Despite its minuscule budget and its supposedly grueling 6-week shoot, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead has reached legendary status since its initial 1983 release in the United States. In fact, I’d go so far to say that Raimi’s film created a regular Deadite empire, spawning The Evil Dead II (1987), Army of Darkness (1993), the 2013 reboot, and the current television series Ash vs. the Evil Dead (2015-), along with various comic books and video games.
Army of Darkness celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of its American release this month. Raimi’s 1993 film occupies a special place in my heart as part of what made me fall in love with the horror genre (and Bruce Campbell) so many years ago. To quote Ash Williams, “Hail to the king, baby.” Now, let’s reminisce about why Army of Darkness still reigns supreme.
Army of Darkness picks up where Evil Dead II left off. After a quick montage of vital scenes from the previous film and a voice-over by Ash (Bruce Campbell), we’re told that Ash has been sucked into a vortex, finding himself in medieval England, circa 1300. After proving himself to be a hero, Ash learns that he must embark on a dangerous quest to retrieve the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis so that he can be transported back to twentieth-century Michigan.
Ash encounters all sorts of perils along the way, but eventually finds the Necronomicon. Unfortunately, Ash fails to remember the words necessary to safely steal the book away (hey, you try memorizing klaatu barada nikto while dealing with the forces of pure evil!) and unwittingly wakes up the army of the dead, lead by their Deadite captain (Bill Moseley: The Texas Chain Saw II, The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses).
Ash leads the united armies of Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) and Duke Henry the Red (Richard Grove) to defeat the Deadite army and save the alluring Sheila (Embeth Davidtz: Thir13en Ghosts, The Amazing Spider-Man). He is transported back to the 20th-century where a Deadite appears in his place of work, S-Mart. It’s suggested that this Deadite is a result of Ash once again failing to properly remember the klaatu barada nikto chant.
The released ending, in which Ash destroys the Deadite and passionately kisses a random woman, is not the original one filmed by Raimi. This alternate ending featured a much darker finale in which Ash drank too much potion and winds up in a dystopian future. Although I typically prefer a darker ending, I’m happy with this cheesy conclusion to Army of Darkness. Throughout the Evil Dead franchise, Ash always manages to bumble and fumble his way out of trouble all while maintaining an obscene amount of self confidence. This over-the-top conclusion seems to be a nice fit.
Twenty-five years later, Army of Darkness holds up. Its mixture of slapstick and horror elements still blend beautifully to create a truly fun film. Practically every scene is golden, but three that demonstrate Raimi’s ingenuity include Ash’s Gulliver’s Travels moment, the witch in the pit, and the entire final battle between the medieval army and the “army of darkness.” There are countless quotable one-liners (“Alright you Primitive Screwheads, listen up! You see this? This… is my BOOMSTICK!”) and a plethora of delicious gore and special effects. It’s definitely worth a re-watch.
Still hungry for more? Feast your eyes on these fun facts about the film:
- The original title of the film was The Medieval Dead (ugh, I wish this title stuck!).
- Raimi’s famous Oldsmobile 88 is heavily featured in Army of Darkness.
- During the final battle scene, Sam Raimi can be spotted charging with Duke Henry’s army wearing very odd dress for a medieval battle: a tee-shirt and modern shoes.
- Some of the slapstick featured in Army of Darkness pays homage to The Three Stooges.
- Due to legal disagreements, the current television series Ash vs. Evil Dead cannot make direct reference to the events of Army of Darkness.
I know that Army of Darkness was many horror fan’s gateway drug to loving the genre. I’d love to hear about your memories watching the film for the first (or zillionth) time. Please share your thoughts below!
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