This is an interview conducted with Theresa Seyferth via email on April 2, 2019, which covers her time before and during shooting on The Evil Dead.
Theresa was credited in The Evil Dead as Sarah York, in the Super-8 Short Torro, Torro, Torro! as T. Tilly, and is now best known as Theresa Tilly. The Evil Dead was only her second professional acting job, and she only returned to screen acting in the late 1990s, but has appeared in a long list of TV & film productions since then. Theresa regularly appears at conventions around the world, with her co-stars Ellen Sandwiess & Betsy Baker. You can keep up with their latest news on the The Ladies of The Evil Dead Facebook Page, visit Theresa's website, and see her IMDB.com page.
Theresa Seyferth as Shelly, in full possessed make-up for The Evil Dead (1979)
You're Charlie Bosler's daughter; a Certified Public Accountant who was helping Sam, Bruce & Rob with fundraising & financial matters mid-1979. Was this how you came to audition for The Evil Dead?
I'm not the daughter of Charlie Bosler. Charlie was an employee for my father's Detroit area CPA firm, Derderian, Kann, Seyferth and Salucci. I understand Charlie worked on the Renaissance Pictures account but none of us knew of the connection till 20 years later. My birth name is Theresa Mary Catherine Seyferth. Had my dad known of my involvement with this movie I'm sure he would have blown a gasket!
The casting director of a local Detroit theater, Del Howison, recommended me for the role. He is now the owner of Dark Delicacies; a bookstore specializing in Horror and Sci-Fi located in Los Angeles and has autograph signings where The Ladies of The Evil Dead are frequent guests. I was then contacted by my agents to see if I was interested in working on one of very few feature films to be produced in the area. All my non-theater experience was related to the auto industry, car shows, industrials and commercials. The prospects of working on a feature were very exciting.
You've mentioned the audition process in past interviews, sitting in Sam's Parents' basement in early October 1979. Can you tell us you memories of this?
I don't think people realize that Sam still lived with his parents when he was prepping for The Evil Dead, he was only 21. In the past Sam had mainly used his friends to shoot 8-millimeter shorts, Ellen and Bruce both went to school with him. Casting The Evil Dead was probably the first time he'd actually auditioned people. Going to his parent's basement was strange. There were no lines to read or even character improvisations, other than sitting on a folding chair and screaming as though I was about to go through a car windshield. I guess he wanted to see if I could scream on camera and how it would look and how I would fit in as Scotty's girlfriend while he compared me to the other two ladies.
Theresa with Sam Raimi in the cabin shooting The Evil Dead (1979)
Within the Woods was completed in May 1979, and the cast & crew arrived on location in Tennessee that November with $85,000; just six months later. Did the pre-production seem that quick to you?
I learned of Within the Woods about 20 years after we filmed The Evil Dead. There was never any discussion of it while filming or afterwards. Perhaps it was mentioned but I don't recall it. It was really fun to watch Ellen and Bruce in different roles many years later.
Tom Sullivan casting Theresa's face for The Evil Dead (1979)
Tom Sullivan took a casting of your face to create your possessed make-up, how many times did Tom have to apply the make-up, do you recall the process, and did you have any input on your 'look'?
Tom Sullivan (dear and sweet to me throughout the shoot) did do a casting for my face and it was very scary having cement on my face with two straws sticking in my nose, very claustrophobic. I had no input on my monster-look whatsoever. I wish I'd had some idea of what the goals were for my monster and could have made suggestions. Betsy was very lucky in that sense, she saw how dreadful the make-up ordeal was and brilliantly suggested to Sam to think about her character in a different way, sans mask. I was the first monster down, so in some ways you might say I was a bit of a guinea pig!
Once the mask was decided upon they glued it to my face every time we filmed. Coordinating the blood from previously shot scenes was challenging, that's why my monster often looks like an open wound. The make-up 'specialists' figured if we just pour more blood (Karo syrup, yes it's sticky) on, it should look like the last scene. Yeah that's the ticket. The continuity of my mask is questionable, but nobody cared. In fact at one point, they reshot the scene of Shelly being dragged out from the fireplace and used Rob Tapert's sister, I had left the set by then.
Did Tom also take casts of your arms or legs for the dismemberment scene?
My arm was cast, the arm which I chewed off! We did all of our own stunts. I just didn't have the courage to chew off my own hand. It looked very realistic because they'd rigged a simple pump inside it that allowed for blood to flow out after I took the first bite... yummy!
Tom working on various effects (1979)
Tom working on Linda & Shelly's fake heads for The Evil Dead (1979)
In his book, Bruce mentions you were all fitted for your pair of white Scleral contact lenses before leaving Detroit, although an optometrist also came to Tennessee early in December. Issues with the other cast members wearing them are well documented, but did you have any specific problems yourself?
We were not fitted for the lenses until we were on set in Tennessee. We met the optometrist for the first time at the cabin. He gave very strict guidelines for inserting and removing lenses suggesting that by not adhering to those guidelines could cause serious eye damage. He instructed that we keep the lenses on for no longer than 15 minutes at a time, use clean soapy water to wash your hands when inserting into the eye and removing from the eye, and never have the person wearing the lenses move quickly or without help as the lenses were opaque and made the wearer completely blind. None of those guidelines were followed and I'm writing this in braille – just kidding, not blind but damn lucky I'm not!
We wore the lenses for extended periods of time and there was no running water anywhere near the cabin let alone soap! We moved about quite a bit without guidance, in some cases, running into things and falling. I still can't believe I was able to jump onto Scotty as he entered the bathroom as I hid behind the shower curtain. Though blind, I don't believe I ever injured myself doing any of my stunts.
Can you just explain how your day-to-day location filming worked?
The entire cast and crew lived together in a house about 5 miles from the location of the cabin. We all had duties beyond the acting or crew. And mostly all of us helped with cleaning, cooking and grocery shopping. It was fun since we were all pretty young and in some ways felt like we were escaping from living with our parents. We were all very committed to the project though some of us had no idea of the goal. We just wanted to be helpful and get the job done. Remember, we're all from the Midwest, you know, more helpful people live there! There was a lot of night time filming which made life complicated since we needed to manage our lives during the daytime too. Dave Goodman was our cook but sometimes Tom's chicken bones for the film looked more appetizing. The girls all had one room with two beds to sleep in, we alternated from week to week as to who would be stuck sleeping on the army cot. We were like a weird family, eating together at times, and after a long day of shooting, watched the dailies on a projector in the living room from the week before. We were all lacking sleep. I remember one night waking up in the living room and the footage from the dailies was just flipping round the reels and everyone dead asleep.
Theresa as Shelly being attacked by 'The Force' in The Evil Dead (1979)
Theresa eating during make-up, on The Evil Dead (1979)
Did you feel that as bad as your make-up torment was, Bruce seemed to be in for far more punishment?
Bruce always made light of things, he enjoyed making us laugh which made it seem like he was not being tormented as much as we now know he was. The make-up was awful. There was no procedure for putting it on or taking it off. We were often alone dealing with this and it was cold and all were lacking sleep. We just did the best we could. I found it very challenging.
Shelly's dismembered corpse, with Rich & Bruce in The Evil Dead (1979)
Your character was killed off around halfway through the finished film, did you transition towards more support & crew work as your acting role waned, or was there more footage of you left on the cutting room floor?
We all helped out with crew and household duties when not shooting. We didn't shoot in sequence, so I actually came back after Christmas to finishing filming while others were completely done. I'm sure there is footage on the cutting room floor but then again, Sam shot everything about 20 times.
The Evil Dead had both you and Rob Tapert 'entwined & entombed' for hours underneath the cabin floor as Shelly's dismembered corpse, what are your memories of this?
This may have been my worst night of shooting. Rob, Bruce and I were all nailed under the floor. Bruce and Rob played my arms and legs, maybe Teddy too, they were my body parts strewn on the floor. I was the only one above the floor, but just my head. We were all nailed in and therefore unable to escape. Because my head was being filmed I needed to wear the lenses. We were sitting in dirt with spiders, worms, snakes and all things that live in the dirt! We shot for what seemed like a long time. At some point I wondered if Sam would ever say, "cut". Finally in anguish and frustration from being entomb for so long, I dared to say something during the take, but there was no response from either Sam or Tim Philo the DP. It was then I realized that they must have fallen asleep. Eventually my shouting woke them and they ended the scene and removed use from our tomb.
Just to ask a general question, are there any memories or anecdotes of The Evil Dead you want to share?
It was on this shoot I learned how to play Pac Man. This was a new game at the time that Sam seemed to love playing, I remember going off to the local store and sitting at a Pac Man game playing with him. For all the torturing that is recounted in the filming, I am grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of this groundbreaking movie. The relationships I've made among the actors and the new relationships we make with fans all brings a lot of fun and joy to my life.
Was your acting role complete once the Tennessee location shooting finished, or were you involved in any of the later Detroit shoots?
Sadly, my work was completed as I left Morristown. And while I was very tired and mentally fried from the experience I missed our little band of moviemakers. I'm sure you've heard say that the abused begins to love the abuser... and so I would call the "boys" to check-in every now and again. There was a closeness that had developed. I believe that is when I worked on the film Torro, Torro, Torro! We remained loyal to one another it seems, Sam and Bruce and Rob and others like Dave Goodman came to see me perform after I started doing stand-up comedy. And of course, my role in Oz the Great and the Powerful was a lovely opportunity from the director.
Were there any scenes or complicated set-ups you remember shooting, which weren't in the finished film?
As far as I know all my scenes are in the movie. However, there were many takes of each. Those are on the cutting room floor.
Did you go to the October 15, 1981 premiere at the Redford Theatre, what were your memories of the evening, and what was your family's reaction to the movie?
The premiere was very strange for many reasons. Foolishly I'd invited my parents not knowing there was a little 'rape scene' in the movie. And as it turned out, none of the Ladies realized that during post production the scene we'd all worked on together, helping to pull vines viciously DOWN Ellen's legs, would be reversed, and instead ascend upward. I had prepared to bait and switch my parent's attention during the scene where I removed my t-shirt, another unscripted aspect of the movie, which I was coerced into doing on the set. I had not known there would be another scene that would be more humiliating. It truly seemed liked I had been sucked into some type of horror porn movie and all that work had been wasted, that is, until the audience began to laugh, and clap, and stand up and talk to the characters in the movie! I'd never seen anything like it. It was the beginning of interactive. They yelled to Cheryl not to go out into the woods and on and on. That was unexpected; I'd never seen that sort of reaction.
During its early conception stages, were you ever approached to reprise your role as Shelly in Evil Dead II in any capacity (even as a dismembered corpse), or even take a cameo role in Army Of Darkness?
I believe at that point I had graduated from a dismembered corpse, though I might have done it had I been invited, I'm grateful they spared me.
Your real name is Theresa Mary Catherine Seyferth, but were credited in The Evil Dead as Sarah York, Torro, Torro, Torro! as T. Tilly, and are now best known as Theresa Tilly. Was this entirely down to the Screen Actors Guild, can you elaborate on that situation?
I used a fake name in The Evil Dead; I went from Theresa Seyferth to Sarah York, as I was unable to work out a compromise with the producers and SAG. I was fearful of the consequences, though none of us ever believed this movie would see the light of day. As luck would have it, a few people saw the movie and I was suspended from SAG and fined. I recently looked back into the archives and saw that my very first SAG job was literally two months prior to shooting The Evil Dead. If that situation were to happen today both SAG and the producers would most certainly try to work out a Low Budget contract. I was young and had no skill-set for dealing with authoritarian bureaucracies; I was intimidated by both and therefore found a solution by creating a different identity. As it turned out, I liked the idea of changing my name. I evolved from horror to stand-up I made up yet a different name, T. Tilly. At some point I missed my full name and just went back to Theresa, as I shall remain, I promise!
Sam, Tom, Kurt & Rob; dismemberment effects re-shoots on The Evil Dead (1980)