In terms of what both endings evoke in audiences, the theatrical version is a cathartic, safer resolution to Ash’s arc that adds a saccharine element to the film’s worldbuilding. In contrast, the director’s cut continues the tradition of unexpected endings that encapsulate the essence of the “Evil Dead” franchise, where not even the final survivor is safe, as danger lurks in every corner. This is exemplified in the first installment where the burning of the Necronomicon does not ensure safety for Ash, who is jump-scared at the last minute, and in “Evil Dead Rise,” where the time portal opens and he’s stranded in the Middle Ages.
Raimi’s ending honors this established tradition, upping the ante of the dire circumstances that Ash finds himself in, while a post-apocalyptic world could have potentially served as the perfect setting for a fourth installment in the film series. Although the franchise keeps growing — with the acclaimed 2013 reboot and the upcoming installment helmed by Lee Cronin — fans were treated to the return of Ash in “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” which appropriately ends with a homage to the downer ending, where he wakes up in a post-apocalyptic future. The way in which the series brings everything full circle is immensely satisfying and poetic, especially in terms of who Ash becomes as a person.
Downer ending or not, “Army of Darkness” is a blast from start to finish. Whether you’re content with Ash getting the happy ending he deserves in the S-Mart version or his frustration-fueled breakdown in the midst of the world crumbling, the crux of the matter remains: Ash Williams is the ultimate hero of the “Evil Dead” franchise. And one must undoubtedly hail to the king, whose grooviness knows no bounds.