The Evil Dead franchise is the most splattery saga in horror history, and has unleashed countless quotable quips and hundreds of gallons of bloods on fervent fans over the past 40 years. Starring Bruce Campbell as perennial punching bag Ash Williams — a department store clerk with a habit of getting caught up in apocalyptic battles with dastardly demons — Evil Dead began as an inventive shoestring-budget independent film and steadily ascended into to wild-ass world of sequels, reboots, TV shows, comics, and video games.
With Evil Dead: The Game on its way, an over-the-top survival horror adventure, with Bruce Campbell voicing Ash, we thought we’d flip through a few flesh-bound, blood-inked pages of the Necronomicon and find some fun facts about the franchise that you might not know. Here are some goopy, gory tidbits about Sam Raimi’s long-running blood carnival, which all started in a desolate cabin in the woods.
The First Film Was Shot in a Single Cabin…and Everyone Slept There
1981’s The Evil Dead was a passion project of childhood friends Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, who grew up making Super 8 movies in Michigan. This first Evil Dead film, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, about a world of demons accidentally being opened, was filmed in true renegade-style, with a crew of 13 people in the remote thicket of Tennessee.
Though the sequel would have the budget to build a cabin exterior and a set for the interior, the first film had to use the real deal, with the entire crew also using the cabin to sleep, only adding to the hardship of the very rough shoot.
The cabin, which was mostly used as a hunting station when it wasn’t, you know, being rented out as a Lovecraftian hellmouth, burned down a year later when some trespassing youths became partying youths, eventually achieving their final form of lighting-the-cabin-on-fire youths.
Stephen King Was Key to its Popularity
After pouring blood, sweat, and tears into The Evil Dead, director Sam Raimi and company screened the film to anyone who wanted to see it. It eventually fell into the lap of distributor Irvin Shapiro, which he helped re-name (it was going by Book of the Dead), into the Cannes Film Festival. That’s where legendary horror writer Stephen King saw it, fell in love with it, and championed it so much that he wrote a full glowing review of it, naming it his fifth favorite horror film of all time. King’s surprise support helped this miniscule monster movie garner press, prestige, and a national release via New Line Cinema.
Ash’s Longevity Was Not in the Original Plan
Bruce Campbell’s now-iconic Ash was never meant to endure as a decades-spanning Deadite slayer. The character found new life in sequel-that’s-really-a-reboot Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn — where an infusion of slapstick and ’80s action-star lines transformed him into a superhero of sorts — but originally Ash was supposed to suffer the more traditional fate of the horror movie survivor – which was getting taken out in a final frame “gotcha!”
Sam Raimi, at that point not envisioning a world where this character would return in sequels, or a TV series 30 years after a movie trilogy, just meant for Ash to meet a painful demise at the finish of the first film.
Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash
It was a long, hard road to 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason as the studios involved just couldn’t get on the same page. The idea to have the two horror icons appear in the same film first sparked in 1987, but negotiations lasted well over a decade. It was such a complicated process that it’s easy to forget that Evil Dead’s Ash was also planned to be involved.
Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash was bounced around as a sequel idea but due to creative differences between New Line Cinema and Bruce Campbell it never happened. The story did become a six-issue comic book series though, in 2007. In fact, Ash Williams has seen a lot of awesome action in the pages of comics, battling with the likes of Marvel Zombies and Dracula, meeting Danger Girl and Re-Animator, and cavorting with Sam Raimi-creations Darkman and Xena.
Raimi Hired Ambulances for the Evil Dead Premiere to Scare Viewers
A lot of the 1950s and ‘60s horror movies Sam Raimi grew up with utilized gaudy theater gimmicks, ranging from skeletons and ghosts being flown over audiences on wires during key moments in the movie to – er – seats wired to shock the absolute s*** out of you. Even Raimi’s idol, Alfred Hitchcock, dabbled in this with Psycho.
There was also no such thing as overkill when it came to hype and the threats – nay! – promises of cardiac arrest and/or instant insanity. The looming idea that you’ll see things so disturbing it will immediately cause your brain and body to malfunction.
For The Evil Dead’s premiere screening in Detroit, Raimi, a fan of these early-era gimmicks, particularly those done by horror director William Castle, hired ambulances to park outside the theater in order to let people know that, regardless of your age, this movie just might cause a medical emergency.
Freddy’s Glove Gets a Cameo in Evil Dead 2
There are a couple of Wes Craven Easter Eggs in the first two Evil Dead movies but the biggest one comes in the 1987 rebootquel Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, when Freddy Krueger’s glove can be prominently seen hanging in the work shed. Makeup artist Mark Shostrom, who was also working on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors at the same time, borrowed the glove from the Dream Warriors set for a day and gave Dead by Dawn an added bit of Elm Street elegance.
Holly Hunter Could Have Been Bobby Joe
The Evil Dead 2 character Bobby Joe was originally written with up-and-coming actress Holly Hunter in mind.
At this time, Sam Raimi was sharing an apartment with Hunter, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, Frances McDormand, and Kathy Bates. Ultimately, the Bobby Joe role, which is also the eyeball in the mouth role, went to Kassie Wesley. Hunter would still get the most out of this living situation though as her earliest film roles include both an uncredited voice in the Coens’ first film, Blood Simple, and then a starring role in their second one, Raising Arizona.
Evil Dead 2’s Producer Got Around X-Rated Issues by Creating a Loophole Production House
Thanks to Stephen King’s raves about The Evil Dead and the film becoming a cult hit, veteran producer Dino De Laurentiis, who’d been successful for decades and would produce ’80s Stephen King movies like Dead Zone and Firestarter, took a chance on an Evil Dead follow-up.
The original idea for a sequel involved Ash going back in time to the middle ages, but De Laurentiis basically wanted a remake of the first film, ultimately pushing the “Medieval Dead” idea to the third movie.
And while Evil Dead 2 would add comedic elements to the series, ones more reminiscent of Raimi’s Super 8 movies, it would still be fantastically gory, to sometimes concerning levels. Dino De Laurentiis, however, had a deal with the MPAA that prohibited him from releasing “X-rated films.” To get around this, Raimi helped create loophole production house The Rosebud Releasing Corporation — basically a shell company run by De Laurentiis’ son-in-law — which allowed them to distribute the movie without the MPAA’s interference and not have to create an R-rated version of the movie.
Hannibal Lecter Contributed to Army of Darkness’ Delay
Stephen King wasn’t the only author to have a deal with Dino De Laurentiis in the ’80s. Thomas Harris, creator of the Hannibal Lecter series, was also enjoying his books being turned into flicks. De Laurentiis produced Michael Mann’s Manhunter, based on Harris’ Red Dragon, and then eventual Academy Awards-sweeper The Silence of the Lambs. However, due to a legal battle over the rights to the Lecter character, some joint projects between Universal and De Laurentiis were put on hold, which is one of the two reasons the third Evil Dead movie, Army of Darkness, had its release delayed.
Universal Changed Army of Darkness’ Original, Darker Ending
The third Evil Dead movie finally saw Ash Williams portal back in time, which is what Raimi had originally envisioned for Evil Dead 2. But Universal, who was making the movie, mostly wanted a standalone film so audiences wouldn’t think they had to see previous films to catch up. And it would be Universal’s meddling that also led to the film’s delay, pushing it from summer of 1992 to February 1993, since the studio took over post-production and changed Raimi’s original ending, which they thought was too much of a downer.
Reshoots led to the S-Mart finish, with Ash gunning down a Kandarian demon in modern times, which, to be fair, fans loved a whole bunch.
The original end saw Ash time hop once again, but this time to a post-apocalyptic London, hinting at a fourth Evil Dead film where Ash fights demons and ghouls in a ravaged, ruined future. All of this led to Army of Darkness becoming slightly notorious for having four different versions released to the public: the U.S. theatrical cut, the European theatrical version, Director’s Cut (future ending), and a U.S. television release.
Danny Elfman Scores the Undead
Danny Elfman, an ’80s alternative rock star who’d managed to become a highly accomplished film composer in just a few years, scored Sam Raimi’s Darkman in 1990. Elfman would go on to score many of Raimi’s films over the years, including Spider-Man and, now, the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but lesser known is the fact that he did a small portion of the music for Army of Darkness – that being the “March of the Dead” theme when the skeleton army is on the move for the film’s third act.
2013’s Evil Dead Reboot Spared No Expense on Blood
As the characters in Scream 4 explained, reboots have to out-do the original. “The death scenes have to be way more extreme.” Guided by the original film’s use of practical effects and oceans of blood, director Fede Alvarez brought the heat to his righteous 2013 reboot. Under the guidance of Sam Raimi and producer Rob Tapert, and with the blessing of Bruce Campbell (after he learned they weren’t recasting Ash but instead using new characters), the production used a whopping 70,000 gallons of fake blood. With 50k of that crimson being spent on the final scene alone.
Also because of the sheer messiness of the sets, 95% of the film was shot in sequence, to avoid having to clean up.
Yes, There Was an Evil Dead Video Game in the ‘80s
Evil Dead: The Game marks the tenth Evil Dead game made, between consoles and iOS. And while most remember the franchise’s first big game outing being 2000’s Evil Dead: Hail to the King, the officially licensed game that started it all was actually released back in 1984 for the Commodore 64 and BBC Micro.
Yes, years before Evil Dead 2 even started filming, this 64-bit Evil Dead game pitted Ash against Deadites trying to invade his cabin, giving him shovels, shotguns, and axes as weapons. With an end goal of destroying the Necronomicon, Players could see Ash triumph…without getting killed by Sam Raimi’s shaky-cam in the end.
Bruce Campbell is Always Willing to Voice Ash in Games
Aside from the 1984 game and various iOS/Android games where Ash didn’t speak, Bruce Campbell has been Ash in all the major Evil Dead game releases. This year’s Evil Dead: The Game will mark his fifth time voicing dopey Deadite-defeater Ash Williams, after Evil Dead: Hail to the King, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, Evil Dead: Regeneration, and tower defense mobile game Army of Darkness: Defense.
At this point, trying to recast Ash, even as a voice, would be a boss-level whoopsie. Bruce Campbell’s got this hero locked up and it’s for the best.
An Unexpected Original Cast Member Returned for Ash vs Evil Dead
Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead not only brought Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell back together — well, in an Evil Dead capacity anyway — but it also marked the return of Ellen Sandweiss, who played Ash’s sister Cheryl in the 1981 original. While Ash and his cohorts are holed up in his childhood home, evil forces create a demonic copy of Cheryl, leading to a huge brother-sister battle that ends with Ash delivering some carnage via “boomstick” and chainsaw.
Evil Dead’s Ash Williams Won’t Be Seen in His Live-Action Form Again
Ash vs. Evil Dead lasted three seasons and ended with — of all things — Ash waking up in an apocalyptic future. Not unlike the ending Sam Raimi wanted for Army of Darkness, which would have pitted Ash against evil forces in a scorched wasteland.
And, also fitting, the series didn’t get picked up for a Season 4 so this arc will forever go unfulfilled and unfinished. Add to this the fact that, following the Season 3 finale, Bruce Campbell announced his (live-action) retirement from the role of Ash.
That doesn’t mean the Evil Dead franchise is dead, of course. Evil Dead: The Game — which features Campbell as Ash along with the TV show’s Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago — arrives May 13, while Evil Dead Rise, a brand new movie in the franchise, with all-new characters, will be released on HBO Max this year.
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Author: Matt Fowler