Since its release in 1981, The Evil Dead has spawned two sequels, a remake and is now a hit series on Starz. Before their hit film became a media powerhouse, two independent filmmakers Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were making Super-8 short films such as The Happy Valley Kid and It’s Murder! in hopes of establishing a career in cinema.
While Raimi was filming a suspense-driven scene in It’s Murder!, he was inspired to pursue the horror genre. His idea was to create a short film (that became Within The Woods) in order to attract the interest of producers for the chance at a full-length feature. After meeting with a lawyer to one of his friends, Raimi was offered legal advice on how to produce what was then The Book Of The Dead. With their newfound advice, Raimi and Campbell asked every family member, friend and acquaintance to help fund their movie, and eventually raised $90,000.
The film was shot in a cabin in Morristown, Tennessee, with a challenging and uncomfortable process for everyone involved. With a shoestring budget the crew often went days without showering and eventually burned their set furniture to stay warm in the last few days of filming.
On set, Raimi started developing his craft by coming up with scene ideas at an unstoppable rate. He used poorly drawn shot lists to break up scenes and eventually- to the surprise of the crew- began using dutch angles to build atmosphere. For running shots, the cameras were mounted to planks as Raimi ran through the woods jumping over logs and debris to give the effect of a 'Steadicam'.
To create realism Raimi would regularly torture his actors. He believed that in order to capture their anger and pain, he had to abuse them a bit. At one point proclaiming:
"if everyone was in extreme pain and misery, that would translate into a horror."
After the grueling film process was completed, Raimi took his mountain of footage to a Detroit editing association where Edna Paul & assistant Joel Coen of Coen brothers fame edited the film. After learning about the prototype method that Raimi approached in Within The Woods, Joel Coen used the concept to help make the Coen brothers debut film Blood Simple. We should all take a moment to thank Sam Raimi for that
To boost ticket sales for his first premiere, Raimi used gimmicks such as custom tickets and wind tracks as well as a crew of ambulances parked outside of the theater. After a successful premiere of the film at Detroit’s Redford Theater, Raimi was inspired to show the film to anyone who would watch it.
Eventually, Raimi met with film investor Irvin Shapiro, a founder of Cannes Film Festival, which led to him screening the film for potential buyers at Cannes in 1982. Attending a marketing screening was no other than Stephen King, whom played a major role in it's success. In an interview with ign.com, Raimi stated:
“Stephen King was in the audience, and we heard, “Oh, he was really screaming and shouting during the movie.” And I was the biggest Stephen King fan in the world. Irvin Shapiro said to me, “Ask him for a quote, if he liked the movie.” So I called him… and said, “Could you give us a quote, what you honestly thought of the film?” He said, “I won’t do that, but I will write a review. If there’s something in the review that you want to use as a quote, you can."
After his review was written, the film had the positive quote it needed to boost the film's awareness to star-status.
With King, Shapiro and eventually Fangoria's recommendations under their belt, the film received distribution in the UK before finally being picked up by New Line Cinema for a North American release.
Now, 35 years after it was filmed, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell have returned to the universe in the Starz series Ash vs Evil Dead, which currently has a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. We love the new tales and can’t wait to get more in the second season, which premieres on October 2nd. From a group of friends making low budget Super-8s to cinema fame, their story has become an inspiration for independent filmmakers everywhere. Work hard, make connections and believe in what you do, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell can attest to that.
See where Raimi and Campbell's Evil Dead trilogy ranks on the list of the top horrors of the last century in the video below:
Which movie of the legendary trilogy was your favorite? How do you feel about Ash vs Evil Dead? Let us know in the comments below!