Hail to the King, Baby: Why We Like Ash in Army of Darkness
Army of Darkness is one of those films that plays in consistent rotation at my place. It’s got everything: schlock horror, Sam Raimi’s Classic, Bruce Campbell, and enough sarcasm to take down a small elephant. It’s that last quality that makes the film so enjoyable: it’s snarky, and it doesn’t really give a shit about your precious feelings. That quality is poured into Campbell’s Ash, so much so that if you stop and think about it, he’s a jerk that we really shouldn’t like. So how is it that we manage to wind up cheering this guy on?
|Ash is way more buff in this picture than the actual film. Coincidence?|
Ash isn’t always a sarcastic prick. In the first film, he’s one of a group that’s trying to stay alive, more wide-ryed victim than wise-cracking hero. He tries to help his sister, his friends and his beloved girlfriend survive demonic possession and carnage, and gets sent back in time for his troubles. By the time we get to Evil Dead 2, Ash is the main character in a role that is more rooted in comedy than horror. He’s not a bad guy, but he certainly gets into more of the physical comedy aspect, taking knocks to the face and a room full of fake blood like a champ. We get to see him endure indignity in the hopes that it will all work out. The shift that occurs as we move into Army of Darkness sees Ash change from a naive participant that stumbles into a bad situation into a battle-weary man with nothing to lose. Our perception of him includes the trauma of the first two films; at this point, we’ve watched him lose his friends, family and a girlfriend to circumstances that, on paper, are pretty horrifying. We’ve had a good two films to watch a nice guy endure bad things, and we’re therefore attached to him; we’ve lived it with him, faithfully returning for the next installment. In this respect, it’s far easier to make the personality transition with him because we’ve already been through so much with him.
|You started off so well, kid.|
This makes it far easier to write off the bad behavior in Army of Darkness. Make no mistake, if you take a step back to view it, Ash behaves like a total dick in this movie. He insults those around them by constantly referencing how “primitive” he views the inhabitants of 1300s England. He talks down to Sheila (Embeth Davidtz) when she attempts to show him kindness (given, she did whack him on the head with a rock and spit in his face, but she’s trying to make amends). He’s self-serving, evidenced numerous times when he looks out for his own interests. Rather than working to save the lives of Henry and his men, his first impulse is to distance himself from them to survive, proclaiming, “I never even SAW these assholes before!” He only wants to retrieve the Necronomicon when it’s revealed that he needs to it get home; he doesn’t care that countless people will be overpowered by Deadites if he doesn’t help, and that the implications of this happening in the past could drastically alter his future. “The only reason I’m going to get the book is to get home,” he declares, only relenting when someone with whom he has had personal interaction (let’s face it, sex is as personal as you can get) is placed in direct harm. The abstract concept of helping his fellow man doesn’t seem to register until this event. Does this sound like someone with whom we should be on board? Because right about now, after reading that, Ash certainly doesn’t sound like someone we’d like to win. We typically don’t want the jerk to succeed.
Which is precisely why Army of Darkness manages to turn it around in its comedic approach to an otherwise unlikable character. Think about it: yes, Ash is a jerk, but what’s more fun than watching your hero get the crap kicked out of him? Watching the smart ass that has it coming get the crap knocked out of him, that’s what. At this point in the series, we’ve made the jump from wide-eyed college kid to wounded time traveler to jaded, self-centered warrior. Ash does indeed grow and change throughout the series, but not in a way that’s typical to most characters: instead of rising to bravery, he becomes disillusioned and lets the sarcasm fly in an effort to continue surviving. So when we watch Ash get knocked around in the pit, it’s pleasurable because a.) we know that he’s going to win, and b.) he really hasn’t done much to endear himself to anyone around him. It’s funny when Sheila slaps him after her insults her. It’s hysterical when he battles the mini versions of himself in the windmill, because he’s done everything short of rolling his eyes and huffing then asked to do something to help other people. And we laugh when he gets defensive and tells other characters, “Okay, I didn’t say every teeny tiny little syllable…” because we know that if he had stopped being a jackass and listened to directions for two minutes, he could have saved himself a world of trouble. We get to watch him fail, then later succeed. Ash eats his humble pie in full view of the audience.
|I make this face, on average, three times a week.|
The bottom line, though, is that Ash is really the best we have, and because of these qualities, it’s funny to watch him get hurt and fail. When he has a shred of decency, we want him to succeed. He’s hammy and rude at times, which also hits a bit too close to home for some of us. Ash works in a small-scale department store, with only his wits and experience to help protect him. He’s a bit like us. And deep down, we all want to think that if the Deadites ever came a-knocking, that we’d accept that we had to help people, and find the humor in our lot just as Ash does.