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MAY
4
3 YEARS

Sam Raimi Sues Over Rights to 'Evil Dead' Sequel

New dispute illustrates why directors and producers in Hollywood should be careful about saying they'll NEVER do a sequel.

FILM: Sam Raimi

A fight has broken out over who has rights to do a new sequel of the 198os horror classic The Evil Dead.

Renaissance Pictures, formed in 1979 by producer-director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert and actor-producer Bruce Campbell for the purpose of making the first film, is suing Award Pictures, which says it plans to make a fourth film in the series. This potential coming film allegedly is interfering with Raimi's plan to make his own sequel for Sony Pictures and FilmDistrict.

But Award Pictures isn't laying down. The company is using Raimi's comment in a 2000 book that he would never do a sequel as proof that the "Evil Dead" trademark was abandoned. The company now says it is the primary trademark holder of the film title.

The lawsuit could be a warning to all those in Hollywood who attempt to lower expectations among fans and the media for a sequel to a cult hit.

Released in 1983, the original Evil Dead was about a group of five friends who travel to a cabin in the woods where they find an ancient Sumerian text that summons evil spirits when spoken aloud. Made for less than $500,000, it has grossed more than $29 million and often is cited as one of the best horror movies of all time. Plus, it still plays in theaters: A midnight showing is scheduled at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City.

A 1987 sequel also was a hit, and a third film in 1993 was a modest success with $11.5 million in revenue.

Renaissance says in its lawsuit that fans "have long been eager for another installment," and Raimi finally announced last year he would co-write and co-produce a remake of the original. Shortly before the announcement, Renaissance went to the U.S. Trademark Office to register the mark.

One problem.

After Renaissance did so, an objection was filed by Award Pictures, which says it has been preparing its own Evil Dead film. The company says that Renaissance's hold on "Evil Dead" was abandoned and thus, Award Pictures should be deemed as being a prior user.

In an effort to show abandonment, Award Pictures points to comments attributed to Tapert and Raimi in the 2000 book, The Evil Dead Companion:  "Ha," said Rob and Sam. "We're never going to do a sequel."

"This statement is a public declaration by the defendant that the defendant abandoned the alleged 'mark,' Evil Dead, decades ago," says Award Pictures in papers to the USPTO's Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

Award Pictures goes on to say that even if Evil Dead was a valid mark upon the release of the first film, the sequels can't be counted as continued use because they were both "works for hire" and "single works." Additionally, the company points to 20 other motion pictures that have used Evil Dead within their title over the years, saying that Renaissance has exhibited "uncontrolled, unregulated and undefended use of Evil Dead." Finally, Award says Renaissance's purported trademark claims constitute a defrauding of others in the entertainment industry.

Renaissance struck back this week with a lawsuit against Award Pictures, saying it indeed has used its mark, for example licensing Evil Dead video games, dolls, clothing, memorabilia, comic books, etc.

According to the lawsuit, "As a result of Renaissance's use of the Evil Dead mark and the cult success of the films and related products, the Evil Dead mark has acquired enormous value, has become famous among the relevant consuming public and motion picture trade and is recognized as identifying and distinguishing Renaissance exclusively and uniquely as the source of goods sold and services provided under the Evil Dead mark."

Renaissance says Award Pictures' planned film entitled Evil Dead 4: Consequences, is intended to cause confusion to consumers and that the key plot elements and character names "would inevitably infringe Renaissance's copyright rights in The Evil Dead."

Alleging trademark infringement, false advertising and injury to business reputation, Renaissance is asking for an injunction against further infringement and further monetary damages.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner