Army of Darkness is a 1992 American comedy horror film directed, co-written and co-edited by Sam Raimi, co-produced by Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell and co-written by Ivan Raimi. Starring Campbell and Embeth Davidtz, it is the third installment in the Evil Dead franchise, and a sequel to Evil Dead II, and follows Ash Williams (Campbell) as he is trapped in the Middle Ages and battles the undead in his quest to return to the present.
The film was produced as part of a production deal with Universal Pictures after the financial success of Darkman. Filming took place in California in 1991. The makeup and creature effects for the film were handled by two different companies: Tony Gardner and his company Alterian, Inc., were responsible for the makeup effects for Ash and Sheila, while Kurtzman, Nicotero & Berger EFX Group was credited for the remaining special makeup effects characters. Tom Sullivan, who had previously worked on Within the Woods, The Evil Dead, and Evil Dead II, also contributed to the visual effects.
Army of Darkness premiered at the Sitges Film Festival on October 9, 1992, and was released in the United States on February 19, 1993. It grossed $21.5 million total over its $11 million budget, and received positive reviews, though notably less than the first two films. Since its video release, it has acquired a cult following, along with the other two films in the trilogy. The film was dedicated to The Evil Dead sales agent and Evil Dead II executive producer Irvin Shapiro, who died before the film's production in 1989.
Plans to make a third Evil Dead film had been circulating for a number of years, even prior to the production of Darkman. Evil Dead II made enough money internationally that Dino De Laurentiis was willing to finance a sequel. Director and script writer Sam Raimi drew from a variety of sources, including literature with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, the Three Stooges, and Conan the Barbarian. Evil Dead II, according to Bruce Campbell, "was originally designed to go back into the past to 1300, but we couldn't muster it at the time, so we decided to make an interim version, not knowing if the 1300 story would ever get made". Promotional drawings were created and published in Variety during the casting process before the budget was deemed too little for the plot. The working title for the project was Medieval Dead, before it was later known as Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness. The title "Army of Darkness" came from an idea by Irvin Shapiro, during the production of Evil Dead II.
Initially, Raimi invited Scott Spiegel to co-write Army of Darkness because he had done a good job on Evil Dead II, but he was busy on rewrites for the Clint Eastwood film The Rookie. After the good experience of writing the screenplay for a film called Easy Wheels, Sam and his brother Ivan decided to co-write the film together. They worked on the script throughout the pre-production and production of Darkman. After filming Darkman, they took the script out and worked on it in more detail. Raimi says that Ivan "has a good sense of character" and that he brought more comedy into the script. Campbell remembers, "We all decided, 'Get him out of the cabin.' There were earlier drafts where part three still took place there, but we thought, 'Well, we all know that cabin, it's time to move on.' The three of us decided to keep it in 1300, because it's more interesting". Campbell and Tapert would read the script drafts, give Raimi their notes and he would decide which suggestions to keep and which ones to discard.
The initial budget was $8 million but during pre-production, it became obvious that this was not going to be enough. Darkman was also a financial success and De Laurentiis had a multi-picture deal with Universal and so Army of Darkness became one of the films. The studio decided to contribute half of the film's $12 million budget. However, the film's ambitious scope and its extensive effects work forced Campbell, Raimi and producer Robert Tapert to put up $1 million of their collective salaries to shoot a new ending and not film a scene where a possessed woman pushes down some giant pillars. Visual effects supervisor William Mesa showed Raimi storyboards he had from Victor Fleming's film Joan of Arc that depicted huge battle scenes and he picked out 25 shots to use in Army of Darkness. A storyboard artist worked closely with the director in order to blend the shots from the Joan of Arc storyboards with the battle scenes in his film.
Traci Lords was among the actresses auditioning for the film, saying in 2001, "I didn't get the part but I clicked with Bruce [Campbell]," with whom she would later work as a guest star in the TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
Principal photography took place between soundstage and on-location work. Army of Darkness was filmed in Bronson Canyon and Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. The interior shots were filmed on an Introvision stage in Hollywood. Raimi's use of the Introvision process was a tribute to the stop-motion animation work of Ray Harryhausen. Introvision uses front-projected images with live actors instead of the traditional rear projection that Harryhausen and others used. Introvision blended components with more realistic-looking results. To achieve this effect, Raimi used 60-foot-tall Scotchlite front-projection screens, miniatures and background plates. According to the director, the advantage of using this technique was "the incredible amount of interaction between the background, which doesn't exist, and the foreground, which is usually your character".
Shooting began in mid-1991, and it lasted for about 100 days. It was a mid-summer shoot and while on location on a huge castle set that was built near Acton, California, on the edge of the Mojave Desert, the cast and crew endured very hot conditions during the day and very cold temperatures at night. Most of the film took place at night and the filmmakers shot most of the film during the summer when the days were longest and the nights were the shortest. It would take an hour and a half to light an area leaving the filmmakers only six hours left to shoot a scene. Money problems forced cinematographer Bill Pope to shoot only for certain hours Monday through Friday because he could not be paid his standard fee. Mesa shot many of the action sequences on the weekend.
It was a difficult shoot for Campbell who had to learn elaborate choreography for the battle scenes, which involved him remembering a number system because the actor was often fighting opponents that were not really there. Mesa remembers, "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". Some scenes, like Evil Ash walking along the graveyard while his skeleton minions come to life, blended stop-motion animation with live-action skeleton puppets that were mechanically rigged, with prosthetics and visual effects.
During the filming of a scene in which Campbell flipped a stuntman down a set of stairs, the lower part of his face contacted with a piece of armor, which resulted in him bleeding. Campbell was brought to a local emergency room to have the wound mended by a plastic surgeon, who, upon seeing the number of artificial cuts and slashes on Campbell's face, asked, "Which one is it?" In order to maintain the continuity of the injuries and dirt on Ash's face, the on-set makeup specialist utilized a plastic template that fit over Campbell's face.
The filmmakers initially intended to reshoot the shot from Evil Dead II in which Ash and the Oldsmobile fall from the sky onto the ground of medieval England, with Campbell later stating that the reason they sought to reshoot it rather than reusing the footage from the previous film was due to "a rights issue". Campbell was intended to jump from a ladder onto the ground, and the Oldsmobile dropped from its suspension on an aircraft cable attached to a crane on a nearby access road. However, the support legs under the crane gave out, causing the car to prematurely crash to the ground and the crane to fall off a cliff into a gravel pit. Campbell noted that, "Ironically, after all the hassle, we wound up using the footage from 1986."
While Dino De Laurentiis gave Raimi and his crew freedom to shoot the film the way they wanted, Universal took over during post-production. Universal was not happy with Raimi's cut because it did not like his original ending, feeling it was negative. In this ending, the potion Ash is given causes him to oversleep, and when he wakes up he is in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic wasteland. A more upbeat ending was shot a month later in a lumber store in Malibu, California. Then, two months after principal filming was finished, a round of re-shoots began in Santa Monica and involved Ash in the windmill and the scenes with Bridget Fonda. Raimi recalls, "Actually, I kind of like the fact that there are two endings, that in one alternate universe Bruce is screwed, and in another universe he's some cheesy hero".
Raimi needed $3 million to finish his film, but Universal was not willing to give him the money and delayed its release due to a dispute with De Laurentiis over the rights to the Hannibal Lecter character which Universal needed so that they could film a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. The matter was finally resolved, but the release date for Army of Darkness' was pushed back from summer of 1992 to February 1993.
For the film's poster, Universal brought Campbell in to take several reference head shots and asked him to strike a sly look on his face. They showed him a rough of the Frank Frazetta-like painting. The actor had a day to approve it or, as he was told, there would be no ad campaign for the film. Raimi ran into further troubles when the Motion Picture Association of America gave it an NC-17 rating for a shot of a female Deadite being killed early on in the film. Universal wanted a PG-13 rating, so Raimi made a few cuts and was still stuck with an R rating. In response, Universal turned the film over to outside film editors who cut the film to 81 minutes and another version running 87 minutes that was eventually released in theaters, still with an R rating.
Danny Elfman, who composed the score for Darkman, wrote the "March of the Dead" theme for Army of Darkness. After the re-shoots were completed, Joseph LoDuca, who composed the music for The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, returned to score the film. The composer used his knowledge of synthesizers and was able to present many cues in a mock-up form before he recorded them with the Seattle Symphony. A vinyl release of the score was revealed during the MondoCon in Austin, Texas, on October 3 and 4, 2015 over Mondo Records.
Army of Darkness was released by Universal on February 19, 1993, in 1,387 theaters in the United States, grossing $4.4 million (38.5% of total gross) in its first weekend. On a budget of $11 million, the film earned $11.5 million in the US and $21.5 million worldwide.
The film holds a 74% approval rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 50 reviews, with a weighted average of 6.9/10; making its critical reception above average but much lower than The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, which both received 95%. The site's consensus reads, "Army Of Darkness is a madcap adventure worth taking thanks to Bruce Campbell's hammy charm and Sam Raimi's acrobatic direction, although an intentional lack of shocks makes this a discordant capper to the Evil Dead franchise". On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 57 out of 100, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Roger Ebert gave the film two out of four stars and wrote, "The movie isn't as funny or entertaining as Evil Dead II, however, maybe because the comic approach seems recycled." In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote that "Mr. Campbell's manly, mock-heroic posturing is perfectly in keeping with the director's droll outlook." Desson Howe, in his review for The Washington Post praised the film's style: "Bill Pope's cinematography is gymnastic and appropriately frenetic. The visual and make-up effects (from artist-technicians William Mesa, Tony Gardner and others) are incredibly imaginative." However, Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C+" rating and wrote, "This spoofy cast of thousands looks a little too much like a crew of bland Hollywood extras. By the time Army of Darkness turns into a retread of Jason and the Argonauts, featuring an army of fighting skeletons, the film has fallen into a ditch between parody and spectacle."
Army of Darkness won the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film (1994). It was also nominated for Best Make-Up. Army of Darkness was nominated for the Grand Prize at Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival, and won the Golden Raven at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film in 1993. The film also won the Critics' Award at Fantasporto, and was nominated for the International Fantasy Film Award in the category of Best Film in 1993. It was also nominated for Best Film at Sitges, the Spanish International Film Festival.
In March 2013, shortly before the release of Evil Dead, a loose continuation of the franchise, Raimi stated that the next Evil Dead film will be Army of Darkness 2. Campbell confirmed that he would star as an older, but not necessarily wiser, Ash. At a WonderCon panel in March, Campbell and Fede Álvarez, director of the 2013 film, stated that their ultimate plan was for Álvarez's Evil Dead 2 and Raimi's Army of Darkness 2 to be followed by a seventh film which would merge the narratives of Ash and Mia. Later in October, Campbell once again confirmed in an interview with ComicBook.com that he will be reprising his role as Ash in the sequel. Fede Álvarez posted a status update on his Twitter account that Raimi will direct the sequel. Campbell later commented that the rumor about him returning is false.
In July 2014, Campbell stated it was likely the planned sequel would instead be a TV series with him as the star. The ten-episode season of Ash vs Evil Dead premiered on Starz on October 31, 2015, with the pilot co-written and directed by Sam Raimi. Due to legal issues with Universal, the events from Army of Darkness could not specifically be mentioned in the first season; it was later resolved and the events from that film were mentioned in the second season. In addition to Campbell, the series stars Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago, and Lucy Lawless. The series was later canceled after three seasons, with Campbell officially retiring from the role of Ash.
A new Evil Dead film, entitled Evil Dead Rise, written and directed by Lee Cronin and starring Alyssa Sutherland, Lily Sullivan, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, Nell Fisher, and Mia Challis is set to release theatrically on April 21, 2023.
Army of Darkness had a comic book adaptation and several comic book sequels. The movie adaptation, from publisher Dark Horse Comics, was published before the film's theatrical release.
- Army of Darkness (movie adaptation)
- Army of Darkness: Ashes 2 Ashes
- Army of Darkness: Shop till You Drop Dead
- Darkman vs. Army of Darkness
- Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator
- Army of Darkness: Old School
- Army of Darkness: Ash vs. The Classic Monsters
- Marvel Zombies vs. The Army of Darkness
- Army of Darkness: From the Ashes
- Army of Darkness: Long Road Home
- Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash
- Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: The Nightmare Warriors
- Army of Darkness/Xena: Warrior Princess: Why Not?
- Xena vs. Army of Darkness: What Again?
- Army of Darkness vs. Hack/Slash
Eden Studios, Inc. published the Army of Darkness Roleplaying Game in 2005.
Army of Darkness: Defense (2011, by Backflip Studios)
Having been accidentally transported to the Middle Ages, Ash Williams is captured by Lord Arthur's men, who suspect him of being a spy for Duke Henry, with whom Arthur is at war. He is enslaved along with the captured Henry, his shotgun and chainsaw are confiscated, and he is taken to Arthur's castle. Ash is thrown in a pit where he kills a Deadite and regains his weapons from Arthur's Wise Man. After demanding that Henry and his men be set free and killing a Deadite publicly, Ash is celebrated as a hero. He grows attracted to Sheila, the sister of one of Arthur's fallen knights.
According to the Wise Man, the only way that Ash can return to his time is through the magical Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (Book of the Dead). Ash then starts his search for the Necronomicon. As he enters a haunted forest, an unseen force pursues Ash into a windmill, and he crashes into a mirror. Small reflections of Ash in the mirror shards come to life, with one becoming a life-sized copy of him, after which Ash kills and buries it.
When he arrives at the Necronomicons location, he finds three books instead of one, and has to determine which one is real. Realizing at the last moment that he has forgotten the last word of the phrase that will allow him to remove the book safely "Klaatu barada nikto" he tries to mumble and cough his way through the pronunciation. He grabs the book and begins rushing back. Meanwhile, unknown to Ash, his ruse has failed and his body's copy rises from the dead, uniting other Deadites into the Army of Darkness.
Upon his return, Ash demands to be returned to his own time. However, Sheila is abducted by a flying Deadite and later transformed into one. Ash becomes determined to lead the outnumbered humans against the Army, and the people reluctantly agree. Using knowledge from textbooks in his 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 and enlisting the help of Duke Henry, Ash successfully leads the soldiers to victory over the Deadites and their captain, saves Sheila, and brings peace between Arthur and Henry. Using a passage from the Necronomicon, the Wise Man tells him how to return to the present by giving him a potion after reciting the same phrase as earlier.
Back in the present, Ash recounts his story to a fellow employee at the S-Mart department store. As he talks to a female co-worker who is interested in his story, a surviving Deadite, present because Ash once again forgot the last word, attacks the customers. Ash kills it using a Winchester rifle and exclaims, "Hail to the king, baby", before passionately kissing the female co-worker.
For the film's original ending, using a passage from the Necronomicon, the Wise Man tells Ash to swallow six drops of the potion to return to the present; unfortunately, due to a distraction by falling rocks, Ash miscalculates the amount of potion needed to be able to correctly return to his own time, swallowing seven instead of six. As a result, he wakes up in a post-apocalyptic future where human civilization is destroyed, and he screams in dismay at having overslept. Universal Pictures objected to this climax, feeling that it was too negative and depressing in tone, and so a more positive and optimistic ending was filmed and ultimately incorporated into the theatrical cut.