The movie had a considerably higher budget than the prior two Evil Dead films. The budget was estimated to be around $11 million; Evil Dead II had a budget of $3.5 million and The Evil Dead a budget of $350,000. At the box office, Army of Darkness was not a big success, barely making back its budget with a gross of $11.5 million domestically. After its video release, however, it has obtained an ever-growing cult following, along with the other two films in the trilogy. Army of Darkness was more well known than The Evil Dead and its sequel.
There are some differences between the ending of Evil Dead II and the beginning of Army of Darkness. In this movie, instead of being praised, Ash is at first suspected of being one of Duke Henry's men, a Scot at war with the English knights who found Ash. He is enslaved, his gun and chainsaw confiscated, and is taken to a castle. A priest keeps Ash's weapons, believing the "strange one" to be a redeemer, foretold in prophecy to be the one who shall deliver mankind from the terror of the Deadites. Ash is thrown in a pit where he fights off a Deadite, regains his weapons, and uses his "boomstick", a Remington double-barreled shotgun, to frighten the inhabitants of the kingdom into helping him return to his own time.
The only way to return to his time and stop the Deadites, according to the priest who gave Ash back his weapons, is to retrieve the Necronomicon - which contains both spells. Ash is supposed to speak a mysterious phrase when he takes the Necronomicon. While preparing for this, Ash becomes romantically involved with a local woman, Sheila.
Ash then journeys for the Necronomicon, along the way passing into a haunted forest. An unseen force (the camera presenting its point of view) pursues Ash through the woods. Fleeing, Ash ducks into a windmill where he crashes into a mirror. The small reflections of Ash climb out from the shattered mirror and torture him. After knocking him unconscious and tying him down, one of the little Ashes dives down his throat. Ash attempts to kill the little Ash by drinking boiling water, but before any effect can be assumed, "Evil Ash" begins to split off from his right shoulder. Ash panics and runs back out through the woods, where Evil Ash completely splits off of him. Ash shoots Evil Ash in the face, slices him to bits with his chainsaw, and buries him.
When he arrives at the book's location, he sees three books instead of one. After a painful experience with the two fake books (one had bit him and the other one sucked him into the book), Ash finds the real one. He attempts to say the magic phrase, but realizes he forgot the end of it. Ash tries to trick the book by mumbling the missing word, but that re-releases the Evil Dead. He simply grabs the book and rushes back to the castle, while the dead rise from graves all around. During Ash's panicked ride back, Evil Ash rises from his grave and unites the Deadites into the Army of Darkness.
Despite causing the predicament faced by the Medieval humans, Ash initially demands to be returned to his own time. Sheila is captured by a flying Deadite, and then raped by Evil Ash. Ash becomes determined to lead the humans against the skeletal Deadite army. Reluctantly, the people agree to join Ash. Using scientific knowledge from textbooks in the trunk of his Oldsmobile, plus enlisting the help of Duke Henry (whom Ash saved after his conflict in the pit), Ash successfully leads the humans to defeat the Deadites and save Sheila. After this, he is brought back to his own time using a potion made from the book.
The final scene begins with Ash back at the S-Mart store, telling a co-worker all about his adventure back in time, and how he could have been king. After this, a deadite starts wreaking havoc on the store, and Ash defeats it. The film ends with Ash saying, "Hail to the king, baby", and kissing a female employee.
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 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 Rob 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.
The shooting for Army of Darkness 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 let 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 skeletons that were mechanically rigged, with prosthetics and visual effects.
In addition, Raimi needed $3 million to finish his movie, but Universal was not willing to give him the money and delayed its release because they were upset that De Laurentiis would not give them the rights to the Hannibal Lecter character so that they could film a sequel to Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs. The matter was finally resolved, but Army of Darkness' release date had been pushed back from its original summer of 1992 release to February 1993.
For the movie'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 this 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 with the Motion Picture Association of America over the film's rating. The MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating for a shot of a female Deadite being decapitated early on in the film. Universal, however, wanted a PG-13 rating, so Raimi made a few cuts and was still stuck with the MPAA's R rating. In response, Universal turned the film over to outside film editors who cut Army of Darkness to 81 minutes in length and another version running 87 minutes that was eventually released in theaters. Eventually, Army of Darkness ended up with an R rating.
The theatrical release picks up after Ash has returned to the present, in which he stages one final confrontation with the "she-bitch" in the S-Mart Housewares Department. The alternate ending, which was favored by Raimi and Bruce Campbell, depicts Ash as he sits in his Oldsmobile in a cave, the entrance caved in by some of the black powder he made earlier. As he drinks the magic potion (given to him by a person that may or may not be Merlin - the king's name being "Arthur"), he is distracted by a falling rock and takes one drop too many. Ash sleeps well beyond his time, not aging but growing a very large beard, and shouts "I've slept too long!!" after awakening in a post-apocalyptic England.
When test audiences didn't approve of Raimi's original cut, he cut the film down to the International cut that now exists on DVD. When it was again rejected by Universal, Raimi was forced to edit it again to the U.S. Theatrical version. The original cut had an opening that was more in tune with the Evil Dead series (included as a deleted scene on Anchor Bay's Director's Cut DVD).
The MGM Hong Kong Region 3 DVD edits together the U.S. Theatrical, European and Director's cuts into a final, 96-minute cut of the film. The film is digitally re-mastered, compiled from original source prints (not from VHS sources as the Anchor Bay Entertainment releases are). A new Blu Ray release of Army Of Darkness from Optimum Releasing in the UK is rumoured to be of the Director's Cut; it is to be released on September 19th 2008.