Home > Reviews > ARMY OF DARKNESS – Joseph Lo Duca



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Army of Darkness is the third instalment of director Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, and is a direct continuation of the story of 1987’s Evil Dead II. The plot of that film saw its protagonist, Ash, inadvertently summon a demon after reading passages from an ancient ‘book of the dead’. His girlfriend Linda is possessed by the demon, and attacks him, and in the ensuing battle he has his hand severed at the wrist with a chainsaw. Eventually Ash is able to defeat the demon, but in doing so he accidentally opens a temporal vortex to the Middle Ages, through which he and his car are transported. Army of Darkness follows the story from that point on, as Ash enlists the help of a medieval lord, falls in love with the lord’s daughter, and has to search for another version of the ‘book of the dead’ that will allow him to return home – all while battling more demonic ‘deadites’. The film starred Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, and Marcus Gilbert, and was a moderate commercial success, but unfortunately was not well-liked by critics, many of whom were disappointed with its campier, less horrific tone. It ultimately ended the Evil Dead franchise for more than 20 years, until it was resurrected and rebooted by director Fede Álvarez in 2013.

Returning to score Army of Darkness was composer Joseph Lo Duca, who had scored the first two films in the Evil Dead series, but was overlooked and replaced by Danny Elfman on Sam Raimi’s first studio film, Darkman, in 1990. Raimi and Lo Duca had been friends for years; both hail from Michigan, and Raimi had been a fan of Lo Duca’s work as a jazz composer prior to him scoring the first Evil Dead. In the years since Evil Dead II Lo Duca had branched out and begun scoring other films for other directors, gaining more experience and honing his craft, so by the time Army of Darkness came around he was able to draw on that experience and write a richer, bolder, more symphonically satisfying work than anything else he had written at that point in his career.

Army of Darkness is, for me, by far the best of Lo Duca’s Evil Dead scores. The setting helps, of course, as the historical/medieval time period allowed Lo Duca the opportunity to introduce the high fantasy sound he would later hone through multiple seasons of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess on television. But it’s not just that – there is a real sense of life, energy, and appealing tonality running through the score that belies its dark horror roots, as if Lo Duca used the time between Evil Dead II and this score to really enhance his compositional knowledge, the depth of his orchestrations, and his thematic strength.

This new sound is most apparent right from the get-go, in the opening two cues, the “Prologue” and “Building the Deathcoaster”. The prologue has a huge, Gothic, golden age sound, sort of a combination of Bernard Herrmann and Miklós Rósza, by way of Basil Poledouris’s scores for Conan the Barbarian and Flesh & Blood. There is some wonderful use of medieval-sounding woodwinds in among the bombastic brass phrases and stirring string passages, and even some moments where a chorus adds to the mood, alternating between mysterious and angelic, and shrill and imposing.

“Building the Deathcoaster” is the most famous cue in the score; it underscores the montage scene where Ash transforms his beloved Oldsmobile Delta 88 car into a tricked-out battle chariot, complete with spinning blades and wooden spikes, in preparation for his fight against the deadite hordes. Lo Duca’s piece is an unstoppable orchestral anthem, full of forward motion and relentless energy, bold strings and medieval chord progressions augmented by clanging anvils and throbbing banks of percussion. This piece was a trailer music staple throughout the 1990s, and remains probably my all-time favorite Lo Duca cue.

Several other cues build on this action style to excellent effect, notably the flamboyant and heraldic “Boneanza,” the creatively chaotic “Ash Splits,” the brooding first half of “Ash in Chains,” the feverish “The Pit,” and “The Deathcoaster,” which reprises the theme from earlier in the score. I feel that I must again re-iterate how excellent Lo Duca’s orchestrations are here – he gets every inch of mileage out of his ensemble, and he uses the instruments in a variety of interesting ways. Some of the more dissonant cues are really imaginative in the way Lo Duca blends unexpected instruments and sounds into unusual styles; listen to the way he uses rhythmic pianos in “Ash Splits,” or the way the strings are phrased and offset against clattering xylophones in brilliant cues like “The Pit” and “Skeletor,” for example.

Some of the more horrific parts of the score make use of some really unusual experimental vocal sounds too – sometimes shouting and shrieking, sometimes howling and cursing, sometimes humming and singing, sometimes whispering ominously, but always to excellent, occasionally chilling effect. Parts of “Time Traveler,” and later cues like “The Forest of the Dead/Graveyard” and “God Save Us,” are especially impressive in this regard.

But action and horror is not all the score has to offer. “Give Me Some Sugar” is an unexpectedly beautiful Golden Age-style love theme for Ash and Sheila built around a delicate oboe, sweeping strings, and even an acoustic guitar. The madcap “Little Ashes” couldn’t be more Elfmanesque if it tried, and was clearly temped with the quirkier parts of Beetlejuice. The end of “Ash Splits” features a weird Irish jig that seems to be equating the monsters in that scene with little leprechauns. The second half of “Ash in Chains” and the subsequent “Night Court” both contain unexpectedly authentic-sounding medieval madrigal dances.

Speaking of Danny Elfman, and with him having worked with Raimi on Darkman, the master of the macabre makes one contribution to this score in the shape of the “March of the Dead,” a typically grand and imposing piece that has some similarities with the aforementioned score for Darkman, as well as the darker parts of his Batman scores, and is really excellent.

In the score’s finale the Lo Duca really leans into the classic Golden Age swashbuckler sound. Large parts of cues like “On the Parapet” and “Ash Bucklers” would not feel out of place in an Eric Wolfgang Korngold score for an Errol Flynn movie. The orchestral sound here is really rich and grand – the Seattle ensemble clearly has nothing on the London Symphony Orchestra, or anything recorded in Los Angeles, and at times the brass feels a little on the lightweight side, but they give everything with what they have, and leave a positive impression despite their sonic limitations. The “End Titles” cue brings everything together for one final swoop, running through most of the score’s important thematic material, including the brilliant Deathcoaster theme, before finishing with a flourish.

The soundtrack for Army of Darkness was released on CD when the film came out, and was very popular at the time, but it gradually drifted out of print, and by the following decade had become something of a collectible. Thankfully, in 2020, Varese Sarabande released a re-mastered limited edition of the score on both vinyl and CD to coincide with that year’s Record Store Day. The album featured all-new liner notes by Daniel Schweiger and new cover art images (shown here), and is still available from VareseSarabande.com.

Fans who only know the music of Evil Dead from Joseph Lo Duca’s first two scores in the series, or from Roque Baños’s brilliantly nightmarish score for the 2013 reboot, are likely to be surprised at the sound of Army of Darkness because, for the most part, it isn’t horrific at all. Instead, Lo Duca leaned heavily into the historical setting of the film and wrote a thrilling, ambitious, creative action-adventure score that paints the chainsaw-wielding deadite-smashing Ash as a gallant swordfighting hero of old. If you can wrap your head around that tonal disconnect and appreciate the score for what it is, then Army of Darkness is a blast, with the Deathcoaster theme remaining a career high for the composer. Hail to the king, baby.

Buy the Army of Darkness soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prologue (2:57)
  • Building The Deathcoaster (1:57)
  • Give Me Some Sugar/Boneanza (2:00)
  • Time Traveller (2:42)
  • Ash Splits (2:20)
  • Little Ashes (2:44)
  • Ash in Chains (3:04)
  • Night Court (1:41)
  • The Forest of the Dead/Graveyard (2:52)
  • The Pit (2:06)
  • God Save Us (1:32)
  • Foulthing (1:10)
  • March of the Dead (written by Danny Elfman) (3:55)
  • Whites Of Their Skulls (1:37)
  • The Deathcoaster (2:03)
  • On the Parapet (2:45)
  • Ash Bucklers (2:33)
  • Skeletor (1:56)
  • Soul Swallower (0:48)
  • Manly Men (1:53)
  • End Titles (5:26)

Running Time: 50 minutes 01 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-5411 (1993)

Music composed by Joseph Lo Duca. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Performed by The Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Orchestrations by Tim Simonec and Larry Kenton. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands and Shawn Murphy. Edited by Doug Lackey and Ellen Segal. Album produced by Joseph Lo Duca.

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  1. March 9, 2023 at 7:00 pm

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