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: [The arm chain saw] was a hollowed-out hull with a grip inside. But the obnoxious part was not that -- not the weight of that, because it was gutted -- but Sam wanted it to be sputtering all the time. You know, "putt putt putt putt putt." And he wanted a little bit of smoke to come out so people could visually see that it was on. But it wasn't on. So they did a bunch of testing of blowing smoke through tubes, you know, from a smoke container and they figured out that the best thing -- for all this smoke to travel like we wanted it to through the tube -- was actually tobacco smoke. I was basically getting second-hand smoke all day long. And then the tubes were connected down my arm and out my leg and out the back. So I was sort of connected to this thing. And when they were done at the end of the day they pulled the tube out and my whole body had about an inch wide stain from all the tobacco smoke. It was very sexy.
The trickiest effect wasn't even a major stunt. Evil Dead II's villainess, Possessed Henrietta, was a challenge, from design all the way through production.
Shostrom: I originally did a charcoal sketch of a skinny dead lady with her bones jutting through. I told Sam, "We have to get a really skinny lady for the performer." And he said: "No. I need someone I can really depend on. It has to be my brother, Ted."
Ted Raimi (actor): I was 20. Twenty-year-olds have no regard for their mortality or anyone else's. I was the perfect age to be in that movie.
Shostrom: I understood Sam's thinking: If you get your brother, you can torture the hell out of him. But we couldn't make Ted skinny, we could only make him fat. So we did a fat dead lady. When I started sculpting Henrietta's body, I didn't have any reference photos. I had one European photography book, these cool art photos that had some fat people occasionally. So I sent someone out -- this is before the Internet -- to a couple magazine stores. "Find me porn magazines, calendars -- I need naked fat ladies!" And he only found one, a calendar. But I later saw a rather fat lady at a pizza shop and she had these varicose veins on her legs, so I added that. I had very little reference.
Ted Raimi: The process would start at 3 a.m. Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, Bob Kurtzman and Mark Shostrom would begin gluing prosthetics on my face. That took about two hours. Then they would do the hands. Then the suit would go on, but the suit had giant beanbags to give it girth, which increased the weight by 20 pounds. [After] the suit went on, it had to be blended into the face.
Nicotero: Imagine, you're shooting in 110 degrees, and your skin can't breathe and you're covered head-to-toe in prosthetics. It was a sheer test of endurance for Ted.
Ted Raimi: I needed a respirator between takes. It's the acting version of the Rommel campaign.
Nicotero: Because the eyes were completely white, any time you put lenses in someone, they were completely blind. We would rehearse, then last minute I would put the contact lenses in.
Campbell: [Those contacts] were like putting pieces of Tupperware under your eyelids.
Nicotero: When he would sweat, it filled up the latex feet. We would put baby powder on him before we put him in the suit. When we took the feet off, it was like a sweat-and-baby powder paste.
Shostrom: There are several shots in the film where he's up on the wire and you can see this huge stream of sweat. Not a drip -- a faucet stream coming out of his ear.
Ted Raimi: As far as this being an easy way to get my SAG card … this was the f---ing hardest way.
The original Evil Dead, released by New Line Cinema, was rated "X" -- for violence -- and even banned from being shown in some countries. For Evil Dead II, the plan was to avoid ratings issues. No such luck.
Tapert: We went out of our way to change the color of the blood so that it didn't seem too realistic. But [the MPAA was] always going to be harsh because we took the first picture out without a rating.
Shostrom: Sam was afraid of using red blood except for on Bruce.
Nicotero: Back then, our understanding was that as long as it's not human blood spraying around, we'll be fine. At that time, the ratings board was really zeroing in on the gore. I think ultimately they said, "It's more about the mutilation of corpses by chain saws." That's why Evil Dead II came out unrated.
Tapert: To Dino's credit, he thought that was the strength of it. He didn't want to cut it. So he formed another company to put it out because Dino couldn't put it out without a rating.
The out-of-nowhere ending of Evil Dead II speaks directly to all involved on the movie's legacy: It was crazy, shouldn't have worked, and it made for some of the best material -- and memories -- in their careers.
Spiegel: There was a discussion about ending Evil Dead II with Bruce out of his mind. But I'm glad we stuck with the 1300 A.D. thing and it turned out so well. I was always a fan of Irwin Allen's Time Tunnel.
Tapert: We wanted it set up very definitely. To leave an open door. No, it wasn't risky -- but it was expensive. It was a big gig to build that castle. We had people working for months, this facade on an edge of a cliff in a quarry. I'm glad we did that.
Released by DeLaurentiis' DEG, Evil Dead II went on to gross $5.9 million ($12.3 million today) before it became a home-video cult favorite -- back when home video was a real revenue stream -- with nearly a dozen different DVD and Blu-ray editions. Raimi went on to make films like Darkman, The Quick and the Dead, another Evil Dead sequel, Army of Darkness, his Spider-Man trilogy and Oz the Great and Powerful (all of which feature cameos by Campbell, and many of which were produced by Tapert, a partner with Raimi in Renaissance Pictures).
Campbell: We did a test in Burbank. I hate previewing because it's a weird gauge. You're asking a bunch of bored, unemployed people to watch a movie for free. But we had a screening, a rough cut with rough special effects, and they reacted just as we hoped. They laughed, they jumped. We didn't screw up.