This is an interview conducted with Scott Spiegel over two phonecalls; on April 8, 2011 and May 4, 2011. It spans much of his career, covering everything from his early Super-8 days, to his present work. You can listen to the raw audio recording of the interview below, or read the edited & formatted transcription further down.
Scott acted, produced and directed numerous Super-8 productions, with title roles in It's Murder!, Clockwork, and Within The Woods among many others, then assisting during post production on The Evil Dead, and taking larger production roles in Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except & Evil Dead II and going on to forge a career in Hollywood where he directed his first feature film Intruder. He is presently producer on the popular & lucrative Hostel franchise and has just finished directing Hostel Part III for Sony pictures.
Sam Raimi & Scott Spiegel on the exterior Kandar castle set of Evil Dead II (1987)
You were making your own Super-8 short films for a few years before you got involved with the other guys, how did you first get started with that?
My friends Bill Ward, Matt DeWan and me were going to chip in and buy a Super-8 Film version of Lon Chaney's Phantom Of The Opera from the back pages of Famous Monsters magazine, when we thought, wait a minute, instead of buying someone else's movie, why don't we make our own?
Bill owned a Kodak Super-8 camera and projector so we decided to make Inspector Klutz Saves The Day, a cross between Frankenstein and Mad Magazine style humour in which Matt and I wore cool Don Post masks. It's a rough, silly first movie, but it got us started. Matt DeWan had moved and Matt Taylor joined in the fun and we shot our own version of a Three Stooges comedy entitled Pies & Guys (when Tim Quill first saw the film he referred to it as the "kids throwing Twinkies at each other" film). And he was right! It was so low budget we could only afford one whole pie so we bought several of these little 15 cent Hostess pies and ended up tossing them at each other and that was the entire movie! We showed the film around and people really responded and we were off and running.
I lived in a beach community and they had a big clubhouse down by Walnut Lake. They would show family films like the Jerry Lewis movie The Big Mouth in 16mm so we had an avenue to show our film. It was very exciting and there were about thirty to forty people there. A big deal for kids our age. We showed Pies & Guys and everyone laughed. It was sooooo cool. Marv Malice, one of our neighbours who ran the clubhouse enjoyed the film then said to everyone, "Why don't we all chip in and buy these guys a Super-8 film splicer?". We thought "We have to edit too?". Well we got so good at editing that we would buy Super 8 films from our local department store like the 1953 version of War of the Worlds and edit shots of buildings exploding or whatever into our films (we would even shoot the film in Black & White just so the stock footage would match better).
An early photo of Scott
So you were already established making films before you got involved with Bruce & Sam, and the rest of the team?
My friends Bill Ward, Matt Taylor & I were doing Three Stooges style comedies (these being silent films doing slapstick wasn't such a bad idea. Plus we were young and did all of our own stunts). Once in a while we did an original film (but we still played it as a comedy team). For example we made a film called Piece Of Mind, which is about a mad doctor who wants to remove Matt's brain and when Bill and I rescue Matt from the operating table just in time Matt says, "Thanks fellas, I almost had to give that doctor a piece of my mind!" At that point we added sound to our silent films by using a reel to reel tape recorder. Then about a year later we graduated to a cassette tape recorder. I had known Bruce Campbell from Junior High School as well as Sunday school. We both loved movies (I remember Bruce telling me all about the coolest movie he just saw, Irwin Allen's The Poseidon Adventure) and we discovered that we both made movies. Bruce came over to my house and we watched each other's films and decided to make films together. Bruce became our leading man (as well as producer, writer and occasional director) and that really changed things. When we did Three Smart Saps, our first movie together, Bruce showed up on the set in full costume and he had his own make-up kit and he used spirit gum to affix a realistic moustache to his face (we all wanted to look like adults). That was very impressive when all of our costumes at the time consisted of an old discarded suit coat over a white T shirt and there wasn't any make-up to speak of (unless one considers pie make-up).
Scott in The Case Of The Topanga Pearl (1976)
Scott & Bruce in The Final Round (1977)
So when Bruce jumped on board we continued to do Three Stooges style comedies (we would use a Stooge title, some music, sound effects and a few gags but these were overall original productions). Bruce became our Emil Sitka or Kenneth McDonald, a butler or the bad guy, the perfect foil. And Bruce did really impressive stunts and incredibly funny pratfalls. He made all of us take the whole thing more seriously. Bill Ward left the group around this time (1974) and Tim Quill stepped in to replace him. Tim's first movie with us was an exact remake of one of the Stooges most famous films, Half-Wits Holiday. Bruce not only starred as a professor in the film, but also the Butler and he 'fake shemped' for another actor who couldn't make it. This was our first movie to use an out & out 'Fake Shemp' (in some of the out-takes Tim Quill, Bruce and myself can be seen 'shemping' around in the background). The film climaxes with a huge pie fight only this time we were able to afford whole pies. We cleaned up after the pie fight that took place at our friend Tom Williams house. We completely covered his basement with pie and we cleaned it up as best we could but when his parents came home they knew something messy had happened. A special thanks has to go to all of our parents because they put up with all kinds of these outrageous stunts and they were so understanding (Bruce's Dad even shot some of our movies!). Coolest parents ever!
We graduated from Three Stooges wannabes to our own comedy team simply called Spiegel, Taylor and Quill. We made a movie, No Dough Boys, which was about us getting jobs, screwing up and having everyone chase after us. This was Sam Raimi's first film with us, the part was small but he made the most of it doing a cool stunt diving over some hedges and tackling Matt Taylor. Bruce was hilarious as a customer who slips & slides on a soapy floor at a grocery store (Walnut Lake Market, where I worked and where Bruce worked for a brief time a couple of years later).
When did you start taking the whole thing more seriously about the way you went about shooting things, writing scripts, progression of stories, storyboards, etc?
We evolved. As we made more movies we learned by experience. What worked, what didn't. Can we afford a sound camera? Too expensive? Wait, Sam has a sound camera. We mixed it up.
Sam's Civil War movie was shot with sound film and silent film. That was our first sound film actually. And when sound came in at first the editing suffered because you had to deal with two track sound and there was an 18 frame lag so it was a bit clunky but as we made more movies we just got better at it. We were all so into it. Sam and I would write and act together, Sam or myself would direct and Bruce was our star and he'd produce. What a great time it all was. We would show our films at parties and at Groves High school in Birmingham Michigan. They were very popular.
The real breakaway film for us was The James Hoffa Story. Jimmy Hoffa was a big labour union leader in Detroit, who disappeared from the Machus Red Fox on July 30th, 1975, and that was a few blocks from where we all lived. It was a really big deal locally as well as nationally. Bruce put white shoe polish in his hair and, viola, he was Jimmy Hoffa. Sam Raimi and I played the thugs and we mistakenly kidnapped the wrong guy (Tim Quill's character). We had a little hit.
Bruce arranged a weekly Sunday morning meeting with a commercial director he knew by the name of Verne Nobles, who had won a few awards for some of the commercials he'd directed. He also gave us each jobs as production assistants on some of the local commercials he was directing so we got some experience working on a real professional set. Verne was a big influence on our little group. We graduated to 16mm and made a short film that Verne more or less produced called Mystery No Mystery (that was Verne's title, but we dug it). But we never exactly finished it and the cost at the time was too much for us when we had the Super-8 thing down. Mystery No Mystery became the basis for our 1978 Super-8 feature film It's Murder!. But really, the biggest influences for me were Sam and Bruce themselves. We fed off each other's creativity, collaborated on the writing, producing, directing and we all had the same zeal for making films. We then formed the Metropolitan Film Group, which included Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, John Cameron, William E. Kirk, Mike Ditz and myself.
A pivotal point in our evolution was when we showed our films to Tommy Smothers. He was a celebrity, actor, and half of the Smothers Brothers comedy team. He discovered Steve Martin (who wrote and occasionally preformed on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, a ground breaking CBS show that was famously cancelled back in the late 60's due to its controversial humour). Bruce was doing some apprentice work at The Cherry County Playhouse in Traverse City, Michigan and Tommy Smothers was there in the summer of '76 starring in Play It Again Sam.
An It's Murder! promo photo L/R: Bruce, Sam, Scott, Linda Quiroz & Tim Quill (1978)
An It's Murder! flyer (1978)
Bruce managed to get Tommy Smothers to come over to his place and watch our movies. Mike Ditz, Matt Taylor and I drove up to Traverse City to visit Bruce and we showed Tommy Smothers our films. We showed him The Jimmy Hoffa Story. He laughed and was amazed by the way I sped up and slowed down the variable speed Eumig projector as well as the cassette tape recorder to keep the film in sync. He loved the movie and afterward asked us how much it cost to make. I said, "I don't know, fifty bucks?" and the next thing we knew he sent us a cheque for $300 from Well's Fargo Bank in Hollywood. Wow! That was better than any film school we could have ever had, he was a Hollywood celebrity that dug our movies, and he backed it up with cash! What a legitimizing experience. Thank you Tommy Smothers!
Scott, Bruce & Sam shooting The James R. Hoffa Story, Part II (aka Home Sweet Homicide) (1976)
When you were growing up did you always want to be a film-maker?
I was always in retail just because it was close to home. I was a bag boy, a stock checker, a manager. I worked for a couple of different stores, but mostly at the Walnut Lake Market, which was this little independent grocery store near our house. I shot Nightcrew, the prototype for Intruder there, and the owners invested in Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except. I always loved movies and my Mom & Dad were big movie lovers too. My Mom bought me a silent GAF Super 8 projector to screen those Super 8mm Castle Film Home Movie digests (mostly Universal horror, occasionally a 3 Stooges or an Abbott & Costello comedy). This was fun and we'd have movie nights. Then I met Bill Ward and found out he had a movie camera and we started making our own films.
In the earlier days, did you each work on ideas for your own shorts and bring them to the group, or was it more of a collective collaborative situation?
Well, for example Bruce and I did a James Bond parody called James Bombed - Here Today, Gun Tomorrow and of course Bruce played James Bombed and Sam played a variety of characters in the film and we shot it at Sam's house (I played Bruce's boss). Bruce produced and I directed. Then Sam directed The Civil War movie for his Civil War class so Sam, Bruce, Tom Williams and I went up to Bruce's cabin in Gladwin Michigan and shot a good portion of the movie. We were the actors and the entire crew! Then I'd team up with Sam and we wrote and directed Six Months To Live together featuring Bruce and the gang. Later Sam directed The Happy Valley Kid starring Rob Tapert and featuring Bruce and me in many different roles and it also included Ivan Raimi and John Cameron. Then John Cameron directed Shemp Eats The Moon, starring Bruce and Ellen Sandweiss with Sam, Bill Kirk and myself in supporting roles. It all worked out very well and it was fun, fun, fun! In fact Six Months To Live and The Happy Valley Kid was a very popular and successful double feature that played at Michigan State University back in the day. Then Six Months To Live aired on a local TV show in Detroit called The Ghoul Show on WXON TV 20. The Ghoul took his act from a guy named Ernie Anderson in Cleveland Ohio. Ernie Anderson is the father of Paul Thomas Anderson of There Will Be Blood fame and was the voice of ABC back in the 70's and 80's (I can just hear him saying The Looooove Boat). I just love the interconnectedness of it all! So they showed Six Months To Live in three parts at five minutes each, and they had me on the show as a guest. We got fan mail from that movie, which was incredible. Incidentally Bruce and Sam ended up appearing on that show (we didn't get paid but it was a blast performing on local TV).
Jane Bultrud, Sam & Jon Page in Six Months To Live (1977)
Sam & Rob Tapert in The Happy Valley Kid (1977)
So when did you go from having a general idea of what you wanted to do, and ad-libbing in front of the camera, to pre-planning every aspect of each production?
Sometimes we ad-libbed, definitely, but we always had a script no matter what. You needed to know where to get props, and you were asking everybody to pull in a favour, whether it was an actor, anybody who worked on the crew. I remember being in my business law class in high school, and writing some of the scripts we were going to shoot that weekend. Sam and I wrote It's Murder! While Sam was up at Michigan State University and I was down in West Bloomfield, Michigan. We would mail each other new pages of the script and mark it up, change, add and then send it back to each other and for the most part that's how we wrote It's Murder!
So when did things start to come together from a business standpoint?
I think when we made It's Murder! in 1978. It was a feature length film and there were some terrific set pieces (some of which were re-used in The Evil Dead and Crimewave specifically the graveyard fight and the car chase scenes). We destroyed plenty of cars and for its time it was very impressive. It cost Sam and me $3,000 and change. It was an epic and we never tried anything that ambitious up to that point. I think it was Rob who said if you can make a feature in Super 8 why not 16mm? Around this time Halloween came out and horror was the thing. I was always into horror. In fact when we would show our movies around at parties (all of our movies were comedies) I would bring along a 20 minute Super 8 sound version of the 1964 William Castle, Joan Crawford shocker Strait-Jacket. It was awesome and the crowd got scared. George Kennedy (of Naked Gun fame) got his head chopped off and they actually show it and the blood spurt out of his neck!!! It's a bit fake by today's standards but it was the most gruesome gore gag ever to hit a studio movie (I even tried to make the scene more effective by editing a few frames and Sam Raimi looked at me and said something like "How dare you edit another filmmaker's movie").
It's Murder (44:04) - The lead is trying to escape in his car, the soundtrack goes silent, suddenly a menacing figure leaps up from the back seat.
When we premiered It's Murder! in the early fall of '78 one of the biggest crowd reactions was when the bad guy jumps up from behind the backseat of a car and attacks the hero (this was just before a similar gag appeared in Halloween which came out weeks later). It was a huge scare. And Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert took note.
Michael Myers strangles Annie Brackett in a similar 'backseat scare', in John Carpenter's Halloween (1978)
At which point did you begin to think you could make a living from film?
When Josh Becker and I made Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except. Not that the film generated any money for me personally (or that I thought it would) but it was a calling card (of sorts) and it seemed like that could get us another film made on a somewhat higher budget where we could actually make some money. I was just hoping that what happened to Rob, Bruce & Sam with The Evil Dead would happen to us. In fact, at one point in the middle of post production on The Evil Dead there was talk of Renaissance Pictures possibly producing Nightcrew as a feature for me to direct but for various reasons that didn't pan out. I think it also had to do with the boys having to raise more money to finish The Evil Dead and that the entire process took way longer than anyone anticipated. I remember Sam and the guys having Book of the Dead T-Shirts made and then when the title was changed to The Evil Dead over a year and a half later Sam told me that when people would see him wearing The Evil Dead T-Shirt they thought he made another film after Book of the Dead! Sam told them, "No, it's the same movie. We just changed the title". People couldn't understand why it took so long to make one movie.
Scott & Bruce in Shemp Eats The Moon (1978)
Scott & Bruce in The Blind Waiter (1980)
The two biggest Super-8 productions were probably The Happy Valley Kid and It's Murder! Apart from Within The Woods. Is there anything particularly you remember about them?
When we made The Happy Valley Kid I remember Sam picking me up in his parent's station wagon at Kroger, a grocery store I was working at the time. I had just finished working the graveyard shift and got off at 7am. We drove an hour up to Michigan State University and started shooting. I got no sleep but I lived for this stuff and gave my all for Sam.
An early Night Crew (aka Intruder) promo poster (1989)
I played The Happy Valley Kid's father (as well as many other roles in the film - I'm all over that film, I also play an old man who Sam tortures with a joy buzzer and I play one of the security guards at the end along with Bruce who (spoiler) corner The Happy Valley Kid in the end and kill him). It was a blast! Driving back home from MSU with Sam & Bruce that night after a hard days work I just remember falling asleep the moment my ass hit the seat. The Happy Valley Kid was a ground-breaking film; it had nudity, violence, twisted comedy and empathy. It was about characters you could relate to. It was our first 'R' rated film in a sense. It was reality based (for the most part). I loved Sam's awesome direction and Rob Tapert's touching performance. It was the winter when we shot that. Later Sam wanted me to drive up to MSU for the big party scene but I had a piece of shit car - (the one we eventually used in It's Murder and Clockwork) and I wasn't about to chance driving that thing up in blizzard conditions so I do regret not being a part of that scene. I helped with the sound on the film using all kinds of Stooges sound effects and I had a really great time. Ah, the memories.
Josh Becker has started selling a number of the shorts he directed on his website. Would you or Sam ever consider selling things direct to the public?
I can't speak for Sam. I wouldn't do it. Intruder is getting the Synapse Films, Blu-ray treatment and while I lost the original Super 8 film the feature was based on I cobbled together some outtakes from Nightcrew to create a very rough mini version of the movie that Synapse Films is putting on the DVD as a special feature and that is about as far as I would go with something like that (I'm not making any money on it. It's just for the fans).
There is a German company called Dragon that released a special edition DVD of Intruder along with two shorts; Attack Of The Helping Hand! and Torro, Torro, Torro!, but they've been mastered from VHS so they're not proper transfers. I wasn't sure whether you'd sanctioned them or not?
I didn't know anything about that. I'll have to get the DVD.
You went from a string of comedy shorts to titles like Clockwork and Within The Woods, and then Evil Dead. When did the shorts shift from comedy to horror?
Actually in 1974 Bruce and I did a 5 minute werewolf film called Curse of the Werewolf (we loved stealing titles!). Bruce & I wrote it and acted in it and I directed. I played the werewolf. There was a cool shot in the film where the camera is over my hairy werewolf arm and my hand is outstretched and we follow it through the woods in a long tracking shot as we see Bruce in the distance and then we come upon Bruce, who plays a hunter, and he turns in shock as I grab his throat and strangle him relentlessly with my hand and throw him to the ground where he coughs up lots of blood. This reminded me of the shot of Bruce attacking Ellen by the monopoly table in Within The Woods. But we didn't have the make-up capabilities so Curse of the Werewolf remained just a teaser film. The same year Bruce directed himself, me and Matt Taylor in a serious suspense thriller entitled Manhunt shot up at Bruce's cabin (where we shot The Civil War movie and parts of The Evil Dead). It had violence and thrills and was a total departure from the comedies we were doing at the time. It's a nifty little movie and it was cool to work with Bruce as a director. Then in 1976 we did the 16mm short Mystery No Mystery. It had creepy and scary moments with surreal, Ernie Kovacs style comedy. Sam and I wrote it, Sam directed it, and Bruce and I starred in it. Then later, we did a Super 8 version where Sam played a detective and I played a butler and Bruce played the victim. This of course led to It's Murder! a couple of years later. And that led to Clockwork.
Clockwork; Scott attacks Cheryl
She fights back, stabbing scott
Scott falls down the stairs (1979)
I remember Sam saying "OK, that scare in It's Murder! worked great, now can I just do a purely scary eight minute film from start to finish?" So Clockwork was born. Sam wrote the script, Rob Tapert produced and Cheryl Guttridge and I starred. We shot it over a weekend at Sam's house. It was literally just Sam, Cheryl and me. Sam shot it too. Bruce had to double my arms bursting through the door, because we were using a real knife, and I said "I can't do this, It's a real knife and I might hurt her!" So Bruce became my 'stunt' arms. He pulled it off perfectly. I did a very painful stunt falling down the stairs (with a bloody knife prop in my mouth no less). Every time I see that fall it still hurts my tail bone. I remember we were talking a break during shooting the scene where I bust open the front door, and Sam said "come on, we've got to go and see my friend Mike Binder" who was a rising star at the time and was performing at a local comedy club but it was sold out! Oh well, we went back to Sam's and finished shooting Clockwork.
Do you have any particular memories of shooting Within The Woods?
Oh yeah, it was great. Just a small cast and crew; Rob Tapert, Bruce, Ellen Sandwiess, Mary Valenti, Tom Sullivan, Ted Raimi, Doug Sills, who went on to act on various network TV shows. We shot it over several weekends at Rob Tapert's parents place in Marshall Michigan. I remember I'd grab several props from the grocery store, some knives, the cherry pie filling that Mary Valenti spits out when Bruce stabs her in the throat. I remember when Ellen stabs me we had a 'half' knife that they duct taped to my torso. When we finished the scene I had to rip the tape off my hairy chest and I screamed bloody murder. Bruce thought that was the funniest thing. Oh the pain, the pain. We not only acted in the film but we did whatever needed to be done. We were also the crew. Everyone lent a hand. One time I looked out the window and saw this awesome sunset. I said to the guys, "Hey, come on, let's go shoot that". So Sam, Bruce and me head out there and shoot the scene where I go looking for Bruce in the woods and find the picnic basket. It was cool to be made up by Tom Sullivan. He is so talented. I loved the way I looked as a monster in that film (and I get to have a great 'pop up' scare at the end). I remember when we looped the film I did my gasps and groans and Sam was on the other track making disgusting sounds (by gargling with Faygo Red pop). The guys made a horror classic and I was proud to be a part of it. The film screened at the Punch & Judy theatre in Gross Point Michigan in August 1979 to great success, and it got a great write up in the Detroit News where they mentioned all of us by name. We knew we were making something cool, but I didn't know that it would take on such a life of its own. Just before the big premiere Sam did an ingenious thing - because the film was longer than the reel that held the film and there wasn't a bigger reel to be had so Sam taped Popsicle sticks onto both sides of the reel and they stuck out just enough to hold the film aligned perfectly straight!
There has been a soundtrack project running for some time, to identify all the music tracks used in Within The Woods, can you shed any light in that?
Well, I'm the one they got the majority of music from. We used cuts from Death Wish, the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Sorcerer, Jaws and The Eyes of Laura Mars. The pop songs Chuck e's in love by Rickie Lee Jones and We Are Family by Sister Sledge. By the way the Chuck e. in Chuck e's in love is my neighbour here in Hollywood. There is one cut in there that I can't place. It is the very 70's sounding love theme used when Ellen and Bruce go outside to have their picnic and this piece is also used while Ellen grieves over Bruce's dead body just before I pop up at the end.
How did you go on from Within The Woods to The Evil Dead, obviously you didn't take the role of Scotty, but was there any time at which you might have been?
I couldn't break away at the time because I was helping support my family. The boys called me several times (to work on the movie) down in Morristown but I was making $28,000 back then and that was decent money. When they came back home I helped out in post production. I got a couple of my girlfriends to double some of the actresses in the film, and I supplied a bunch of the meat parts (all that stuff the demons toss around when all the body parts explode at the climax). I helped Sam come up with the idea of using the It's Murder! beams with Bruce in the graveyard (a re-working of a similar scene from It's Murder!) as well as adding the beheading by spade scene.
Scott in Within The Woods (1979)
Scott comforting Cheryl (1979)
Cheryl mistakenly stabbing Scott (1979)
Scott becoming possessed at the end (1979)
You were far more heavily involved in Renaissance Pictures' next production; Crimewave, can you tell us about that?
Yeah, I helped Sam re-write some scenes and gags, particularly the ending, and Sam, and Rob were very thankful. Sam and I would work late at night at the Denny's restaurant, right across from the Ramada in Southfield, Michigan where they had their production offices. It was an exceptionally cold winter.
Embassy Pictures threw their weight around, Bruce was supposed to star in the film, but Embassy pictures replaced Bruce with an actor named Reed Birney (who is an excellent actor but who we all thought was wrong for the role since Sam had written the part specifically for Bruce). The actor Paul Smith (Popeye, Pieces) seemed uncooperative. I personally had a blast working on that film and I got a girlfriend out of that too. I just tried to be as helpful as I could. Sam put me in front of the camera a lot, I did a couple of pratfalls and SAG came down on us; "He's not SAG, he can't do that" said the local SVG rep.
The main cast of Crimewave, although ironically without Bruce (1985)
It was kind of a learning experience for us, because it was the first SAG film we did. I came up with some lines for Bruce on the spot; "Scotty, I need a line that the heel would say to get this hot blond to come over to his place", so I came up with, "Hey baby, why don't you come over to my place for a scotch and sofa".
So while you were writing Evil Dead II, was there any avenues you wanted to explore but didn't, or have any general ideas of a completely different storyline?
Well, I wanted to take it a more out of the cabin, but unfortunately everything I came up with was too expensive for out budget. Rob and Bruce wanted to keep most of the film in the cabin for budgetary reasons.
Ash discovers the bridge in Evil Dead II (1987)
Bobby Joe's attack by vines in Evil Dead II (1987)
I had this great scene, it would have been a bit of a cheat since the bridge in the first one was destroyed off screen, but I thought the scene was cool enough that we could overlook this lapse in continuity. So when Ash goes to leave the cabin in the car, the bridge is still intact (maybe the destroyed bridge was a trick of the evil force and it really wasn't destroyed the night before, I liked exploring that possibility). So the bridge is there and Bruce drives his car over it slowly (it's still a rickety bridge) and from the other side, deep in the woods, we see the evil force P.O.V. slowly moving toward the bridge - Bruce continues to drive across the bridge and suddenly the rear tire of the car falls into the same hole that it created in The Evil Dead. The evil force P.O.V. picks up speed and zips toward the bridge furiously knocking down trees - Bruce tries to get the car out of the hole when he hears something, looks up and sees across the bridge, the invisible force rocketing toward him, ripping trees from the roots. Bruce tries to get the car out of the hole in a panic as the evil force P.O.V. hits the bridge and all the slats fly up in front of the camera as it zooms toward Bruce in the car - Bruce finally pulls the car out of the hole and slams it in reverse as the evil force is almost upon him, the bridge starts to sway and come apart all at once - Bruce speeds backward and makes it off the bridge onto solid ground as the force is about to engulf him but the entire bridge collapses down an enormous chasm and takes the evil force down with it. I loved that scene, Sam did too, but it was just ridiculously expensive. In the movie, you can still see the force come out of that chasm, and head toward Bruce. I also wanted to do the reverse gender gag from when Ellen gets raped by the vines in The Evil Dead. Instead of Bobby Joe being dragged through the woods, I wanted to have Ed dragged, with an overhead tracking shot of him showing the vines open up his legs wide, wishbone style, and as the vines drag him furiously toward a tree his crotch connects with the tree trunk and splits him in two. OUCH! And, as Paul McCartney once sang, "Yesterday, I wasn't half the man I used to be".
At one point Army Of Darkness and Evil Dead II was all the same film, which was then chopped up because of budget reasons?
I was supposed to write Army Of Darkness but I was contractually obligated to do revisions on The Rookie for Warner Bros. and Clint Eastwood. I remember acting in Darkman and Sam came up to me on set and asked me to write it with him, but I told him I was contracted to finish the re-writes on The Rookie and Sam told me "I can't get you any more". I do regret that, I wish I could have written that with him, I know it would have been a blast but he was in good hands with Ivan Raimi.
If I remember correctly I think Army Of Darkness (or The Medieval Dead as it was briefly called) was going to be the second film but and the entire concept was just too expensive - the bottom line was; "OK, let that be the third one, let's have a middle entry that can get us to a third one, should we be so lucky". So Sam and the boys flew me to Los Angeles to write Evil Dead II with Sam. Sam was renting a place with the Coen's on Waverly Terrace in Silver Lake and while we wrote the movie I got to meet and hang with the Coen Brothers (who were mostly in New York while we were writing) but our roommates were future Academy Award winners Fran McDormmand and Holly Hunter. Oh what a great time!
An early Evil Dead II, The Army Of Darkness promo ad (1983)
After Evil Dead II you directed your own feature; Intruder, by adapting your earlier short Nightcrew, were there any differences between the Super-8 and the feature versions?
Yes. The super-8 version was very simple and took place over several hours. Girl drives to work, sees scary guy on side of road, is creeped out, goes to work with Nightcrew (Sam Raimi and Tim Quill) and scary dude breaks in and starts killing spree. Intruder takes place in one night but it has a back story and several more characters (I needed a body count).
A promo photo of Billy Marti's violent bandsaw decapitation at the hands of Bill Roberts in Intruder (1989)
One difference is in the Super 8 movie it was Sam Raimi's head that was sawed open - but the way we shot Sam's head being sawed is that we had the camera on one end of the band saw, Sam stuck his head under the saw but you could still see his torso and flailing arms and John Cameron, who played the masked killer, held a Styrofoam wig stand covered with a mask and a wig to match Sam's hair and we filled it with Pillsbury poppin fresh cherry turnover filling (it was perfect, clear plastic tubes of cherry filling that looked just like bloody brain matter). Disgusting. The killer turned on the band saw and rammed Sam's Styrofoam head and YUCK, the gore flew everywhere and you saw Sam's body twitch and arms flail all in one shot. Awesome! When I discussed this gag to recreate in Intruder (now Billy Marti is playing Sam's role) the KNB guys sold me on a very realistic gelatin head and that we should saw him face up right thru the middle of his face and I agreed.
Intruder's bandsaw decapitation (1989)
Cutting through the head (1989)
Jennifer finds the head (1989)
When we were about to shoot the sawing of the gelatin head (it really looked like Billy Marti) Billy Marti turned to me and said "My Mom can never see this". We rolled cameras and turned on the band saw and sawed the gelatin head in half and it was so real it upset many crew members. Joyce Pepper, our script supervisor was crying. I seriously questioned what I was doing. Man, that's horrifying but I was, after all making a horror film. This wasn't Bambi.
A Japanese poster for Hostel Part II
You're involved in the Hostel series. They're quite dark and sadistic horror films, a breed apart from the comedic horror of Evil Dead II, and seem less about entertainment as pushing the boundaries, not to denigrate what you're doing! What are your views on this?
We were trying to make the scariest films we knew how, and I believe we succeeded. There is something scary about reality. About being in a foreign land. Not knowing who to trust. The language barrier. The cultural barriers. There's all kinds of weird shit out there and if you're not paying attention they're gonna get you. Eli injected those films with an incredible amount of dread, fear and horror. Something you can't laugh off. Evil Dead II gives you an incredible thrill ride in a crazy, horrific, off kilter kind of way. It's a fantastic tale extremely well told and, in my opinion, it created it's own genre. There was this friend of Josh Becker named Rick Sandford and he was a very interesting intellectual who loved movies like no other. He once said he could never be scared by The Exorcist or The Omen or Rosemary's Baby because he was an atheist but that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre scared the shit out of him because that could really happen, happen in the real world. Interesting perspective. For me, if they are done well, both types of films can scare me. Jaws and The Exorcist both scared the crap out of me.
Are you still in contact with Bruce, Sam and the rest of the gang?
Oh absolutely, I just got a great Christmas/birthday greeting from Bruce. Sam I last saw at his 50th birthday party. Those guys are the greatest.
Since Bruce Campbell and Josh Becker have both done autobiographical books, have you ever thought about doing the same?
I'm sure I'll do a book eventually. I have a lot of stories to tell and I've worked with everyone from Sam and Bruce to Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino. I'm looking forward to it.
Thanks very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us, and best wishes for Hostel Part III