This is an interview conducted with Betsy Baker via email on March 7, 2019. Primarily a stage actor & singer, Betsy played Linda in The Evil Dead (as well as one other role in a 1981 TV movie called Word of Honor), and only came back to screen acting around 2006, but has appeared in a long list of TV & film productions since then.
Betsy Baker as possessed Linda attacking Ash with the Kandarian Dagger, in The Evil Dead (1979)
Your early background is in stage acting & singing, how did you get involved in something so different; The Evil Dead?
In the mid-late 70's, I was living in and represented by Detroit talent agents. At the time, I was singing, doing some stage plays, and also doing commercials and live narration projects all around the United States.
A call came into my agent, asking if three young gentlemen could meet me in a public restaurant, and discuss a horror film they were working on... and to see if I was interested. After meeting with them, I read for the part of 'Linda' a couple of weeks later, and when offered the job, I thought it would be a great experience.
During your time in Tennessee, did you stick strictly to your acting role, or did you take an interest in the film-making process, lend a hand with the crew, or even any of the production's other odd-jobs like renovating the cabin?
We acted, held cameras, we plugged in and held lights or boom sticks, we swept the floor of the cabin before we started filming, we wiped mud smudges off the car, we helped hang some of the props on the wall.
Betsy Baker in 'The Herald Palladium', a Southwest Michigan Newspaper (1978)
We supported each other off-camera even if one of us had the night off, we helped each other with our contact lenses... Yes, in answer to your question, it was a total combined effort from everyone involved.
What were your living arrangements in the communal production house in Morristown, and how did you find day-to-day life there, such as surviving on David 'Goody' Goodman's infamously bad cooking?
Ha! Yes - we all lived together in one house - the 3 females (Theresa, Ellen, and myself)... shared a bedroom with a bathroom to ourselves. The rest of the house was up for grabs - you often saw someone sleeping on the couch or on the floor, or in the 'den' after watching dailies and falling asleep totally exhausted. Cooking for ourselves was virtually impossible... a small kitchen where Goody made lunch or dinner for us... And Tom Sullivan also "cooked up" many of his terrific props right in the kitchen as well!
Left-To-Right; Tim Philo, Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandwiess, Betsy Baker and Theresa Seyferth on-set in The Evil Dead (1979)
What do you recall of day-to-day life on the set at the cabin and the surrounding locations, long days in make-up, complex camera set-ups, and cast & crew gripes?
Well... as we often say at one of the many conventions we attend as celebrity guests around the world... we don't like to dwell on that too much! But in reality, we took walks around the neighborhood when we weren't shooting, we traveled together in a small group (none of us had a car down there... there was basically only the set car, and a van), we did our grocery or personal shopping together. There was no on-set electricity, running water, or heat at the cabin. Power was provided by a generator, so we had to prep primarily at the house where we lived. Our make-up process was long and tedious, and normally took place at our 'living' house, and then touched up at the cabin. As with any set, you are patient and wait for the cameras and lights to set up - either in a comfortable trailer, a nice quiet room to yourself... or, in the case of The Evil Dead, in the corner of the cabin watching and waiting with a couple of jackets and gloves on to keep warm - or on your feet helping!
Betsy as possessed Linda with Tom's 'creepy baby doll' make-up, in The Evil Dead (1979)
Do you recall any of the special effects set-ups or make-up effects going wrong, or even hurting yourself?
After a few nights of wearing a latex mask that was made weeks prior to leaving Detroit, I had a discussion with Sam (Raimi) at the cabin, and told him I had another idea for Linda's character. That discussion led to the removal of the mask, and make-up applied to look like that of a creepy baby doll's face, which then brought along the childish speech and song, and the maniacal laughter. The real working chainsaw was not a favorite of mine, nor do I recommend it for anyone, either. The contact lenses were also very uncomfortable, you were totally without sight when wearing them... and taking back them out became a difficult task after 5-10 minutes, because your eyes were dry, inflamed, and your hands were dirty.
Josh Becker's Tennessee location journal, mentions you had your "contacts in nine times already, four more than allowed, and there were still shots to do", did you have any mishaps with the contact lenses, or acting while entirely blind?
Josh was correct. Sam and Rob often asked us to 'push the limits', i.e., "please, can we do one more take before you remove them? I promise you then you can take them out" (which didn't happen).
Every move we made with the contacts in, whether it was a fight scene between Ash and Linda and the dagger, or a walk across the cabin floor had to be carefully choreographed, since we couldn't see.
Bruce Campbell recalls in his autobiography that you spewed milk all over the camera in retaliation for being hit by Sam, during your burial scene?
That's not entirely true. I spat a milk concoction out of my mouth, which was given to me by props king Tom Sullivan, and directly into the camera, because Sam had actually directed me to do so: to spit it out with force. With the contacts in, I had no idea the camera was directly just inches from my face. I had also done the take numerous times, so there may have been an added 'force' to that last take that I had not displayed before. Oh... Bruce might be partially right. I was a little frustrated with the fact that Sam was hitting me particularly hard with the Styrofoam wooden beams, which was incredibly painful.
Betsy spewing milk towards the camera in The Evil Dead (1979)
While readers will know of Ellen and the 'Elle-Vator', out-take footage shows you, possessed outside the cabin, also in the same rig. What do you remember about this?
We didn't use it in the final edit of the film... I do remember it being really uncomfortable... and remember, I had just experienced being dragged by my feet through the cabin, down the steps, and up the hillside, then buried alive. So I guess the 'Linda-vator' was a piece of cake compared to all that in retrospect.
Tim Philo recalls in his interview, Bruce holding a real running chainsaw near your neck in the workshed being really dangerous, were you asked to do anything you didn't feel comfortable with, you felt dangerous, or refused to do?
Well... there were a lot of things that were dangerous, and also painful. But at the time, we 'did it for the craft'. Today... there are safety standards on any job, and people around to make sure that things are done correctly and safely. Being pulled down the stairs without any padding was incredibly painful. When I told them I wouldn't do a second take, they went and got the carpet from the floor of the car, and wrapped it around me, and then taped it to my skin. That would never happen today!
Betsy, with the rest of the cast & crew at thanksgiving dinner on The Evil Dead (1979)
Just to ask a general question, are there any memories or anecdotes of The Evil Dead you want to share?
I remember all of us being together at Thanksgiving, and invited to the family home of the local location director... what a great day - lots of food, dressed in normal clothes, heat in a house, running water, and all of us together - a day off!
I also remember making a list of things we all wanted at the grocery store if anyone was going... and usually, we just wanted gum, chocolate, or candy bars. I also remember that within our small group of people working together night after night, no one ever walked off the set or got on a plane and went home; and despite all the hardships, we all wanted to work together to make this movie happen.
You left on December 21, 1979, did you go back down to Tennessee for more shooting after Christmas, and were you reticent in doing so?
I didn't go back to Tennessee... we had finished almost all of my scenes, but I did shoot some scenes in the spring of 1980 back in Michigan.
Did you hang onto anything after shooting such as any costumes or props, or were you only too glad to leave it all behind?
You normally don't really get to take anything with you, or hang onto anything... as they may have to re-shoot something in the future, a close-up, or someone else (a double) wearing your wardrobe.
Many people asked me if I have the magnifying glass necklace, but no. They used the necklace later when shooting scenes near the fireplace as it was being pulled out. And with all the Karo syrup on my nightgown, - no thank you, I don't want it.
Was there a reason Cheryl Guttridge doubled for you in a number of later Michigan re-shoots, including Linda being buried, and the stop-motion leg possession, rather than you reprising your role?
Cheryl Guttridge doubled for me in some of the burial shots, but not all of them. I was literally buried and covered with dirt (and blankets) for hours in Tennessee one long, miserably cold night - it was a really difficult scene to shoot, with few lights to work with, and the weather being so frigid. And the stop-motion leg possession, that was me also. There are photographs of me in a robe and sweatshirt sitting in a chair for hours and hours while Tom Sullivan painted each of those crawling lines on my leg. There were a few brief 'pick-up' shots that may have been edited in... and I couldn't be available because I was working on something else... but most of the burial and all of the leg... was yours truly.
Betsy with Tom Sullivan making-up her posessed leg, in The Evil Dead (1979)
Among a number of the Michigan re-shoots, two locations you may (or may not) have attended were Rob Tapert's family farmhouse in Marshall, Michigan (which was used for some cellar, bathroom, and fireplace scenes, as well as Linda's burial & decapitation at the rear of the property), and Sam Raimi's parent's house (used for parts of the cellar, among others). Do you remember the re-shoots and anything you may have worked on?
In the spring of 1980, I went to Marshall and worked on a few scenes outside for the burial and decapitation. My younger sister went along for an adventure, and ended up helping the crew a bit, although she's not listed in the credits!
Betsy on set in The Evil Dead (1979)
Did you go to the October 15, 1981 premiere at the Redford Theatre, what were your memories of the evening, and what was you family's reaction to the movie?
I was not able to go to the premiere - I wish I could have! I was actually doing live narration for auto shows, meaning I was on a turntable with a microphone talking about cars... all around the United States for a few years... and that night, I think I was in Portland, Oregon... talking about Buick's!
Sam in the UK with Betsy's Head, promoting The Evil Dead (1982)
Did you realize before the 1983 US theatrical release that the film was doing so well overseas, especially in the UK where your severed head & leg were being used as 'promo items' for the press, and the movie being later banned on VHS as a one of the 'Video Nasties' for being too violent?
Actually, I had no idea. I was working on other projects, including TV and stage jobs, and there wasn't a lot of communication between the four other actors and Renaissance Pictures. They were busy promoting and getting the film anywhere they could, and we (Ellen Sandweiss, Theresa Tilly, Rich DeManicor, and myself) were just working on other projects, or going back to our regular jobs, or in Ellen's case, going back to school. Remember... This was a time before cell phones and social media. You could only call someone if you knew their phone number, or write them a letter. Ahhhh.. the good old days.
During its early conception stages, were you ever approached to reprise your role in Evil Dead II, or take a cameo role in Army Of Darkness?
Yes - I met with Sam, Bruce, and Rob, in the spring of 1986. They were in the process of finishing the script for Evil Dead II... they found my agent in Los Angeles where I was living, contacted me, and we met for a great breakfast (we seem to do well at meeting in public places like restaurants!) They asked me to reprise Linda's role in Evil Dead II... and we would be shooting in the summer. The problem was... I was married and pregnant with our first child... And we all sadly knew the shooting schedule couldn't be changed, so the script had to be.
Did you find the national release of the film changed your later stage acting & singing prospects?
At the time of its release and its rapid cult following, I had no idea of its popularity at all... I had become a mother to two children, I had started another business of my own, and had stopped acting for many years. Today, having been back in the acting business for about 10 years, I still have people come up to me on a film or TV set, and tell me about their experiences with The Evil Dead.
How did the phenomenon known as 'The Ladies Of The Evil Dead' come about?
I was invited to a 'new and improved cut' premiere of The Evil Dead in Los Angeles in October of 2001, and was invited to ask Theresa. We are good friends, and have been so for many years... We attended together and were absolutely amazed at the fanbase, the popularity of the film, and the questions that were asked about 'where we had been all these years'. Rob Tapert actually suggested that we should get out and meet the fans at conventions, and that I should attempt a return to acting. Theresa was already involved with voice-over work, TV work, and commercials as well. We put our heads together, worked hard at tracking down Ellen and reconnecting... had many phone calls between the three of us... And the rest is history!
Left-To-Right; Betsy, Ellen, and Theresa in The Evil Dead (1979)