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This is an edited interview conducted with Tim Philo over a number of emails in November 2018. As well as working on The Evil Dead & Evil Dead II, Tim worked on a number of the later Super-8 Shorts, including The Blind Waiter, Torro, Torro, Torro!, Cleveland Smith, Bounty Hunter & Stryker's War, as both a cameraman and Cinematographer/Director of Photography.

Huge thanks to Italian Evil Dead fan Emanuele Crivello for his help in making this interview happen, and thanks to Tim himself for taking the time out to do it.




Tim Philo on top of a production vehicle, filming on location in Tennesee for The Evil Dead (1979)



You shot a number of your own Super-8 Short Films like Wilkinson Bond, A Little Help From My Friends, and The Jack Bogie Show. What can you tell us about those?
 
 
Some friends and I were making these little Super-8 films, starting when there was a teachers' strike in 1974. We had a company called SLAP Films. Showed the films in garages and basements to neighborhood kids and made back our money on the concessions.


How did you first meet Sam and the rest of the team?  
 
Sam and his partners, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell had made a short Super-8 horror film called Within the Woods. The local paper had a story about them and that the movie was being shown at midnight at a local theater. I was a film student, working on films with friends, but I had been thinking that horror was a perfect way to stretch and do interesting things with camerawork. So I went to the screening, met Sam and offered to shoot for them. Their plan was to do their feature in Super-8 also, which I warned them was going to be unworkable, but that I was ready to help when it turned into a 16mm project. Their Super-8 test failed miserably, and soon we were making plans for the feature, Book of the Dead.


What did you think of Within The Woods itself?  
 
Within the Woods was dynamite! I thought Sam's ability to build a good horror sequence was very impressive. What I thought I could add was clarity and a more professional technique that they were lacking (especially in Super-8!). I had shot a fair bit of 16mm, including a couple of half-hour dramas, so I had some confidence that I could up their game. Of course, I was probably 20 years old and had really not gotten much training in lighting or camerawork.

Bruce with Joanne Kruse in Within The Woods (1979)


Can you just explain the process the production went through in preparing the Cabin, were you one of the people who had to sleep there overnight to guard the production's equipment?  
 
We got the cabin location very late, after we had already gotten to Tennessee. We kept shooting the driving sequence at the start so that Dart Frankel and a couple of PAs (Personal Assistants) could work on it. It was a totally abandoned shack, roamed through and shat in by cows. Dart was a magician. Since I was off shooting 40 miles away, I just got to see the end result. It was unbelievable - a total silk purse out of a sow's ear. I didn't stay as a guard. We always took the camera gear back to the crew house for cleaning and unloading mags, and that was all my bailiwick.



Tim shooting with John Mason, and Sam Raimi on the roof, on The Evil Dead (1979)
Josh Becker mentions in his Evil Dead production journal, you and him talking about a script idea of yours, do you remember what that was?  
 
It was probably one about a major league baseball player, a sort of heroic figure, committing a heinous act of violence on the field. I had notions about a genre called hyper-reality.


You've talked about shooting the abandoned version of the scene around the fireplace, what do you remember about this?  
 
This has been talked & written about before and everything I've seen is accurate. The idea, hoping to lend some originality and naturalness to the cast's interactions, Sam had them smoking pot and drinking the horrible moonshine. Given that actual plot and some written dialogue needed to be presented, this was a complete failure. It became a "huh? what?" gigglefest. With no cast to shoot, we got some much-needed sleep.


Bruce Campbell recalls in his autobiography that Betsy spewed milk all over the camera during the Linda-burial scene?  
 
That was a tough night. Sam was asking that a long portion of the fight scene be shot as one take (to be used a one take). It was very difficult to operate it as a oner. And we all knew that it would NEVER be used that way. So maybe I wasn't in a great mood to begin with. But Sam plotted with Betsy Baker to have her spew milk at the lens. That set me off. Part of my anger was probably not understood: I was doing everything Sam wanted, and would have done this too. But since it was a surprise, the lens and the camera were completely exposed to the spray. That could have been prepared for. I did plenty of other camera abusive shots, but I did not like to unnecessarily create problems with the gear. There was no time for fits. We wiped things off and kept shooting.



Tim Philo shooting Ellen Sandwiess, with Sam Raimi & Betsy Baker in The Evil Dead (1979)


Was the idea of Burning the book with the necklace ever shot?  
 
I have no memory of a plot involving burning the book with magnifying glass. We all laughed at the necklace when Sam pulled it out. He was embarrassed, but we were pretty relentless. He suggested that there might be some potentially cool optical FX we could do with the magnifier. This was on location, and we had no close-up lenses, so we quickly moved on.


Rob Tapert has mentioned that the cabin was so cold because all the windows were removed to prevent reflections, do you remember this happening?  
 
With the handheld camera moving around, we did have the problem of reflections arise. A couple of windows were taken out, and others, due to continuity, were broken or shot out. It was cold, always. The scene where Cheryl goes nuts and floats was probably the start of this, since the window behind her came out so we could do the effect.


Can you explain the Shakey-Cam, how you came up with the idea, and were there any other camera rigs?  
 
Victor Duncan had a SteadiCam in Chicago that we were supposed to get for 9 or so days. It was a very recent invention at the time. In the end, the cost and logistics proved prohibitive. In talking with a filmmaker friend, we came to the idea of the Shakey-Cam. He said that if you mount the camera on a long board and straddle the banisters of a staircase, you could slide the camera down mimicking a crane shot. As we talked, we reasoned that the board itself, by it's length, would lessen the amplitude of any wobble, at least along one axis of movement. Even a 24" board would create a smoother move than the 6" wide camera itself. Better yet (given coordinated operators) would be an 8' board. But in practice, the long board wouldn't work. For the wide angle 'force" effect we needed to pass close to trees and other things. The long board was abandoned and I think only one shot in the film used it.

Sam had wanted the 'force' shots, the wide angle POV shots of the evil entity to move through the woods knocking down trees as it went. We considered riding atop a bulldozer, keeping the blade of it out of frame, but seeing the effect of the trees falling from its power. This proved to be out of our reach, unsafe in plenty of ways. We did prop up a few little trees and knock them over as the camera comes through, but these were just saplings.

There was also the VasoCam (the same board slid on top of another board with a greasy layer of petroleum jelly as lubricant), the Blank-o-cam. (for a couple low follow shots, I got carried, camera-forward, on a blanket pallbearer-style), plus we also had a wheelchair that we used for some running shots. These rigs sometimes helped to make the movie look like a movie.

There was several times that Sam wanted to get a sequence all in one take (a 'oner'), despite the physical challenges. Sam had something of a background as a magician. He regularly wanted to do something just so the audience would wonder how it was done. The scene at the torn-up bridge was hard to get right (and it isn't). We didn't have the resources for a shot of the scale we imagined, especially at night. I didn't know it that night, but I guess Sam took a real whack to the head by a branch sometime early in the evening, and he wasn't 100%.

Ellen Sandwiess running out of the woods in The Evil Dead (1979)  
 

Tim shooting Ellen from a wheelchair in The Evil Dead (1979)  
 

The wheelchair ran on sheets of wood to give a smoother ride, The Evil Dead (1979)

Sam has mentioned in the past that you got the production an Arriflex BL 16mm camera through your connections at Wayne State University in Detroit?  
 
We had two cameras on location, an Arri 16BL and a smaller 16S that did not run at sync speed. The cameras were on loan from my university as a result of an odd barter. I shot documentary material for the school at times and was paid minimum wage as it was a student job. But the producer appreciated my work and said that if I ever needed to borrow the camera for something outside, I was welcome to it. When Book of the Dead came up, I figured why not ask? Surprisingly I was told "go ahead." I took pains to care for the gear in spite of the schedule and conditions. During the shooting after I left Tennessee standards were perhaps not maintained.

The first thing I was thinking about in shooting this feature in regular 16mm, knowing also that we'd be throwing out a good bit of our negative by shooting 1:1.85 ratio, is that we had to preserve sharpness. So we shot with prime lenses. Another factor I've thought about is this: in 16mm you may not have the beautiful crisp emulsion of a 35mm film, so that is a drawback. But you get to edit the same. So while lingering beauty shots are going to be sabotaged by the format, quick cuts of strongly framed actions will hide the deficit. Another factor that is significant, especially in contrast to today's high ASA emulsions and even higher ASA video systems: our stock was ASA 100 tungsten. We had very little lighting and grip gear, but then, we had almost no crew to wield the gear.

Among the numerous video releases of The Evil Dead are those that claim to be the real movie because it is a 1:1.33 aspect ratio. That full frame version is not the way the movie was framed. Though we couldn’t use any sort of visual guidelines on the Arri ground glass of the viewfinder, I was always framing 1:1.85, or as close as I could estimate.


When you left at the end of December, you left the Arriflex BL behind on the assurance that they'd not use it?  
 
And that they would be ready to finish in a week or so. I asked that they let me know when the final day would be so I could travel back down for the final shots. I had feelings about how the dawn would look and really wanted to do those last moments. In the winter hell that ensued they kept doing a couple of shots a day for weeks.

The guys packed the truck and drove the lights and cameras back to Detroit. Everything was in horrible shape, broken and covered in Karo syrup blood. The two camera had to be (expensively) overhauled. The rental house for the lights was not amused.



Top row L/R: Ellen, Don Campbell, Taylor Moore, Bruce, Josh, Dave, Hal, Sam, Frank Holt, Betsy, Tom, Theresa, John Mason, Tim, & Rob
Bottom row L/R: Janice Brock Holt, Jim Brock, Helen Brock, Vicky Brock Moore (Photo taken by Chuck Hale, Citizen Tribune 1979)


Are there any memories or anecdotes of The Evil Dead you want to share?  
 
It was an intense time. I developed a lifelong habit of waking up quickly and never snoozing. Bruce Campbell would knock on the door of the room I shared with the soundman, John Mason (we slept on the floor). I would jump to my feet and get to the shower. I reasoned that if I ever took a moment to let the exhaustion get to me, to cling to the pillow even once, then all was lost, all of it negotiable. There could be no questioning. Also, since there was limited hot water for the folks in the house, I wanted 2 minutes of it. Typically we got 4-5 hours of sleep, but in one stretch we were at it for 52 hours straight. Sam went comatose for a couple of hours of that. He could NOT be awakened. But he was substantially more sleep-deprived than any of us. He aged 5 years in Tennessee.


Tim with the Shakey-Cam camera rig, on The Evil Dead (1979)
Thanksgiving on location meant being invited to Gary Holt's family's home for a fantastic home-made meal, touch football in the yard and a short break from filming. When we got back that night to the crew house, we decided we could shoot a car scene in the garage ("It's not going to let us leave!"). Good day all around.

The scene where Scotty leaves to go find a way out, abandoning Ash with Linda, was not originally in the script. I take some credit for that scene and how it came about. Originally, Scotty and Ash are by the front door, with Scotty heroically saying he will go find a way to get them rescued and Ash gushing about how brave and selfless Scotty is. Take after take, Sam would turn to me and say, "How was that?" And I would reply, "It sucked." And I would tell him there is no way this dialogue happens, these were not words that would be spoken, ever. Eventually we bought a take, quit the scene. Months later in Michigan we shot the scene that is now in the film, with Scotty saying, "hey, save yourselves - I'm outta here." More plausible.

During the last week of filming I was involved in, in Tennessee, we ran low on Karo syrup, red food coloring and marshmallows, some key components of blood and guts. Since this brought us to a standstill, I was among those out visiting every Mom and Pop grocery within a 30 mile radius. No way, we were told. We had already bought out the county. Still further forays finally got us the goods.

One of the scariest nights was the night we shot the chainsaw scene in the woodshed. It was several cuts, culminating in an overhead of the running chainsaw being lowered towards Betsy Baker's neck. Rob, the producer, wanted to know if there was a way to make it safer. Bruce Campbell insisted that it was perfectly safe because there was NO WAY he would ever let the saw down on Betsy.

In an effort to do something safer, we reversed the chain on the saw so that the teeth faced inward. A test on a cardboard box proved inauspicious - it cut through just fine. With no other ideas forthcoming, Bruce said, "Gimme the thing! Roll camera!" and we shot it. There were many health scares. Bruce has his leg clawed at in one scene, which resulted in some nasty wounds. Those injuries got infected, but Bruce soldiered on. We were probably lucky, as very inexperienced kids, with too little sleep, playing around in the dark with guns, knives and electricity. We did not have blanks. The shotgun was shooting real shells. We just tried not to get in the way. And the location, as remote as it was in the woods was not a safe place. We were robbed a couple of times, and visited several nights by an assortment of local folks. One man came by with his 6-year-old son, and they were sharing a bottle of whiskey. Though I only worked about eight days on Evil Dead II, I can think of a few shots we did that were more dangerous than anything on the original.

The worst of the experience on location in Tennessee was probably working with the scleral contact lenses on the actors. The white lenses made the actors blind and were only supposed to be worn 15 minutes at a time, no more than 5 times a day. The pressure was to shoot as many as 4 or 5 shots, sometimes in action sequences, with a blind actor (more often actress) who would be physically moved into position then coached into action verbally. This was in a shooting location without running water, and heated by a huge kerosene blower/heater. Hygiene was very difficult.

It was all very difficult and rigorous, really. Cold, dirty, no sleep. I was lighting, loading film magazines and shooting. To put my hands in the changing bag I would have to wash the Karo syrup blood off of them with scalding coffee. Between takes late one cold night, as a window was being replaced or a breakaway cabinet rebuilt, Sam and I laid down on a hillside by the cabin. He said, "It's never going to be this bad again." After a pause, Sam then said, "But it's never going to be this good again either."

I knew what he meant. We were out there, 21 years old, no one watching over the project – no moneymen commenting on rushes. Just doing our best as we went along. You look at a film these days with credit lists of hundreds if not thousands of technicians. This was hands-on in the extreme. My hands ached all night every night from holding the camera in the cold all day. But I got to have input and responsibility, and we had faith in Sam's vision.



Tim Philo shooting the meltdown sequence with Bart Pierce & Tom Sullivan, in The Evil Dead (1980)


You were working with Tom & Bart on the meltdown sequence, what are your memories of this?  
 
Back several weeks into the shoot in Tennessee, Rob was asking about how the 16mm we were shooting would hold up in a blowup to 35mm. I was friends with Bart Pierce from the film program in college and knew that he worked at a lab in Detroit. I suggested that he might give an opinion and that since it was near the holidays he might be able to come to Tennessee to take a look at our rushes. Bart was thrilled to come down, which he did for a few days of shooting. Bart and Tom Sullivan hit it off and Bart promoted himself as someone who could help out with building a stop-motion animation sequence at the end.

A year later, Bart, Tom and I were working all weekend every weekend putting together the meltdown sequence in Bart's basement and garage. Tom was living at Bart's for four months or so. I was framing and lighting the shots, operating the rackover Mitchell, and dealing with the camera original and prints. I was cutting an advisory sequence from the workprint for Sam to show him how we intended the shots to fit together. I would go at midnight on Monday night's to Bart's lab to see the couple of seconds of footage we might have produced during the weekend.

We began to incorporate snakes and roaches into the shots, as though the demons were made of those. Carol, Bart's wife was petrified of snakes and banished us to the cold cold garage. One Sunday night/Monday morning we finished filming around 5am. I had to get to my waiter job for lunch, so I laid down on Bart's living room couch for a snooze before heading home to shower. As I woke up, i remembered that I had a snake (my favorite) in my jacket pocket. But it wasn't there! We spent an hour searching the house, futilely. We were sure that if Carol came across an unexpected snake, that would be the last straw for the production and Bart's marriage. Finally, I headed home and Bart and Tom kept up the search. At home I began to undress. And as my briefs came off, there was the snake, hanging off my scrotum. I guess he was looking for the warmest spot to snooze.

Tim Philo shooting the meltdown sequence in The Evil Dead (1980)

Working all the time with roaches, we became very familiar with their particular smell. Sunday mornings, after we had been animating all night , we would head over to a pancake joint nearby. And we were struck, time and again, by the pungent smell of roaches that wafted out of the menus. Still, we were too tired and too insensible to find an alternate breakfast spot. Must have gone there 15 times, noting the roach smell every time. When I first met Sam, Rob and Bruce, I was working on a documentary about a tattoo artist. And on location in Tennessee, Sam would frequently say that, though I was enjoying shooting the movie, what I'd really like to be doing is shooting the "making-of" documentary, turning the camera around on the chaos and craziness we had descended into. I never disagreed. When I saw the documentary American Movie, I just nodded my head and smiled.


Tim shooting the meltdown sequence (1980)

Rich's decomposing torso in The Evil Dead (1980)


Do you have any particular memories of working on The Blind Waiter, Torro, Torro, Torro! or Cleveland Smith, Bounty Hunter?  
 
The Blind Waiter was a rough day. More tense than funny. Very hackneyed laugh cues. Torro, Torro, Torro! was more of the silly physical comedy with clumsy physical effects. Doing these films were just a way to keep shooting something. A trip to the suburbs. On Cleveland Smith, Bounty Hunter, we did rear projection and I was surprised how well it worked. Otherwise it was just a rush of goofy props and canned accents.



Tim Philo during re-shoots on The Evil Dead (1980)
Do you have any particular memories of working on Stryker's War, and were you asked to work on Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except?  
 
Stryker's War was pretty interesting. We shot rural Michigan for Vietnam, and it was okay. The limitations we had, from my perspective, were that it was Super-8, the actors were pretty bad, and the main indoor location, Stryker's cabin, was Bruce Campbell's garage. But Josh Becker had a good core of a story, something that could be done with a lot of cuts. There was a lot of gunplay in the movie, with live ammo and with blanks. The blanks were made up by Bruce's brother Donny. In one sequence, a marine with a shotgun sneaks around a van, then shoots one of the psychos through the passenger compartment of the van. I was shooting a shot from the POV of the psycho. Unlike all of the previous blanks, this came out with a 'BOOM'. I was hit in the cheek (good shot!). When I reached up to touch my face, my hand came down bloody. Slowly I reached around to the back of my head to see if it was there. It was. Donny had packed the blank so tightly that the hot wadding had shot out and hit me. Very scary, very funny. For a couple of weeks I looked like I had lipstick on my cheek. People would comment on it and try to wipe it off, and I would indignantly say, "It's not lipstick! I was shot in the face with a shotgun!"

When finally Josh got going with Thou Shalt, I was in New York City already. His description of the production-to-be seemed seriously inadequate to any kind of quality. And though we had been talking about shooting features together for years, Josh also said he wanted to shoot this himself. I wished him good luck. The movie didn't get much exposure, but I did go to see it on 42nd Street in New York City.


You're credited as 2nd unit director of photography for Evil Dead II, what exactly did you do?  
 
Early in the summer I had been asked to come to North Carolina and take over the DP position. This was after two weeks of them filming with a Hollywood DP. We couldn't work out a deal, unfortunately. I came in to North Carolina for the last night of filming. We had a tough shot with an Eyemo camera at the end of an I-beam, mounted like a teeter-totter on a Western dolly. The camera chases Ash by passing through the car from the back. Quite an effect. The rear window explodes just as the camera gets to it. We had some other shots that night too.

Later, in November, I came into Detroit for about a week of filming, mostly on stage in a warehouse. We had two or three sets to rotate through, doing mostly pretty complicated physical effect shots. We did a few outdoors and driving scenes also. All of us were a lot more experienced at this point. Now that I think about it, it was strange that I did these shoots, and got paid just fine, but I still am owed $7500.00 from my contract on the original The Evil Dead.
 
 
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