The Case of Evil Dead II

When we considered what our last episode of Frightening February would be, we almost chose to do an episode on The Thing From Another World from 1951 and John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982. But, our goal is not to completely turn Adam off of horror forever by scarring him with that one scene with the Huskies (if you know you know). So we chose a slightly different–and more comedic–route instead. 

Many generations know Sam Raimi for something he directed. If you were a kid in the early 2000s, you might remember his name in the credits of the Tobey McGuire spiderman films. Moviegoers this Spring will recognize him as the man behind the new Doctor Strange film. But if you’re a fan of horror, another film franchise might come to mind when you hear his name. 

The Evil Dead films are unique and imaginative. The stories are wildly original, its main hero is impossibly charming, and best of all, the Evil Dead franchise is a perfect blend of horror and comedy. So today we’re going deep into the woods with Ash to learn the secrets of the groundbreaking horror comedy, Evil Dead II. 

SUMMARY

When Ash Williams heads into the woods with his girlfriend for an intimate getaway, things go awry when he discovers a tape recorder with some unusual incantations. The words on the recorder awake the evil dead spirits, possessing Ash’s girlfriend and tormenting him mentally and physically. With the arrival of four strangers, one of which who has knowledge of the Necronomicon (the book of the dead) Ash attempts to fight off the deadites and survive the night. 

HOW THE EVIL DEAD II CAME ABOUT

  • Now you may be wondering, why would we do an episode on The Evil Dead II before Evil Dead? The answer is quite simple. While Evil Dead is obviously a very important part of the franchise, the story gets ret-conned in the second film. Also, one of us…we won’t name names, isn’t much of a horror fan. So, we decided that covering the more comical Evil Dead II was a better way to introduce Adam–I mean SOMEONE–to the franchise. 
  • But of course it’s completely impossible to talk about Evil Dead II without at least mentioning the first movie from 1981. Written and directed by Sam Raimi, Evil Dead follows five college kids as they take a vacation together in a creepy cabin in the woods. Much like the Evil Dead II, the voice on a tape recorder recites an incantation from the Necronomicon, raising an undead evil that possesses everyone in the cabin except for a lone survivor: Ash Williams. 
  • It was Sam Raimi’s friend Scott Spiegel that got him interested in horror films. Inspired by a college history course and H P Lovecraft, Raimi decided to write his own horror film around the lore of the Necronomicon (the book of the dead.) 
    • Now, there is a lot on the Necronomicon that we wish we could go into, so we highly suggest researching this topic if you are interested to learn more about the HP Lovecraft creation and how it has bled into the real world. 
  • Passionate about the project, Raimi had to secure much of his own funding, even asking family and friends and anyone else to donate to the film’s production. The lead actor, Bruce Campbell also served as an executive producer and helped Raimi gain funds. Raimi and his friends and crew even shot a short film called Within the Woods to show potential investors. Here is the link if you would like to check it out!
  • When The Evil Dead released, it received the dreaded NC-17 rating and according to box office mojo, it made it to 128 theaters. The film made a respectable amount of money, and has a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, likely from the many recent retrospective reviews it has received. However, we weren’t able to find reviews from its initial release. 
  • Audiences were horrified by the film and its use of practical effects and gore. Many people to this day consider The Evil Dead to be one of the greatest horror films ever made and truly haunting. But for some, the original film felt too over-the-top, with cheesy dialogue and unbelievable experiences. Many interpreted this as a blend of comedy and horror, while that was not the filmmakers’ intentions at all. Bruce Campbell said to Boston.com years later, “The pundits have made it into a comedy, and they’re so wrong. When some of the reviews for the “Evil Dead’’ remake in 2013 were like, ‘This movie has no comedy like the original,’ it’s like, what are you talking about? A woman got raped by a f—–g tree in the original. To me, that’s not funny.”
  • But this begs the question, why did Raimi decide to retcon his original story, and is Evil Dead II a sequel or a remake? 
    • Apparently New Line Cinema owned the rights to the original Evil Dead, meaning that Raimi and co. didn’t have the legal ability to create a clear-cut sequel to their movie with a different company. So, the decision was made to reshoot the beginning story of Ash coming to the cabin and experiencing the horrors of the deadites with new characters. The first portion of Evil Dead II, when Ash drives to the cabin with his girlfriend and up until he becomes possessed himself is the remake. Everything that happens after that, is the sequel. So the movie is both a remake and a sequel, making it incredibly unique. 
    • For The Evil Dead II, Raimi leaned into the comedic possibilities of the story. He incorporated gags from classic Three Stooges shorts, changed up the color of blood to combat the ratings board (didn’t matter, he got NC-17 AGAIN) and had the characters deliver their cheesy dialogue as straight-faced as possible. And the result, of course, was a surreal and outrageous film that performed even better than the first one. 

MAKING OF

  • The Evil Dead II was written by Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel, and directed by Raimi. Bruce Campbell was once again a producer on the film and played the main character of Ash Williams. 
    • Some of Bruce’s driving was done by a stunt man, but Raimi liked using Bruce as much as possible because (as he and Bruce both stated) Raimi liked to torture his longtime friend. 
    • For example, when Ash first gets taken by the evil, he is whipped around, spun, and smacked with branches. Campbell was rigged to a mechanism and actually went through this ordeal for the film. 
      • Throughout Evil Dead II, Ash essentially goes through the ringer. In one scene, Campbell smashes plates against his head, and even grabs his hair and flips forward after his own hand becomes possessed by the evil spirit. The plates and bowls were real ceramics that were unfired, meaning they would break easily. 
    • Once Evil Dead II begins, the movie wastes no time getting started. Linda, played by Denise Bixler, gets possessed and killed almost immediately. This was Bixler’s biggest role as she only appeared in two other projects besides this film. Once Linda’s body resurrects, we see a stop-motion animation of her corpse doing a dance. The Dance was actually choreographed by Raimi’s high school teacher!
  • Most of the film focuses on Bruce Campbell as Ash alone, before other characters appear. The studio reportedly had an issue with this, but it allowed for the character to become more acquainted with the evil he was facing before other characters were thrown into the mix. During the scene when Ash is being driven mad by the evil dead, we see an evil version of himself reach through the mirror and choke him out. To achieve this effect, the production crew had to build a reverse version of the set on the opposite side of the wall. 
  • While Ash grapples with the Evil in the woods, four new characters enter the screen. Sarah Berry plays Annie Knowby, whose father discovered the Necronomicon and owns the cabin. This was also Berry’s largest acting role and she is a writer as well. Dan Hicks plays Jake, Bobby Joe’s boyfriend. Hicks continued acting up until his death in 2020. He even played a train passenger in Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Kassie Wesley DePaiva played Bobby Joe, a character that was actually inspired by actress Holly Hunter, who Raimi was living with while writing the film. DePaiva has continued her career as a regular in several soap operas. And finally, the character Ed was played by Richard Domeier who went on to become the host of QVC. 
  • After all five characters are in the cabin, they are soon confronted with the living corpse of Annie’s mother, Henrieta, played by Sam Raimi’s brother, Ted. Ted donned a full-body suit and make-up, complete with dentures and contacts. According to Raimi, his brother had no idea what he was getting into and he was also tortured throughout the filming process. 
    • Annie’s living parents were played by Lou Hancock and John Peakes. 
  • Filming Location
    • In 1986 filming began in Wadesboro, North Carolina at an old highschool called J.R. Faison Junior High School. The sets were built in the gymnasium. 
    • Shooting would take place sometimes at night and the temperature could be extremely hot as well. All of the evening shots were completed first, and the exterior shots were also in North Carolina, on the same location that the film “The Color Purple” was filmed. Many of the trees in the woods were real, but some bigger trees were sculpted and put in, with no tops on them. While filming the tracking shots of the woods, the cameraman could not point it too high, or else the audience would see the fake trees. 
    • Shots of the skies and the shot of the twisted and broken bridge were matte paintings with Bruce composited in where necessary. 
  • Make-up and Special Effects
    • Mark Shostrom led the special effects team. He hired three significant artists: Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, and Robert Kurtzman. 
      • Greg Nicotero worked and learned under Tom Savini in Day of the Dead. This is also where Greg met Howard Berger. In 1988 they would go on to create their own Make-up effects business with Robert Kurtzman called KNB EFX Group, Inc. They have worked on films such as Army of Darkness (which is the next film in the Evil Dead movies), The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Reservoir Dogs, the Kill Bill movies, and many more including the show The Walking Dead.  
    • The team began preparing in South Pasadena at Mark Shostrom’s studio for about three months. Everything that they created had to be shipped to Wadesboro.
      • Several different replicas of the actors heads and various body parts needed to be made for the different scenes. In order to create the casts and dummies of the character Linda, an alginate casting was made of the actress. 
        • After Linda’s head drops into his lap and bites his hand, Ash goes to the shed where he secures Linda’s head in a table clamp. He then looks around for a chainsaw and instead of finding it he sees a chalk outline on the wall where it is supposed to be. Suddenly the rest of Linda’s body bursts into the shed holding a chainsaw up and coming straight for him. 
          • In order to achieve this, Robert Kurtzman laid on his back on a skateboard. He held up the Linda body dummy as he wheeled into the shed. Someone from above held a fishing wire like contraption that held and moved the chainsaw up. Greg Nicotero said it looked like a Kermit muppet bursting through the door moving up and down.
      • Sam really wanted to show the transition of Bruce’s eyes to the white. So, they made a special oversized head of Bruce. They had a liquid-filled eye in the head. In order to simulate white clouding in the eye, they injected milk which created a swirled effect that then becomes just white. 
    • A lot of the effects for the film were achieved with a combination of stop-motion, prosthetics and mechanics. 
      • Doug Beswick performed much of the stop-motion animation for the movie. Animator Yancy Calzada was also credited with armature animation. 
        • Doug Beswick animated the infamous headless Linda dance scene. According to a tweet from Mark Shostrom Beswick re-dressed a piece from the film Aliens for a tree in this scene as well. 
        • Yancy Calzada animated parts of the sequence where Ash’s hand runs and hides from Ash. For some of the hand movement, Greg Nicotero stuck his hand up through the floor. 
        • After Ash’s hand becomes possessed, he must cut it off. In this scene, the hand was actually made of gelatin. It had to be refrigerated because it was so warm in the filming location. 
      • One of the most horrifying parts of the film is Ted Raimi’s portrayal of the dead Henrietta. 
        • For these scenes, he was completely covered in urethane and rubber which made it really hard for his body to “breathe.” Sweat would literally pour out of the suit when they would take it off him at the end of the day. 
        • Fiberglass molds were made of Ted and then from there they made a polyfoam outer skin using those molds. Underneath the polyfoam they made a bean suit which consisted of sacs of lentil beans. These sacs of beans give a nice jiggle to the whole body suit. 
        • Mark Shostrom painted all the different body suits and pieces.
    • Wendy Bell was the head make-up artist that created the looks of most of the characters. The crew had to experiment with different types of blood because they needed blood to stay on Bruce Campbell’s face. 
      • Once each character became possessed, their eyes became white. The team achieved this with opaque white contact lenses that the actors could not see through. The actors had to practice their scenes and perform them blind. Campbell even said he wasn’t sure when his eyes were open or closed while having the lenses in.  
  • Composer Joseph LoDuca provided the haunting score for the film. For some scenes, his music played up the comic effect with Looney Tune-esque sound effects. He is a prolific composer that has scored TV shows like The Librarians and Ash VS The Evil Dead. 

AWARDS/ RECEPTION/LEGACY

  • The film was nominated for a few things, including one of our favorite awards (The Saturn Award for best horror), but sadly it did not win.
  • Reviews
    • Roger Ebert gave the movie 3 stars in his 1987 review saying, “Evil Dead 2 is a comedy disguised as a blood-soaked shock-a-rama. It looks superficially like a routine horror movie, a vomitorium designed to separate callow teenagers from their lunch. But look a little closer and you’ll realize that the movie is a fairly sophisticated satire. Level One viewers will say it’s in bad taste. Level Two folks like myself will perceive that it is about bad taste.”
  • Sequels
    • The Evil Dead became popular and had such a following, that sequels were made and an upcoming movie is expected.
    • Army of Darkness
      • Army of Darkness from 1993 is considered the third movie in the original Evil Dead Trilogy. Ash is transported, as per the ending of the previous movie, to England in 1300 AD. Although it keeps some horror, it also focuses on Ash’s story with comedy and plot action. 
    • Ash vs. Evil Dead
      • In order to explore the character of Ash more the tv show Ash vs. Evil Dead was created in 2015. It ended its third and final season in 2018. It was not renewed for a fourth season by Starz due to its low ratings in season 3. When the show was canceled Bruce Campbell announced that he would not be returning as the character Ash again.He feels that the franchise will be better for his departure from the character.   
    • Evil Dead Rise
      • The next film, called Evil Dead Rise, is set to release sometime this year. The film has been confirmed to build upon the original trilogy and not the reboot movie that came out in 2013. True to what Bruce Campbell said before, he will not be returning as Ash but he and Sam Raimi will be executive producers with Robert Tapert as producer and Lee Cronin as the writer. The action will take place in an urban area focusing on two sisters. New Line Cinema and HBO Max are set to distribute. 

FUN FACTS

Greg Nicotero’s example drawing of Sam Raimi’s storyboard panel.
  • Evil Dead II opens with a title card for a fictional company called Rosebud. Apparently, the financier for the film, Dino De Laurentiis, could not release an X-rated film. So, an animator created a stop-motion title card of a rose in front of a cloud background for “Rosebud,” as an almost alias for the real financial backers of the movie. 
  • According to Greg Nicotero, Sam drew his own storyboards for the film. When Greg went on further to explain the storyboards he showed a recreation which was a basic stick drawing. We will include a screenshot of the recreated storyboard on our blog!
  • In 1982 Stephen King wrote a review of The Evil Dead. It was an entire article in The Twilight Zone Magazine! In it he called the film “The most ferociously original horror film of 1982.” This contributed a great deal in helping to make Evil Dead II, as Stephen King often supports smaller artists with great ideas. 
    • Here is a link to a website that has pictures of the article.
  • Freddy Krueger’s claw hand makes a cameo appearance above the door in the tool shed! It was to honor Wes Craven, and is a call-back to the first film being a New Line Cinema property. 
  • Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were childhood friends, and the tape recorder used in the movie belonged to Campbell’s father. Back when Raimi was making super 8 films with his friends, they would record sound effects on the tape recorder for the films. The same recorder was used in both The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II.

It’s probably safe to say that there is no other movie like Evil Dead II. This project, like the entire franchise, was a labor of love from start to finish. Not only is it an imaginative gore-fest with lots of comedic relief, it’s also a testament to the friendship between its creators and the vision they had as a team. 

Evil Dead II is a sequel AND a remake. It’s a horror film AND a dark comedy. This wild ride is one of the most entertaining and fascinating films we’ve ever seen. In summation, it’s pretty fucking groovy to say the least. 


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