Five Michigan State University students, Ash Williams, his girlfriend, Linda, Ash's sister, Cheryl, their friend Scotty, and his girlfriend Shelly, venture into rural Tennessee to vacation in an isolated cabin for their spring break. They soon run into trouble, with Scotty nearly colliding with a truck, then barely getting the group to safety when the bridge leading to the cabin starts to collapse. That night, while Cheryl is sketching an old clock, she notices it stopping. She hears a faint, demonic voice outside her window say "join us". After she shrugs it off, her hand becomes possessed, causing her to draw a picture that looks like a book with a deformed, evil face. Unsure of what happened and what to do, she decides not to mention the incident to the others.
When the trapdoor to the cellar mysteriously flies open during dinner, Ash and Scotty go down to investigate and find the Naturom Demonto, a Sumerian version of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, along with a tape recorder belonging to the archaeologist who owned it. When Scotty plays it, the archaeologist's voice recites a series of incantations, resurrecting a mysterious, demonic entity.