‘Evil Dead II’: A Brief Guide To The Sequel To The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror
Friday, October 31st, 2014 at 10:00 am
There is really no clear reason for me to write an article about Sam Raimi‘s 1987 comic horror blast Evil Dead II. It’s not celebrating an anniversary (though it did turn 25 in 2011) and no one involved in its making is preparing to do anything major in pop culture. I suppose I’m writing this in order to give myself license to regurgitate the insurmountable wealth of trivia regarding this film, which I share with the the guys at Championship Vinyl as my favorite of all time, that the disturbing level of admiration I have for it has compelled me to compile within the unguarded storage unit of my mind in the 18 years since I first watched it on a rental VHS I procured from a neighborhood video store.
Here now I present to you a compact yet nearly complete guide to Evil Dead II featuring some fascinating factoids and stories that you may or may not have already known, which all naturally depends on whether or not your love for the sequel to the ultimate experience in grueling terror runs as deeply in your soul as mine does. Bear with me, ladies and germs, for I am about to get even geekier than normally allowed at Geeks of Doom.
Evil Dead Too Soon?
At first Raimi was reluctant to make another horror film after The Evil Dead. He was never a fan of the genre; the slapstick comedies of the Three Stooges that had influenced the Super 8 shorts he made growing up in Michigan were more his style. He signed on with the now defunct Embassy Pictures to make his first major studio comedy, which started out as The XYZ Murders before being renamed Crimewave by an Embassy executive. Throughout production Raimi and his longtime collaborators Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell battled with Embassy over the film’s rising budget and the surreal, farcical set pieces. When they finished their preferred cut of the film Embassy re-edited it against their wishes and gave it a threadbare theatrical release in order to meet the conditions of an arranged pay TV deal with HBO.
Soured by his first experience working for a studio, Raimi decided to make Evil Dead II as his next film. Prior to this Irvin Shapiro, the legendary sales agent who helped Raimi and company secure profitable distribution deals for the first Evil Dead, took out an ad in the film industry trade publications announcing the imminent start of production on the sequel, which at the time bore the cumbersome title Evil Dead II: Evil Dead and the Army of Darkness.
Though Raimi would chop off the second half of that title when he begin developing the second film he kept the Army of Darkness part in mind when he made the third (and so far final) film in the Evil Dead trilogy for Universal Pictures in 1991. It would not see a release until early 1993.
Realizing the Evil Dead sequel according to Raimi’s ambitious vision would require some hefty capital. Even though the original had become a cult hit on home video and raked in decent grosses in several prominent foreign territories, securing the necessary funding was a difficult and fruitless endeavor. As pre-production slowly wheezed into gear potential crew members were being interviewed. One of them had also committed to working on best-selling horror author Stephen King’s feature directorial debut Maximum Overdrive in Wilmington, North Carolina. That person had the good fortune to have dinner with King one evening and when the discussion turned to future projects Evil Dead II‘s financing problems were brought up.
(Right) Dino De Laurentiis, who passed away on November 10, 2010.
King had been a huge fan of the original – his glowing review published in Twilight Zone magazine was quoted in the film’s theatrical and video marketing campaign and played a great role in its success – so he decided to plead Raimi’s case with Dino De Laurentiis, the freewheeling Italian filmmaking giant who happened to be providing the budget for Overdrive and had previously approached Raimi about directing an adaptation of King’s novel (written as Richard Bachman) Thinner with no success. After procuring a copy of the sequel script which he then promptly had translated into Italian, De Laurentiis set up a meeting with Raimi and Tapert, who brought along Evil Dead‘s Italian box office grosses to help sell the producer on funding the sequel. After twenty minutes a deal was made. Though the filmmakers asked for a $4 million budget De Laurentiis agreed to give them $3.6 million.
Partners in Slime
Raimi knew that the Evil Dead II would blend the relentless horror of the original with his unabashed love for over-the-top physical comedy. In order to achieve this perfect balance of genres the director drafted his old friend and collaborator from Michigan Scott Spiegel to co-write the screenplay with him. Spiegel had directed or co-directed many Super 8 comedy shorts featuring Raimi and Campbell and was ideally attuned to Raimi’s humorous sensibilities. He had also played the role of Scotty in Within the Woods, the Super 8 horror short that Raimi directed as a means to help finance the first Evil Dead and road test his evolving filmmaking expertise. Once he agreed to help write the Evil Dead II script Spiegel insisted that the story involve ground rules for what the diabolical demonic forces can and can’t do and how they can be destroyed.
Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel
Early drafts included a voiceover from Ash to help better communicate the character’s slowly unraveling mindset, but this was discarded as it would have removed any suspense over Ash’s possible fate. Also dropped from later drafts was a subplot where Ash would be terrorized by a trio of escaped convicts who buried their ill-gotten loot at the cabin in a pre-credits sequence. When they returned for the money after the evil forces have been unleashed they would only find Linda’s detached dome. From there things would predictably not end well for the criminals. One scene that did make it into the finished film was a surreal moment where every inanimate object in the cabin, from a stuffed deer head to a gooseneck lamp, comes to life and cackles maniacally at Ash. This had been inspired by Spiegel goofing off one day during a writing session when he took a gooseneck lamp in the office he shared with Raimi and started imitating the classic cartoon sailor man Popeye’s trademark laugh.
School’s Out For-Ever!
De Laurentiis insisted that filming take place at his studios in Wilmington. Raimi and Tapert instead chose the small town of Wadesboro, located three hours away. Part of the reason they chose the remote community was that it would cut back on the number of set visits they were bound to receive from De Laurentiis or one of his subordinates. With a larger budget than they had to make the first film the makers of Evil Dead II chose to build its main cabin set in the gymnasium of the dilapidated J.R. Faison Junior High School, while exteriors were filmed on the same property where Steven Spielberg had made his Oscar-nominated hit The Color Purple the previous year. During the shoot most of the film’s production crew lived in a farmhouse not far from where the the evil cabin exterior had been erected.
The front of J.R. Faison Junior High School, taken in October 2012.
At J.R. Faison the school library housed the production office, the auditorium was converted into a screening room for viewing dailies, a class room doubled as a makeshift gym for star Campbell to work on his leading man abs and pectorals, and the crew’s meals were cooked in the cafeteria. The cabin set was constructed on risers to allow for the crew to execute the elaborate practical effects set-pieces. Unfortunately the film was shot during the summer and the brutal southern heat and humidity made the interior shoot even more difficult. At least the climate was more hospitable than the bitter cold conditions the original Evil Dead was filmed under in the winter of 1979 in the mountains of Tennessee.
Re-opening Old Wounds
Raimi had initially wanted to use footage from the original Evil Dead to open the sequel, but since the distribution rights to the film were held by multiple companies around the world (including New Line Cinema in the U.S.) securing the permission of each rights holder would have been a logistical nightmare and pointless. The director decided instead to compress the events of the original into a 5-minute opening that would get the audience up to speed and wanted to include all five characters from the first film, with Raimi rumored to have taken the role of Scotty. In the end he cut all but Ash and his girlfriend Linda from the opening. Once Ash chops off his possessed lady friend’s noggin and gets taken for a ride through the forest by the evil spirit the sequel officially begins.
Meat for the Beast
Raimi wouldn’t require a large cast to populate his ambitious, medium-budget sequel since the bulk of the action focused on the Ash character alone in the cabin and fighting off the forces of evil. But they couldn’t have the entire film rest solely on Campbell’s shoulders (and chin), so the director and Spiegel created four supporting characters who arrive at the cabin midway through the story and get sucked into the mayhem. Campbell was the only member of the cast with any extensive acting experience. Sarah Berry (Annie), Dan Hicks (Jake), Kassie Wesley DePaiva (Bobby Jo), Denise Bixler (Linda), and Richard Domeier (Ed) were all relative newcomers to film acting, though Domeier had appeared in a bit park two years earlier in the comedy hit Teen Wolf.
Two actors were hired to play the same character, Annie’s possessed mother Henrietta. Lou Hancock, an actress with several minor film and television credits to her name, appeared briefly as Henrietta prior to being taken over by the evil unleashed by the Book of the Dead. The director drafted his younger brother Ted Raimi to play Henrietta once she becomes a murderous monster because the grueling make-up process would have proven a futile ordeal for the elderly Hancock. Ted had appeared in several of his brother’s Super 8 short films, drew “Fake Shemp” duty for the original Evil Dead (he was 13 years old at the time), and played a waiter in Crimewave.
Make-up supervisor Mark Shostrom and actor Ted Raimi, getting into character as the evil Henrietta.
Also getting the chance to do some prime “Shemping” on Evil Dead II were Spiegel, Tapert, and their friend and fellow filmmaker from Michigan Josh Becker. Becker had worked as a crew member on the original, documenting his experiences in a diary downloadable from his website, and had convinced the talented but undisciplined Raimi to streamline his pre-production work on the sequel by storyboarding the film and creating a full shot list before principal photography began, thus ensuring a smoother and more productive shoot. In the final scene Raimi himself couldn’t resist getting in front of the camera to deliver one of the last lines spoken in what is arguably his greatest film.
Deck the Halls with Bowels of Holly
For the character of tough-talking country gal Bobby Joe Raimi and Spiegel drew inspiration from then-unknown actress Holly Hunter, who had been their roommate (along with their friends Joel and Ethan Coen, Frances McDormand, and Kathy Bates) at a house in Silver Lake, CA where the script was written. They had hoped Hunter would take the role but producer Tapert insisted on casting a sexier actress instead. Hunter would later work with the Coen brothers on Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou?. DePaiva (credited as Kassie Wesley) ultimately won the Bobby Joe part. By the way, check out the Evil Dead II DVD and Blu-ray audio commentary track to hear a great story from Spiegel about an awkward encounter he had with Hunter back in the mid-80’s.
“The eye should learn to listen before it looks.”
The production hit a snag early on when tension arose between Raimi and his original director of photography Eugene Schlugeit who had done some additional camerawork on Crimewave and came onto the production with his own crew and camera equipment at an affordable rental price, over the director’s dynamic shooting style. Schlugeit and his team were hesitant to work with Raimi on realizing his outrageous ideas for the film’s visual style. The cinematographer was given his walking papers and Peter Deming, whose had no previous experience on a feature film shoot, was brought in to replace him over a weekend. Schlugeit’s work on Evil Dead II was recognized in the form of a “Director of Night Exterior Photography” credit.
Most of the visual effects on the original Evil Dead were created by Tom Sullivan and Bart Pierce. Sullivan was responsible for crafting the Book of the Dead and the Kandarian dagger seen in the first film, and for the sequel he returned to expand upon his initial concepts with the benefit of more money and time. The increase in budget allowed Raimi to assemble a first-rate special effects team that created an eclectic array of in-camera visual tricks vastly more impressive than any million dollar CGI effect.
Greg Nicotero, Robert Kurtzman, Howard Berger, Shannon Shea, Mike Trcic, and Aaron Sims also worked under the supervision of Mark Shostrom prepping the various make-up appliances and effects gags well in advance of principal photography. Nicotero, Berger, and Trcic had previously worked together on George Romero’s Day of the Dead and the Chuck Norris action flick Invasion, U.S.A., while Berger and Kurtzman first collaborated on the effects for Fred Dekker’s sci-fi horror cult classic Night of the Creeps. Shostrom got his start in big screen visual effects doing uncredited work for several genre features made at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, David Cronenberg’s satirical body horror classic Videodrome, and the Clint Eastwood police drama Tightrope. Before working on Evil Dead II Shea served on the creature crew at Industrial Light & Magic for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Steve Wang (The Monster Squad), Tony Gardner (Zombieland), and Michael Burnett (The Blob) were hired to sculpt various demons and other apparitions. James Belohovek (Beetlejuice) supervised a miniatures team that also included Bob Dyke (Angels in the Outfield) and Tom Hitchcock. Doug Beswick (The Howling) handled the stop-motion animation sequences, including a scene where Ash’s possessed girlfriend returns to life and performs a graceful dance choreographed on video first by Raimi’s high school drama teacher.
The Craven Connection Continues
A throwaway background prop in the original Evil Dead kickstarted horror cinema’s funniest running gag rivalry. When he made the first film Raimi’s crew hung up a ripped poster of Wes Craven‘s classic 1977 survivalist thriller The Hills Have Eyes in response to that earlier film featuring a torn poster of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws as if to say that the giant shark movie was just harmless fluff compared to the real horror on display in Craven’s film. Craven saw The Evil Dead‘s clever use of Hills’ poster and decided to pay homage to Raimi’s little dig at his own film by including a brief clip from the first Evil Dead in a scene from his 1984 slasher smash A Nightmare on Elm Street (Nightmare’s financier New Line Cinema had served as The Evil Dead’s U.S. distributor, as previously mentioned).
To keep the playful rivalry going in Evil Dead II Raimi had a replica of Nightmare‘s iconic dream manic Freddy Krueger’s knife glove mounted above the doorway in the workshed adjacent to the cabin where Ash goes to dispose of Linda’s ravenous severed head. The glove can be briefly glimpsed towards the end of the scene.
Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall….Who’s the Evilest of Them All?
Each film in the Evil Dead trilogy featured a distinct mirror gag. For the first sequel the besieged Ash was at one point supposed to look into the cabin’s mirror and be confronted by his own demonic reflection. To achieve this in-camera effect Raimi hired a local high school student to serve as Campbell’s body double. The mirror was mounted on a wall where a hole had been cut out and a modest replica of the main room of the cabin was built on the other side. Campbell, sporting some hideous make-up, stood on the other side and leapt out at his double on cue.
During the filming of the scene Raimi would joke with his longtime friend and lead actor that if his performance didn’t improve he would be summarily replaced by the student. Given the amount of sheer torture he had endured on the first two Evil Dead features Campbell laughingly welcomed the idea.
The Final Cut is the Deepest
Raimi worked with editor Kaye Davis in fine-tuning the 84-minute version that played theatrically. For years rumors persisted of the existence of scenes deleted from the final cut. Some of these sequences, including the full version of Ash’s battle with the possessed Ed, could only be glimpsed via grainy video footage taken during production by Nicotero.
Ash finishes off Evil Ed.
Evil Henrietta attacks Professor Knowby.
Ash gets an unwanted French kiss from his girlfriend’s severed head.
One such sequence took place after Ash’s possessed girlfriend Linda returns from the grave, severed noggin and all. Her head falls into his lap and a long, slimy tongue shoots into his mouth. The tongue effect was accomplished using the process of reverse motion, where the tongue begins in Campbell’s and is retracted into the fake Linda head where action is called. Watching dailies of the scene Raimi commented, according to his iconic leading man, “That is the worst reverse motion acting I’ve ever seen!”
Following the film’s release Raimi and Campbell went to work creating a toned-down edit for television viewing. Since most of the gore and violence had to be cut the version that result was less wacky and more disturbing, as Campbell described the process in his autobiography. In order to pad out the running time to fit a two-hour time slot (including commercials) much of the existing cut scenes were added. Though this version of Evil Dead II was never seen on American television it did eventually turn up on Mexican television periodically throughout the 1990’s under the name El Despertar Del Diablo: Part 2. You can watch the reintegrated footage (including the fabled “Evil Ash Eating a Squirrel” scene) from this “Severely Edited for Television” cut here.
Since the first Evil Dead had been released unrated and now that he had the financial backing of one of the industry’s most respected producers, Raimi – who was contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film – toned down the violent content of the sequel and decided against using red blood in lieu of multi-colored blood. Despite the director’s best efforts the Motion Picture Association of America gave the finished film the dreaded X rating. De Laurentiis’ company couldn’t release an X-rated or unrated feature theatrically, so they established a separate division called Rosebud Releasing for the single purpose of distributing Evil Dead II in the U.S. The Rosebud logo of a flower opening as an unseen fly buzzes in the distances was story-boarded by Raimi and accomplished using stop-motion animation.
Evil Dead II was released theatrically on March 13, 1987. In its opening weekend it grossed a meager $807,260 en route to a total haul of $5.9 million. De Laurentiis would later see a modest return on his investment thanks to the film’s popularity on cable television and countless home video incarnations. The film was first released on VHS by Vestron Video, but nearly a decade later it was made available in its original widescreen aspect ratio thanks to a remastered laserdisc distributed by the now-defunct Elite Entertainment. The next year Anchor Bay Entertainment issued Evil Dead II on VHS and DVD, both in widescreen. In late 2000 a DVD edition was released that contained the group commentary track featuring Raimi, Campbell, Spiegel, and Nicotero that had originally been recorded for the Elite laserdisc. A decade later Anchor Bay would release the film for the first time on Blu-ray, but in 2011 Lionsgate purchased the home video rights and put out a 25th Anniversary Blu-ray containing every extra feature a hardcore Evil Dead fan could ask for along with superbly remastered picture and sound.
Though the film failed to find a wide audience during its theatrical run at least the reviews were mostly stellar. It currently holds a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The late Roger Ebert wrote in his Chigago Sun-Times review,
“Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is a comedy disguised as a blood-soaked shock-a-rama. It looks superficially like a routine horror movie, a vomitorium designed to separate callow teenagers from their lunch. But look a little closer and you’ll realize that the movie is a fairly sophisticated satire.”
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times, a fan of the original Evil Dead, shared his enthusiasm for the sequel:
“‘Dead by Dawn’ isn’t so much a sequel as an elaborate replay of the original; happily, Raimi and co-writer Scott Spiegel’s unflagging inventiveness and humor keep us from feeling we’ve seen it all before–even when we know we have.”
Chigago Tribune critic Dave Kehr reserved much of his praise for the film’s practical effects in his review:
“At a time when horror movies have expanded to the kind of scale once reserved for biblical spectaculars, it`s heartening to see an enterprising independent effort like Sam Raimi`s Evil Dead 2,’ manifestly made on a budget that wouldn`t have covered Sigourney Weaver`s haircut in ‘Aliens’ or Jeff Goldblum`s manicure in ‘The Fly.’ But ‘Evil Dead 2’ is, pardon the expression, consistently lively–a ghoulish splatter comedy that uses wildly excessive gore to provoke the kind of shock that lies between a laugh and a scream.”
In 1993 Spin magazine placed Raimi’s sequel at the top of its “Top 100 Films of the Spin Years”, a list that ranked the best features released since the publication debuted in 1985. The films it placed ahead of included the original RoboCop, Reservoir Dogs, Die Hard, Aliens, Oliver Stone’s controversial epic JFK, and the 1992 Best Picture Academy Award winner Unforgiven.
The first two Evil Dead features helped to usher in a new era of low-budget (or no-budget) indepedent genre filmmaking where aspiring young writers and directors were moved to create their own inspired visions of cinematic lunacy with little going for them except active imaginations and a willingness to get their stories on film by any means necessary. Future Lord of the Rings trilogy director Peter Jackson started his career making inexpensive splatter flicks like Bad Taste and Braindead (released in the U.S. as Dead Alive) whose go-for-broke style and gooey gore effects owed a huge debt to what Raimi had accomplished. Before graduating to elaborate films like Sin City and Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez participated in experimental medical trials in order to raise the funds for his 1992 directorial debut, the energetic Mexican action yarn El Mariachi.
Filmmakers around the globe including Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), Michele Soavi (Cemetery Man), Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Ãlex de la Iglesia (Perdita Durango), Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer), and James Muro (Street Trash) made features bearing a notable stylistic or dramatic influence from the Evil Dead films. Even to this day it continues to be one of their most enduring legacies.
Happy Halloween. Stay groovy.
Evil Dead II is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD.