(I doubt people would read a review of the commentary before seeing the movie itself, but just in case…SPOILER ALERT!)
The Evil Dead trilogy is the only series of movies that I’ve watched in reverse order. My dad and uncle introduced me to Army of Darkness sometime in the mid-‘90s, when I was in my early teens, and I loved its mix of horror, medieval epic, and comedy. I didn’t realize it was the third part of a trilogy until sometime later (gimme a break; I didn’t see Evil Dead 3 anywhere on the box, and I thought the opening was just a prologue). When I saw Evil Dead 2 a few years later, I missed the one-liners that were the hallmark of AoD, and I was surprised that the mix of horror and comedy clearly favoured the former this time, but the darkly hilarious scenes – Linda’s reanimated corpse dancing the ballet with (and without) her head, Ash’s hand turning on him, and his laugh-along with the furniture – totally won me over. There’s a special place in my heart for any movie that can take flower power slang like “groovy” and link it to chainsaws.
Evil Dead 2 still seems close to the hearts of Raimi, Campbell, Spiegel, and Nicotero, as well. These guys are so eager to talk about Evil Dead 2 that they skip the introductions and dive right in, discussing the “Rosebud” company logo that they had to create themselves because, apparently, the movie was originally rated X and Dino De Laurentiis couldn’t release an X-rated movie through his regular distribution company; he set up the Rosebud Releasing Corporation specifically for Evil Dead 2 and asked Raimi to film a logo. Their enthusiasm makes the commentary really engaging, and the trivia will be of interest to those who are part of the film’s strong cult following.
Listening to this commentary was fun. There’s a clear camaraderie between these guys that’s developed over nearly a lifetime of working together on short films and other features. There’s barely a moment of silence throughout the commentary (except once, and it’s not long before they start joking about it), and at times they get so excited they talk over each other, which makes it hard to follow the conversation but keeps the energy level high. Their sense of humour really comes through, too. When it’s time to discuss Ash’s use of a shovel to decapitate Linda, someone says it’s time to “recap the decap,” while another observes that “their relationship was cut short.” They don’t hesitate to poke fun at Bruce Campell’s acting, either, which isn’t something you’re likely to find on a commentary with big name actors. They (jokingly?) point out that parts of his performance were influenced by Ronald Reagan (around the 0:49:04 mark) and Charlton Heston (1:05:00). Overall, I felt like I was listening in on a fun conversation at a bar.
There are a handful of moments when they discuss how a scene was actually shot, or how an effect was achieved, but not many. Those that were discussed are probably of limited value to any aspiring filmmakers hoping for tips they can use, mainly because they aren’t discussed in depth, and they are probably beyond the budget of anyone who is working on a shoestring (these guys had roughly $3.6 million to work with). Here is a summary of the relevant parts of the commentary.
– The first point-of-view (POV) shot of the unseen demon, and perhaps some others, was shot using a camera mounted to a spring plate of a motorcycle driven by Sam Raimi.
– The POV shot of the demon crashing through the rear windshield of Ash’s car and out the front (0:12:30) was done using a device built by their special effects crew, and was “basically a steel pole about 30-feet long with the camera attached to the end.” It was very heavy (“it weighed hundreds of pounds”); although the weight could have been reduced by using aluminum, steel was necessary in order to break through the windshield.
– They experimented with “gel blood” because they needed to find a kind that would not be washed away by sweat, because Campbell was “sweating through the whole movie”;
– The dance of Linda’s headless body was choreographed by one of the commentators’ old high school drama teacher. The filmmakers shot her doing the dance, then gave the footage to an animator who created the animation for it shot-by-shot.
– When Linda’s severed head lands in Ash’s lap (0:19:30), Bruce is on his knees with fake legs and Linda (played by Denise Bixler) was underneath his legs.
– When Ash is about to take the chainsaw to Linda’s severed head (0:21:39), the shots from behind the severed head were done using a fake head that was being poked with a stick make it move. The frontal shots are done using a fake vise and a table with a hole in it.
– The scene in which Ash is beaten by his possessed hand in the kitchen (0:29:05) was filmed at a slightly slower speed to give it a subtly jerky motion.
– The plates and bowls that Ash breaks over his head are unfired ceramics, which break easily.
– After Ash shoots his severed hand, the set had to be turned sideways to get the “blood flood” to flow properly.
– When everything in the cabin laughs at Ash (0:35:27), almost every available crew member was asked to control one prop and use their laugh for that prop.
Sadly, there isn’t much to talk about here, and what they do discuss isn’t very insightful, so I’ll just get to it.
– The scene in the woodshed (0:20:40) was extended from the original script because “the [body] puppet looked so good.” If an effect works better than expected, sometimes it pays to rewrite/extend scenes to make more use of it.
– The scene in which everything in the cabin starts laughing at Ash (0:34:31) came about because, while Spiegel and Raimi were writing the scene, Spiegel made a cheap joke and made a Popeye laugh while moving a lamp. Raimi liked the idea so much he said “we’re going to make a scene out of that.” Spiegel didn’t take him seriously at the time, but the scene turned out to be one of his favourites.
– Campbell says he enjoys the fact that Ash becomes possessed because it’s a good twist and lets the audience know that anything can happen in the movie.
– Jake’s death (1:02:06) was somewhat different in the original script. When Annie stabs him, he was supposed to fall beside the trapdoor to the cellar. But the writers realized there was a logistical problem with that: the trapdoor couldn’t be so close to the front door. This lead them to write a scene in which Annie drags him through the house, yelling at him to be quiet as he screams in pain. It’s funnier than it sounds, and Spiegel says it turned out to be one of his favourite scenes.
Since Evil Dead 2 has such a strong cult following, fans should find lots of interesting tidbits here.
– The scene in which Ash is beaten by his possessed hand was inspired by Attack of the Helping Hand, an early movie made by Spiegel, with the help of Raimi and Campbell. It was a comedic take on the Hamburger Helper hand attacking a housewife. If you compare the short to the scene, you’ll notice that they have a lot in common.
– The score that plays while Ash hunts for his severed hand was inspired by Warner Brothers’ cartoons.
– When the film was released in England, the scene in which Jake the redneck kicks unconscious Ash was cut because, although they had no problems with decapitations, severed hands, chainsaws, shotguns, or demons, “kicking a man when he’s down” is crossing the line.
– Raimi and Spiegel were roommates with a lot of future stars over the years. The character of Bobby Joe, played by Kassie Wesley (who has gone on to star in soap operas such as One Life to Live, using what I assume is her married name, Kassie DePaiva), was inspired by Holly Hunter, who was a roommate at one point, as was Kathy Bates. Side note: Raimi once lived with Joel and Ethan Coen.
– One of the commentators (maybe Spiegel) says there is a “weird Wizard of Oz-ish quality” to the final sequence, in which the cabin is attacked by trees before Ash and most of the appliances and furniture in the house are sucked into the portal. That’s ironic, considering that Raimi went on to direct Oz the Great and Powerful over 15 years later.
– Evil Dead 2 was originally rated X.
– They shot the Rosebud intro themselves b/c the Dino de Laurentis couldn’t release an X-rated movie through his regular distribution company.
– They reshot the opening because they couldn’t get the footage from the original.
– Linda’s amulet was originally intended to help Ash realize that he needed to burn the Necronomicon in the original Evil Dead. The rising sun would have been magnified through the amulet and burned the book.
– The tape recorder on which the professor recorded himself translating the Necronomicon (and which summons the evil) belongs to Bruce Campbell’s father, and was used in the original Evil Dead.
– Denise Bixler, who plays Linda, was briefly married to Steve Guttenberg.
– The Kandarian dagger and the Book of the Dead are the same ones used in Evil Dead.
– The cabin is built on the same property in Wadesboro, North Carolina, where The Color Purple was shot.
– The interior set was built in a high school gym.
– Some reshoots were done in a warehouse in Michigan.
– Some of the trees around the cabin were fake because the real ones looked too “wimpy.”
– If you look carefully at the sequence where the demon chases Ash through every single room in the surprisingly large cabin, you can see over the top of the set.
– When the plane carrying Annie (played by Sarah Berry), the professor’s daughter, lands, you can see an airport attendant on the right fiddling with the door. Apparently he couldn’t get it open for the duration of the shot.
– Richard Domeier, who plays Ed Getly (the professor’s daughter’s boyfriend), later worked on a TV shopping channel.
– They “ran out of screams” for Bruce Campbell to do during the shoot.
– When Annie’s mother, Henrietta, appears in her possessed form (the demon in the basement), the part is played by Ted Raimi, Sam’s brother.
– They were “contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated picture.”
– Whenever Ash has been possessed and Campbell appears in his demon make-up, the white contact lenses leave him completely blind.
– The faces embedded in the giant tree face (a.k.a. “Rotten Apple Head”) that almost eats Ash are supposed to be the faces of everyone who’s been killed in the course of the movie, including Ash because he’s next.
Entertainment – 4/5
Filmmaking Tips – 2/5
Writing Tips – 1.5/5
Trivia – 5/5
Evil Dead 2 (1987) | Directed by Sam Raimi | Written by Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel | Starring: Bruce Campbell | DVD Release Date: 2000 | Commentary by Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Scott Spiegel, and Greg Nicotero (Special Make-Up Effects Artist)