After the success of The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi wanted to focus on a comedy he and the Coen brothers had written called Crimewave. Raimi had dismissed the idea of working on a sequel to The Evil Dead when it was offered by Irvin Shapiro, certain that Crimewave would be a big hit. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to his expectations. The wacky black comedy/B-movie/film noir combo was largely dismissed by audiences and critics alike. It earned an abysmal $5,101 domestically after its release, which is almost unbelievable considering it had a $2.5 million budget and followed on the heels of The Evil Dead. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell site the fact that the film was basically taken away from them and all editorial control was removed from their hands, as well as the extremely limited initial run of just seven theaters for the film’s failure. Luckily for Raimi, Shapiro had already put out ads announcing an Evil Dead sequel.
After coming to the realization that their faltering careers could stall completely if they bombed at the box office again, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert took Irvin Shapiro’s offer to do a sequel. Around this time, the pair met with producer Dino De Laurentis who asked Raimi if he would be interested in directing Stephen King’s Thinner, which had been part of a multi-film deal between King and De Laurentis. Raimi turned him down but De Laurentis kept his eye on the young director. One night while having dinner with a crew member (who had been interviewed for Evil Dead), King learned that the Evil Dead sequel was having trouble securing funding. King immediately called Dino De Laurentis and asked him to fund the picture because he had been such a big fan of the original film. Dubious about the idea, De Laurentis agreed to fund the movie for $3.6 million (not Raimi’s desired $4 million), meaning the medieval storyline Raimi envisioned needed to be scrapped.
Raimi teamed up with Scott Spiegel (co-writer of Within the Woods) to write Evil Dead 2 (called Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn in early promotional materials). Raimi’s original concept for the sequel had formed during the filming of The Evil Dead and was mostly written during the filming of Crimewave. The aptly named Medieval Dead would have thrown Ash back in time to the 1300s to fight the Deadite horde. The name alone would have been it worth it.
Though Raimi and Campbell claim that Evil Dead 2 isn’t a remake of the original film, it does bear some hallmarks of a soft reboot with the ultimate goal of leaving the end open for Raimi to run with his Medieval Dead concept later. Due to problems obtaining the rights to footage from the original film from New Line Cinema, the filmmakers had to reshoot the beginning. Special effects makeup artist Greg Nicotero recalls re-filming the tape recorder scene with the original group of actors, but it was scrapped to save time and money. Instead, we have a retconned beginning that omits Ash’s sister and friends entirely and styles the trip to the cabin as a romantic getaway for two.
Note: The retconned beginning is later overturned in Ash vs. Evil Dead, which sees a middle-aged Ash turned social pariah as “Ashy Slashy.” He was accused of murdering his sister, girlfriend, and friends on that fateful trip but somehow managed to escape jail time.
The filmmakers briefly recap the events of the first film and pick up where Ash was at the end of the first film- possessed, not dead. Also, gone is Ash the Coward; the character is now a bit more suave and arrogant (and a bit corny). The suave arrogance remains a character trait in the rest of the franchise. Actress Denise Bixler replaced Betsy Baker as Linda, though her time on screen is short. The film is very much centered on Ash even after the other characters show up. In addition, the Necronomicon from the first film was burned, but makes a return in the second film.
The storyline was expanded and reworked to give more detail about the owner of the cabin and what happened to him. In more plot rehashing, Ash finds the tape recorder and listens a recording made by Professor Knowby. Professor Raymond Knowby (John Peakes) details some of his research and the subsequent possession of his wife Henrietta (Lou Hancock). We find out later that possessed Henrietta (portrayed by Ted Raimi) is buried in the cellar. The Knowby’s daughter, Annie, flies in to meet her parents and boyfriend/ Prof. Knowby’s assistant, Ed Getley (Richard Domeier). Ed reveals that he’s found missing pages from the Necronomicon for the professor and they set off to the cabin. Along the way they come upon Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Kassie Wesley), stereotypical country bumpkins, putting up road signs because the bridge to the cabin is out. Jake and Annie make a deal and he leads the couple to the cabin. Now all of our players are in the game and we can move on.
Having secured a production company, Raimi and crew started principle photography in Wadesboro, North Carolina in May 1986. Dino De Laurentis wanted the movie shot at his Wilmington studio, but Raimi and his team felt uncomfortable being so close to the producer. They were obviously a little gun-shy after what happened with Crimewave and wanted as little interference as possible.
They secured the location previously used by Stephen Spielberg for The Color Purple and used the farmhouse as a production office for their film. The cabin and shed from the original location, which had burned down in 1982, were rebuilt as shells for exterior shots. The interior cabin shots were filmed at the J. R. Faison Junior High School gymnasium in Wadesboro. The interior of the cabin was painstakingly recreated using photos of the original cabin and if you look closely, you’ll see that the large main room actually has two different types of paneling. This is because the crew had knocked down a wall between two smaller rooms at the original cabin to make a larger filming space. The new set was built on stilts so they could have the cabin proper and the fruit cellar. It also made it easier to do certain effects shots, like those involving Ash’s dismembered hand scuttling across the floor. Unfortunately, they traded the frigid temperatures of the first film for the North Carolina summer heat. Daily temperatures hit 100 degrees, but the temps inside the gymnasium often reached 110 or higher.
The struggle to hire and keep a cinematographer was an issue early on. Tim Philo, who had done photography for The Evil Dead, was asked to take the role of cinematographer. However, Philo felt he wasn’t experienced enough to shoot a 35mm film and turned down the job. Raimi then turned to Eugene Schlugleit, who had worked on Crimewave reshoots. Schlugleit came with his own crew and equipment, but things just didn’t work out. Schlugeit’s crew wasn’t happy with the number of setups they were being asked to make and things came to a head by the end of the second week of filming. Schlugleit and his crew were asked to leave, but Raimi continued to rent his equipment. Philo was offered the position again and declined. As a replacement, Peter Deming was brought in. In an interesting credit mention, Peter Deming was credited as “Director of Photography” and Eugene Schlugleit was listed as “Director of Night Exterior Photography” because all the exterior night shots were filmed first and were completed by the time Deming was hired.
The Flying Eye
Many elements of Evil Dead 2 were inspired from earlier work of Raimi and Spiegel, as well as Raimi’s love of the Three Stooges. The eyeball scene was an oft-used gag lifted from a Three Stooges short. The scene was shot in reverse, with the fake eyeball coming out of her mouth. Sharp-eyed fans have picked out the rod that was used to make the eye fly.
The Possessed Hand
Ash’s fight with his possessed hand was inspired by Scott Spiegel’s film Attack of the Helping Hand, which was originally inspired by the Hamburger Helper mascot. The scene required Bruce Campbell to break dishes over his head and flip himself over onto the floor. The dishes were unfired ceramic so they would break easily without really causing any damage. They used some cheap camera tricks to make the hand appear as though it was scuttling across the floor. There was a hidden gap in the floor that was about two inches wide, just wide enough for someone to put their hand through. Many people took turns portraying the hand and they sped up the footage to make it look like the hand was zipping across the floor the way a rat would. At one point, Greg Nicotero had to use his own hand to stand in for shots. Nicotero recalls that Raimi and Campbell liked to step on his fingers and laugh. Remember, Raimi is fond of “torturing” his actors.
The scene in which all the furnishings, including a mounted deer head, start laughing maniacally was written after Spiegel used a gooseneck lamp to act out a Popeye-like laugh. The laughter in the scene was performed by pretty much everyone in the cast and crew. They recorded all sorts of goofy laughs to go along with Ash’s increasingly maniacal laughter. Many of these same people had to help puppet the items in the cabin. Book covers, doors, and anything that could move were controlled by monofilament or small rods. For Ash’s weird laughing scream, he was given the direction that he was supposed to be so scared that he couldn’t scream and the sound would “squeak out.”
Sclera Lenses and Zombie Walks
The actors once again had to endure sclera lenses, including Campbell this time around. The actors couldn’t see with the lenses in and had to rehearse exhaustively. Their “zombie” walk is due to the fact that they couldn’t see and didn’t know where they were going, sometimes needing to be guided to their marks. There’s one moment where Ash, now possessed, pops up beside Jake and attempts to grab his face. Raimi had to guide Campbell’s hand so he could actually touch Jake’s face.
Headless Dance, the Bouncing Muppet, and the Severed Head
Actress Denise Bixler had a few extra steps to deal with during pre-production. She had to have a body cast made of her torso and a cast made of her head for a dummy that was used during the headless ballet dance sequence. Interestingly, that dance was choreographed and performed (filmed for reference) by Raimi’s drama teacher from Groves High School. That footage was taken to Doug Benson, the animator for the Saturday morning show Davey and Goliath, who recreated it shot for shot.
Bixler also had to deal with some pretty uncomfortable positions to film. Her severed head lands in Ash’s lap, but what we see is actually her head through a gap in a pair of fake legs; both actors were on their knees. At one point, Linda had a long tongue that snaked into Ash’s mouth, but the reverse shot footage didn’t work, prompting Raimi to proclaim, “That is the worst reverse acting I’ve ever seen.” Bixler also had to put her head into a specially made vice that fit her neck and shoulders in the base. The prosthetic of her neck was extended a little to hide the gap between her neck and the edge of the hole in the vice.
When the headless body bursts into the door of the shed, it is a puppet being manned by Howard Berger. Berger was basically lying on a skateboard when he kicked the door open and was pushed into the room. A plastic chainsaw was wired to the puppet’s hands and held upright by a piece of monofilament being held by a crew member up in the rafters. When Berger, Greg Nicotero, and Robert Kurtzman initially read the scene they believed it would be much scarier than what they ended up filming. However, it was clear by the classic bouncing muppet walk and nods to the Three Stooges that Raimi never intended for this film to be straight horror.
The mirror in which Ash reaches out to grab himself during his mental breakdown was interesting in its own right. The crew created a reverse replica of the room that could be seen when looking through the mirror (a hole in the wall with a frame around it) at the right angle. Campbell would reach through and grab his double, a local college student. Campbell’s makeup for this shot could have been drastically different, with thick bushy eyebrows and a pointed chin that jutted out in a parody of superhero chins. The chin was added to his possessed makeup later on by Sam Raimi.
Giant Rotten Applehead
The giant “rotten applehead” that appears in the portal sequence was a full-sized mechanical effect. It had giant gelatin eyes and poly foam heads of the cast to represent the souls that had been taken during the film. The head, which was 13 feet long, required at least three people to operate. The articulated tree trunk arm was 16 feet long and operated by a system of cables. The rotten applehead was left in North Carolina, along with most of the props, because it was easier than trucking everything back to Detroit. The rotten apple head disappeared from the set after filming was completed. Raimi found it later being used as a prop in a haunted house set up for Halloween.
Missing Evil Ed Footage
There was a scene cut from the film that involved Deadite Ed (Evil Ed) running around the cabin missing part of his head. Special effects artist Shannon Shea created the dried out brain and cobweb look that was thought up by Mark Shostrom (special effects design and creation). The brain was created by putting foam latex in a syringe and squirting it around a piece of upholstery foam to give it the ridged look of a brain. The cobwebs within the skull were made by using a now-discontinued DuPont product called Elvacite. The Elvacite was stretched using a hair dryer and a paint brush to finesse the connections between the brain and skull.
Ted Raimi’s Personal Hell
Ted Raimi, younger brother of Sam Raimi, was the first actor seen for the role of Possessed Henrietta. Like Bixler, he had to undergo the process of having his entire body cast for the costume. He wore a head-to-toe costume, sclera lenses, and even fake teeth; the only real parts of Ted that the audience sees are his tongue and fingertips. The suit itself had a couple of layers. The first layer was basically a second skin that held bags of lentils in the breast and belly area so the suit would jiggle. The second layer, and the heaviest, was the bodysuit itself made out of polyurethane foam (poly foam). The 14 makeup appliances on his face and head took 3 to 4 hours to apply and the removal process took nearly as long. Though Ted was put in full makeup a total of eleven times, he was only on screen for a very short period.
Being inside the suit was a living hell. The poly foam was heavy and hot, the temperatures in the gymnasium (where all his scenes were filmed) often reached 110 degrees or higher, but Ted Raimi bore up well. In attempt to ease Ted’s trials, Sam filmed as many of his scenes at night as he could. He required an oxygen mask between takes, drank gallons of Gatorade to keep his energy up, and reportedly fainted at least twice while in full costume. According to Greg Nicotero, during a scene where Henrietta erupts from the dirt floor of the cellar, Ted got sand and dirt in his eyes and “screamed bloody murder” from the pain. Like the other actors, he couldn’t see with the sclera lenses in and would often fall or trip in the ungainly suit. At the end of each night of shooting, the effects team would pull off his rubber feet and cups of sweat mixed with talcum powder would pour out. When asked how it felt to be stuck in a costume all day, Ted Raimi responded with a wry chuckle, “It’s inexplicable. It’s beyond your wildest nightmares.”
Recently, Ted got the chance to reprise the role of Henrietta for Ash vs. Evil Dead. He remarked in an interview that the costuming process hadn’t really changed much in the last 30 years. The process still required several hours in a makeup chair, though the filming schedule was much easier to deal with. Though the role of Possessed Henrietta was one of the most agonizing experiences of his acting career, he received entry into the Screen Actors Guild for his original performance.
Henrietta PeeWee Head
The effects team had an interesting job of making Henrietta even stranger. At one point, she transforms from her creepy possessed form (portrayed by Ted Raimi) to a long-necked beast with the body of a decomposing old woman. This effect was achieved in part by using a miniature in stop-motion, much in the way that the decomposition scene at the end of The Evil Dead was filmed. The articulated puppet that Bruce Campbell fights with is a full-sized version that is supported by rods and monofilament. For some reason, the odd choice to use what sounds like monkey screeches for Possessed Henrietta during the transformation, but it added to the strangeness of the sequence.
In August 1986 principle photography finally finished, having run several weeks over schedule, the cast and crew threw a wrap party that included a talent show. With the fun and games over, they returned to Michigan to re-shoot. A warehouse in Dearborn, MI was utilized and contained three sets, two cameras, and an area for special effects. A tight schedule kept things rolling so there was no waiting around- one scene was being prepped while another was being filmed. The sharp-eyed audience can pick out the reshot footage if they pay attention; the reshot footage looks a little bluer than the original shots.
Creating the score for Evil Dead 2 was a complicated task. First, the tones of the movie shifted between comedy, drama, and horror that needed to be reflected in the score. Secondly, Joe LoDuca only had three and a half weeks to finish it. Somehow, LoDuca managed to finish just under the wire and we get the wonderfully bizarre score we know and love.
Smoke and Mirrors for the MPAA and Distributing
Like the first film, Evil Dead 2 was likely to get the dreaded X rating from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). The way to work around this was to release the film unrated. However Dino De Laurentis’ production company, DEG, had signed a contract with the MPAA that prohibited the release of unrated movies. De Laurentis created a shell company called Rosebud Releasing Corporation specifically to distribute the film. The only film ever released by this “company” was Evil Dead 2. The animated ident card seen in the film opening was designed by Sam Raimi.
Ordinarily, “selling” a film to another company would be disastrous when the time to distribute came around. De Laurentis had already secured 310 theaters and all the promotional materials before the “sale” to Rosebud. Releasing Evil Dead 2 unrated didn’t have any effect on the film earnings until it came time to put the movie on cable TV. DEG had made a deal with the channel owners for an R-rated film, which meant Raimi and Campbell had to go back and heavily edit the movie to pass the MPAA standards for what constitutes an R rated film. So much was removed that the film didn’t make sense and the censored version was never aired. Many years later the unrated version of the film was released for television.
Box Office Bumps, Minor Critical Acclaim, and Home Theater Success
Premiering on March 13, 1987 (a Friday, of course), the film got rave reviews and grossed just shy of $6 million domestically, but did very well in Japan and Italy. We can attribute the small run of 310 theaters in the US for the small domestic box office earnings, but critical response was good. It currently comes in with 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert and Richard Harrington applauded the schlocky B-movie style and the “grubby, low-budget intensity” of the film. Even Entertainment Weekly got in on it and marked it as #19 on their Top 50 Cult Films list.
As with the first film, Evil Dead 2 exploded when it hit the home theater market. Multiple VHS runs and different versions on DVD and Blu Ray have expanded the reach of this cult film. I doubt there’s going to be an end to the fan base any time soon.
Renaissance Pictures (founded by Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell) had created a partnership that lasted for several years. However, the end of Evil Dead 2 marked the end of the partnership. Campbell was largely an actor and was aware that he couldn’t always rely on Raimi for his roles. Once Raimi started getting directorial roles, where would he go? So, Campbell decided to forge his own career and moved to California. Campbell seems to have had a moment of clairvoyance because Raimi had sold the story to Darkman to Universal Films. However as the years went by, Raimi managed to give his old friend cameos in many of his films. Campbell went on to become King of the B movies, a producer, director, and writer. Rob Tapert has managed to become a successful film producer and is responsible for many of the recent horror reboots including Poltergeist, Evil Dead, and the upcoming 2019 reboot of The Grudge.
I think I’ll wrap this one up by saying that this was one of the first horror movies I ever saw and it has stuck with me all these years. I remember being 7 or 8 years old and catching it on late night television long after I should have been in bed asleep. I don’t recall being scared so much as I was completely absorbed in what I was seeing. This was one of the films that got me interested in doing special effects, though I quickly discovered that I had zero talent for it. This movie has gone through the decades pretty much unscathed and still manages to draw an audience. What is it about this film that keeps people coming back? I think part of it is that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, or conversely, it takes itself too seriously and is funny on both counts. It’s a well-blended mix of comedy and horror that just speaks to that part of us that likes to be scared but allows us to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Next month I’ll bring you the final edition of this saga, Army of Darkness. I’ll also be a guest on the Dashing Digressions podcast that should be published on October 29th. Until then, check out the films for yourself if you haven’t already. You can leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter @InsomniacTx with any questions or comments.