An Oral History of 'Evil Dead 2': 'We Were Like 'Jackass' With Plot'
Schlocky? Check. Scary? Very. But Sam Raimi's 1987 film had a sense of humor never before seen in the genre that set the director, then 27 and in "filmmaker's jail" with his collective, onto an A-list trajectory. Star Bruce Campbell, writer Scott Spiegel, producer Rob Tapert and more reveal the backstory of how their desperation forged a cult classic.
Campbell: Dino's biggest concern was that there would be a portion of the movie that was just my character, Ash. He was like: "You can't do that. Your audience is gonna freak out, they're gonna leave." And we had to convince him.
Spiegel: We wanted it to be "The Bruce Show." Shooting Bruce with that 9 mm lens.
Campbell: Sam knew that I could flip myself because we used to do dumb acrobatics in a group called the Bonzoid Sisters. … Our Super 8 movies, our amateur movies, were all very slapsticky, lots of blood. We were like Jackass with plot.
Tapert recalls showing the script to people and hearing similar reactions every time: "You're out of your minds." Evil Dead II was the definition of ambitious, but with a modest budget of $4 million, Raimi, Campbell and Tapert stretched every dollar -- and recruited a team of young special effects wizards -- to fully realize the bloody mayhem. The production team eventually settled on a defunct junior high school in Wadesboro, N.C., to serve as their base of operations.
Campbell: The library was the production office. We reopened the cafeteria. The dailies were shown in the auditorium. Every department had a classroom. It was perfect.
Tapert: Bruce is a very organized individual. We needed to find a place to shoot it in. Bruce went off and hooked up with some of the locals. He's great at the local yokel aspects, scouting and all that.
Campbell: I had to go to the school board to get permission to use the school. By the time I was done, I had given something to every school board member: "You're a contractor, you can build the access door we need for the trucks." "Sure, you can put in the alarm system." "We'll use your lumber store for the sets." I gave something to everyone.
Mark Shostrom (special makeup design and creation): I was fairly new in the business, but my work was ambitious. They could get me cheaper than Rick Baker.
Greg Nicotero (special makeup design unit manager): We had a crew of about seven people who built everything. It's weird to think we only had a couple of us.
Shostrom: I brought [Greg] on to From Beyond and I kept him on because he was very good at organizing all the business stuff I always hated doing. I just wanted to do the artistic stuff. And Bob Kurtzman was my key person in terms of artistry. We had about 12 weeks in my shop with seven people on the main crew. But there was so much stuff to make. We basically finished Henrietta's molds and shipped them to North Carolina. When we got there, we had the lab set up in the school.
Campbell: I would get the call sheet every day, and there was always some stupid rig that I had to be in, or some monster makeup, or me cutting my arm off, or shooting someone in the face, and that always kept me busy. I never had time to go: "Sam, listen. Let's talk about my character …"
Shostrom: I was under a lot of pressure on this film to deliver. I flew out after 12 weeks of prep; it was my birthday. We were supposed to shoot Bruce stabbing his own hand. His evil hand is dragging him, and he takes out a knife and pins it to the floor. I made a gelatin hand that had to bleed on cue. That was the first effect we had to shoot. I thought, "If I f--- this up …" Luckily, Bruce stabbed the hand, and it bled on cue and squirted up. After Sam yelled cut, Bruce lifted up his hand and said, "That sucker worked."
Nicotero: [The movie] was every trick in the book. Growing up [Sam] was a student of Universal monster movies and he loved Ray Harryhausen stuff. I didn't understand the comedy aspect until I got to know Sam. We were shooting the eyeball fly ball, where they step on the Pee-Wee head and the eyeball flies into Kassie Wesley's mouth. He was like, 'This is a direct rip-off of one of the pie fight episodes from The Three Stooges!' It all fell into place. He has a fantastic imagination and also a great sense of humor.
Evil Dead II continues to be a pinnacle of practical horror effects, but nothing was achieved with ease.
Shostrom: It was all simple push cables and puppeteering. Very basic stuff. When Evil Ed's head spins around, we basically made an extra head, cut it at the neck, pulled the collar up, and swirled it on a rod. Very low-tech.
Nicotero: The vine trick is that it's all shot in reverse. We'd wrap the vines around Kassie and then on action we would pull the vines off and they'd play the film in reverse. The only trick shot we did was we built one rig where we had prosthetics on her face and we fed vines through her skin. She was sitting in a chair and we had a fake floor and we pulled that in an opposite direction, so we could be on her face and, in reverse, we could pull the vines out and the floor of the forest was moving on a treadmill to make it look like she was pulled at high speed.