From Peter Jackson to Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead has influenced many of today’s biggest directors. As it should. Famous for its practical effects and then-unprecedented amount of gore, the campy 1981 horror flick—about a group of friends who travel to a cabin in the woods and unleash killer demons—showed the world the power of guerilla-style indie filmmaking.
Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, and producer Robert Tapert fought through no CGI, sticky cocktails of blood made from everyday household items, and the reluctance of major studios to get on board to make a cult classic that has since spawned two sequels, Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992); an Army of Darkness video game; a 2013 remake; Ash vs. Evil Dead, a TV series that ran for three seasons on Starz; and an upcoming fifth movie, Evil Dead Rise, that is planning to start production in 2021.
Get to know more about every cinephile’s favorite horror-comedy with this list of things you might not know about the production.
1. The Evil Dead was based on Sam Raimi’s short film, Within The Woods.
Before getting to work on The Evil Dead, good friends Robert Tapert, Sam Raimi, and Bruce Campbell created the 30-minute Super 8 film, Within the Woods. In a 1982 interview with John Gallagher, Raimi—who was 20 when he shot The Evil Dead—explained, “We used [Within the Woods] to show the investors what kind of film they’d be buying into … They needed tangible proof that we could make a movie of professional quality.”
On why the trio chose to make a horror film in the first place, producer Robert Tapert told The Incredibly Strange Film Show, “Sam and I first decided to do horror films after doing research on what did well in the markets ... Horror is the entry level that most people use.”
2. Joel Coen got his first break as an assistant editor on The Evil Dead.
Before becoming the Oscar-winning filmmaking duo he and his brother Ethan are today, Joel Coen got his start as an assistant editor on The Evil Dead. Inspired by Raimi’s DIY filmmaking, Joel and his brother created a pitch trailer (much like Raimi’s Within the Woods) to raise money for their first feature, Blood Simple. While Dan Hedaya stars in the final film, Bruce Campbell plays the lead in the two-minute trailer.
3. The Evil Dead, which is famous for its practical effects, even used real, live ammunition.
The meager budget on The Evil Dead didn’t allow for any star accouterments. As Bruce Campbell detailed to DVD talk, among the many hellish situations the cast and crew dealt with were diving into freezing cold swamps and Raimi getting chased by a bull. “We are going to rural Tennessee, 1979, where there's moonshine, squatters, and it was the real deal,” said Campbell. “The south was the south in 1979. There was no franchise this or franchise that. It was a completely different world and mentality ... We used real ammunition in the shotgun and we shot it at a real cabin in the woods, with hunters and howling dogs in the background.”
4. The Evil Dead’s infamous melting corpse is made up of everything from oatmeal to cockroaches.
Conscious of toeing the line of MPAA ratings, make-up and visual effects supervisor Tom Sullivan used different colors of goo to keep the body from seeming like it was spewing real blood. “I wanted to make it seem like their biology actually changed,” said Sullivan during the film’s 30th anniversary reunion, hosted by Spooky Empire. Among the many ingredients used to concoct the mush coming out of the melting corpse’s skull, Sullivan cites oatmeal, snakes, guts made out of marshmallow strings, and Madagascar cockroaches, which they acquired at Michigan State University.
5. Sam Raimi worked himself so hard on The Evil Dead that he passed out during filming.
At Spooky Empire’s reunion, Bart Pierce, who worked on the visual effects of the film, noted just how much filming took a toll on Sam Raimi. As his story goes, Raimi fainted during the shooting of the film’s dismemberment sequence. The director stayed up all night shooting, and wrote all day, basically working himself 24/7. To wake him up, the crew took an ice-cold bucket of water and threw it at him, and left him there until he regained consciousness.
6. Everything in The Evil Dead was real—even the drugs.
Bruce Campbell has said it before: everything was real during filming. At a Spooky Empire event, Campbell playfully recalled, “The illegal substance known as marijuana was somehow forced upon us in Tennessee ... I was forced to ingest this marijuana by a local reprobate and I therefore became, let’s just say, affected by THC ... I therefore lost any sense of time and where I was, and that’s the time that Sam Raimi decided that he needed to shoot Ash having a breakdown.”
7. The Morristown, Tennessee cabin where The Evil Dead was shot has its own real-life horror story.
Adding to the spookiness of filming at an actual cabin in the woods, Raimi noted the location’s inherent eeriness is completely justified. During an interview with John Gallagher, Raimi recounted a horror story involving three generations of women (a grandmother, mother, and daughter) who previously occupied the cabin. “One night, during a thunderstorm, this little girl woke up and was scared by the lightning happening around the cabin. She ran into her mother’s room and pulling back the covers climbing into bed with her, she found that her mother was dead. She was so frightened she ran into her grandmother’s room and somehow that same evening, she had died also,” Raimi recalled. “The little girl ran into the storm ... to this little farmhouse and [the family living there] found her screaming and banging on the doors. They took care of her after that and no one lived in the cabin since. The [little girl], who’s now an old woman, during thunderstorms after that ... would often be found wandering around the woods.”
The kicker, however, was that story came to life during the film’s shoot. Raimi continued, “As we were shooting, this fella [from the farmhouse that took in the little girl] was looking for the [now old] woman, saying that because there was a thunderstorm the night before, he was looking for this woman, because it was possible that she had returned to the cabin ... As far as we know, they never found [her.]”
8. The most difficult moments during The Evil Dead shoot were stopping for months at a time to raise money.
According to Sam Raimi, the most difficult part of production wasn't the physical toll it took on the crew, but that they'd have to stop filming for months at a time to raise more money. “We’d reach stretches where we’d run out of money and have to stop whatever we were doing and put on our suits and get our briefcases and cut our hair short and shave ... and go around knocking on doors asking for more money," Raimi recalled. On initially raising money for the film, Raimi told the Incredibly Strange Film Show, “Tapert, Bruce Campbell, and myself ... all dropped out of school. Then we worked as waiters, bus boys, cab drivers. I was 18, Bruce was 19, and Robert was 22.” Added Campbell: “We’d sit down and pretend we were businessmen. We thought it was part of the process.”
In an episode of Dinner for Five, Campbell note another lucrative source of cash: dentists. “We had one guy give us money because he didn’t go to Vegas that year. He says ‘I usually take two grand and blow it in Vegas. Well, here’s my Vegas money.’ So he sends me 17 times his money. We were pretty happy about that.”
9. Sam Raimi regrets the infamous The Evil Dead scene where a teen girl is assaulted in—and by—the woods.
The initial release of the film was met with plenty of backlash worldwide, including being banned in Finland, Germany, Ireland, and Iceland for its extreme violence. Beyond the excessive blood, the scene in which Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) is assaulted by a tree caused an uproar among viewers and critics, and almost got the film banned from being released on home video. To this day, even Raimi regrets that scene. “It was unnecessarily gratuitous and a little too brutal,” Raimi tells the Incredibly Strange Film Show. “My goal was not to offend people ... My judgement was a little wrong at that time.”
10. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell started a rumor about an on-set injury on The Evil Dead as a joke.
Just to see who’d believe it, Campbell and Raimi spread a rumor that Campbell broke his jaw when Raimi accidentally slammed his camera into Campbell’s face while filming one of the final shots. Campbell put this rumor to rest at Dallas Comic Con, saying: “The lie that we put out was that the final shot [where] this evil entity comes racing through the cabin and crashes into my face ... The big lie is that... [Raimi] rode a motorcycle through all the doors and he just had to hit me ... I was willing to do it as long as we got [the shot], took it for the team ... But no, no broken jaw.”
This story has been updated for 2020.