Five Michigan State University students – Ash Williams, his girlfriend Linda, his sister Cheryl, their friend Scott and Scott's girlfriend Shelly – vacation at an isolated cabin in rural Tennessee. Approaching the cabin, the group notices the porch swing move on its own but suddenly stop as Scott grabs the doorknob. While Cheryl draws a picture of a clock, the clock stops, and she hears a faint, demonic voice tell her to "join us". Her hand becomes possessed, turns pale and draws a picture of a book with a demonic face on its cover. Although shaken, she does not mention the incident.
When the cellar trapdoor flies open during dinner, Shelly, Linda, and Cheryl remain upstairs as Ash and Scott investigate the cellar. They find the Naturom Demonto, a Sumerian version of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, along with an archaeologist's tape recorder, and they take the items upstairs. Scott plays a tape of incantations that resurrect a demonic entity. Cheryl yells for Scott to turn off the tape recorder, and a tree branch breaks one of the cabin's windows. Later that evening, an agitated Cheryl goes into the woods to investigate strange noises, where she is attacked and raped by demonically possessed trees. When she manages to escape and returns to the cabin bruised and anguished, Ash agrees to take her back into town, only to discover that the bridge to the cabin has been destroyed. Cheryl panics as she realizes that they are now trapped and the demonic entity will not let them leave. Back at the cabin, Ash listens to more of the tape, learning that the only way to kill the entity is to dismember a possessed host. As Linda and Shelly play spades, Cheryl correctly calls out the cards, succumbs to the entity, and levitates. In a raspy, demonic voice, she demands to know why they disturbed her sleep and threatens to kill everyone. She stabs Linda in the ankle with a pencil and throws Ash into a shelf. Scott knocks Cheryl into the cellar and locks her inside.
Everyone fights about what to do. Shelly becomes paranoid upon seeing Cheryl's demonic transformation. She lies down in her room but is drawn to look out of her window, where a demon crashes through and attacks her. Shelly becomes a Deadite and attacks Scott, before he manages to throw her into the fireplace. Shelly attacks Scott again, and Scott stabs her in the back with a Sumerian dagger, apparently killing her. When she reanimates, Scott dismembers her with an axe and buries the remains. Shaken by the experience, he leaves to find a way back to town. He shortly returns mortally wounded from the possessed trees, and dies while warning Ash that the trees will not let them escape alive. When Ash checks on Linda, he is horrified to find that she has become possessed. She attacks him, but he stabs her with the Sumerian dagger. Unwilling to dismember her, he buries her instead. She revives and attacks him, forcing him to decapitate her with a shovel and retreat to the cabin.
Back inside, Ash discovers that Cheryl has escaped the cellar. Cheryl manages to elude Ash for a period of time, culminating in her attempting to choke Ash. Ash manages to escape her grasp, and then shoots Cheryl in the jaw. As Ash is barricading the door, Scott reanimates into a Deadite. Scott attacks Ash, and inadvertently knocks the Naturom Demonto close to the fireplace. Ash gouges Scott's eyes out and pulls a tree branch from Scott's stomach, causing him to bleed out and fall to the ground. Cheryl breaks through the barricade and knocks Ash to the floor. As Scott and Cheryl continue to attack Ash on the ground, Ash manages to grab the Naturom Demonto and throws it into the fireplace. While the book burns, the Deadites freeze in place, then begin to rapidly decompose. Large appendages burst from both corpses, covering Ash in blood. Dawn breaks, and Ash stumbles outside.
As Ash walks away from the cabin, an unseen entity moves rapidly through the forest, rushes through the cabin, and attacks him from behind.
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