hile there were no film courses
of interest to Raimi at MSU, he does credit his study of literature and the
humanities with making him a better storyteller. The script of Evil Dead, which
was completed in first draft during his college years, owes some of its
thematic structure to Raimi's borrowings from English Lit. "I don't want
to get too artistic," Raimi says, "but I think the picture was
strengthened by the notion of time, as in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.
There, time moves in an orderly , progressive fashion, and then, at a certain
point, time stops. Then, when evil is in control, time moves backwards; that's
what I used in Evil Dead. There's a clock in the film that serves as a focal
point; a gauge to the evil."
However elegantly structured, the story of Evil Dead is a simple one. Five
college students -- Ash (Bruce Campbell), Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), Linda
(Betsy Baker), Scott (Hal Delrich), and Shelly (Sarah York) -- venture into the
wooded mountains of Tennessee to spend a weekend of fun in an isolated country
cabin. There they encounter an Evil Presence -- and, worse, discover a demonic
relic, the ancient
Book of the Dead. The Book, bound in human flesh and written in
blood, contains the resurrection formulas that will cause the spirits of the
evil dead to rise and take control, one by one, of the students. As the
survivors see their friends and lovers turn into hideous, murdering demons,
they learn that the only way to kill the Possessed is to dismember them.
"You can shoot 'em, or stab 'em," says Raimi, "but the spirits
just lift the body up again, and they come right at you. You really have to cut
So Raimi had
a story. He also had a producer, a special effects man, and a lead actor. With
all of the MSUSCF members out of school and now a part of Renaissance Pictures,
Inc., he even had a production company. What was missing? Money!
low-budget, 16mm horror film requires a reasonable amount of the green stuff to
launch, and so Raimi and crew hatched a plan to lure investors. With much of
the same cast and crew that would later tackle the feature, Raimi shot Within
the Woods, a 30-minute adaptation of the same story, in super 8 format.
"That was our main tool for financing," says Raimi. "Part of it
was for the investors to believe in that picture, and to perceive it as scary.
The other part was for them to believe us; that we were hard-working young men
trying to get started, that we wouldn't be taking salaries and intended to
bring it in as cheaply as possible, to safeguard that investment. So it was a
combination of all those things."
incident that occurred in the making of the "short version" is worth
recounting here, though the tale does reveal one of the film's niftier shocks
(NOTE: Skip to the next paragraph if you wish to preserve the surprise.).
"In the short, Bruce Campbell played a monster, and Ellen Sandweiss played
the hero -- the opposite from the feature. There was a scene where Ellen is
battling with him, and slices into his arm with a knife, which is left
dangling. The script called for Bruce to take hold of the arm and rip it off,
to show that these monster mean business. But then the arm wouldn't come off --
so Bruce bit it off. It looked so great, we kept it in the short, and wrote it
into the picture."
financing came together, the next steps were casting and the selection of
locations. Producer Tapert recalls, "We had already cast Ellen Sandweiss,
who had also been in the 8mm version. She plays the 'outsider' of the group;
there's two guys and three girls, and she's the third girl. She's a little more
in tune with the fact that something's wrong -- and she's the first one to go,
when she walks out into the woods."
Bruce Campbell was already
cast, as far as Tapert and Raimi were concerned. Still, Campbell insisted that
a screen test be made to insure that he was "right" for the role, a
very exacting one. In addition to the physical exertion of battling the
monsters with tooth, claw and chainsaw, much of his screen time is spent
half-covered in Karo corn syrup-based blood. "I kept a bottle of it with
me at all times," says Campbell, "with a feed-brush attached, and
re-applied it between each take, to my face and hair. Sticky at first, but it
gets to be fun... My character is a fellow who goes from being a useless idiot
to a useful one; he has to decide whether he has to be a man or a mouse, and he
stops licking the cheese after a while."
"Filling out the rest of the cast was much more difficult than we had
thought," says Tapert. "Everyone in Detroit works on car commercials
and the actresses in Detroit who call themselves actresses, really want to work
the auto shows and get paid $700 a week. So when we said we were going down to
Tennessee to shoot a feature, and asked if they'd like to audition, the answer
was often 'not really,' or 'I'm going to be working the auto show then.' So we
went through a hundred or so people before we cast the last three roles, one
guy and two women."
last role was cast almost by accident. Hal Delrich, who plays Scott, never
intended to audition; he had come in with a friend of his who had almost
clinched the role. At the final reading, however, it was clear to all that it
was Delrich, and not his friend, who was perfectly suited to the role.
"That caused a little hard feelings between he and his friend," says
Tapert, "but that really wasn't our problem." And, in Stephen King's
review, Delrich is singled out for special praise, for bringing "the
happy, beer-swilling fraternity scuzzo to gruesome life."
Tennessee location schedule was planned for seven weeks, which grew to 11 in
the course of filming. The script called for only a few locations, including an
isolated cabin in the Tennessee woods within range of more civilized
accommodations for cast and crew, and two nearly-identical bridges -- one that
would be crossed by the cast as the college students head toward the cabin, and
another that was sufficiently broken down that authorities would allow the crew
to destroy it in a later scene. We were rather surprised to hear that the
Tennessee State Film Commission was of major help to the young filmmakers; in
many states low-budget filmmakers, especially those dealing in grue and gore,
have found little help available from such governmental commissions. "I'm
not entirely sure they knew how low-budget we were," says Raimi. "We
told them we were making a picture, they said great, and put us in touch with a
gentleman named George Holt, who was very helpful in finding those locations.
About a month into the picture, some members of the commission came down to the
location and, to say the least, they were shocked. We had a road leading to the
location that you couldn't drive down, because it had been raining steadily;
they came in suits and dresses and high heels and had to walk down a half-mile
of mud. Then when they saw the place, it looked like a neutron bomb had gone
off in there -- karo syrup blood covering every inch of the floor, everything
destroyed, a shotgun lying around... I think they thought we were part of the
Tapert inspects Sandweiss while Raimi
mans the camera
Location shooting had a number of real-life scary moments; northern city
dwellers seldom feel at home in he hills of Tennessee, especially since
Deliverance. "The fact that the cabin was located in a small valley, about
a half-mile from public dirt road, added something to the atmosphere and to the
physical nightmare of making a movie in a cabin in the woods," says
Tapert. "People would stand up on the ridge over the cabin and watch what
we were doing. Once, we were away from the cabin for about 10 minutes -- when
we came back, all the power tools were gone. That was a little unsettling. But
just about everybody we had personal contact with down there was very nice to
us; we were down there for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a family prepared us
these tremendous Southern meals that we'd never seen the likes of."
Evil Dead closing in on a distribution deal that should bring it to theaters by
this January, all three men are looking forward to their next project, now well
into preproduction. Producer Tapert tells us that it's still not determined
whether this film will be another locally-financed, Detroit-based production --
too many variables remain on the eve of Evil Dead's release. Campbell tells us
that his character in this new film will be similar to his last --
"another do-gooder, battling evil only less of a wimp."
Raimi, the writer-director of Evil Dead, promises that the next one will stick
to the letter of the law. "There are three laws," he says. "Law
number one is The Innocent Must Suffer. Law number two is The Guilty Must Be
Punished And the third law is You Must Taste Blood To Be A Man. We're working
now on a fourth law, The Dead Shall Walk; but we're not sure yet whether or
not it's universal. We're still checking to see if it applies in every