Behind The Scenes Of The ‘Evil Dead’ Trilogy
For many horror fans, the Evil Dead trilogy was their first foray into the grimy, blood-soaked world of B-movies. Each film in the trilogy follows Ash Williams as he fights off ancient Sumerian demons that want to swallow his soul. Made by lifelong friends Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, the first two films in the series are essentially different tellings of the same story - a group of people go to a cabin in the woods and things take a turn for the worse. The third film, Army of Darkness, however, thrusts Ash back in time and pits him against an army of zombies.
Looking at Evil Dead behind the scenes, it's understandable why the same cast and crew would want to return to continue telling this story. Who doesn't want to work on a monster movie all day? As fun as these movies were to make, they weren’t without their challenges. People were physically hurt and had to act while blind, and there was always some sort of interference from a studio or a governing body that thought the Evil Dead films were just too weird.
1978's 'Within the Woods' Was A Short Film Created To Interest Investors
After directing a series of short films with Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi found that he enjoyed making horror movies, but in order to make his first feature, he had to raise money. Working with a budget of a little over $1,000, Raimi filmed Within the Woods, a shorter version of what would become The Evil Dead. Raimi’s effects came from a Halloween store, and some of it was so hard to put on that Campbell had to sleep in his makeup rather than remove it and start over in the morning.
Raimi was able to screen the film at a local Michigan theater, something that earned him enough success to get a meager budget together for his feature. The short has never been released because of a series of unknown legal reasons, but it’s available online and on gray-market DVDs.
'The Evil Dead' Was Classified As A 'Video Nasty'
"Video nasties" were films distributed on video cassette in the United Kingdom that were thought to be too volatile and disgusting for an ordinary audience to enjoy. Most of the films were low-budget horror movies that never made it to theaters and were technically banned, although they enjoyed a kind of success on the black-market rental scene. Films like The Burning and The Last House on the Left were included on the list of video nasties, but The Evil Dead was considered to be one of the worst.
According to members of the British Board of Film Classification - similar to America’s MPAA - the group was split between people who believed that the film was so ridiculous it wasn’t going to be taken seriously and people who thought the film was "nauseating." The Evil Dead was eventually released to theaters with an "X" rating, meaning that it was only suitable for people 16 and older, but 49 seconds of the film had to be cut from the movie, including the scene where Linda gets a pencil shoved into her ankle. In 1985, the film was removed from the list of video nasties.
The Cast Of The First Film Got Too Stoned For One Scene
Raimi was in his early 20s when the The Evil Dead started filming - he was young and inexperienced in spite of the fact that he'd made several Super-8 films with his friends, and he was therefore unfazed when the cast attempted to do a scene while stoned. According to Campbell, they heard a rumor that Jack Nicholson had a ton of grass before filming a scene in Easy Rider and figured that if he could do it, so could they. They were wrong, evidently, and Campbell explained the gaffe to Conan O’Brien:
We did, in fact, smoke [weed] because we had heard, in the famous Jack Nicholson movie Five Easy Pieces - no, Easy Rider - that he smoked like 47 joints before... that scene. And I thought, if he can go on to become a very famous, notable actor, we can do the same thing. And I had never smoked before. I was 21, and... we also found out that the [grass] in Tennessee was pretty good, apparently. And so we did not really film the scene successfully.
Campbell hasn’t said which scene the group tried to film, but it sounds like the actors learned their lesson from the failed attempt. Or maybe that’s how they made all that evil fog in the forest.
Joel Coen Worked On 'The Evil Dead' And Learned A Camera Trick
Raimi and the Coen brothers have had a relationship dating back to the editing of The Evil Dead when Joel Coen worked as an assistant on the film. By working with Raimi, the Coens learned about his "shaky cam" rig. The rig can be seen whenever the POV of the demons are used in the film, and it’s also used heavily in Raising Arizona during the dream sequence with the evil biker. The rig is basically a DIY Steadicam made from a plank of wood with two handles where a camera is held to the board by a screw.
In order to use the shaky cam, two people had to hold the board by a set of handles and walk wherever they're going. It doesn't look exactly like a Steadicam, but it's close enough and has its own appeal. Producer Robert Tapert said, "We did a lot of tests with it, and we were actually very pleased with how it turned out. We never considered the shakiness a problem, we thought it showed the energy of the force behind it."
When asked how they got the effects to work, Campbell said, "Tape the camera to your hand and run like hell."
Raimi Didn't Actually Break Campbell's Jaw With His Motorcycle
One story that’s persisted over the years is that Raimi broke Campbell’s jaw while riding a motorcycle through the cabin door for the final sequence. If this story came from any other movie, it wouldn’t have sounded real, but not only were people twisting their ankles and sweating off pounds of body weight, they were committed to making these films whatever the cost. Why wouldn’t Raimi drive a motorcycle through a door so he could make the scene look as real as possible?
The story goes that Raimi smashed through the door with a camera tethered to a motorcycle and walloped Campbell so hard that it broke his jaw. If he'd hit the actor anywhere else, it could have been a life-ending situation. Miraculously, they got the scene and Campbell’s jaw healed in time for the sequel. It’s a great tall tale, but it didn’t happen. Tom Sullivan, the makeup effects wizard behind the first Evil Dead, said that not only did Raimi make up that story, but he told the crew to go along with the lie. In 2014, he told Tested what really happened:
Raimi told us to lie about how the scene was [filmed]. He wanted us to tell a story that we created the Shaki-Cam footage with a motorcycle, Sam was on the handlebars, that we smashed through the doors, ran into Bruce and broke his arm, a leg, and one of his ribs! That was Sam. Even on the set he was trying to help build the myth of the making of the film.
Ash Williams himself has gone on record to call the whole motorcycle thing a bunch of hooey, while during a Q&A at a convention, Campbell explained, "It’s a good lie but no broken jaw, but there were various reports that I was injured [by a] motorcycle... and I love that people still believe that."
Actors Suffered Through All Three FilmsPhoto: Evil Dead 2 / Embassy Communications De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
There isn't a film in the series where someone wasn't being tormented by Raimi, the elements, or both on set. In the first film, Campbell sprained his ankle after tripping on a root while running through the woods, and he had to keep walking around on it through the rest of the production. That wasn't the worst pain an actor went through on the set of Raimi's trilogy, however. The director's brother, Ted Raimi, had to wear a full-body demon suit that weighed him down by an extra 20 pounds in order to play Henrietta. He told the Hollywood Reporter:
If I had an early call - early for that character would be like 9 am - the process would typically start at 3 am. They 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 bean bags to give it girth, which increased the weight by 20 pounds. [After] the suit went on, it had to be blended into the face.
When it came to filming Army of Darkness, the cast had to deal with more of the same. Marcus Gilbert, who played Lord Arthur, said that he lost 11 pounds in one day just by sweating it all out under his body armor while filming in the California desert. Campbell, who cut his chin open on his chest plate, claimed in the making-of documentary about Army of Darkness that "it was probably the most physically hard film in the history of motion pictures."