Of all the various marketing campaigns around the world for The Evil Dead, none were more memorable than that of the UK, mounted by Palace Pictures and illustrated by Graham Humphreys. This page covers the advertising & promotional aspects of Palace Picture's involvement with The Evil Dead, if you want to know about their legal troubles, please see the 'Censorship' page. Just to add some context, I have also included a brief history of Palace Pictures first. If you want to know about the game released by Palace Software, please see the gaming section.
A brief history of Palace Pictures
Palace Pictures was a company established in London, England around 1982 by Stephen Woolley & Nik Powell, as a distributor for cult cinema and international art films. A number of subsidiary companies were set up to cater for other media including Palace Video for the early exploding 80's VHS & Betamax market, and Palace Software to release software for home computers, in particular the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64.
Prior to this, Stephen had worked his way up from an usher to the manager of The Scala Cinema at 275 -227 Pentonville Road Kings Cross, playing host to many low budget cult films. Nik Powell had been one of the co-founders of the Virgin Group with Richard Branson. He was bought out by Richard in 1981. Both being big film fans, Nik & Stephen linked up, asking if he wanted to start up a company distributing the sort of films shown at the Scala at that time. Initially they restricted themselves exclusively to video distribution, having seen many cinema distributors go bankrupt, but as The Evil Dead was only available as a video & cinema rights package only, they decided to open cinema distribution arm, headed up by new employee Paul Webster.
Throughout the 1980s, local freelance graphic designer & illustrator Graham Humphreys worked extensively with Palace, on many of their most memorable UK horror campaigns such as Dream Demon, Basket Case, The Evil Dead & Evil Dead II, A Nightmare On Elm Street; parts 1 though 5, Creepers and Santa Sangre.
The Palace line-up scored some major successes during the years leading up to 1992, the year of their international, BAFTA and Oscar-winning hit, The Crying Game. The parent & subsidiary companies handled a large number of titles across their various media, running into the hundreds. They also established an association with Miramax, which distributed a number of Palace films in the United States.
The Palace Video Ident, lighting flashes
Moving in, panning over neon lights
Up to a TV screen & fade to black
In 1992, Palace Pictures declared bankruptcy, taking the subsidiary companies with it. Since then, Stephen and Nik are both producers in their own right. Nik has re-established himself with Scala Productions and has since produced Fever Pitch, TwentyFourSeven, Last Orders, and Ladies in Lavender. He is currently the director of the National Film and Television School while maintaining his position as chairman of Scala Productions.
Stephen has collaborated many times with Neil Jordan, a relationship which began with 1984's The Company Of Wolves. In 2002 Stephen formed his own production company 'Number 9 Films' with his partner Elizabeth Karlsen, producing Stephen's directorial début, Stoned, a Brian Jones biopic in 2005, with number of new projects in the pipeline.
Poster reprints of The Evil Dead's iconic artwork, along with others are available directly from Graham's website GrahamHumphreys.com.
The British rights for The Evil Dead
Stephen had gone to a few European film markets and picked up some art films, but they both realised that the video market in the UK at that time was not that sophisticated, and trashy horror films were making big money. They both travelled over to LA for the American Film Market in March 1982, their first such film market, which was held out of a couple of tacky motels on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. The initially both stayed with Nick's old girlfriend miles from central LA, but when the daily cab fares amounted to
nearly twice the nightly rate of a hotel, they soon moved to share a room in a hotel. While there, Stephen saw a screening of The Evil Dead. He was surprised by both the level of gore and the professional style of filmmaking, two things which rarely went together in the sort of trashy movies being shown at the AFM around that period.
Stephen made contact with Irvin Shapiro, who was appreciative that Stephen respected the picture as an excellent piece of filmmaking, not just schlock horror. Irvin wanted £65,000 for complete UK cinema & video rights, and Stephen went back to Nik suggesting that they buy it. Nik saw the film himself and was duly horrified, but realised the potential and they agreed to buy the British rights, the films first sale.
Both Christopher Fowler and Graham Humphreys worked on the marketing for The Evil Dead & Evil Dead II. Graham was 20 years old when he first got involved with Palace, and his first major commission. He took his portfolio along to show Stephen without knowing that they had already acquired The Evil Dead, really just looking for any work they had. Stephen wasn't there but he left his portfolio, and a couple of Graham's horror pieces caught his eye. Stephen called Graham and arranged for him to come down to the Scala cinema and view the film, which was a brand new uncut print. He saw it in the middle of the day, with one other person in the audience, who left after about 15 minutes.
Stephen & Nik had a very specific idea about the sort of campaign they wanted, they weren't just cashing in on the film, and this actually established what Palace Pictures became. At that time, people were using artwork far more and photos less so they started with concepts. One of the things that influenced Graham a lot was some of the appalling printing quality of posters around at that time, so he generally tried to use colours which even printed badly would still work, and Graham requested that Palace went to a bad printer, although they didn't and just went with their regular printer.
Palace decided that their cinema and video audiences were so different, that they could release both simultaneously without one affecting profits of the other. This was unheard of at the time and just about the first and last time this was done. They chose not to tell either side that they were doing this. When they realised what Palace had done, The Rank Cinema Circuit went completely balmy! The industry was still very concerned at that time, that video would be the final nail in the struggling cinema industry's coffin, with the general rule being films should not reach the video rentals shelves until at least nine months after their cinema release. Paul Webster, Palace's head of theatrical distribution, decided to release the film initially in Scotland, with a tour of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling, and then gradually move it south and across England on a regional basis, and Sam travelled over to support the film's release appearing at a number of theatrical showings. Although the film was censored by 49 seconds by the BBFC, Paul Webster accidentally released the uncut print to cinemas, which went un-noticed for a few weeks until this was picked up on and the prints were re-called with public apologies all round. The back to back cinema and video release meant that having completed the artwork for the quad cinema poster, Graham had to move straight on to the video cover which he had about a day to finish, the format of a quad poster and a video cover are quite different, so it had to be cobbled together quite swiftly.
The Evil Dead was a massive hit becoming the biggest video of 1983, selling over 50,000 copies at a sell though price of £40-50 each, and remained in the video & rental charts for weeks. The theatrical release was also a success but to a lesser extent. At cinemas around the UK the film took just over £100,000, it performed so well that the planned London opening was delayed by a week in order to crank up interest. The film finally entered the London cinema circuit early in February of 1983, and within six weeks had grossed more than £50,000 at the Prince Charles cinema alone.
To increase interest, Palace ran a competition to win a years supply of red meat worth £500.00 or alternatively £500.00 in cash, and three runner up prizes of a video cassette of the film. To enter you had to answer seven easy multiple choice questions on the postcard supplied and post it to the Scala Cinema. The competition closed on August 31, 1983.
At some point between The Evil Dead's unequivocal dismissal against obscenity charges at Snaresbrook Crown Court in London on November 7, 1984, and the VRA (Video Recordings Act) coming into force on September 1, 1985, Palace Video issued a replacement VHS & Betamax sleeve to some dealers. This was identical to the standard VHS cover, but with a grey banner across the front exclaiming 'Not guilty! - The Evil Dead is back, B.F.F.C. certificate applied for'. According to Nik Powell, this was to swap out for existing sleeves; to celebrate The Evil Dead's victory in court, and as a 'screw you' to the police for their constant seizure of the film even after it was cleared. These were not intended as sample or promotional sleeves, but 'working' shop floor sleeves that belonged in a box with a tape. However, by the time the sleeves were sent out, many of the video shop owners and distributors had withdrawn The Evil Dead from sale due to the risk of being raided again, and the upcoming VRA law, so the majority of these would have probably been thrown away. That is why this specific cover is now one of the rarest and most coveted The Evil Dead VHS covers in the world, and can fetch hundreds of pounds. On December 8, 2013, an auctioned sleeve went for the huge sum of £605, but previously the average was £200-400.
The Evil Dead became a landmark film in firmly establishing the video market in the UK, making the larger studios sit up and take note of the kind of money a video title was raking in. Following its withdrawal of the film once the VRA came in to force, and the refusal of the BBFC to pass the film, The Evil Dead was unavailable in the UK for a number of years. Then early in 1987, Palace sent out a VHS promo sleeve to dealers detailing a BBFC '18' rated The Evil Dead VHS re-release on May 15 to coincide with the UK theatrical release of Evil Dead II on June 26. Full press coverage, posters, and competitions were promised, but this release disappeared without trace. Refusal of a BBFC certificate could have been a possible factor, but the BBFC website only lists one re-submission; on March 15, 1990. You can see both sides of that promo cover below.
In that 1990 re-submission, the BBFC passed The Evil Dead for video release with 1 minute 6 seconds of further cuts over and above the 49 seconds made to the 'X' rated theatrical version in 1982. Palace went back to Graham Humphreys for a new video cover, which was done very much in the style of the original, and the '18' rated re-release VHS was in stores May 21, 1990; the first time it had been legally available since September 1985.
Both Graham's original 1982 artwork, and his 1990 version were recycled into a number of posters intended for video rental shops and retail stores promoting the film's 1990 VHS re-release, including the two below. It wouldn't be until FilmFour's Adam Roberts submitted The Evil Dead to the BBFC once again on March 2, 2001, that the British public would have a chance to see the full uncut version; Anchor Bay released an uncut DVD & VHS tape on September 3, 2001, and it made its uncut début on British television as part of FilmFour's Extreme Cinema season at 11pm on Saturday November 25, 2001. Unfortunately, this was long after Palace Picture's demise back in the early 1990s.
Alternate 1980's Palace Pictures VHS artwork
A number of people in the past have mentioned seeing alternate UK Palace Pictures VHS artwork for The Evil Dead during the 1980's. User Names_Ash_Housewares posted a photo of his Evil Dead Trilogy collection on the Deadites.net forums back on March 8, 2008. One of the images contained a VHS tape with different Graham Humphreys artwork. It turned out that this was actually a bootleg VHS with a cover made from cut-up magazine adverts taken from a 1980s issue of Video Farm Magazine, which was held together with sellotape, and had magazine articles on the reverse of the cover. You can see that custom VHS cover below-right, along with the poster the front cover was made from below-left. User horrormaniac from the Pre-Cert.co.uk forums posted on July 2, 2006 that he was sure he'd seen a different pre-cert cover to The Evil Dead years back in his mother's video shop; a black cover with just the title, and a tape recorder in the top left hand corner.
As far as is known, there was only ever one version of the pre-cert VHS artwork (plus the 'Not guilty!' modified cover). That's not to say any rumours are incorrect though. Given that VHS tapes were expensive for video rental shops to replace, it's not beyond the realms of possibility, that a cover to a rental copy of The Evil Dead had been damaged and replaced by a make-shift cover created from a magazine advert or some such just to save the replacement cost. In addition to this, video piracy was rife, and it's more than likely that a number of traders knocked up their own bootleg covers. So it's perfectly feasible that people might have seen VHS releases with alternate artwork, they were simply unofficial ones.
The artwork today
After Palace went bankrupt, and their 1990 VHS version was deleted, the UK rights for the film were bought up by Polygram Video Ltd. They released, deleted & re-released the same censored palace version a number of times on their 4-front VHS label; in 1992, 1993 and again in 1997. Each release had a slightly different cover, all very poorly designed, and recycle Graham Humpreys original artwork in one form or another. Given the slipshod fashion in which the covers seem to have been assembled, it's highly doubtful that Graham had any involvement whatsoever with these releases. Although Palace Pictures is long gone, their firm belief in the film and their ad campaign, along with Stephen King's glowing review, made the film what it is today. Graham Humphreys' artwork has stood the test of time and is still being used on new VHS, DVD, HD-DVD & Blu-Ray releases in the UK and around the world, nearly 30 years after he first designed it.
Graham is still an illustrator & graphic designer based in London. He has illustrated many UK campaigns since, such as the Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriquez collaboration From Dusk 'til Dawn, Miike Takashi's Audition, Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses. He also receives regular commissions from publications as varied as Vogue, Esquire, FHM, QX, Arena, Loaded, Junior and F-1 Magazine.
The 2003 Anchor Bay trilogy DVD box-set included an interview with both Graham and Christopher Fowler in which they discuss the marketing of both films, which was filmed by Marc Morris & Jake West who run Nucleus Films. Graham has his own website
where you can view his portfolio and purchase A3 size limited edition prints, as well as a catalogue featuring much of his past work.