Bruce Campbell’s Plastic Surgery and 19 Other Things You Didn’t Know About Army of Darkness
In 1981, The Evil Dead took audiences by surprise with its mix of over the top, gratuitous violence and a very dark sense of humour. Evil Dead II followed suit in 1987, ramping up both the violence and humour.
When Army of Darkness was released in 1992, it focused more on action than horror and upped the dark humour even further, creating a very different film for the third in the series. With Bruce Campbell again taking up the lead role, it caps off the trilogy for which he is best known, even if we don’t see him very much anymore.
To find out why, you first need to understand a few things that made this film special. So let’s take a look at Army of Darkness with some interesting facts behind everyone’s favourite medieval chainsaw massacre.
20. The film was almost called The Medieval Dead
The film that we know today as Army of Darkness actually rotated through a surprising number of different titles, mostly at the request of the studio. Director Sam Raimi had originally wanted to set Evil Dead II in the medieval era, but due to budget constraints was unable to pull it off. Instead, he settled for sending Ash Williams into the year 1300 at the end of the second film, teasing what would become Army of Darkness five years later.
Given the third film’s feudal setting, it’s no surprise that Raimi couldn’t resist the obvious pun, and so the working title of the film became Medieval Dead.
Studio executives were less happy, however, insisting that the title was the worst of both worlds: with enough Evil Dead recognisability, but without fully capitalising on it.
At the time, the studio wanted a film that could stand on its own, which meant losing a lot of the Evil Dead branding. As such, Raimi’s second choice title of the simple Evil Dead III was also rejected.
When Raimi eventually recommended Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness, the studio liked the subtitle so much they asked for it become the full name, and Army of Darkness was born. In some regions it’s known as Bruce Campbell vs Army of Darkness, adding yet another title to the mix.
19. A fanzine makes a sneaky appearance
It seems almost unbelievable now, but the original Evil Dead really did come from nowhere. After producing a short film called Within the Woods (1978) to persuade investors to back him and Campbell, Raimi garnered a $90,000 budget to shoot a cheap horror film at a remote Tennessee cabin. Originally intended to be a remake of Within the Woods, Raimi began filming just as he turned 20.
Due to the inexperience of the crew, filming was beset with difficulties. Actors were injured, they got lost in the woods, and makeshift camera rigs had to be made on the fly as Raimi became more ambitious with his direction. When the film was complete, it struggled to find a distributor until horror author Stephen King backed it.
It was during this difficult period that the horror film fanzine Fangoria began to run articles on the film and its storied production. With both the Fangoria articles and Stephen King’s praise, the film became a sleeper hit, ultimately grossing $2.4 million, a sensational figure given the film’s tiny initial budget.
As a result, Raimi (and, of course, Campbell) felt indebted to Fangoria for their early support; without its efforts, there would have been no sequel, no trilogy, and certainly no springboard to the Spider-Man director’s chair.
Raimi decided to include a copy of Fangoria in the trunk of Ash’s car in Army of Darkness as a tribute to the magazine that had always supported him. Despite its struggles in the early 2010s, Fangoria still runs as a quarterly print publication to this day.
18. Tobacco smoke was blown up Bruce Campbell’s trousers for the chainsaw effects
Take a deep breath: here’s a quick recap of the chainsaw in the Evil Dead series. Ash and his girlfriend, Linda, are on vacation, but Linda becomes possessed by a demon, so Ash decapitates her. Later, Ash is attacked by Linda’s head, which leads him to Linda’s headless body which is now wielding a chainsaw. After killing Linda, Ash becomes possessed, and manages to exorcise most of it except for the spirit that remains in his hand. Ash severs the hand with the chainsaw. After more chaos erupts, Ash has the chainsaw attached to the arm from which he severed his hand, and the rest is gruesome, bloody history.
Whether because the chainsaw has been imbued with a demonic, soul-eating power – or just because it’s a fictional world that doesn’t have time for chores – the chainsaw never seems to run out of fuel. Cool, right? Except, if you’re making the film, you need to make sure the chainsaw looks like it’s constantly running.
Thankfully, the crew come up with an ingenious solution. According to Campbell, tobacco smoke was blown through a tube that ran up his leg to simulate the running engine. Not the healthiest fix, but an effective one.
The chainsaw is actually used quite sparingly in Army of Darkness. While it’s certainly imposing, and an icon of the franchise, the chainsaw is only used three times: once to chop off a head, once to chop off a hand, and once to dismember Evil Ash’s body.
Due to the sheer badassery of the chainsaw, multiple tutorials exist online to make your own. Of course, we have to stress that we do not recommend creating a chainsaw weapon and attaching it to your arm by any means, but on the other hand: what if the undead come?
17. Campbell was unhappy with the final result
Even though Army of Darkness had a budget of $12 million, far exceeding its predecessors, production certainly could have been smoother. For one thing, many of the film’s biggest combat sequences were filmed on an elaborate castle set on the edge of the Mojave Desert.
As a result of its extreme setting, the cast and crew faced punishingly hot weather during the day, and well below freezing temperatures at night. Since most of the film takes place at night, and was shot during the summer, the team struggled to adequately light scenes and still have time to shoot.
The film was thrown into further disarray after principal photography had been completed. Universal took over the editing process, and demanded certain parts of the film be reshot. So, two months after the initial filming had concluded, reshoots began. Then Universal refused to provide the money Raimi needed to complete the project.
Even then, Universal began feuding with producer Dino de Laurentiis over the rights to the character Hannibal Lecter, since the studio wanted to make a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. Due to the argument, general release was pushed back from the summer of 1992 to February 1993, meaning the entire process took nearly two years from when shooting began.
Campbell, realising how much the film had been edited by Universal without his knowledge, has said that he was unhappy with the final result, saying that he wasted a year of his life waiting for the film to release.
16. Campbell needed plastic surgery after an on-set injury
It’s not uncommon for a film star to be injured in the course of shooting, especially in films that involves elaborate action sequences like Army of Darkness, but Bruce Campbell’s story is a little different – and, hopefully, a little more comedic.
While filming the climactic fight scene of the film, Campbell accidentally trod on his cape and stumbled, causing a pin with which it was decorated to slash across his face.
The resulting gash was small, but deep, and the crew decided it required medical attention. For one thing, so much of the film had been shot already, and Campbell was its most bankable star. Hollywood stars really are as protective of their money-spinning faces as rumours suggest.
Campbell was rushed from the set to a plastic surgeon for treatment, but his troubles weren’t quite over yet.
Sitting as it did among extensive prosthesis and make up, the doctor couldn’t tell which was the real injury and which were the movie fakes, and had to be directed to the aberrant cut. Unpleasant for Campbell, but a ringing endorsement for the make up team!
15. Embeth Davidtz nearly quit acting after making the film
In Army of Darkness, Ash finds himself between two feuding factions: Lord Arthur and his knights, and Duke Henry and his men. Ash must navigate the conflict, retrieve the Necronomicon and use it to return to his own time. On the way, he falls for Sheila, the sister of one of Arthur’s fallen knights.
Played by Embeth Davidtz, Sheila is a typical damsel in distress character, especially when Ash is forced to rescue her when she’s abducted and transformed into a flying Deadite. Just another day on the job.
Davidtz has been candid in describing the difficulties she faced with the role, so much so that she nearly gave up her career in acting. With the film shoots taking place at night, and involving the use of heavy prosthetics (especially when she becomes a Deadite) and the physically intensive fight scenes.
However, in the years since the film’s release, Davidtz has said that the fan response to the film continues to be incredible. While it doesn’t necessarily make all the hardship worthwhile, it’s always nice to be appreciated.
Davidtz went on to star in Schindler’s List (1993) and as Miss Honey in Matilda (1996), a role as far from Army of Darkness as you could probably get.
14. There are four different versions of the film
Given the studio’s interference, it probably doesn’t come as any surprise that rival versions of the film were made. What is surprising, however, is that there are a maddening four versions of the film in total.
The Director’s Cut stands at a 91 minute runtime, and was – naturally – Sam Raimi’s preferred version. However, when test audiences had a lukewarm response to the film, the studio insisted he cut it down to 88 minutes, which is now known as the International Edit.
The studio, however, felt this was still too long, and instructed Raimi to bring the film down to an 81 minute, ready-for-TV runtime. This was the version that released in cinemas, known as the US Theatrical Edit, and notably has a shorter speech on the castle roof, less dialogue between the two versions of Ash, and omits a love scene between Ash and Sheila.
Despite this version being the correct length for TV, however, the studio backtracked and had another version cut together, which has been named the US Television version, which premiered on the Sci-fi channel in 1997.
For the most part, these various versions keep the main storyline intact. While some omit certain scenes, and curtail others, there are no major differences. Except one.
13. It has a famous alternate ending
Make no mistake: Army of Darkness is a comedy. But even the biggest, blood-spattering comedy can still have time for some bleak humour – something to cut through the grand romance of an Arthurian tale with a jolt of existential crisis. Or so Sam Raimi thought.
In the original ending to the film, the Wise Man instructs Ash on how to return to his own time: recite the powerful words of the Necronomicon and drink a magic potion. Sounds simple enough. But as Raimi initially intended things, Ash gets distracted by a falling rock and drinks a drop too much of the potion. As a result he ‘oversleeps’, waking up in a far-flung post-apocalyptic England. Civilisation has been utterly destroyed. Realising his predicament, Ash screams, and the credits roll.
Raimi and Campbell thought this ending was true to Ash’s character: he’s mostly depicted as an idiot, and he’d be quite likely to get the finer aspects of time travel magic wrong. Unfortunately, the studio disagreed.
In the studio-mandated reshoot, Ash successfully travels back to his own time, and is found recounting his story to a woman in the department store he works at. A Deadite that has followed Ash through the time portal appears, and he kills it with a Winchester rifle, says “Hail to the king, baby,” and kisses the woman.
Surprisingly, Raimi, at least on reflection, enjoys the fact that there are now two possible endings. “Actually, I kind of like [it], that in one alternate universe Bruce is screwed, and in another universe he’s some cheesy hero.”
12. A Mark Twain novel inspired the plot
You wouldn’t necessarily expect such a campy film to have some serious and niche inspirations, but Army of Darkness is a film that’s full of surprises. In fact, its entire plot is based on a late nineteenth century novel.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is an 1889 novel by Mark Twain, in which Hank Morgan – the Yankee of the title – receives a blow to the head and wakes up in Arthurian England. Using his modern knowledge of romantic ideas of the medieval era, Hank sets about attempting to spread peace throughout the land.
The similarities should be clear. While Ash doesn’t exactly attempt to spread peace, he does find himself magically transported to a medieval realm and forced to contend with a noble called Arthur. Ash even blows up a stand-in for Excalibur with his ‘boomstick’.
Richard Nokes of Troy University, Alabama, has written a detailed comparison of the two that’s well worth checking out by any Army of Darkness fans. It even discusses how the film picks up where Mark Twain left off – an idea which, for whatever reason, never made it into the film’s marketing…
Raimi has noted that the film is also inspired by voyage narratives like Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726).
11. Sam Raimi gave up his salary to finish the film
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
When Army of Darkness was being conceived, the original plan was for an $8 million budget, more than twice the initial budget of Evil Dead II. Yet, during pre-production, it quickly became apparent that as much as $12 million would be required, almost triple the previous film’s cost.
Some of the plans that Raimi had in mind had to be removed from the script due to budget constraints. One of these was a scene in which a possessed woman destroys some enormous pillars.
As the ambition and extensive effects continued to spiral out of control, the studio forced Raimi, Campbell, and Roger Tabert (who worked as a producer on the film) to give up $1 million of their salaries if they wanted the sets and effects they’d requested.
Generally speaking, Army of Darkness ended up being a disappointment at the box office, only barely making back its $12 million budget, and not counting any further marketing and administrative costs associated with the filmmaking process.
Then again, it’s estimated that Sam Raimi’s net worth is upwards of $60 million, and Bruce Campbell’s net worth is $10 million or more, so it seems like making Army of Darkness was worth it as a cult film even if it didn’t rake in the big bucks.
10. The film is dedicated to a legendary producer
Irvin Shapiro isn’t a particularly well known name, but given his impact on cinema – and especially on the Evil Dead series – it should be. In fact, without Shapiro, it’s unlikely that Sam Raimi nor his signature series would have ever got off the ground.
Raimi first sought out Shapiro when promoting and attempting to find a distributor for what would later become The Evil Dead; he was keen to impress Shapiro in particular, as he was responsible for distributing classic George A. Romero films like Night of the Living Dead (1968). Having seen the film, Shapiro joked that Raimi and Campbell’s effort “wasn’t Gone With the Wind” but it nonetheless had some commercial potential. The only sticking point was the title, Book of the Dead, which Shapiro deemed too boring. Shapiro was the one to suggested the eventual title.
As one of the founders of the Cannes film festival, Shapiro was instrumental in the out of competition screening of The Evil Dead which led to Stephen King’s rave reviews and interest from New Line to distribute it.
Not only was Shapiro therefore instrumental to the success of the series, but he also suggested the phrase Army of Darkness during the production of Evil Dead II, though sadly he never lived to see the film that would use the title be made.
Irvin Shapiro died of complications from Parkinson’s disease on January 1st, 1989, at the age of 82. In the credits of Army of Darkness is a message that reads: “Special thanks to . . . Irvin Shapiro, to whom we will always be indebted.”
9. It used Joan of Arc’s storyboards
That Army of Darkness suffered from financial difficulties should be obvious by now, but the ingenious ways in which Raimi and producers circumvented these troubles are gifts that keep on giving. In this case, Raimi drew on some interesting cinema history in order to save money.
In order to flesh out the battle scenes, Raimi had visual effects supervisor William Mesa show him storyboards from Victor Fleming’s hagiographic epic Joan of Arc (1948). Raimi selected 25 shots that would then be blended with footage from Army of Darkness.
Joan of Arc, starring Ingrid Bergman, originally began life as a Broadway play entitled Joan of Lorraine. The film recounts the life of Joan of Arc, her victories in battle, and her eventual canonisation.
Despite being a passion project for Bergman, the film was a disappointment. While it was generally enjoyed by audiences, the high costs involved in its production led to an eventual domestic loss of $2.4 million, more than half the budget of the film to begin with.
Interestingly, the film has been criticised for its weighty dialogue and lack of spectacle – even though spectacle was precisely the reason why its storyboards were used for Army of Darkness.
8. Sam Raimi accidentally dropped a crane in a quarry
At the end of Evil Dead II, and again at the beginning of Army of Darkness, Ash falls from the sky in his Oldsmobile Delta 88 and is confronted by the inhabitants of his new time period. In the earlier film, Ash is praised as a saviour, while in Army of Darkness he is suspected of being one of Duke Henry’s men. In both films, however, the car really does fall from the sky.
The effect was achieved through the use of a giant mechanical crane. Filming at a quarry, the car would be lifted into the air by the crane and then dropped.
However, the first attempt failed. While a 25-ton crane was lifting the car, it experienced a mechanical failure and ended up toppling over the edge – with the car – into the quarry below. Remarkably, no one was injured, with the crane operator managing to leap from the crane as it tumbled away.
As a result, a larger, 80-ton crane was acquired later in the week. This removed the damaged crane and was then used to reshoot the car dropping scene.
In the final edit seen in the film, footage from the reshoot as well as from the end of Evil Dead II are used, with none of the toppling crane shots being usable.
7. There have been comic book adaptations for decades
Sam Raimi is a huge comic book fan. After success with the Evil Dead series, Raimi co-wrote and directed Darkman (1990), a superhero film inspired by the likes of Batman and The Shadow. Additionally, you can see a copy of “Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special” in the trunk of Ash’s car (the comic was published in 1991 and features the first instalment of Sin City).
So it makes sense that when Army of Darkness was close to its premiere, a comic book adaptation was released alongside the film – and published by Dark Horse comics, no less.
While the initial issues are simply a retelling of the events of the film, further comics in the series alter aspects of the plot, and even have Ash travelling forward in time to encounter his future past self (yes, time travel is complicated) around the events of the first Evil Dead film.
The comic book series goes on to feature crossovers from the likes of Darkman, horror villain veterans like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, and Raimi-adjacent characters like Xena the warrior princess and even Dracula.
The comics are still going strong, with an Army of Darkness reboot taking place in 2013 under the umbrella of Dynamite Entertainment, and an adaptation of Evil Dead II by Space Goat Publishing releasing in 2015.
6. The plot is pulled from a Japanese-American sci-fi film
Rounding out the curious cinema histories that inspired Army of Darkness is something for the real horror nerds out there: it turns out the genesis of Evil Ash has its roots in a niche Japanese-American film called The Manster (and, no, that’s not a typo).
In Army of Darkness, Ash finds a mirror in a windmill; when it shatters, small reflections of Ash emerge and torture him, with one leaping down his throat. After failing to kill this small Ash by drinking boiling water, it begins to manifest in his right shoulder.
Eventually the evil version of Ash grows into a full form and detaches from his shoulder, at which point it commands the titular Army of Darkness against the medieval townsfolk after Ash fumbles the retrieval of the Necronomicon.
The Manster (1959) is an American science fiction film shot in Japan, starring Peter Dyneley as a foreign news correspondent who’s inducted into an evolutionary experiment. After being injected with a strange fluid, he grows an eye on his shoulder that eventually grows into a second head, which turns him into a psychotic killer before breaking away entirely.
The parallels are clear. Released as The Split in the UK, the film was a failure at the time of release, but has become a cult favourite among fans of campy horror.
5. The film foreshadows Xena: Warrior Princess
Although Ash Williams is by far Bruce Campbell’s most iconic role, he’s well known for a different campy franchise – Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001). A spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-99), in which Campbell also starred, Xena: Warrior Princess follow the titular fighter as she adventures through the world of Greek mythology.
The show was written, produced and directed by Evil Dead series producer Robert Tapert, and executive produced by Sam Raimi. Campbell stars as Autolycus, the King of Thieves, as a guest star in Season 1 and then as a recurring character until the end of Season 4.
Unlike Ash Williams, Autolycus is a master thief and skilled fighter, who avenges his brother’s death by stealing from the merchant Tarsus and giving the spoils to the poor.
Strangely, in the final battle between Ash and the Deadites in Army of Darkness, Evil Ash lets out a shout that sounds almost exactly like Xena’s iconic battle cry, in spite of filming for Army of Darkness preceding the TV show by several years.
Campbell has described playing Autolycus as one of his most fun roles to date. “I had tons of [good] lines and Hercules didn’t have any. His lines are, “wait here, Autolycus.” Meanwhile, I’m just spewing off at the mouth. How can you not like that? And plus, you don’t have to play that “likeability game.”
4. Raimi put Campbell ‘through torture’ to get a better performance from his lead
Embeth Davidtz wasn’t the only actor to struggle during the filming of Army of Darkness. While Bruce Campbell served as a producer for the series, and had of course been its main star, even he didn’t quite realise what he was getting into as the ambition of the film grew and grew.
Since the film takes place in the medieval era, and really does feature Ash fighting an entire army – as opposed to smaller groups of Deadites in the previous films – the choreography was much more complex than ever before.
Additionally, the film makes use of stop motion animation for many of its Deadites, in a homage to Jason and the Argonauts (1963), meaning that many of the opponents Campbell is fighting against didn’t even exist until they were inserted in post production.
As visual effects supervisor William Mesa recounts, “Bruce was cussing and swearing some of the time because you had to work on the number system. Sam would tell us to make it as complicated and hard for Bruce as possible. ‘Make him go through torture!’ So we’d come up with these shots that were really, really difficult, and sometimes they would take thirty-seven takes”
We can only assume that Raimi wanted to the bring the best out of his lead, rather than truly torture one of the his closest friends. Regardless, those battles scenes really are thrilling.
3. Ash actually gets the Necronomicon words right
Say it with me: KLAATU VARATA NIKTO! Or is that KLAATU BARADA NIKTO? It’s up for debate. It seems that Ash says the former in the film, though the latter is the more accurate homage. The phrase was first spoken by Klaatu in the seminal sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
Regardless of whether it’s ‘varata’ or ‘barada’, Ash famously forgets the last word – ‘nikto’ – snatches the Necronomicon anywhere, and effectively brings about the Deadite apocalypse. Safe to say, it doesn’t exactly go to plan.
Listen, closely, however, and it turns out that as hard as Campbell tries to mess up the word, disguising it by coughing and spluttering, he actually mumbles it correctly under his breath. Of course, this would mean Ash could safely get the Necronomicon, there would be no Army of Darkness, and there’d be no film.
It’s definitely the case that it’s the third word that Ash is supposed to mess up. The Wise Man who initially instructs him to use the phrase also says ‘varata’ rather than ‘barada’, so that can’t be it.
That is, unless you believe one of the two supposedly fake books is actually the real Necronomicon – the first sucks him in and the second bites him – though that might be overthinking it.
2. It was Bruce Campbell’s last major leading role
Due to the middling financial returns of Army of Darkness, and Bruce Campbell reaching his late 30s, his opportunities for lead roles weren’t exactly overflowing. He did score an interesting role as the ‘real’ Elvis Presley in the comedy horror Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) opposite Ossie Davis, though he was sharing the limelight and the film received only mildly positive reviews.
More recently, Campbell has played himself in a number of shows as well as contributing his voice, such as in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and a minor part in Pixar’s Cars 2 (2011).
Campbell, however, is proud of his role as a premier B-movie actor. Writing in If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor – his first autobiography, released in 2002 – Campbell writes, “Whenever I do mainstream stuff, I think they’re pseudo-interested, but they’re still interested in seeing weirdo, offbeat stuff, and that’s what I’m attracted to.”
Campbell has more recently launched the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival, the first of which took place in 2014 at Muvico Theater in Rosemont, Illinois. Not only does it, as you might guess, celebrate horror films, but the festival has had guests in attendance like Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert.
However, there is one more important chapter in Bruce Campbell’s story that we’ve yet to mention…
1. Campbell returned as Ash in Ash vs Evil Dead
After the 2013 remake of Evil Dead, directed by Fede Alvarez, there was a lot of anticipation from fans as to what the future of the franchise would be. Initial reports suggested that a second Army of Darkness film would be produced, with Bruce Campbell returning as Ash Williams, and then a seventh film in the franchise would merge the old timeline with a new timeline to be the ultimate Evil Dead experience.
However, the proposed film struggled to get funding, and the Raimi brothers instead opted to create a new TV show: Ash vs Evil Dead, picking up Ash’s story 30 years later.
Ash vs Evil Dead premiered on October 31st 2015 on Starz. Due to legal issues surrounding the rights to the Evil Dead films, still held by Universal, the events that took place in Army of Darkness were unable to be mentioned.
The series also stars Lucy Lawless, of Xena: Warrior Princess fame, as ‘Ruby’, who claims to be the sister of Annie Knowby from Evil Dead II, but is actually… well, we won’t spoil that one.
Unfortunately, the series was cancelled after three seasons, and the next chapter for Ash Williams – and, more broadly, for Bruce Campbell – is uncertain. But what’s clear is that the Evil Dead series is still very much on his and Sam Raimi’s mind, so we may well see that boomstick firing again in the future.