1981’s The Evil Dead took audiences by surprise with its mix of over-the-top horror and dark sense of humour, and its 1987 sequel Evil Dead II followed suit, but with a greater emphasis on comedy. When third film Army of Darkness arrived in 1992, it took the franchise in a bold new direction, going back in time to a world of sword and sorcery adventure.
Did you know the following facts about the cult classic?
20. It was almost called The Medieval Dead
When director Sam Raimi started writing the third Evil Dead movie with brother Ivan Raimi, they hit upon the idea of calling it The Medieval Dead, a fitting pun on the original title given the period setting. However, they later changed the film’s title to Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness, to keep a sense of chronology with the earlier films.
However, because they wanted to make the film more accessible to viewers unfamiliar with the earlier films, it was shortened to simply Army of Darkness. The film has also been released under a number of variations on that title, including Army of Darkness: The Medieval Dead and Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness.
19. A popular horror fanzine makes a sneaky appearance
The original Evil Dead owed a lot of its early publicity to horror film magazine Fangoria. In print since the late 70s, Fangoria became the premiere publication for scary movie fans in the 80s, and printed numerous articles on The Evil Dead and its storied production. This helped the film became a sleeper hit, ultimately grossing $2.4 million, a sensational figure given the film’s tiny initial budget.
Raimi, Tapert and Campbell felt indebted to Fangoria for their early support. In homage, they put 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
Early on in Army of Darkness, Bruce Campbell’s Ash continues to make use of his signature weapon, the chainsaw. This power tool typically runs on gasoline, meaning that, like a motor vehicle, it produces fumes. For safety reasons, the filmmakers used a non-functioning replica chainsaw on set, but this still left the problem of how to simulate those fumes.
Today, such an issue would likely be solved with CGI, but even on a budget of $11 million, the Army of Darkness filmmakers came up with far cheaper and simpler methods. According to Campbell, tobacco smoke was blown through a tube that ran up the actor’s leg to simulate the running engine. Not the healthiest fix, but an effective one.
17. Bruce Campbell was unhappy with the final film after studio interference
While the first two Evil Dead movies had been low budget independent productions, the larger-scale Army of Darkness was made for studio Universal. Unfortunately, the filmmakers and the studio found themselves at loggerheads during post-production, with Universal executives taking over the editing process and demanding certain scenes be reshot.
The post-production period was so fraught that Army of Darkness’ release date 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 be released.
16. Campbell needed plastic surgery after an on-set injury
Whilst shooting the film’s climactic battle sequence, Bruce Campbell had a minor injury. You might assume this had something to do with the swords and arrows flying around, but in fact Campbell accidentally trod on his cape and stumbled, and a pin on his cape cut his cheek. The resulting gash was small but deep, and needed medical attention.
To preserve his leading man good looks, Campbell was rushed to a plastic surgeon for treatment. However, as the cut sat among various fake injuries created from movie make-up, the doctor couldn’t tell which was the real injury and which were simply prosthetics, and had to be shown which one needed attention. Unpleasant for Campbell, but a ringing endorsement for the make up team!
15. Embeth Davidtz nearly quit acting after making the film
The role of Ash’s medieval love interest Sheila (to whom he memorably purrs, “gimme some sugar, baby”) was taken by Embeth Davidtz, in what was her first US film role. Davidtz has been candid in describing the difficulties she faced with the role, due to the demands of shooting very physical scenes mostly at night in the Mojave desert under heavy prosthetic make-up.
The experience was so gruelling that Davidtz contemplated giving up acting altogether. Happily she had a change of heart, and went on to appear in Oscar-winning classic Schindler’s List, and family favourite Matilda (in which she portrayed Miss Honey). More recently Davidtz has appeared in TV’s The Morning Show and Tales of the Walking Dead.
14. There are four different versions of the film
The post-production clashes on Army of Darkness resulted in no less than four different cuts of the film being produced. Sam Raimi’s original version (the director’s cut) clocked in at 91 minutes, but when test audience scores were low the studio insisted the film be cut down to 88 minutes (this became the International Edit, released outside the US).
Universal still felt this was still too long, however, and cut it down further to a mere 81 minutes (this became the US Theatrical Edit). Later, it was recut entirely for broadcast on The Sci-Fi Channel (creating the TV Edit). While certain scenes are missing from the shorter versions, these alternative cuts essentially follow the exact same story beats – with the exception of the conclusion…
13. It has a famous alternate ending
In the original ending to the film, Ash is given a potion which will put him to sleep until he wakes up in his own time. Sounds simple enough – but, as Ash isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, he accidentally drinks too much and oversleeps, and wakes up in a post-apocalyptic future. Raimi and Campbell thought this a fitting ending, but studio Universal hated it, considering it far too downbeat.
In the studio-mandated reshoot, Ash successfully returns to his own time, goes back to work at S-Mart, keeps battling Deadites and gets a climatic smooch with a beautiful woman. Fans have long debated which of these should be considered the ‘true’ ending to Army of Darkness, although later TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead seems to follow on from the happy ending.
12. A Mark Twain novel inspired the plot
Army of Darkness was heavily inspired by another tale of a modern-day American transported to medieval times: Mark Twain’s 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Twain’s tale is considered a classic and has been adapted to the screen many times, including a 1949 musical starring Bing Crosby.
Richard Nokes of Troy University, Alabama, has written a detailed comparison of Twain’s novel and Raimi’s film that’s well worth a read for any serious Army of Darkness fans. Raimi has noted that the film is also inspired by other time-honoured voyage narratives like Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels.
11. Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell sacrificed their salaries to finish the film
When Army of Darkness was being conceived, the original plan was for an $8 million budget. During pre-production, it quickly became apparent that this wouldn’t be enough, and studio Universal issued an ultimatum: Raimi, Campbell, and producer Rob Tabert would have to sacrifice $1 million of each of their salaries to get the sets and effects they’d requested.
The filmmakers begrudgingly agreed, and Army of Darkness was ultimately made for $11 million. Sadly, the film didn’t make much of a profit at the box office, earning only $21 million worldwide. Happily, it performed considerably better on home entertainment and was eventually embraced as a cult classic.
10. The film is dedicated to a legendary producer
Film producer Irvin Shapiro isn’t a particularly well known name, but he had a major impact on the Evil Dead series. A seasoned distributor and sales agent, Shapiro helped get The Evil Dead seen by a mass audience. He also suggested the film’s title: originally, Sam Raimi had named the film Book of the Dead.
Later, Shapiro served as executive producer on Evil Dead II, and suggested calling the film Army of Darkness. Raimi and company decided against this, but after Shapiro died in 1989 they decided they would use the title on the third film in his honour. The end credits of Army of Darkness also include a dedication to Shapiro.
9. It borrowed storyboards from 1948 film Joan of Arc
Army of Darkness was the largest-scale film director Sam Raimi had worked on up to that point, and he was a little out of sorts tackling epic battle scenes and special effects. To help with this, Raimi drew inspiration from a perhaps surprising source: 1948 epic Joan of Arc, which starred Ingrid Bergman as the legendary historical figure.
Raimi had visual effects supervisor William Mesa show him storyboards from Joan of Arc’s battle scenes. From these, the director selected 25 shots that would then be blended with footage from Army of Darkness. Of course, in the 1948 film the battles were fought by human beings, rather than walking skeletons.
8. They accidentally dropped a crane in a quarry whilst shooting a car stunt
The opening of Army of Darkness recreates a moment from the end of Evil Dead II: Ash falling to the ground along with his car, having been sucked through a time vortex. This effect was achieved practically: the car (Raimi’s very own Oldsmobile, which appears in all of his films) was lifted into the air by crane, and then dropped above a quarry.
However, the first attempt at this 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.
7. There have been comic book adaptations for decades
When Army of Darkness was close to its premiere, a comic book adaptation was published by Dark Horse comics. This proved to be the beginning of a long-running Army of Darkness comic book series, which follows on from the events of the film as Ash continues on his supernatural adventures.
The series eventually changed hands from Dark Horse Comics to Dynamite Publishing. Dozens of Army of Darkness titles have been published, featuring many crossovers with other properties including Xena: Warrior Princess, Re-Animator, Freddy vs. Jason, Darkman, Marvel Zombies and more besides.
6. Evil Ash’s birth is inspired by an obscure 1959 sci-fi horror 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 largely forgotten 1959 shocker called The Manster (and, no, that’s not a typo). In Army of Darkness, Ash finds a mirror in a windmill, which gives birth to an evil version of himself.
The Manster (an American science fiction film shot in Japan) centres on a man who unwittingly gives birth to a maniacal doppelganger. The film even sees the leading man’s evil double emerge from his body in a similar way to how Evil Ash is born, so the parallels between the two are plain to see.
5. The film foreshadows Xena: Warrior Princess
Although Ash Williams is by far Bruce Campbell’s most iconic role, he’s well known for another recurring role on television: Autolycus, the King of Thieves, as seen in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and its more celebrated spin-off series Xena: Warrior Princess. Both shows were produced by Campbell’s Evil Dead series collaborators Rob Tapert, and Sam Raimi.
With its old-fashioned adventure elements and swordplay, Army of Darkness helped pave the way for Hercules and Xena, and the role of Autolycus again draws on Campbell’s knack for physical comedy and smart-alecky performances. Campbell also directed several episodes of both shows, including the very last episode of Hercules.
4. Sam Raimi delighted in tormenting Bruce Campbell throughout production
Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert have been friends since high school, where they first started making short films together. Through all the years, Raimi and Campbell have had a curious friendship, with the director taking great pleasure in making his leading man endure as much discomfort and exhaustion as possible.
As Army of Darkness was their biggest film yet, Raimi was able to inflict ever-more epic torments on Campbell. Visual effects supervisor William Mesa recounts, “Sam would tell us to make it as complicated and hard for Bruce as possible… So we’d come up with these shots that were really, really difficult, and sometimes they would take thirty-seven takes.” This resulted in a lot of “cussing and swearing” from Campbell off-camera.
3. Ash actually gets the Necronomicon words right
When Ash is sent to retrieve the Necronomicon, the pivotal book of the dead, he is instructed to recite the magic words ‘Klaatu barada nikto’. Sci-fi fans will recognise this phrase from seminal 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, but Army of Darkness fans will remember it for one key reason: Ash forgets the words, says the wrong thing when picking up the book, and sparks a supernatural apocalypse.
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, were this the case it would mean Ash could safely get the Necronomicon, there would be no Army of Darkness and subsequently there’d be no film.
2. Bruce Campbell has never headlined another studio movie
Hopes were high that Army of Darkness would launch Bruce Campbell as a major Hollywood leading man, but things didn’t quite turn out that way. Campbell came close to landing the lead role in The Phantom, but lost out to Billy Zane; he was also considered for the lead in Congo, but was relegated to a brief cameo.
Instead, Campbell went on work more extensively in TV (including The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and Burn Notice) and a slew of low-budget genre films. Still, he’s landed occasional blockbusters including a voice role in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and bit parts in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies (plus Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness).
1. Since TV’s Ash vs Evil Dead, Campbell has retired from the role
After the 2013 big screen reboot of Evil Dead, the original series chronology was continued in TV’s Ash vs. Evil Dead. The series re-introduced Campbell’s once youthful hero as a middle-aged layabout begrudgingly forced to battle the supernatural threat of the Deadites once again, with new cohorts Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) and Pablo (Ray Santiago).
Originally intended for a five-season run, Ash vs. Evil Dead was unfortunately cancelled after three seasons due to low ratings. At the show’s end in 2018, Bruce Campbell (by then aged 60) declared that he would not play the role of Ash again. However, the Evil Dead series will continue, with new movie Evil Dead Rise expected at some point in late 2022.