Army of Darkness (1992) Sam Raimi – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie

The struggles behind the scenes of Army of Darkness are the subject of the latest episode of the WTF Happened to This Horror Movie series.

Last Updated on June 25, 2024

Today, Sam Raimi’s trilogy capper Army of Darkness (watch it HERE) is known as one of the horror genre’s most beloved cult classics, but the film – which was a box office disappointment when it was released in 1993 – didn’t have a smooth journey from script to screen, as evident from the fact that there are four different cuts floating around out there, with the director’s cut being 15 minutes longer than the U.S. theatrical cut. From problems with the studio and the ratings board to some budgetary issues, Army of Darkness had to overcome several hurdles to reach its adoring audience – so let’s look back and see What the F*ck Happened to This Horror Movie.

Of course, the story of Army of Darkness begins with Sam Raimi’s debut feature The Evil Dead, which went into production in 1979, when the director was just 20 years old, and starred Raimi’s friend and future genre icon Bruce Campbell. Campbell took on the role of Ash Williams, a hapless knucklehead who goes on vacation to a cabin in rural Tennessee and ends up battling the forces of evil after demonic spirits are set loose on him and his friends through the reading of a passage from the recently unearthed and translated Book of the Dead. “Book of the Dead” was the original title of the film, and it was publicist Irvin Shapiro who gave The Evil Dead the title it had when it finally received a wide theatrical release in 1983. It was also Shapiro who suggested that Raimi should make a sequel with Army of Darkness in the title.

Evil Dead II involves Ash continuing to battle the evil beings known as Deadites in that Tennessee cabin, with a new bunch of characters showing up to get possessed and wiped out. At the end of the film, another passage is read from the Book of the Dead that’s meant to open a vortex that will suck in the evil and take it away. But Ash, being a hapless knucklehead, ends up being sucked into the vortex as well, and finds himself dumped into medieval times. 1300 A.D., to be exact. The idea to toss Ash into the past occurred to Raimi very early in the development of Evil Dead II; so early, in fact, that it wasn’t originally supposed to be the ending moment, the whole movie was supposed to be set in the past. Raimi wrote the story for an Evil Dead II that was set in 1300 and the idea was fleshed out into a screenplay by Sheldon Lettich, who would go on to write a bunch of action movies, including Rambo III, Only the Strong, and multiple Jean-Claude Van Damme projects. Lettich also wrote the “Marines vs. the Manson Family” classic Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except, which happens to star Raimi as a cult leader modeled after Charles Manson.

The problem with setting Evil Dead II in the past was that it would require a much higher budget, so when studios passed on the idea, Raimi focused on making the comedy Crimewave instead. Things didn’t go well on that production. Campbell has called it a disaster, and Raimi described it as a “horrible, horrible, horrible, depressing” experience. So when that was in the can, Raimi went back to Evil Dead II out of desperation – this was something he knew worked and had an established audience. Shapiro took out an ad in the trades announcing that Raimi was making an Evil Dead sequel called Evil Dead and the Army of Darkness, with artwork showing the Ash character fighting Deadites in the foreground and a castle in the background. But in order to push the project forward and get funding, Raimi realized he would have to set aside the 1300 A.D. idea in favor of making a lower budgeted film that would remain at the cabin. He wrote this new approach to the sequel with his friend Scott Spiegel, and in the long run it seems very beneficial that we got Evil Dead II between The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, instead of the first sequel already being set in the past. Going from the bloody and brutal first film right into a medieval adventure in the second would have been too jarring. Evil Dead II and the enhanced humor it brought to the table helps smooth out the transition between the different styles.

Evil Dead II was the success Raimi needed, and from there he was able to make the superhero action movie Darkman for Universal. When Darkman did well, Universal was interested in staying in the Sam Raimi business – and Raimi saw that this was his opportunity to bring the Evil Dead 1300 A.D. idea to the screen. Evil Dead II financier Dino De Laurentiis was willing to fund another sequel, De Laurentiis had a deal with Universal, it was the perfect set-up. De Laurentiis and the studio each put in half of the budget, for a total around 12 million dollars, and production began. The one baffling condition that Universal put forth is that they did not want to promote this as being the third Evil Dead movie, one of the rare times in Hollywood history where a studio didn’t want to profit off of a known title. Rather than selling this film as a follow-up to The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, they wanted it to stand on its own, which is why it was simply released as Army of Darkness, not Evil Dead and the Army of Darkness, or Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness. Universal’s stance also eliminated Raimi’s suggested alternative of The Medieval Dead.

While promoting Evil Dead II, Raimi and Campbell had made it clear that the film was setting up a sequel they would gladly dive into if given the chance. They both mentioned in interviews that the script for the third film was already in place while Evil Dead II was in production. But instead of returning to the draft Sheldon Lettich had written, after Evil Dead II was released Raimi decided to write a new script. At first he turned to his part 2 co-writer Scott Spiegel, but since Spiegel was busy working on the Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen movie The Rookie at the time, Raimi had to find someone else to write it with. He chose his brother Ivan Raimi, who had become a doctor while Sam and their younger brother Ted were pursuing careers in the entertainment industry. Their collaboration went well, and turned out especially well for Ivan Raimi, since his involvement with Army of Darkness led to him meeting his future wife on the set, where she was a crew member.

Army of Darkness was a difficult shoot, but not for any truly negative reasons. The difficulty simply came out of the fact that the film required so many special effects. Even with effects duties being split between multiple companies – KNB, Alterian, Introvision – it was still incredibly challenging to get everything done, with some of the effects teams working for several weeks straight without any sort of break. The production was also extremely challenging for Campbell, whose character Ash has to continue his fight against the Deadites after being sent back in time hundreds of years. This film even has Ash fighting himself in a number of ways. There’s a sequence where he gets tormented by evil, miniature versions of himself, and then a full-grown Evil Ash emerges from his body, so Campbell plays many different versions of Ash here. He has said that this was “the most physically uncomfortable movie in the history of motion pictures”.

There were only a couple notable instances of sequences not turning out the way Raimi was hoping for during principal photography, and one of those was due to fight choreography proving to be too difficult to pull off in one continuous take. The other happened because they ran low on cash. Early on, Ash has a confrontation with a witch creature played by stuntwoman Patricia Tallman, who horror fans may remember as Barbara from Night of the Living Dead 1990. In the finished film, this fight consists of the witch knocking people around inside a room until Ash blasts her down with his boomstick, or his shotgun to those of us who aren’t primitive screwheads. As originally envisioned, the fight was supposed to take place outside, among crumbling pillars. At one point, the witch was going to get a log jammed in her mouth and her cheeks would puff up as she spit out the log. The miniature set with the pillars was built, KNB had the puffy-cheeked witch makeup effects ready to go, but the scene was going to be too expensive. So the version of the scene that’s in the film was a reshoot done in a garage, with cast members Marcus Gilbert as Lord Arthur and Embeth Davidtz as Ash’s love interest Sheila sporting wigs for their part in the set-up, hiding the fact that their hairstyles had changed since the rest of the movie was shot. The pillar sequence probably would have been a cool sight to behold, but fans don’t seem to be disappointed with the witch fight we got.

Filmed in 1991, Army of Darkness was aiming for a summer 1992 release. The filmmakers strongly believed that it was a summer movie. Producer Rob Tapert said it would be a crime if it didn’t come out in the summer. Well, that crime was committed. Universal initially scheduled the film for a January 1993 release, then ended up pushing it back another month, so it reached theatres in February of ’93. This delay occurred due to a disagreement between Universal and De Laurentiis, something that really had nothing to do with Army of Darkness at all. The disagreement was over Hannibal Lecter.

De Laurentiis had acquired the film rights to author Thomas Harris’s character Hannibal Lecter in the process of making the 1986 film Manhunter, based on Harris’s novel Red Dragon. Lecter is a supporting character in that story, and was played by Brian Cox in Manhunter. That’s an awesome movie, but De Laurentiis was so unhappy with it that he had no interest in making The Silence of the Lambs, so he gave Orion permission to use Lecter in their adaptation of that Harris novel for free. When it started to look like Lambs was going to turn out to be something special, Universal chairman Tom Pollock talked to De Laurentiis about making a sequel as part of the deal De Laurentiis had with the studio. And when LAMBS was released and became a huge financial and critical success, Pollock found out that De Laurentiis had a differing opinion on how their conversation had gone. Pollock felt they already had an oral agreement to make a Hannibal Lecter movie together. De Laurentiis thought they still needed to come to terms on this. At that point, Universal started to see Army of Darkness as nothing more than leverage they could use to make De Laurentiis accept their Hannibal Lecter deal. They stopped putting money into the film’s post-production while also demanding that it be completed by a date that De Laurentiis felt was arbitrary and unreasonable, they refused to schedule a release date, and they wouldn’t hold the test screening Raimi wanted so he could see how the film played to an audience. So De Laurentiis filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the studio.

Thankfully, this lawsuit was settled within a matter of months, but it still dragged on long enough that Army of Darkness missed its chance of coming out in the summer of 1992. De Laurentiis and Universal did end up making a Hannibal Lecter movie together, but what makes this whole situation all the more absurd is the fact that the movie, Ridley Scott’s Hannibal, wasn’t released until 2001. Tom Pollock apparently thought they were going to strike while the iron was hot and get a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs made real soon, but De Laurentiis waited for Harris to finish writing the sequel novel before going ahead with the movie. It was a long wait, so Army of Darkness had been held hostage for a movie that wouldn’t happen until nine years later.

When things were worked out between De Laurentiis and the studio, Universal finally took a look at Raimi’s cut of Army of Darkness, and that just made things more complicated. This is when the film started to get away from Raimi, as not only did Universal think his 96 minute cut was too long, they also thought some parts were too silly, and they hated the ending, in which Ash is given a magic potion that will allow him to return to his own time by sleeping through the ages. But, being Ash, he takes one drop too much of the potion, sleeps too long, and wakes up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Raimi and Campbell saw this as a way to set up a fun, futuristic sequel where Ash could lead a robot uprising against the Deadites. Universal saw it as a bummer and demanded that a new, more upbeat ending be shot. At the same time, they started performing their own edit of the film, whittling 15 minutes out of it. On the audio commentary he recorded for the film, Raimi said he did have some input on the Universal edit, but it seems clear that he didn’t have much input. At the time, he told Fangoria magazine that Universal was cutting his film down and was quoted as saying, “I really don’t know what the movie’s going to be like now.” It’s obvious in the audio commentary that Raimi wasn’t pleased with the way Universal’s edits turned out, as he states on a couple different occasions that scenes weren’t as good in their theatrical cut, and that they play better in his director’s cut.

In the United States, Universal released their 81 minute cut with a new ending in which Ash makes it safely back to his own time, goes back to his job at S-Mart, kicks some more Deadite ass, and gets the girl. This theatrical release happened after Raimi got some further grief from the MPAA ratings board, which threatened to give the film an NC-17. If you’ve seen Army of Darkness, you know the idea of it being rated NC-17 is ridiculous. The filmmakers felt the MPAA just wanted to punish them because the previous two Evil Dead movies had been released unrated. In the end, Raimi got them to give the film an R rating. It feels more like a PG-13, but an R will do.

For international territories where Universal wasn’t the distributor, De Laurentiis put together an 88 minute cut that has the S-Mart ending and lifts several minutes out of sequences that Universal cut down as well, namely the sequence with the mini-Ashes and the climactic battle. De Laurentiis had also asked Raimi to restructure the battle so a character would join the fight sooner. When Ash arrives in 1300, he finds himself in the middle of an ongoing conflict between Gilbert’s Lord Arthur and Richard Grove as Duke Henry the Red. By the end of the film, Ash and the war with the Deadites will have convinced Arthur and Henry to set aside their differences and live in peace. The first indication of this truce comes during the battle at Arthur’s castle, when Henry comes riding in with his men to help fight the army of darkness led by Evil Ash. In Raimi’s cut, Henry doesn’t show up until the battle is almost over, and De Laurentiis wanted him to be part of the fight for a longer period of time. Raimi complied, and Henry arrives earlier in every cut except the director’s cut.

Sam and Ivan Raimi both think they missed the chance to put more character moments with Ash throughout the final battle, feeling that the action gets so overwhelming that Ash gets lost in it, and Campbell suspects the extended version of the battle might have been too exhausting for audiences to endure, but that didn’t keep the entire battle from being part of the director’s cut.

So we have the director’s cut, the Universal cut, and the international cut. The fourth official cut enters the picture because Universal had made the film so short – that 81 minute running time had to be beefed up a bit for the television version of the film. The cut that airs on the likes of Syfy runs 88 minutes, and while it has edits to protect viewers from harsh language and violence, it also puts moments back in, including a couple scenes that were only in this version. They could be found in the deleted scenes section of the home video release, but here they’re actually part of the movie. One of these is the only version of the windmill scene where the build up to the arrival of the tiny Ashes, which involves Ash smashing a mirror, makes some sense.

All the tinkering and reshoots that were done on Army of Darkness didn’t seem to do the film any favors when it reached theatres, and neither did the February release date or the decision to sell the film as its own thing instead of playing up the connection to the two Evil Dead movies. Not many people went to see Army of Darkness. The box office take sputtered out at around the same amount that was put into the budget. Some questionable choices were made that definitely hindered the movie, but it eventually found its fans when the Universal and international cuts reached home video. Years later, the director’s cut also started to make its way out into the world, so fans could finally see the film as Raimi had intended it to be seen, before financiers and executives started calling the shots.

Getting Army of Darkness made and released wasn’t an easy process, but Bruce Campbell and his wife Ida have a saying that goes, “If it’s easy to make, it will probably be hard to watch.” And this is a movie that fans have found very easy to watch over and over again for almost 30 years now. Hail to the King, baby.

Some previous episodes of the series can be seen below, and more can be found on our JoBlo Horror Videos YouTube channel!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.