MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Army of the Damned’

The important thing to ask yourself before you see Army of the Damned is, what do you WANT from your horror movies? I will admit I’m not a horror aficionado myself, but there are fairly well-established running trends to the genre, including but not limited to blood, guts, gore, stupidity, inadvertent and intentional hilarity, occasional bouts of gratuitous nudity, comic relief, weak characters, inexplicable decision making, bargain basement demons, homages to/rip-offs of fellow movies, plot holes, ridiculousness, f-bombs, and powerfully awful dialogue. If even two of those float your boat, AotD will deliver.

Now, don’t be fooled – it is a stupendously terrible film, but it’s one that’s so absurdly enjoyable throughout the sheer awfulness that it’ll end up winning more affection than disdain. It’s not so-bad-it’s-good in the vein of, say, Sharknado (which was just bad, by the way), but more of an esteemed effort with noble aspirations that eventually decides quality takes too much effort, and sacrifices artistic preoccupation for craic. The pejoratives come thick and hard, the blood looks like jam, and Candyman shows up in the final reel. Convinced yet? You should be.

AotD has a loose plot that, for the sake of convenience, I shall outline in three parts. The first segment, which I’ll call “COPS”, introduces us to Sully Erna‘s Bridge, a determinedly good cop who gave up a dream career in the city to come home and do good in the name of his father. It’s either that or he was a terrible cop who had to come back to a town where there’s next to no crime, but sure let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s being shadowed by a TV crew filming a popular serial that focuses on the encounters of police officers on the beat. (As you can see, my title for this segment is both witty and original. Much like the film.) Said crew comprises cameraman Joey from N*Sync, whose character has a name which you will neither note nor remember, and a glamorous presenter (Jackie Moore) with very little dialogue or impact. They get word of a domestic disturbance and go to back up two cops who have entered the house and, unbeknownst to the others, been dispatched by an unseen foe. A bright light flashes and blinds everyone intermittently – kind of like Close Encounters, but shit, or perhaps what H.G. Wells had in mind for his Martian heat ray of death but again, shit – and the entire family living in the house are found brutally offed in such a way that leaves their bodies fresh enough to bleed but off enough to reek. Let’s not question this, and carry on. The second act is entitled “That’s jam” in my notes, as drawn from my sister’s response to the blood. Bridge leads an expedition of officers (including Cody from Baywatch) into the house and they search the place only to find serious disrepair, a mute child with no heartbeat, the aforementioned dead family bleeding all over their supper and the bodies of their fellow officers. Everyone is confused, things start coming back to life, and the incoherent shouting steps up a notch. Eventually, we find ourselves in the third act, “Much boke*.” This involves running, screaming, inexplicably poorly-attired action women, guns, resurrections, murdering, explosions, and Candyman (the great Tony Todd, of course, whose character is actually called Jackson) with a full SWAT team. That’s about it, and then we move on.

How then does one review this? There is, in all honesty, a lot to be said for AotD‘s sheer willpower. I like to think of movies like this as the little efforts that could, but then the cast does cobble together a metal singer, a recognisable genre face (two if you include Michael Berryman as Crazy Earl), an ex-Baywatch star and Joey from N*Sync, so it’s possibly not working off the same shoestring budget we’ve come to expect. It is entirely possible that the project was financed by the proceeds of its own swear jar, as there are so many pejoratives tossed around this movie – even for a horror – that the filmmakers could have earned back everyone’s paycheques ten times over. There’s no doubt however that it was put together with some degree of affection and it is, for what it’s worth, a fair bit of fun while it lasts. Erna is more than game for his part, all bemused perplexity one minute and jaded solemnity the next. He can’t dropkick anyone worth a damn, but the important thing is he tries. Cody (that’s David Chokachi, my apologies) gets one half of possibly the finest interchange in the entire thing. He and his partner are soberly treading their way down a darkened corridor when the latter quips at him to “take off [the] fucking sunglasses”, as he’s been wearing them inside the entire time. He retorts with a hearty “they’re prescription, asshole,” thus venerating Bono and preserving his Johnny Cage routine for another ten minutes. The entire thing is stolen by the random guy they’d just arrested however – Nick Principe’s Donald, who was being brought in for questioning when the cops pitstopped at the haunted house and rudely got murdered. Turns out Principe’s a stunt guy, but his comic timing is impeccable and his wide-eyed disbelief at the entire shebang lightens things up immeasurably when it starts to get too stupid.

The set itself looks like a strange mixture of The Collector and the attic from The Goonies. The outdoor bits look like Birdemic, but the makers did put some effort into the creepy house. There’s building paraphernalia everywhere for some reason, a creaking attic door, and absolutely no light aside from the Martian heat ray. They find a random guy in the attic who shouts ominous words at the cops right before slitting his own throat, but he ruins the effect by letting the blood spew all over himself and mat on his chest hair. The dialogue (snigger) is mostly hilarity and car crashes, but the demon/zombie/ghoul things are slightly disappointing as the most terrifying thing they can muster is pulling off bits of their face and cackling loudly. It seems more like a schoolyard hazing than a horror movie, though granted there is something of a late act twist and potential confirmation of my sister’s theory that it’s all down to something in the lip gloss.

I may have made the fatal mistake of outlining most of the movie in my summary, but in all honesty, Army of the Damned is a good bit of craic while it lasts. Don’t go into it expecting much, and you’ll emerge none the wiser. There are enough quotable lines to justify a second viewing and I’ll give a shout out to the awesome guns montage that accompanies Todd’s entrance (warning: here be masculinity). Essentially, if you’re going to make a shit horror film, deliberately or otherwise, you can do a lot worse than this. Do invest in something more convincing for the blood though. I’m a little concerned that what we call jam is what Americans call jelly and now my entire second paragraph looks redundant.


[*Glossary: ‘boke’ is a slang Northern Irish term for puke. I’ve saved you a Google.]

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