Sam Raimi‘s Evil Dead delighted audiences but stunned the would-be censors. Trevor Johnston talks to Raimi about the sequel premiered here this month and discovers why he champions the right to be repulsive.
Masterpiece or nasty piece. From out of nowhere in late 1982 came a low-budget independent horror movie made by a 22 year-old boy wonder director; a tale of ancient demons being reawakened in a backwoods shack by a group of holidaying youngsters. The Evil Dead unashamedly billed itselfas ‘The ultimate exercise in gruelling horror.‘ Controversy erupted: for some it was a classic of the genre. artfully combining gore and suspense with disarmingly black humour; for others it was simply too much. its gleeful and relentless hackings and dismemberments had taken it far beyond the pale of what was cinematically acceptable. But it was the movie that everyone just had to see. becoming the top British video rental of 1983 and unleashing the ‘video nasties‘ debate that was to end in court cases and parliamentary legislation.
Five years later the heat has died down a little. but Sam Raimi. boy wonder. is now 27 and along with co-producer. leading man Bruce Campbell (28) is seated in a Glasgow restaurant battling manfully with a curmudgeonly kebab. Gazing disdainfully at the chilli sauce dribbling down his arm. he‘s here to enthuse about his latest baby. Evil ‘ Dead 1 I .' Dead Be are Dawn. a rip-snorting. thigh-slapping festival ofgrossout horror comedy that confounds the inferiority theory about sequels. In fact. it‘s a
continuation of the events in the original. with the evil forces in the woods surrounding the remote cabin picking themselves up. dusting themselves down and setting off on another attack on brave Bruce. the fastest axe in the west. First time round. as you may remember. the only way to deal with the possessed victims ofthe pesky demons was swift bodily dismemberment. so having bloodily despatched the rest of the cast in the first movie. lone survivor Bruce is now joined by the daughter of the professor whose research stirred up all the trouble in the first place. her boyfriend and a couple of unsuspecting local yokels. to face the ghouls in frequently hilarious hand-to-chainsaw combat. Frequently hilarious because the situations are so outrageously.
horribly ridiculous (Bruce sawing his
own hand off because it has become infected by the evil. for instance). that laughter is the most obvious response. lt's Tom and Jerry on the big screen.
Sam Raimi with a victim in Glasgow. She was bet she couldn‘t watch Evil Dead llwithout
screaming. Well she did, won her 2100 and promptly gave the money to the GlasgowFilm
and Video Workshop. Picture by Neville Kidd.
'We said that ifwe‘re going to make a sequel then it had to be something with a different flavour so that there‘d be some reason for people to actually want to see it.‘ explains Sam on the humour of the new film compared to its forerunner‘s thumbscrew tension. ‘so this time round out of maybe every four shocks we decided to hit the audience with what we call a "zinger". [fan audience is worked up enough you can throw them something so awful that they‘re just
going to explode with laughter because it‘s a release.‘ Experience of a barf-out setpiece involving a decapitated but alive and biting head. a vice and a power-saw confirms what he is talking about. There‘s an obvious commercial rationale behind it too as co-producer Campbell makes clear. ‘With all our ads we‘ve taken the line that it‘s a horror movie rooted in the horror tradition. but ifaudiences laugh and enjoy themselves then that‘s great too. We‘re looking to expand our cult horror following into
a more mainstream audience. Strange as it may seem. a lot of ordinary moviegoers haven‘t seen a head being lopped right off before their very eyes!‘
The infectious zeal in Bruce‘s voice as he idly chats about mutilation. or the impish smirk crossing Sam‘s features as he discusses ‘cold steel biting into human flesh‘ belie the pair‘s ultranormal appearance. As you can see from both the Evil Dead movies Bruce shares the classic granite chin and piercing eyes of many an American leading man. while Sam. a stocky figure whose roundly benign but still rather boyish-looking features are topped by a shaggy mop ofblack hair. is the sort ofchap you‘d pass by in the street even if he happened to be
rampaging with a hatchet (an eventuality which given his movies seems not too far beyond the realms ofpossibility). Perhaps a lifetime spent in and around movie cameras. no respecters of reality‘s confines. have made them blase about such things.
They both started young and their rise to notoriety even by American film industry standards has been just as remarkable as it has been swift. A shared interest in the Super-8 home-movie format brought them together in high school in Detroit. though Sam‘s celluloid career had already been going for a few years before that. ‘I was raking leaves and shovelling snow from age nine to about age fourteen to pay for my little movies.‘ he recalls. ‘then after that I could get better paid jobs. [do remember one occasion though. when my mother had just spent weeks bottling a ccllarful ofpickles. which she was going to give to her friends. Basically I stole all her pickles. I put them on my wagon and sold them round the neighbourhood for twenty-five cents a jar. She was furious. ofcourse. but I made a great little picture from it!‘
A number of‘great little pictures‘ later. at Michigan State University the precocious duo teamed tip with Sam‘s room-mate and future producer Robert 'l'apert to form Renaissance Pictures. Whilst still in their late teens the intention was to attempt the unheard of. to make a feature film. Everybody told them that it simply could not be done — I after all. they were just kids in Detroit with no industry experience and would never be able to raise the cash — and they were all to be proved spectacularly wrong. Armed with a
GThe List 12— 25 June