The Four Different Versions Of Army Of Darkness Explained

Hail to the king, baby. Three decades ago, Sam Raimi's "Army of Darkness" was released in the U.S., capping the "Evil Dead" trilogy which grew from a low-budget cult hit into a horror-comedy mainstay with buckets of blood to spare. You might remember it: Bruce Campbell's Ash and his chainsaw arm, a literal blood geyser, Ray Harryhausen-esque stop-motion skeletons. But your experience may vary, depending on which version of the movie you've seen. With Lee Cronin's upcoming franchise installment "Evil Dead Rise" on its way to theaters in April of 2023, it's a good time to look back on Raimi's 1993 cult hit, in all of its presentations.

Picking up from "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn," the trilogy capper brings its splatstick out of cabin-in-the-woods territory and into a castle on a hill, taking a cue from the likes of Mark Twain. Similar to the hero of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," our strong-chinned savior Ash finds himself transported into the Middle Ages. Captured and later freed by the local authorities, and with his boomstick in tow, the chainsaw-wielding everyman sets out to locate the flesh-bound book of the dead, the Necronomicon — his ticket back home — amid impending war with a Deadite army.

There are four iterations of "Army Of Darkness," depending on where it was shown. The four official versions are as follows:

  • The Director's Cut, 96 minutes

  • The international version, 88 minutes

  • The U.S. Theatrical Version, 81 minutes

  • The U.S. Television Version, 88 minutes

A journey through the quartet reveals differences, both subtle and grand, between each respective entry; it's more than alternate endings.

The director's cut

The Director's Cut runs 96 minutes long — the lengthiest and most orderly sanctioned version of "Army of Darkness" in existence. Before Anchor Bay's 2000 DVD release came along, the only way a fan could see it was via import laserdisc, or they could hoist the Jolly Roger and find a bootleg copy. Restored from two sources — a high-contrast Japanese print of the international cut and a ¾" video copy from Campbell's personal vault — its middling quality could get dimmer than a "Game of Thrones" night scene.

In 2003, MGM released a Hong Kong and Japan-specific director's cut DVD with improved elements. While it was a region 4 disc, this version came from an unedited original 35mm print, and the scuttlebutt is that it's the best version of the film available anywhere. It adds new scenes from the theatrical cut, re-calibrates established ones, alters a few signature Ash one-liners, and is the only cut to feature the ending Raimi wanted audiences to see.

Therein, Ash seals himself in a cave and takes a magic potion (its recipe from the retrieved Necronomicon) to return to his own time. This is the same guy who couldn't remember a simple three-word chant in the film, so naturally, he takes too much potion and overshoots his target date. Stumbling out of the cave, he discovers a post-apocalyptic London and falls to his knees shouting, "No! I slept too long!" The ending was deemed too much of a downer by Universal, and so it was nixed in favor of the S-Mart ending most fans know, but the alt ending would reverberate in the Rip Van Winkle-esque finale of the "Ash vs. Evil Dead" TV series.

The international version

The 88-minute international version was assembled by Dino DeLaurentiis Communications for territories outside the U.S., with cuts amounting to, according to one source, 15 minutes and 19 seconds of excised footage.

In fact, the first 45 minutes of this "Army of Darkness" is the same as the Director's Cut, up until the Tiny Ashes show up in the old mill. It's one of the funniest sequences of the film entire, with Ash battling unholy Lilliputian copies of himself using, as the "Evil Dead" movies love to use, common objects on hand to dispatch victims. The international cut lets some oxygen out of the Tiny Ashes tank, a fissure worth over two minutes of cut footage. Viewers are denied the sight of Ash removing a fork from his buttcheek, threatening the Ashes repeatedly, and various Three Stooges-style injuries: the bucket of questionable fluids being dumped onto his head and the subsequent slip-n-slide that leads to Ash burning his buns on the stovetop, a head bump leading to his face being covered in soot, and the entire "London Bridge" taunt before Ash takes a nail to the foot. The full list of differences can be found on the comprehensive Book of the Dead website, where it becomes clear that, outside of the ending, DeLaurentiis' cut was focused more on time-shaving than anything else.

This version contains the S-Mart ending most fans are familiar with, in which Ash makes it back to the present and resumes his job at the S-Mart department store. As he talks up Bridget Fonda, a lingering Deadite attacks and Ash gives it both barrels, saving the day and getting the girl. This ending earned the movie the title "Captain Supermarket" in Japan, both for its theatrical release and home video.

The theatrical and TV versions

Naturally, the MPAA hit "Army of Darkness" with an R rating, a downer for Universal's plans to market to teenagers. Bill Warren's "The Evil Dead Companion" reports that the studio outsourced the movie to third-party film editors who chopped the film down to 81 minutes, not that it did much good; the movie sat on the back burner for six months due to "The Silence of the Lambs," and still got the R rating.

Nonetheless, the U.S. theatrical version is the best-known and most accessible iteration of the movie for those in North America. One of its major cuts is the lovemaking scene between Ash and Sheila (Embeth Davidtz, who would play Helen Hirsch in Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List"). Again, some of the most hilarious bits of the movie would be left on the cutting room floor. The Tiny Ashes sequence would be largely cleaved into a fraction of its pratfalls, and the scene where Ash splits into Good and Bad Ash is decimated and adds the line, "Good. Bad. I'm the guy with the gun." This, like the other versions, utilizes the S-Mart ending.

Finally, the TV version is shortened for both time and content as one would expect it to be. Coming in at 88 minutes, its most egregious changes are for language: "Yo, She-B****" becomes "She-Witch," "I never even saw these a******* before" is overdubbed to "I never even saw these eggheads before." In short, it's as defanged as a Raimi movie can get. 

Book of the Dead chronicles that it was first shown on the NBC Universal circuit. The Sci-Fi Channel and USA Network aired the TV edit around 1997, and this version still runs on the boob tube to this day. For the grooviest viewing experience, though, it's Director's Cut or bust.