25 years ago today, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell gave the world Army of Darkness. The film made Ash the horror action star we always needed. He really came into his own in this film and put a hilarious end to The Evil Dead trilogy. It wasn’t easy though. Director Sam Raimi made the first two films independently and with low-budgets but Army of Darkness was a full-on major studio production with the help of Universal Studios.
Many people love Army of Darkness while others are not the biggest fans due to it shifting from horror to slap-stick comedy. Regardless of how you feel, there is no denying the lasting impression it has made in the horror community. In celebration of the film’s “Silver Anniversary” here are 5 Facts you might not know about Army of Darkness:
1. Bruce Campbell vs. Development Hell
Universal had quite a bit of push back with aspects of the film. The original title was Medieval Dead, an obvious play on words. Unfortunately, the studio didn’t find it very funny and refused to allow the title. Production was also plagued by delays, and re-shoots, and general “Development Hell” frustrating actor and producer Bruce Campbell to no end. And he made his displeasure known, feeling that he had wasted a year of his life waiting for the film’s release. Army of Darkness marks the first and last time Campbell starred as a lead in a studio film.
2. Creepy Cameos
Familiar with tight budgets, director Sam Raimi knew how to fill out scenes with actors. One way he did this was using friends and family. Sam’s brother Ted Raimi, who is a veteran supporting actor, is the Cowardly Warrior. Their other brother Ivan, who is the co-writer of this film and many of Sam’s other pictures, is one of the “Fake Shemps”- a term Raimi used for extras. Raimi even makes an uncredited appearance as a knight in a sweatshirt and sneakers. Also appearing as Fake Shemps are Bruce’s father and brother (Don and Charlie Campbell), as well as directors William Lustig (Maniac, Maniac Cop) and Bernard Rose (Candyman, Snuff-Movie).
Also making appearance in the film are horror regulars Billy Bryan, and Bill Moseley (House of 1000 Corpses, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) as the Deadite Captain. Bryan is the Pit Bitch in Army of Darkness, but is a special effects veteran having worked on films like Species, Dreamcatcher and The Village. His most famous role though was being the Stay Puft marshmallow man in Ghostbusters.
FUN FACT: The Oldsmobile Delta 88 that goes back in time with Campbell was actually Sam Raimi’s car. It appears in many of his early films and is more and more beat-up every time, for obvious reasons.
3. References and Allusions
There is the classic Three Stooges-esque slapstick routine while Ash is trying to escape the cemetery after stealing the Necronomicon. It should come as no surprise that Raimi is a big Three Stooges fan. There is another reference to them when Ash calls the Wiseman (Ian Abercrombie) ‘Spinach Chin’, taken from Malice in the Palace.
Speaking of the Wiseman, this character is interesting in that it helps to draw parallels to the legend of King Arthur. There is actually a Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) but The Wiseman is clearly Merlin and Ash is prophesied to obtain a holy item. In the original legend it is the sword Excalibur, but it’s replaced with the Necronomicon in Army of Darkness. And Lastly, the words that Ash needs to recent perfectly to avoid the Army of Darkness to rise are ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto’, lifted from The Day the Earth Stood Still. These are the words to stop the robot Gort from destroying the world.
4. How DOES That Chainsaw Work, Anyway?
Another trademark in this film from Raimi is the chainsaw arm. This was first introduced in Evil Dead 2. Ignoring the details of how it would actually work, tobacco smoke is pumped through it to simulate that it is running. A tube was run up Campbell’s leg and thread through his sleeve in order to make this effect work. This is probably why they elected to make the gauntlet hand as this would restrict Campbell in many scenes. The effect works quite well though.
5. Shop Smart. Shop S-Mart
To end the infamous ‘boomstick’ speech, Ash tells everyone to ‘Shop Smart. Shop S-Mart’. A fun fact is that there actually is a chain of S-Marts in Mexico. Raimi is from Detroit, Michigan so it could be assumed this is a play on the chain of stores named K-Mart. I haven’t been able to confirm if S-Mart uses the Shop Smart tagline though. If they aren’t, they are really missing out on a golden opportunity.
And of course, the S-Mart ending we all know and love, isn’t the original either. When the studio tested the original ending, it didn’t go over well and they decided to go in another direction. What Raimi originally wanted was Ash to go into a post-apocalyptic world to face more Deadites. This idea still lives on. Ash vs. the Evil Dead uses elements of this ending.
Here, check out the original ending and let us know which you prefer in the comments, or in the official Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook Group.