After Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987) there was a five year gap until Army of Darkness launched in 1992.
It follows on exactly after Evil Dead 2, this time ramping up the comedy horror aspect to new levels. It also rounds off the film franchise, so let’s get groovy and dive on into this one.
Army of Darkness Ups the Comedy Horror and Slapstick
Directed once again by Sam Raimi, the trilogy closer continued the tradition of changing the successive film’s tone.
The first Evil Dead is big on horror, with some humour. Evil Dead 2 balances the two out. Whereas Army of Darkness is more of a slapstick romp, with some horror. Kind of like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010). It knows its place.
That tonal shift did upset some fans, who wanted more horror.
But we think it’s a noteworthy effort from the Evil Dead team, as each film offers something unique to viewers. Rather than just a predictable retread each time out.
Bruce Campbell returned as everyone’s favourite charismatic moron Ash Williams. He’s been catapulted back into the Middle Ages after a mishap in his cabin in the woods.
At the start of the film, there’s a quick recap of events from Evil Dead 2 (kind of like a, “Previously on Friends…” type thing). Bridget Fonda has a small cameo here as she just really wanted to be in Evil Dead 3 and so had this tiny part.
But upon arriving in the Middle Ages, Ash is captured by Lord Arthur and his (possibly merry) men. The Lord immediately believes Ash to be a spy sent by local rival Duke Henry.
However, the local Wise Man (Ian Abercrombie) believes Ash to be the saviour of society sent from the future.
Lord Arthur is having none of it and chucks Ash into a pit of doom. And this is where the film’s slapstick violence really kicks off.
That’s an important scene (seriously, it’s super vital) as it establishes the tone thoroughly. It’s embedded in now, no going back! We’ve got a screwball comedy now with gore. You’ll just have to hack it.
As in, you’ll either enjoy that or you won’t. Frankly, we thought the total ridiculousness of everything was a heaping wodge of fun.
And Ash continues on his action hero ways by dropping the legendary line:
“All right, you primitive screwheads, listen up! See this? This is my boomstick!”
That’s become one of the iconic lines from the series. That and, “Groovy.”
After this, Lord Arthur’s men believe Ash to be a saviour and start to hero worship him.
Meanwhile, local lady Sheila (Embeth Davidtz), the sister of a local Knight, falls for Ash and the two have a bit of a fling, “Give me some sugar, baby.” As Ash puts it.
Despite the love interest, he demands to be returned to his time period, even though he doesn’t really have much to look forward to there (he works as a shelf stacker in a supermarket chain).
But he’s insistent he wants to get back. Even though locals want to make him King and lavish him with luxury.
That’s an important point about his personality. Ash is a moron and kind of a bumbling dickhead, but at the same time he’s charismatic and cool. A fun mix.
Good old Ash sticks to his 20th century roots and demands a return.
This leads the Wise Man to inform him he needs the Necronomicon. And he must repeat the correct lines at its location to safely get the book, “Klaatu barada nikto.”
Ash being an idiot, he soon forgets the third word and triggers off all Hell.
By misreading the words, Ash accidentally triggers off the Deadites into action and the Army of Darkness rises.
What follows is a bit of Lord of the Rings style warfare, with a full scale siege on Lord Arthur’s castle.
This section drags on for quite a while, but it’s technically impressive and maintains elements of humour.
Ultimately, Ash leads his army to victory and all is good! He gets to return to his time period at the supermarket where he is happy and content.
Oh, but a Deadite managed to return with him and he’s kicked into action one final time.
All very stupid and good fun, we found. Army of Darkness works as it’s so self-aware of the preposterous nature of everything.
The special effects are great for the time, mixing stop motion animation with practical effects. These aren’t as memorable as in Evil Dead 2, but it’s still a fine effort all the same.
And it’s the most accessible film from the trilogy, with the reduction in horror making it less bizarre and scary.
In terms of mindless escapism, it’s a lot of fun. Yeah, it’s not perfect by a long shot. But it delivers its daftness with serious panache and there’s a lot to enjoy.
Army of Darkness’ Original Ending
Now, the whole editing process of Army of Darkness got quite confused.
Once the film was finished, the original ending (above) was considered a Debbie Downer by the studio.
It closes with Ash making another stupid error, which means he ends up far into the distant future and very much alone.
Yeah, the studio thought that was depressing. As did some of the test screening audience. And so, in great movie fashion, they went off to film the other ending instead.
But that’s where it gets confusing, as the North American and European releases have a jumbled mess of which ending is included.
From what we’ve heard, the original ending did end up on the VHS release for the UK version… and in various other places.
Otherwise, the the US the ending is the kickass one in the supermarket.
The accepted ending amongst fans seems to be the supermarket one and, sure, we can live with that. As it’s a good laugh.
The Production of Army of Darkness
The budget for Evil Dead 3 was ramped up after the first sequel. In 1987 Raimi had $3.6 million to work with.
In 1992, he received $11 million. A big budget for the era.
This prompted a more ambitious project, finally shifting the action out of the cabin in the woods into a lush environment.
Army of Darkness wasn’t as big a hit as everyone was hoping, but did go on to make back $21.5 million worldwide. Since then, as with the other films in the series, it’s gained a considerable cult following.
Reviews were pretty mixed, however, with criticisms aiming at the excessive use of comedy over horror. That’s down to personal preference whether you see it as a fault or not.
Filming took place over 100 days in mid-1991. The location was Acton, California, right at the edge of the Mojave Desert. Right in the crushing heat of summer.
The intense heat, followed by freezing night temperatures, made it a difficult shoot (as you’d expect).
And lead actor Bruce Campbell found it particularly tough going, having to remember complex choreography for fight scenes. Often battling monsters that weren’t really there, needing to be added in later by the special effects team.
Speaking of which! Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger returned from Evil Dead 2, this time with their fledging company KNB EFX Group (they’ve since worked on The Walking Dead series to great effect).
Their work in Army of Darkness is reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) and his work in the likes of Jason and the Argonauts (1963).
Stop motion animated skeletons in Army of Darkness’ battle scenes resemble those from the landmark film, so it’s a clear nod to Harryhausen’s incredible work.
For the time, it all works very well and we think their application is part of the charm of the film. We know it’s stop motion animation, but it still looks unique and has a great appeal.
To add to the realism, female dancers were also used as skeleton extras for the battle scenes as they were skinner than geezers and had some nifty moves on them.
Finally, fans were a bit sad to see the end of the series.
But they were delighted 20 years later when the TV series Ash vs Evil Dead arrived on the scene! Naturally, the legend that is Bruce Campbell returned to play Ash Williams.
We’ve yet to watch any of this, but it ran from October 2015 to April 2018. It had a three series run of 10 episodes each season, but was then cancelled.
Despite that, it holds strong reviews and looks like a lot of fun. So, we’ll make sure we catch up with that sometime soon.
Bruce Campbell is into his 60s now and has recently called it a day on live action performances of Ash, due to his age.
But a video game called Evil Dead: The Game is launching in 2022 and lets players take control of Ash Williams.
Campbell provides his vocal talents there, not ruling out further contributions to this iconic horror character he helped to create.