Army Of Darkness Nearly Featured Charles Napier As Ash's S-Mart Manager

At the end of Sam Raimi's 1993 horror farce "Army of Darkness," the blustering a-hole hero Ash (Bruce Campbell), stranded in the early 14th century, has handily vanquished an army of Deadites and retrieved the magical Necronomicon, a book that has the power to return him to his own time. The bearded Wise Man (Ian Abercrombie) explains to Ash that he has to drink a vial of elixir and recite three magical words, being careful to recite them correctly (Ash had previously whiffed the same magic words earlier in the film). 

An astute observer might have noticed that Abercrombie's mouth doesn't match his dialogue in that scene. This is the result of a massive recut to the ending of "Army of Darkness." In the original cut, and the cut released overseas, Ash was told to drink one drop of elixir for every century he wanted to travel forward in time. Ash, being a dim bulb, swallowed one too many drops and landed in a post-apocalyptic future. 

According to the 2004 book "The Unseen Force: The Films of Sam Raimi" by John Kenneth Muir, Universal deemed this ending to be too dour and insisted Raimi shoot something new. The North American theatrical release of "Army of Darkness" instead featured Ash back in the present day, working at his crappy retail job at S-Mart, telling his co-workers about his medieval adventure. When he admits he might have mispronounced the magic words, a monstrous witch appears and a cartoonish shotgun fight commences. The film ends with Ash defeating the witch, kissing Angela Featherstone, and saying "Hail to the king, baby." A moment of triumph at the end of a delightfully silly movie.

The great Charles Napier

"Army of Darkness," even with the fight scene added to the end, still runs a mere 81 minutes. And while the short runtime assures a breakneck, Looney Tunes-like pace, one might find themselves wondering why the ending seemed so abrupt. By the same token, why did recognizable star Bridget Fonda appear at the start of "Army of Darkness," as Ash's girlfriend Linda, and not have any lines? According to Bill Warren's indispensable tome "The Evil Dead Companion," there were planned additional S-Mart sequences, including a few dialogue scenes with Linda, as well as an interaction Ash has with his manager. 

The manager, Sam Raimi said, was to be played by the legendary Charles Napier, star of "Star Trek," "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," and hundreds of others. One might recognize him as a cop in "The Silence of the Lambs," or from his small roles in "The Blues Brothers" and "Rambo: First Blood Part II." Any filmgoer in the 1980s or 1990s would likely run into Napier eventually. Napier's manager character was going to be, according to Warren's book, something of a jerk. Raimi said that Napier's character, however, never made it past the workprint phase of production. Raimi excised the character entirely, as well as Linda's dialogue. 

This was one of many cuts that "Army of Darkness" was to experience. There was controversy with the MPAA rating board, which wanted to rate the film NC-17 over its violence. Universal wanted a PG-13 film, so Raimi cut the film down from its original length to 88 minutes. He still, however, received an R-rating. Universal hired an outside editing house to trim further, and the 81-minute cut was the result. It still got an R rating.

The many edits of 'Army of Darkness'

For many years, the short version of "Army of Darkness" was the only one available in the United States. It wouldn't be until the boom in the DVD market that deleted scenes and extended cuts would become regularly available to the consuming public. Over the course of its many, many DVD and Blu-ray releases — the "Evil Dead" films probably have more home video editions than any other movies — four "complete" cuts of "Army of Darkness" eventually emerged. 

The original director's cut — the one that was to be rated NC-17 — runs 96 minutes. The international cut — the one with the apocalyptic ending — runs 88 minutes. There is a gentler TV edit that, weirdly, also runs 88 minutes, and there's the final theatrical version that is so short, it's over before most modern blockbusters would get going. To add to the confusion, the various home video releases have also released certain cuts in varying aspect ratios. Some of them are in a recognizable 1.66:1 aspect ratio (sometimes called "European widescreen"). Some are in a slightly expanded 1.64:1 (!), and some leave the camera matte totally open and present the film in 1.33:1. It wouldn't be until 2009, that Shout! Factory would release "Army of Darkness" in its theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, but the same company would change it to 1.78:1 for its 2015 Blu-ray release. 

Like "Blade Runner," one can no longer be sure which version is "correct" anymore. Luckily, no matter how one sees it, "Army of Darkness" is a hoot and a half, and remains a notable cult comedy for the ages. Whichever version you see the first will be the correct one.