(For the 30th anniversary of Sam Raimi’s “Army of Darkness,” we’re looking back at some scary and funny anecdotes about the movie this week).
Both “Evil Dead II” and “Army of Darkness” open with recaps, explaining the story of Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) up to where the previous film left off. This is a necessity since both “The Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II” end with cliffhangers; in the first, Ash is ambushed by an Unseen Force, while in the second he’s sent back to medieval times. This mandated an explanation in each subsequent movie for viewers unacquainted with the series. But there’s a catch to this: The story is never quite the same in any of the three films.
“Evil Dead II” opens with a reshot version of the first film, one that condenses its beats into 10 minutes: Ash goes out to a cabin in the woods, awakens the “evil dead” with the Necronomicon, and horror ensues. Originally, Raimi simply wanted to use the already shot footage, but distribution rights for “The Evil Dead” were scattered. To streamline the story, it was altered. In “The Evil Dead,” Ash went to the cursed cabin with four companions: his girlfriend Linda, his sister Cheryl, and another couple Scott & Shelly. In “Evil Dead II,” this is altered into only Ash and Linda going to the cabin, turning the story into a romantic getaway gone wrong.
What “Evil Dead II” told in 10 minutes, “Army of Darkness” does in 2. On top of retelling the previous film, there’s also new footage of Ash’s life as a big-box store worker before he went to the cabin (“Shop Smart, Shop S-Mart”). Another difference is Linda; in each film, she’s played by a different actress.
New movie, new Linda
In “The Evil Dead,” Linda is played by Betsy Baker. Some context: the film had a low budget of only $375,000, and thus was shot in Raimi’s home state of Michigan using local talent with little experience. Campbell and Ellen Sandweiss (Cheryl) were friends of Raimi and had acted in his amateur Super 8 movies. Of the film’s cast, only Campbell became a full-time actor. Between 1981 and 2006, Baker has only one credit.
Baker was interviewed for “The Unseen Force: The Films of Sam Raimi” by author John Kenneth Muir. She recalls that Raimi and Campbell asked her to return as Linda in “Evil Dead II,” but she turned them down: “I was actually married by then and expecting my first child. The timing was not going to be conducive for me to shoot and be gone.”
So, the part was recast with Denise Bixler since the undead Linda maintains a presence in the story. In particular, there’s the scene where Ash has to destroy her decapitated head with a chainsaw and the demon inside it taunts him with Linda’s voice.
Third time’s the charm
The opening flashbacks of “Army of Darkness” stay close to “Evil Dead II,” even using some footage from the preceding film. However, the movie again recasts Linda. Why? It may be because Bixler has only three credits and hasn’t appeared in anything since 1992.
The Linda in “Army of Darkness” was none other than Bridget Fonda. She has the least screentime of the three; according to Muir’s book, her scenes were all quickly completed reshoots. These scenes include a shot of Linda working at S-Mart, her and Ash pulling up to the cabin in their Oldsmobile, and a recreation of Dixler-Linda’s demise in “II” (the Unseen Force crashes through the window and takes Linda in a pushing-forward POV shot).
However, Fonda also had the most prolific career of the three actresses — she is Hollywood royalty, after all. She would also work with Raimi again on his crime thriller “A Simple Plan.” Not bad considering in “Army of Darkness,” she’s practically a stand-in.
Since the turn of the 21st century, Fonda has gone into retirement while Baker has come out of it. The circle of Linda has come full circle as Baker has reprised her role in the 2017 fan-film “Ash vs Evil Dead: Aunt Linda’s Bake-Off” and 2022’s “Evil Dead: The Game.” The story of “Evil Dead” has been reinterpreted so many times that eventually, it looped back around to the original Linda.