An Oral History of 'Evil Dead 2': 'We Were Like 'Jackass' With Plot'

"Evil Dead 2"
Courtesy of Matthew Patches

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.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Before Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II opened in 1987, horror movies had one objective: to scare audiences. But when Raimi and his filmmaking collective -- actor Bruce Campbell, writer Scott Spiegel and producer Rob Tapert -- decided to remake their 1983 debut, The Evil Dead, they added the kind of Three Stooges-esque humor that informed the Super 8 shorts they shot together growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. Thanks to that injection of slapstick, Evil Dead II -- about a guy (Campbell) visiting a cabin in the woods that's besieged by demons -- became a horror classic and set Raimi on the road to eventually directing Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man films. And it all started because they were desperate for work.

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Campbell (actor): The first Evil Dead was shot throughout '81 and '82. Then we went out to make a second film, Crimewave, with the Coen brothers. We did that in '83 and '84, and it was a stupendous bomb.

Tapert (producer): We were in filmmakers' jail. We had to get a movie going to keep our careers alive.

Campbell: We thought, "OK, well, [my character] Ash died at the end of the first Evil Dead. Or maybe he didn't …"

Tapert: Our sales agent, Irvin Shapiro, who handled Evil Dead and taught us everything about getting a movie in front of an audience and get it promoted, he said, "Boys, I want to take an ad out for Evil Dead 2." And we said, "We're never going to make Evil Dead 2." But Sam had the name Medieval Dead. So Irving Shapiro had an artist do an ad. He kept the Evil Dead franchise in the overseas buyers' minds.

Spiegel (co-writer): We wrote the bulk of it in Silver Lake. Sam had rented a house with Joel and Ethan Coen. Fran McDormand and Holly Hunter were our roommates. Holly was just getting [her career] started. I'll never forget her in her sweatpants on the floor in her room, reading scripts. We wrote [the character of] Bobby Joe for her, but Rob Tapert said, "We need a babe for that role."

Tapert: Without getting myself in trouble … (Laughs.) I thought we should look for somebody else.

Spiegel: He was probably right. But we were enamored by her.

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Campbell: At first, you know, we kept checking ourselves, like, "Guys, that's too expensive, we can't do that." But then we thought, "Why not just let them write it?"

Spiegel: There was this one sequence where all the inanimate objects laugh at Bruce after he falls on his ass. That came out of me picking up a gooseneck lamp and [going], "Yuk yuk yuk yuk yuk!" Sam said, "We're going to use that in the movie."

Campbell: It was like: "They're writing a horror movie. Why are they laughing so loud? Are these guys working down there?" And they'd turn in pages every day, and it was always the most ridiculous stuff. They thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever written.

Spiegel: Sometimes Sam would try and blackmail me. We had an annoying tenant who wouldn't leave us alone. And Sam would say, "If you don't like my idea, I'm going to write a note to Irv and slip it under his door." Like, "Please come over today." And I'm like, "NO!" And he did. So we used his idea.

Campbell: I think I can speak for all of us: We'd rather be doing slapstick comedy. But because we were so concerned, at the time, with getting our work into theaters, we thought: "Eh, horror films. That's a good way in."

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The script finished, they went about trying to secure financing. The first Evil Dead was shot for a meager $90,000 and would gross $2.4 million ($6.2 million in 2013 dollars) in theaters, but they had bigger ambitions for the sequel/remake and needed a moneyman. Enter King Kong producer Dino De Laurentiis.

Spiegel: Stephen King got Evil Dead a distributor by talking it up in Twilight Zone magazine. He was the one who suggested that Sam and Rob contact Dino De Laurentiis, who was doing [an adaptation of King's] Maximum Overdrive.

Tapert: Dino had approached us to adapt Stephen King's Thinner. Sam told him, "I can't right now, I'm working on Evil Dead II." And Dino says, "Really?" Six months later, we gave him the script for Evil Dead II. He had it translated into Italian and within 24 hours said yes.

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