hashtag to fool us into thinking their shit is something everybody’s talking about. Alongside tags like #jesuischarlie or #blizzardof2015, which refer to serious events that actually affect our lives, we get things like #OneBoldChoice (promoted by Toyota). What the fuck? Who’s looking for that? Who’s going to tweet with that? This is astroturf bullshit at its most blatant, because the advertiser isn’t even trying to hide! They’re happy to co-opt and corrupt what was once a user-driven set of communities, and then twist it to make people feel like they’re missing out on something.

Gabbo-is-comingI say that consumers should fight back. Let’s use the advertisers’ hashtags against them. The same way that commercials mess with our heads, showing us images unrelated to their products, let’s tweet to plug our own personal projects and slap their phony hashtags on them. The next time someone caves and searches for #OneBoldChoice, I hope they get a gallery of tweet-pics showing people on the crapper. Man, I’d love to see the indignant PR response to something like that. “How dare those little ingrates! Abusing our tags that way!”

Now THAT would be a bold choice.

Body Star (working title)

The following is an excerpt from one of the short stories I’m working on. It’s not meant to be taken seriously; it was devised during a couple of silly texting conversations with friends. Still, I’m having a lot of fun with it. I hope you enjoy.


Body Star

A Nick Ironsight Joint

by Daniel Rocha


The dropship jolted and rocked as it settled onto the platform. The landing was no more stable than the rest of the trip. The whole shot was a breathless rush from the very beginning. Assignment, briefing, arming, embarkation. Nick was on his usual knife’s edge and didn’t mind it – in fact he loved it, lived for it – but even the principal was sweating in his seat during the flight, and that didn’t seem right.

The ship’s retrofire died. Silence. Tension. A green notice lit up on the ceiling, accompanied by a friendly tone. It was time to get up, get moving. Nick and his team, two other men from Solid Stone Security, unlatched themselves from their vinyl, cushioned seats and wordlessly took their places at the exit of the cabin. The flight had been automated; they had no pilot or crew to guide them. The ship’s onboard computer received its course data from a flight control center on Lakshmi, and it continually called home to analyze, calculate, and maintain its route. The system was trustworthy, and they’d arrived without incident, which gave Nick some much-needed time to study personnel dossiers. From what he’d learned, they were about to see, breathe, and soak up one of the largest, most promising settlements on the frontier.

Of course, it didn’t look too grand at first. All they saw as the gangway hissed open was the usual landing pad, a utilitarian skeleton of steel. The flooring was simple cement, surrounded by a series of square grates, and they could see the dirt of the moon’s surface beneath it. Yellow girders rose up to the ceiling hundreds of feet above, where three separate doors had closed behind the ship, separating the atmospheres. Thick cables snaked across and under the grates, tossed there thoughtlessly by maintenance workers. Tight, enclosed, and dim as it was, this pad resembled a mechanic’s garage. Clearly, this was not the usual pad for visiting dignitaries.

Nick and his team stepped down the gangway. Nick took a few careful looks around. Nothing unusual. The gate leading into the colony was several yards away. It was a giant, metal wall with a wide door at its base. To the right of the door was a small security station. A helmeted guard stood looking at him from behind its foot-thick glass. Nick turned back to the principal, who was still waiting patiently at the top of the gangway.

“Come on,” Nick said with a small beckon. The man, stiff, suited, and still sweating, made his careful way down to the pad. Nick knew there was little need for the show; their whole route had been mapped and forwarded to them by police chief Tungsten, and he was once a star CPO of the SSS. Still, none of them had ever been to Rama before, so playing up the vigilance couldn’t hurt.

They approached the gate, and the guard at the station nodded them through. The monstrous metal door, wide as six men, shot open horizontally at a surprising speed. A wave of air pushed out onto them, cool and crisp. Nothing wrong with the ventilation out here. The colonies had a history of iffy filtration, the result of slipshod contractors, and there were stories of factories failing because their workers weren’t getting enough oxygen. Not here, though. Nick pulled in a long sniff. It almost smelled sweet.

Before them, a long connecting corridor: brightly lit, excitingly white, decidedly more modern than the landing pad. No decoration though; that was for tourists, and these men had come on business.

The doors crashed shut behind them with the same amazing ferocity with which they’d opened. The men clomped down the hall in boots and wingtips, the security detail confidently surrounding the cargo. Nick noticed that the man’s bearing was slowly shedding its timidity. The proud, almost regal attitude that Nick had always admired in the man was returning.

The guy wasn’t really royalty, but he was close enough. He was Joey Brasstone, CFO of Huxley & Hollinger Resources. VIP. The man behind the Dyaus Pita Project, the money magnet that made the Rama colony into the remote jewel that it was. Before Dyaus Pita, it was a tiny set of science and observation facilities, beeping away in space. After Dyaus Pita, it was the fastest-growing metropolis in the quadrant. Developers stuck module after module onto the place. Immigrants poured in by the thousands, all of them craving a taste of the fast, thrilling, occasionally risky life that Rama promised.

Occasionally risky? Make that damn risky.

But for all the energy he’d poured into the Dyaus Pita project, and for all the money he’d made from its success, Joey Brasstone had never seen it. Not in person. Even after Joey’s brother Billy won a plum contract and expanded his business to Rama, Joey found reasons to avoid the trip, and nobody thought to question him. Sure, there was some pressure from the board at first, an obligation for the father to check on his child, to make a show of assurance for the stockholders. That pressure dissipated, though, as Rama’s population burgeoned, and the first ugly reports of spreading crime came back. No one at Huxley & Hollinger expected the CFO to head out there after that. The man didn’t need to risk himself just to put on a little show that wouldn’t mean much anyway. H&H would just hire some meatheads with guns to guard the capital, and then quietly continue to pull in the millions.

Head out he did, though, suddenly and unexpectedly, and now there he was, setting foot on that pulsing new world that he helped bring to life.

And he was escorted by three massive men wearing ballistic vests and armed with fully-automatic, electrothermal-chemical carbines. Their point man: a tall, tattooed vet named Nick Ironsight.

Nick’s earpiece lit up. “Agent Ironsight. Chief Tungsten. You copy?” A raspy, grim voice with a sergeant’s sharp authority crackled in Nick’s ear.

“Yes sir,” Nick answered.

“You are to continue through Ramasec station G7 and then report to Amberson Lab Alpha immediately.”

“Yes sir.”

Joey Brasstone spoke up. He had his earpiece tuned in too. “Uh, what about my things? We didn’t bring them off the ship.”

Tungsten’s tone shifted from surly to servile in a flash. “All your supplies are being sent to your quarters via the colony’s freight rail, Mr. Brasstone, sir. It’ll be waiting for you when you get there. You just stick with those fine gentlemen beside you, and you got no need to worry. That’s my guarantee.”

“Okay, gotcha.” Mr. Brasstone stood up a little straighter than before.

The gruff Tungsten returned. “Ironsight. G7. Amberson. Tungsten out.”

“Yes sir,” said Nick. “Out.” He squinted his gray-blue eyes and marched. Just a little PSD. Babysit the boss man, do whatever Tungsten told him, go back home. He did wish, though, that he could at least look around the place before he left. Zip around the various districts, get a glimpse at the lifestyle. Just to see what made Rama so damn seductive. What made so many responsible people pull out their sureties on Lakshmi, and put them all on the line for a little moon on the frontier.

The men reached the end of the hall, and the doors opened before them in welcome.


The corridor led directly into a broad reception area in Rama Security Station G7. Everything was solid, polished metal, unpainted and tough. Workmanlike, but professional. The look one hoped to see in Ramasec, and by extension, the men of Solid Stone who filled most of Ramasec’s roster. A hefty, clean-shaved man with a chunky jaw and a buzzcut eyed them from behind a steel desk, and then immediately muttered something into his headset.

Nick led his group to the desk and made the appropriate introduction. “Mr. Joseph Brasstone.”

The man at the desk looked right past Nick as if he wasn’t there. He leapt into his greeting, his intonation heavy and rough. He hadn’t had much time to rehearse for this important arrival. “Good day, Mr. Brasstone,” he said. “It’s my pleasure to welcome you to Rama. Your room is ready at the Edelmann Lodge, where your luggage is already on its way. You already have your key, is that right?”

Brasstone produced a small plastic card from his breast pocket and flashed it with a smile.

“Very good,” said the guard-turned-receptionist. “First, I believe that you have a meeting with Doctor Copperwire. He’s in the Amberson Labs, sir. If you’ll take the stairs behind me and to your left, you’ll enter a skyway that will take you there directly. Do you have any questions for me before you go?”

“None at all, my good man,” answered Brasstone. “Thank you very much. Keep up the great work.” He even threw in a toothy grin and a wink. Nick smirked.

“Yes sir, right this way, then, sir.” Up the stairs he motioned. They clanged up a simple grated stairway, a thick metal door opened to the skyway, and Nick saw magic.

The skyway was walled on either side with hefty panes of aluminum silicate glass. Stretching out for miles beyond were the harsh, gray flatlands of Rama, powder-dry and cratered. Dusty, barren, and impossible to cultivate, Rama’s land was just a whole lot more of that dead and disappointing lunar desert.

What made it grand were the goings-on above it all.

On Nick’s right, slowly tumbling across the black expanse, were the golden geese of the Dyaus Pita project: asteroids, asteroids multifarious. They drifted and spun around Rama in their glorious ringlet, clustered like nomads on an ancient and trusted trail. To Nick’s eye, this ring was a broad, speckled band that reached across the Rama sky. The asteroids flew in their endless arcs as though hurled by heavenly hands, each one curious, each one strange. Some were stony, some were jagged, some were pockmarked, and some were creamy. There were asteroids that bulged with chunky mounds and sweeping hillocks. There were asteroids laced with twisting tunnels large enough to drive a tank through. There were asteroids that glistened and twinkled with a radiance unlike anything in man’s known universe. That so many sizable and dissimilar bodies could convene around this tiny moon was an astronomical phenomenon.

And more wonderful than that was the fact that each of these sizable and dissimilar bodies contained enough ore, enough precious metals, enough raw riches to destroy a colony, rebuild it, and then destroy it again.

On Nick’s left was another astonishing sight. A monstrous, purple sphere. The pulsing, storming skies of Rudra, the inhospitable gas giant that Rama orbited, made canopy here. The planet was enormous, bright, and near enough for the purple and gray coils of its unending thunderstorms to fill the eastern sky. Nick could actually see the cloud layer swirl, sweep, dissolve, and reform from second to second. He saw a tiny white flash in a pocket of rich violet, a lightning bolt that must have been miles long. It was hypnotic, unsettling, and Nick was startled when the doors swished open at the end of the skyway.

The station opened up its arms as they left Ramasec, and it gradually transformed from a claustrophobic workman’s spaceport to a batty tourist’s attraction. From one walkway to the next, things got a little louder than before, a little more garish. The simple humming of the churning filtration ducts was slowly covered by voices and footsteps, while stark fluorescent lighting was replaced by animated billboards and squiggly neon.

Nick lead the three men along their assigned path, one that kept them from the sight and slog of the growing crowds. They stalked down empty corridors and rode silently up elevators. They crept along a grated catwalk suspended over a small port plaza. Colonists, dressed as in the casual T-shirts and jeans you’d see on mall-walkers, traipsed between markets. These markets didn’t sell anything exotic; it was the typical set of duty-free distractions designed to occupy folks before their flights.

Speakers and projections blared. Some gave notice about arrivals and departures, while others dished the latest colonial news. New upscale residences were under construction in the south. Repairs on an overworked mag-freight line were nearing completion. Contractors kicked up dust over bidding practices.

Ads, printed and digital, covered any available surface. One of them was a pretty girl’s face with a splatter of brown drops around her mouth. The bold, all-caps copy simply read, “DRINK COKE.”

The catwalk lead them to a small door tucked into a niche on the third floor of a non-descript building. A green light beside the door winked on automatically, and they heard the lock click open. Nick pulled the handle and saw a small hallway floored with linoleum and lit intermittently with those harsh fluorescent lights. As the door snapped shut behind them, all the noise from the port cut away.

Clomping boots and wingtips. The long walk to work. The sheet paneling on the walls was shallow and thin, with some untended open holes, and beneath the cheap covering was intricate wiring, circuitry, and duct work. Nick reflected in wonder that even the tiniest spaces in a colony needed extensive connecting work to ensure that humans could survive in them.

At the end of the hall was a large freight elevator, barred with a simple, collapsing iron gate. The elevator to the storage spaces of Amberson Labs. Nick hit the call button, and the gate scrunched open with a series of creaks and squeaks. The group loaded themselves up, and Nick hit the button at the very bottom of the panel. The gate pulled shut. As they rode down, passing level after level and burrowing underground, Nick got the sense that they were dropping away from everyone else, separating from society, entering a remote pocket where secrets were sent to be forgotten.

“So, anybody got a smoke?” said Joey.

No one answered him.