Every horror fan and gorehound worth his or her weight in red-tinted corn syrup has seen 'The Evil Dead,' the landmark low-budget horror classic that debuted 30 years ago this week (on October 15, 1981) and launched the careers of director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell. But even fans of the 'Spider-Man' director, the 'Burn Notice' star, or the demonic-possession tale that gave them their start when they were still college students three decades ago may not know all the gory details behind the making of the movie -- the real-life ghost story behind the abandoned cabin where it was filmed, the horrors endured by the cast during the lengthy shoot, the high-profile fans who gave the movie a boost, and the ever-ongoing list of sequels and spinoffs (including a stage musical) that 'Evil Dead' continues to generate. Here are 25 things you may not have known about the zombie franchise that refuses to stay dead.
1. 'Evil Dead' marked the beginning of a long collaboration between Raimi and several friends and relatives that he'd work with again and again for the rest of his career. Raimi and Campbell go back 35 years to their high school days in the suburbs of Detroit when they started making Super 8 movies together. Raimi's longtime producer Rob Tapert joined the gang in college. Sam's brothers Ted and Ivan Raimi also began their filmmaking careers on 'Evil Dead' as stand-ins.
2. The genesis of 'Evil Dead' was a 30-minute Super 8 film called 'Within the Woods.' It was essentially a short version of the movie the filmmakers wanted to shoot, designed as a calling card to attract investors and persuade them that these 20-year-olds could make a professional-looking film.
3. 'Evil Dead' famously takes place at an abandoned cabin in the woods (it's there that five vacationing college students are trapped when they discover a book and a tape recording that contain incantations that summon demons, who possess the kids one by one and can be stopped only by dismemberment). It was shot at an actual abandoned cabin near Morristown, Tennessee. In an interview made at the time of the film's release, Raimi claimed that the cabin was actually haunted, that it was the subject of a ghost story told by locals. According to the story, the girl who was supposedly the lone survivor of the ordeal that claimed her family there during a thunderstorm nearly a century ago had been traumatized out of her mind. As an old woman, she had supposedly gone missing just before the shoot and was said to be wandering the woods where the filming took place.
4. Even if it wasn't haunted, the cabin was plenty horrifying. Cows had roamed free inside it and left behind a layer of manure that was four to six inches thick. There was no plumbing and no heat. The filmmakers had to clean it out, knock down some walls, and build some additions to transform the shack into a suitable film set.
5. Besides Campbell, the principal cast members were Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly, and Richard DeManincor. The last two were Screen Actors Guild members, so to participate in the non-union shoot, they used fake names. Tilly was billed as Sarah York, while DeManincor rearranged his name a bit to become Hal Delrich.
6. The movie's chief innovation was the rushing, low-to-the-ground tracking shot that represented to point of view of the attacking demonic forces. To create the effect, Raimi mounted a camera on a two-by-four and had it held aloft by people at each end (often, Raimi and Campbell), who would then run through the forest.
7. Another novelty: having a character get raped by possessed trees. It's one of the scariest scenes in the film, but it's also been criticized as misogynistic. Raimi has said in recent years that he regrets including the scene and chalks it up to youthful bad judgment. Sandweiss has joked that shooting the scene left her infected with a mild case of Dutch elm disease.
8. Every cast member was injured in some way during the shoot. Most dramatically, Baker had her eyelashes ripped out when the plaster mold for the latex mask (of her demon-possessed incarnation) was torn from her face.
9. The production used creamed corn (dyed green) for spilled zombie guts and 2 percent milk for the fluid the possessed kids often spewed. And for blood, they used a combination of corn syrup, red food coloring, and coffee creamer. Tapert estimated that the filmmakers used between 200 and 300 gallons of fake blood, having bought every bottle of Karo syrup in Morristown. During a special-effects scene gone awry, about 75 gallons of the sticky blood spilled onto a rented camera and ruined it.
10. Principal photography took 12 long weeks. "This was a nightmare shoot for everybody. It took about three months for people to start talking to each other again after the initial shoot," Campbell recalled, years later. Still, he added, "We were all there happily, willingly. None of us had any idea what we were getting into. By putting in that torment for 12 weeks, it reflects on the movie. The movie has a sort of docu-horror quality to it that you can smell oozing from the pores of the movie."
11. Post-production, however, took a year and a half. By then, most of the original cast members were unavailable for reshoots and had to be replaced by stand-ins. Three Stooges fan Raimi referred to those as "Fake Shemps," after the often-obvious stunt doubles used by Shemp Howard in the old Stooges shorts.
12. The voice of the professor heard on the tape recording is that of Turner Classic Movies host Bob Dorian.
13. Joel Coen got his first big break an assistant editor on the film. He and brother Ethan were inspired by Raimi's example to hit up family and friends for the money to make their first film, 1984's 'Blood Simple.' Like Raimi, they made a calling-card short to show to potential investors, with Campbell in the role that would go to Dan Hedaya in the real film. The 'Evil Dead'-style demon-cam tracking shot also became a staple in early Coen Brothers movies.
14. Shortly after filming was completed, the cabin burned to the ground. Raimi initially claimed it had been struck by lightning, a fitting coda to the old ghost story about the thunder-traumatized girl. Later, Raimi claimed he'd burned it down himself. The crew buried a time capsule at the site, and though fans of the movie have picked the site clean over the years (Campbell says fans have brought him bricks from the fireplace to autograph), no one has yet unearthed the capsule.
15. The movie was to be called 'Book of the Dead,' until veteran producer and distribution expert Irvin Shapiro persuaded Raimi that the title might by too literary for the drive-in crowd the filmmakers hoped to attract. Shapiro himself came up with the 'Evil Dead' title.
16. The filmmakers had a hard time getting U.S. distributors interested in the movie. But they managed to get it screened at the Cannes Film Festival and released in Europe, where it became a minor hit in several countries and was banned in several others. In England, where it went straight to video, it became the focus of a landmark censorship trial (at which Raimi testified) that led to stricter policing of home video content. Now, U.S companies were interested. Independent distributor New Line Cinema picked it up.
17. Shortly before New Line gave the film a nationwide release in 1983, it got an endorsement from Stephen King. The horror guru's blurb called it "the most ferociously original horror movie of the year."
18. Raimi had shot the film for just $350,000. In domestic release, it earned $2.4 million. On home video, it became even bigger.
19. The modest success of 'Evil Dead' led to Raimi's second film, the 1985 film noir spoof 'Crimewave' (scripted by Raimi and the Coens), which flopped. Still, Raimi had enough cachet to make 1987's 'Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn,' which was essentially a remake of the first film (again, with Campbell starring as zombie-fighter Ash), but with more over-the-top gore, more tongue-in-cheek laughs, and more money to spend (about 10 times the budget of 'Evil Dead').
20. 'Evil Dead 2' did well enough to inspire a third film, 1992's 'Army of Darkness,' which saw Ash fighting "deadites" in Middle-Ages Europe. (It was going to be called 'The Medieval Dead,' but again, Shapiro prevailed.) The movie didn't earn the same level of critical praise or cult adoration as the first two, but it was still a decent-sized hit.
21. With the blessings of Raimi and Campbell, a team of Canadian wags mounted 'Evil Dead: The Musical' at the 2004 Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal. Since then, the play has been mounted in cities all over the world (including a four-month Off-Broadway stint in New York). For all the singing and dancing, it's just as gory as the movie; ticketbuyers in the first three rows (a.k.a. "the splatter zone") are advised to dress casually.
22. After the franchise-crossover movie 'Freddy vs. Jason' (pitting 'Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger against 'Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees) came out in 2003, there was talk of a sequel, 'Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash,' that would pit Campbell's chainsaw-wielding demon fighter against the two seemingly unkillable slasher movie villains. That movie never came to fruition, but there were two limited-series comic books based on the 'Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash' idea.
23. In 2009, after the massive success of Rami's 'Spider-Man' trilogy and his return to horror with 'Drag Me to Hell,' Raimi said he and his brother Ivan were working on a screenplay for 'Evil Dead IV,' which would pick up where 'Army of Darkness' left off. So far, nothing has come of that project.
24. The movie remains a staple attraction at a never-ending series of horror conventions. The movie's three actresses, who've all apparently become soccer moms, have a second life on weekends jetting to conventions and signing autographs. (A highlight of the convention circuit for them: meeting 'Evil Dead' fan Alice Cooper.) The actresses say they remain touched by the 'Evil Dead' fans' undying devotion. "My [demon-possessed] face is tattooed on about six different people's arms," marvels Sandweiss.
25. This summer, it was announced that an 'Evil Dead' remake is in the works. The reboot will be produced by Raimi, Campbell and Tapert, but the script (written by director Fede Alvarez and polished by Diablo Cody) reportedly departs from the original in significant ways. For one thing, says Campbell, there's no Ash. "All best are off & all love the new approach," Campbell Tweeted. How can that possibly work? Guess we'll find out in 2013, when the undead franchise returns from the grave yet again.
[Top photo: Everett Collection // Other photos: Anchor Bay]
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