Bruce Campbell Prefers The Original Army Of Darkness Ending

As has been previously discussed in the pages of /Film, Sam Raimi's 1993 slapstick horror comedy "Army of Darkness" notoriously had four different cuts. The version that ran in theaters in the United States was a trim 81 minutes and was rated R, most likely for a single scene where a human being is transformed into a blood geyser. The version that made its way onto TV was not rated but used supplemental footage to pad the running time to 88 minutes. That was also the length of the film's international release, which kept in some of the film's gorier scenes as well as its original ending. The longest version of "Army of Darkness" is a 96-minute director's cut, which includes mostly everything, original ending included. 

It's worth pausing to note that Ash, played by the brilliantly funny Bruce Campbell, is a complete a-hole in "Army of Darkness." Starting in "The Evil Dead" (1981) and surviving "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn" (1987), Ash moved from being a mild-mannered college student, to being a dumb, comically rude jerk. As the character survived more and more preposterous monster attacks, his basic intelligence fell away and his ego expanded. His rudeness is why audiences don't much mind watching him being abused, Three Stooges style, by walking rubbery skeletons. The worst things to happen to Ash in "Army of Darkness" are the results of his own dumbness. The army of the dead, for instance, only attacks when Ash misspeaks a magical spell. It's telling that the villain of the film is an evil Ash doppelgänger also played by Campbell.

The original ending was the "unhappy" ending and, according to the "Army of Darkness" commentary track, Campbell's favorite.

I slept too long

The U.S. theatrical ending is a "happy" ending, showing Ash in an action sequence and ending on a moment of triumph. Ash, having been displaced to the 14th century, finds himself back in his own time, still working a crappy retail job at a big box store. Of course, he misspoke the magic words that brought him back to the 20th century, so he also has to fight a hag monster. He kills the monster with about 50 shotgun rounds and kisses a nearby peer in victory. "Hail to the king, baby," he says. 

The unhappy ending that Campbell preferred was quite different. In that ending, Ash was given a magical elixir that was to send him forward in time one century for every drop he swallowed. He pushed his car into a cave and drank the potion as instructed. He, however, miscounts the number of drops and swallows one too many. He awakens with a long beard and covered in dust, stumbles out of the cave, and sees that the world has been completely destroyed by some unknown conflagration. The final shot is Ash, in complete despair, wailing to the heavens that he slept too long. the poor dope can't catch a break. "Evil Dead IV" would have potentially been a post-apocalypse thriller.

On the commentary, Campbell had the following to say: 

"In many cases this was referred to as the 'alternate ending,' but there's no such thing. This is the original ending ... I will defend this ending to the end of my days, because it's not about depressing. It's about appropriate. I think the ending is appropriate. And I think this sequence is very cool. It's very sci-fi and it gave a good lead-in to what would or would not become part IV."

The appropriate ending

Campbell also noted that the cave they shot the original "Army of Darkness" ending in was also used in 1966 as the exterior of the Batcave in the "Batman" TV series. It's in a place called Bronson canyon. There are hikes one can take in Southern California to go see it. No, the actual Batcave is not inside. Campbell also just likes the original ending because of its look. He comments on the fact that the character changes positions a lot, the seasons pass, and the music becomes weirdly beatific. Just on a visual level, it's nice to look at. Then there are distant screams. Campbell also noted his character's utter idiocy. He said: 

"This is where you get your character back, Sam [Raimi]. The idiot who is so easily distracted that he miscounts six lousy drops. [...] The poor sap. He slept too long."

Campbell has gone on record in the past about how much he would have personally hated meeting Ash in real life. He compared the character, negatively, to Donald Trump, and feels him to be a dumb blowhard. For Campbell, Ash getting his comeuppance was poetic. A character like Ash shouldn't have triumph. Life should be hard. It certainly shook out that way, as Campbell no doubt survived being splattered with untold gallons of fake blood in his tenure as the character. In 2018, the Starz TV series "Ash vs. Evil Dead" came to a close, and Campbell said that he was, in no uncertain terms, totally done. At age 64, he doesn't have the prowess to fight monsters anymore. 

Ash may have ended badly, but Campbell stepped out with grace.