Army of Darkness is a 1992 American comedy-horror epic 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.
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 the Red, 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. 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 clone, after which Ash kills and buries it.
When he arrives at the Necronomicon's 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 the Deadite captain resurrects in his clones' body, 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 in the film.
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, allowed to come to the 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 6 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 7 instead of 6. 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.