This history covers the period from the completion of Within The Woods, through The Evil Dead and up to CrimeWave. It draws from many sources, but mainly four books; The Evil Dead Companion by Bill Warren, If Chins Could Kill by Bruce Campbell, Rushes by Josh Becker, and The Unseen Force The Films Of Sam Raimi by John Kenneth Muir. All these books are a must for any Evil Dead fan, and I would highly recommend buying all four of them. The page is split up into three parts; Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production.
May 1979, Sam, Bruce & Rob had their prototype film in the can, and set the summer 1979 as the prospective shooting period for Book Of The Dead. The script went through numerous re-writes, with one of the earliest drafts more a mix of plot elements from Within The Woods and Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It opened with the car going past a dead animal in the foreground, akin to the dead armadillo in Texas Chain Saw Massacre, then the group stopped at a gas station where a crazy old man warned them about the cabin and it's evil spirits, with the remainder of the story far closer to Within The Woods than the final film. Each consecutive draft diverged further and further from Within The Woods and Texas Chain Saw Massacre as they went along. The decision to make Bruce the hero was made early on, rather than the demon as in Within The Woods, part of which was because Bruce didn't want to have to go through the make-up process given his experiences on Within The Woods. Even so, the finished script was only 66 pages long, with many elements in the script which don't appear in the finished film, and vice-versa. Putting some numbers down on paper, they came up with a required shooting budget of $150,000 or at least an absolute minimum of $90,000. Even before making Within The Woods they had looked into the feasibility & legal aspects of raising a budget. Rob Tapert's father made contact with a friend; Detroit lawyer Phillip A. Gillis and an attorney since 1949, asking for legal advice. Phillip put them onto another person; Phil Gillis (different people). Sam, Bruce & Rob met him in his new office in the Renaissance Centre, Detroit. They showed Phil Clockwork and he was shocked and impressed in equal measure. The instructed them on the intricacy's & legal aspects of fundraising, and offered to prepare the paperwork for fee. Not having the money up front, Phil later agreed to take two of the fifteen available $10,000 shares in the movie as payment. He later also bought another share and a half out of his own pocket.
They convinced themselves that shooting in Super-8, then enlarging to 35mm, would be their best option as they were already so familiar with that format, and it would save a good deal of money. Just to be sure, Sam shot a short test film at his mother's lingerie store called Terror At Lulu's starring Liz Dennison. It was really just a mix of light, medium & dark scenes, using the best equipment they could get. upon receiving the 35mm transfer back from Interformat Labs in San Francisco, they screened the 35mm blow-up print at the local Maple 3 theatres in Birmingham. The result was nothing short of disastrous. The film had grain the size of hailstones. Sam, Bruce & Rob were crushed, and the idea of using Super-8 was promptly shelved, and so was the whole thing for a short time.
Ever the optimist, Rob Tapert convinced Bruce & Sam that they could switch to 16mm and still make the project work, and Book Of The Dead was back on track. They turned to a man called Andy Grainger to get some advice. Andy was a family friend of the Tapert's, and an exhibitor at Butterfield theatres in Detroit. He provided them with the name of a possible distributor in New York City; Levitt-Pickman films, so they took the train and met up with them, leaving with a letter of intent to distribute.
After further meetings with Phil Gillis and Charlie Bosler, a Certified Public Accountant. They advised them to form a limited partnership, which became Renaissance Pictures. Together they drew up a legal offering, which basically set out what an investor in the picture owned on a given investment, and the risks, rights & responsibilities between the partners & investors. They were selling fifteen shares in the movie at $10,000 each. The money went into an Escrow account, which couldn't be accessed until they had sold at least nine of the shares. They decided to tell any potential investors that they would double their stake in two years, Although this was somewhat of a bluff. In order to keep the investors up to date, they would be sent a bi-weekly newsletter, informing them of the progress of the film, and each investor got two tickets to the world première.
Sam, Bruce & Rob bought briefcases & suits, and set about raising money, holding up Within The Woods as proof of their abilities as filmakers. They started with relations & friends, working out to cold calling potential investors. In short, they went to just about anybody they thought financially capable of loosing their entire investment. After a couple of trying months, and having exhausted every last source, they still only had $85,000 in their Escrow account, not even reaching the $90,000 minimum budget threshold, and they were running out of time. The summer deadline had already gone, and winter was approaching. They sent a letter to all the investors requesting permission to access the account early and start filming with what they had, and fortunately they all agreed.
Recruiting the cast & crew were the next order of the day. Bruce was the obvious choice for the lead role of Ash. Ellen Sandwiess was cast as Cheryl, an actress from a number of super-8 productions, had taken time off from her theatre studies at the University of Michigan in order to appear. The other three roles were cast to local actors in open auditions; Teresa Seyferth as Shelly, who happened to be the daughter of Charlie Bosler, Rich DeManincor as Scott and Betsy Baker as Linda. With the cast sorted, they recruited various crew members, having worked with many on past Super-8 productions. The actors got $100 a week, the crew got $40-50, and Sam, Bruce & Rob paid themselves $35 (although in practice they just re-invested it back into the picture).
Various organizational meetings were held in Sam's parents kitchen & living room, and once at LuLu's, Sam's mother's store. They began location scouting, but the Michigan Travel Bureau was somewhat unhelpful. With the harsh Michigan winter only weeks away, they reasoned that in going further south, it would be warmer, and additionally would likely have better locations. Fortunately, the Tennessee Film Commission was far more accommodating, and the town of Morristown, 48 miles north east of Knoxville was chosen. Ironically Tennessee posted the coldest winter in decades, and it was the warmest in Michigan.
Josh Becker kept an excellently detailed journal of his thoughts and events during production of The Evil Dead. Rather than trying to transcribe it, or parts of it, you can read it in full as a PDF below.
You can also download a higher quality PDF version of the journal via the link below, you'll need Adobe Acrobat 5.0 or higher to open it. It's 30 pages long, and is sized to print on standard A4 paper.
It's worth noting that the above is just a verbatim copy of the journal which was posted on Josh Becker's website some time back. In his book, Rushes, there is an extended version which covers events before and after shooting in Tennessee, and is worth buying. To compliment & add to the information presented in the journal, the text below is a more structured & impersonal overview of the production period.
The convoy of cast & crew vehicles arrived in Tennessee on Sunday, November 11, 1979. Local fixer Gary Holt found a six bedroom split-level suburban house, about two miles along back roads from the driveway of the cabin, just around the side of a mountain. This served as their combined production offices & living quarters; the number of occupants changed depending on how many actors there were, and people coming from Detroit to lend a hand, but there was a cast and crew of about thirteen people. The first cabin location they had arranged before arriving fell though, but with the help of Gary, they quickly found a second cabin on November 13.
This cabin had been abandoned for some time and wasn't without it's problems; there was four inches of cow manure on all the floors, the rooms were confined with low ceilings, virtually no doors, no electricity, no telephone, and no running water. As time was pressing, the cast & crew spilt up for the first week from Wednesday November 14. Some worked on shooting the scenes involving the car, truck & bridge, while anyone left over worked on the cabin, cast & crew regardless. Among other things, they cut though the undergrowth creating a track from the road down to the cabin, had the electricity connected & ran power around the rooms, installed a telephone, re-painted all the walls, took out all the ceilings in the main room & tore out the middle partition. Dart built the porch swing chair, and Don put a new craggy face on the fireplace surround.
The cabin had no cellar, so Dart cut a trapdoor in the flooring, they dug a 6ft hole, and Dart built some steps to the bottom. They knew they could use the cellar in the Tapert farmhouse in Marshall, Michigan which had the look they wanted. They furnished the cabin using items from local stores, and eventually the task was complete, but they never did get the lack of running water solved.
The Tennessee Road Department gave the production permission to do whatever they wanted to a disused bridge about 15 miles away. As Bruce recalls; it didn't look particularly safe. They filmed various driving shots, then the bridge was dismantled and the beams were made to curl up like clutching fingers. While spectacular in person, the effect doesn't really come off in the film. The creation of the scene was covered by the Newport Plain Talk; a local newspaper, which you can read on the In-Print page.
As shooting in the cabin got underway, the pleasantries of roles were quickly forgotten, and everyone lent a hand wherever needed. Bruce was the production's alarm clock, getting up early, and then waking everyone else up. Shooting was mostly done on a night schedule allowing filming about 6.30pm until dawn, and people tried to sleep through the day.
Sam prepared storyboards daily, which he posted on the refrigerator in the kitchen of their production house, although Sam never seemed to stick to them once on the set. Whilst he was surprising everyone with his visual style, some of his methods were creating tensions among the cast. He rarely shot a master shot of a whole scene, and usually broke the shot down into a series of shots, some particularly complicated & lengthy, and only shot what he needed.
Budgetary constraints meant that professional & expensive camera rigs were simply unavailable. While still in Michgan, cinematographer Tim Philo had a few meetings with Sam, Bruce & Rob about various technical aspects of shooting. For the force POV shots he was assured the use of a professional steadycam was budgeted for, and it would be available for part of the shoot. This later became two weeks, then one, then a few days. In the end, Tim was left to come up with a way to achieve the same shots but without the professional equipment. He came up with the 'Shaky-Cam', which was a 2" x 6" piece of wood about 3ft long, with the camera fixed in the middle. One person would hold it either end, so it could run very close to the ground, while going over bushes and round trees.
The 'Vas-o-Cam' was another rig, which allowed tracking shots without a dolly. It was made up of two 2" x 4" pieces of wood, longer than the tracking shot, covered in duct tape and greased with Vaseline. The camera was bolted to an inverted U-shape of wood that laid over these rails. This allowed the camera to smoothly slide left & right performing a tracking shot. To achieve Ellen's chase though the woods sequence, a wheelchair was used with a track of 4ft by 8ft plywood sheets and a line of lights laid down the driveway to the cabin. Shooting would involve someone sitting sideways in the wheelchair shooting into the woods while being pushed along.
The theft of all their power tools, left unattended overnight (while a $20,000 Arriflex camera, a $5,000 Nagra remained untouched) meant that someone had to remain at the cabin after wrapping each night, sleeping on the hard floor next to the dying fire, until someone relieved them the next afternoon.
As winter set in the muddy driveway to the cabin froze making it impassable by car, so they had to walk the 1/4 mile down the track carrying everything they needed. The cabin became extremely cold inside, even with a fire & two space heaters. Filming was taking its toll on the cabin, which was slowly being destroyed. The karo syrup based blood was horribly sticky, so they'd spread ashes from the fireplace onto the floor to counteract this, making the floor turn from brown to a grey colour.
Thanksgiving on November 22 brought a welcome break. The cast and crew spent the day with Gary Holt's family at Gary's mother-in-law's house; the Brock Family. They rode around on Gary's son's go-cart, played football, watched the Detroit vs Chicago football game, showed Within the Woods, and helped a neighbouring farmer round up some cattle. Renaissance Pictures later took out an advert in a local Morristown newspaper paper to thank the Brocks' for hosting them (which you can see below).
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)
Everyone had made allowances for six weeks of shooting, but this turned into eight, and then the prospect of twelve. These over-runs meant that a number of the cast & crew had to leave the production and return to their lives back in Michigan. Over the course of two weeks, beginning the 23rd of December, the numbers dwindled until Sam, Bruce, Rob, Josh & David Goodman were the only ones left behind. There was some material from the script, which was dropped, and other scenes were re-written to reflect the reduced cast & crew, and lead to a lot of Fake Shemping.
Towards the end of production, the lease expired on the house which served as their combined production offices & living quarters, and the group were evicted because it was to be turned into a brothel. Without any other option, all five of them moved into the cabin. To stay warm, they burned any furniture which was no longer needed. The shooting hours became increasingly blurred, with 18-20 hour days, until the end of the shoot were Sam, Bruce, Rob, Josh shot for sixty-two hours straight to get everything finished.
With shooting completed, they took the shotgun & a few boxes of shells, and blew up every single prop left in the house. Then Josh & Bruce lit a big fire in the woods about 20ft across, which started fires in the adjoining dry grass and woods, nearly setting the whole forest ablaze. It was so hot they had to make dive bombing runs past to throw things on, and spent a couple of hours putting it out. Lastly, they put a time capsule in the trapdoor hole before filling it in. This was a cigar box wrapped in tape, reported to contain some or all of the following items; a burned out Fresnel light bulb, A piece of an It's Murder! beam, a piece of gaffer/duct tape, a spent shotgun shell, a sample of fake blood and a hand-written 'visual code' to the film.
Finally, they loaded up some pieces of the cabin to aid with the continuity of later pick-up shots; a chunk of the wall, pieces of a door, and some of the floorboards. They left the cabin on Sunday, January 27, 1980, heading back to Detroit, with between seventy and ninety per cent of the film in the can.
Arriving back in Detroit, the first thing Bruce & Josh did was to return all the equipment rented by the production, most of which had been damaged or completely broken over the course of the shoot, much to the anger of the hire companies involved.
To continue production, Sam, Bruce & Rob needed more money. They took out additional loans, and had to go back to the investors for another round of cash, this was all made somewhat easier because principal photography had been completed, so the risk of failure was less. The original actors were re-hired and a lot more footage was filmed, up to 40% of the picture was shot post-Tennessee. They spent a week in Gladwin, Michigan, at Campbell family summer cabin, where they shot much of the vine rape scene, two weeks in Rob Tapert's family farmhouse in Marshall, Michigan, for the basement scenes, as well as all the shots around the fireplace which had been replicated there, a few days in Hartland, Michigan on some land owned by Josh's father, where the opening 'force' POV swamp sequence was shot, and the rest of the shooting was done in the local Detroit area, including Sam's parents house; the backyard, for the inserts for the vine rape scene, and the garage for the effects shots of Shelly's dismemberment scene, which also doubled for parts of the cabin basement. Additionally, pick-ups for the graveyard Linda sequence were also shot a number of others.
By April 1980 they began the massive task of editing over 100,000 feet of 16mm film. Through a series of referrals, they made contact with Edna Ruth Paul, a New York based editor who worked primarily on low budget films. While Bruce & Rob stayed behind, Sam travelled out to New York to work with Edna. Between Sam, Edna & Joel Coen, a rough 117 minute workprint was assembled, Tim Philo remembers seeing that rough cut on videotape, remarking that it felt incredibly long and boring, but they all had confidence that the shots were there.
Meanwhile back in Detroit, Tom Sullivan & Bart Pierce started production in Bart's basement & garage on the meltdown effects sequence in the first week of August 1980. In all, shooting those optical & mechanical effects took three and a half months. Once the partners were happy they had all the additional footage needed, Bruce & Rob joined Sam in New York, where Edna began the final editing process. Edna suggested they contact Joe Masefield, a sound editor, and he took them through the process of looping dialogue (ADR) and creating every sound effect they needed for the picture. For the musical score, Sam turned to Joseph Lo Duca. With just a few instruments Jo created a grand, rich score, which accented the film perfectly.
Upon returning to Michigan, they cut a four-minute trailer to raise more money, and used John Cameron to narrate it. In order to get finance specifically to pay for the 16mm to 35mm enlargement, Bruce tentatively asked his father Charlie, if he could put up a property he owned as collateral on a new loan from the Mid-Michigan bank in Gladwin, Michigan, and to his surprise, He agreed.
A world première was organised for the completed film at the 1100 seater Redford Theatre, Michigan on the 15 October 1981, and it was a big success with around 1000 in attendance. A free audience was one thing, but the real test was a paying audience, so they screened it at Michigan State University. The reaction was even greater, the rowdier the audience, the better.
The distribution process had been started months before the première, and proved far more difficult than any of them could have imagined. In an effort to publicise the film, Tom Sullivan developed some promotional artwork, including a poster entitled 'Beloved' which depicted a skeleton rushing out of a swampy grave, clutching a severed head. He also suggested some alternative titles; Sex Bad, Must Kill! and Lick the Blood Off My Shovel! Sam, Bruce & Rob travelled out to Hollywood in May of 1981 in search of a deal, but by October they had been turned down by every distributor that had seen it on both coasts and in Canada, and they were beginning to loose hope.
Their luck turned when they met Irvin Shapiro who ran Films Around the World, and made a deal for foreign release on December 10, 1981. Irvin suggested they change the name of the film from Book Of The Dead, to The Evil Dead and fronted the money to create the delivery elements needed to sell the film to foreign markets such as stills and a text-less print, along with various other processes & promotional items. Bruce & Mike Ditz got together with Bridget Hoffman and took those now infamous stills, such as the chainsaw-over-the-head & woman-reaching-out-of-the-grave photos.
In March 1982 armed with 500 matchbooks, 150 T-shirts, 48 hats, 200 buttons, 1,200 brochures, and 500 invitations, they went to the American Film Market. There, Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell of Palace Pictures bought the British rights, the film's first proper sale. With a few BBFC cuts it premiered at the London Film Festival, and then opened theatrically UK wide. It was only beaten into second place at the Scottish box office by Spielberg’s E.T. and took more than £100,000. It went on to be the biggest video released in the UK for the whole of 1983, selling over 50,000 copies. The Evil Dead in part, led to the infamous video nasty furore and was banned, although subsequently further censored & re-released in 1990.
Sam travelled over alone to France for the Cannes film festival in May 1982, a trip funded by Irvin Shapiro (incidentally, the following year in May 1983, Sam, Rob Tapert & Tom Sullivan all got to go to Cannes to promote the film). It was there that Stephen King first saw the film, and wrote a glowing review for the November 1982 issue of Twilight Zone magazine, entitled, 'The Evil Dead: Why You Haven't Seen It Yet and Why You Ought To'. This review combined with the brisk business being done in the UK, really raised The Evil Dead's profile in the US, and New Line picked US distribution rights. When it was submitted to the MPAA, it received an X rating, and so was subsequently released unrated. The movie finally opened in New York on April 15, of 1983, premièring at the Rivoli and other houses, and playing at the Wellmont in Montclair, New Jersey.
Above you can watch a 7m 30s segment from a TV show called PM Magazine Detroit which was a syndicated US news & entertainment TV series broadcast from the late 1970s into the late 1980s, carried in Detroit by WJBK as 'PM Magazine Detroit' & 'PM Detroit'. Circa 1982, the production filmed a piece on the local up and coming Renaissance pictures team; Sam, Rob & Bruce, shot shortly after their return from Cannes, but while they were still looking for a US distributor. A section showing Cheryl Guttridge in make-up and being attacked by vines, was staged for the cameras. Cheryl recalls "Rob had called and asked if I'd help them out and be their model/demonstrator. I was excited to do it - I think it was a perk for all the other yukky things I had to do". While it's in 480p DVD resolution, it was transferred from VHS and isn't exactly Blu-Ray quality, but this the only way anyone out there will likely see it.
They got their first domestic check on January 6, 1983, and then had to start working though their various loans, bills and investors accrued over the previous four years, but it was a slow process. They finally repaid all the investors and broke even after six years, and eventually returned about three and a half times original investments, although this took a lot longer. The final cost of the film no one really knows, but its probably between $350,000 and $400,000.
The Evil Dead was difficult experience for Sam, Bruce & Rob, but things were about to get a lot tougher. The partners were eager to move on to their next picture; The XYZ Murders, later re-titled Crimewave.