THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

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The Evil Dead title

THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

Bruce Campbell / Ellen Sandweiss / Richard DeManincor / Betsy Baker / Theresa Tilly / Ted Raimi  /  Special Effects  Sam Raimi  /  Art Dept.  Steve Frankel  /  Make-up  Tom Sullivan  /  Original music  Joseph LoDuca  /  Cinematography  Tim Philo  /  Editing  Edna Ruth Paul  / Produced by Bruce Campbell / Written & Directed by Sam Raimi

The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror

The Evil Dead is set to return in a glossy, big budget remake, but already the fans of the original ‘experience in grueling terror’, are shifting uncomfortably in their prospective cinema seats. Sam Raimi may have come under some joking stick from his fan purists for that trilogy of Spiderman popcorn movies, and the forthcoming shiny-mainstream ‘Oz, the Great and Powerful‘.. but allowing the desecration of his sacred Evil Dead series with a remake injected with oodles of cash, just seems downright wrong on all levels. The Raimi darkly comic style has indeed lent itself very well to projects beyond the Evil Dead of course, most notably with the Sharon Stone western ‘The Quick and the Dead‘ in 1995, ‘The Gift‘ with it’s reluctant Psychic Cate Blanchett, and most recently with the wonderfully creepy ‘Drag me to Hell‘ (with a deliciously quirky performance from Alison Lohman).. but, nothing can quite top the genius originality of all three original Evil Dead films.

 

Arrival at the Cabin

Don't go down into the Cellar..

The Evil Dead achieves that clever reinterpretation of early cinema standards that characterises avant guard filmmaking so well. Taking us on a Phantom train ride, that early Silents such as the Lumière brothers film L’Arrivée d’un Train (1896) shocked audiences with, and transposing the scene to a loose scrub track through a dense woodland, arriving at what seems to be an end of the line eerie cabin final destination. The effect is amplified by a preamble trip across a rickety bridge track that threatens collapse, and establishes in our minds that this is indeed a one way trip.

The original Phantom Rides ran in two directions –  the first, from the perspective of the train itself, was achieved by strapping a camera to the front of the train, becoming as it were, the eyes of the rocketing beast. The reverse of the Phantom Ride was the illusion of collision, and was achieved by placing the camera at an angle on a train platform, filming directly into the oncoming behemoth. This last effect caused such shock to early film audiences, that many filmgoers leapt from their seats to avoid the oncoming metal monster. Raimi uses both of these effects in the Evil Dead films, and often back to back, to flip and distort vision.

Travelling on the ‘phantom ride’ in ‘Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)

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Camera-run from Evil Dead II

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Meeting the ‘phantom ride’ in L’Arrivée d’un Train (1896)

Released the same year, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining also made use of Phantom Rides, but famously developed the now ubiquitous Steady Cam to allow cameramen to run and chase an actor or an actor’s perspective with grace and relative ease. With it’s comparatively minuscule budget, The Evil Dead had to make use of camera’s strapped to planks of wood, and cameramen who were willing to risk life and limb for art. Both films may have used similar techniques, but the overall effects were polar opposites in terms of mood and more obviously in perspective. Whereas Kubrick achieved a balletic smoothness to his gliding camera through The Overlook Hotel and it’s snowbound maze, Raimi’s looser and haphazard camera churns and warps vision, with the sickening buoyancy of a drug trip on a full stomach. 

Evil Dead is pretty much exclusively shot in the third person, from the perspective of  either it’s characters or from without, via some unseen embodiment of the dark woods. Vision plows forwards, backwards, or is knocked cockeyed into Dutch angles, transporting us into a bold melding of German Expressionism (tones of ‘The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari’ abound), and dizzying 60’s Batman style fight scenes.. like Hitchcock on acid. Raimi references other horror films of the 1970’s, such as ‘The Exorcist’, and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, but unlike Tarantino, he reinterprets and explores these motifs, rather than as a direct homage. We get the feeling of The Evil Dead as an original setter of a new style, as opposed to the sort of ‘ticking-off list’ of reference points that later horror pieces like ‘Scream’ developed. In this sense, ‘The Evil Dead’ was as influential on the medium as ‘Psycho’,  ‘Les Diaboliques’ and ‘Night of the Living Dead’.

Lazy Mary dutch angle

Automatic Drawing

Sam Raimi described the shooting process of Evil Dead as ‘twelve weeks of mirthless exercise in agony..’, a feeling echoed by it’s shell-shocked cast trapped on-location (Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker & Theresa Tilly).  Indeed, despite the film’s success, only Bruce Campbell reprising his role for parts II and III, with the actress Betsy Baker though key to the plot, having to morph into Denise Bixler and then Bridget Fonda as the trilogy advances. This change though works particularly well, since the whole feel of the Evil Dead trilogy is one of an almost dreamlike reinterpretation with each subsequent sequel. Before part one was set into production, Raimi had already attempted a dry-run short three years earlier, entitled ‘Within the Woods’, with Bruce Campbell and Ellen Sandweiss already on-board (good luck finding a decent copy to watch, by the way.. the only version I could track down online looked like it had been dragged through a hedge backwards), and exists as a fascinating prototype in embryonic form.

Raimi’s use of Shemp’s during all three films to make up for low budget and filming difficulties has become the stuff of legend and self parody, using not only himself, but also his brother Ted Raimi to double for the actors left, right and centre. A fake Shemp, for those not in the know, is when someone appears as a replacement for a missing actor during filming, and can be disguised by either not appearing fully in frame, or by standing with back to camera. The term ‘Shemp’ itself derives from Shemp Howard, of The Three Stooges, who having unfortunately died midway through filming, the Stooges decided to use Joe Palma (Shemp’s stand-in) along with old unused footage to create the illusion that Shemp was still around for the remaining contracted films in production. Each of the Evil Dead films supplies a long list of Shemps in their closing credits, and include numerous appearances by Raimi himself.

Ellen Sandweiss

Unwell

The Evil Dead joined the fraternity of hip, dangerous films that carried the infamous X -Certificate.  As critic William Rotsler so succinctly put it – “The XXX-rating means hard-core, the XX-rating is for simulation, and an X-rating is for comparatively cool films.” For while it is true that Evil Dead became uncomfortable bedfellow with such nasties as ‘I Spit on your Grave’, and ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, it also rubbed shoulders with other heavy weight creative forces, such as ‘Fritz the Cat’, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘Last Tango in Paris’, and the iconic ‘Midnight Cowboy’. The later years of the X-Certificate found the more dubious filmmakers applying the X to their films themselves, in hopes of gaining artificial notoriety. Ultimately the large number of seedy films carrying the X-Certificate began to cause some cinemas to avoid X films altogether, on the assumption that X just stood for Sex in the minds of patrons.. so by the time Evil Dead II was completed, Raimi decided, along with others to release their films unrated, dropping the X, and instead including a warning banner upfront – ‘Contains content for Adults Only’. By the early 90’s the X Certificate was put aside altogether, and replaced with a no-nonsense NC-17 rating in America, and 18 Certificate in Britain.

Recording, precursor to found footage Horror films

Bruce Campbell

 The enduring appeal of the ‘Dead’ films owes much to it’s highly inventive, offbeat humour, and it’s on the spot creativity. A joy and passion which can rarely be replicated on a big budget. The pleasures of stop-frame animation for example, an integral part of the final scenes of the 1st film, continued to appear in the subsequent sequels,  so as to maintain a firm link to the creative magic of independent, low budget filmmaking, despite the increased budgets of those installments. Raimi struck gold with his Evil Dead series, and so too did it’s charismatic star, Bruce Campbell, who went on to become a highly successful cult personality in his own right, appearing in numerous roles and guest-spots in the years that followed, including an iconic run on cult Tv series ‘The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.’ (well worth seeking out, though perhaps merely as an oddity in Tv land).

Something else I should mention.. that X-Cerificate still weaves it’s mystical power, and manages to scare off many a prospective viewer, who doubtless fear nightmares and revulsion.. which is a shame, since The Evil Dead is as fresh and original now as it’s ever been. Yes, there’s many a freaky, disturbing image to contend with, but on each occasion you experience a chill, you find a counterbalancing grin on your chops. ‘Evil Dead II: Dead before Dawn’, will have you laughing out loud, and by the time you reach the end of  ‘Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness’, you’ll be pining for more, like a pathetic, Horror-sick puppy dog. As for those who continue to avoid the original, and instead get sucked into watching the remake instead? Well.. perhaps one of those nice, safe Twilight films will better suit you’s. 

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Within the Woods (1978)

The Evil Dead(1981/2)

The Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)

The Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness (1992)

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STILLS & POSTER ART

The Evil Dead - Promo shoot 1981 (Lobby)

  The Evil Dead - Promo shoot 1981 ~ The Evil Dead - Promo shoot 1981 (ii) -

The Evil Dead - Promo shoot 1981 (iii)   The Evil Dead - Promo shoot 1981 (iv)

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The Doll (1919)

die-puppe-11

THE DOLL / DIE PUPPE (1919)

Josefine Dora / Victor Janson / Marga Köhler / Ossi Oswalda / Story  E.T.A. Hoffmann / Art Dir.  Kurt Richter / Cinematog.  Theodor Sparkuhl & Kurt Waschneck / Dir.  Ernst Lubitsch

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‘Produced in Berlin in 1919, Ernst Lubitsch’s THE DOLL (Die Puppe) is a charming romantic fantasy that shows the director already in full command of the now-legendary “Lubitsch touch.” Presaging such playful sex comedies as Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living, THE DOLL follows the misadventures of an effete young man who must get married in order to inherit a fortune. He opts to purchase a remarkably lifelike doll and marry it instead, not realizing that the doll is actually the puppet-maker’s flesh-and-blood daughter, in disguise.’

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Lubitsch interview

Louella Parsons (1st Jan, 1922)
NEW YORK TELEGRAPH

 

     The eyes of the American film industry have been focused on Ernst
Lubitsch, the young German director, who more than any other foreign maker of
pictures has established himself as a man of international reputation.  From
the moment Mr. Lubitsch stepped off the American steamship from Bremen he has
been followed by newspaper reporters and film men, who have lingered to hear
from his own lips the question of his success.
Unless they speak German or have an interpreter, they will fare very
badly, because Mr. Lubitsch speaks no English.  His German is spun off so
quickly, the German one learned at school is absolutely of no use, except to
catch an occasional phrase.
I met Mr. Lubitsch in the offices of the United Plays.  Offices that
looked more as if they might have belonged to the suite of a grand duchess or
a member of the reigning family.  Whoever thought to find a grand piano with
a cerise-colored drape, with curtains and heavy carpets to match, marble
statuary, pictures and other visible semblance of elegance on Broadway?
I rubbed my eyes to see if I had not suddenly stepped into an Arabian Nights
chapter instead of in a business office.  But no, apparently business is
transacted in these luxurious offices.
Then Mr. Lubitsch came and I forgot the background in my interest in the
young German, who is about 29 years old and has a smile that is infectious.
He was dressed in a light-colored suit, apparently ready-made, and only a
distant cousin to the producer that comes from our Fifth avenue tailors, but
his clothes were only incidental.
He started speaking German at a rate of forty miles a moment, asking me
long questions, and punctuating each remark with a flourish of his arms.
“Please translate,” I asked Mr. Blumenthal.  “He is speaking so fast I
cannot catch a word he is saying.”
And so Ben Blumenthal stepped into the breach and followed Mr. Lubitsch
with a literal translation.
I did manage to understand before Mr. Blumenthal started his
interpretation that Mr. Lubitsch believes our American films are “sehr gut.”
“Take ‘Forbidden Fruit’ as an example, the little things (Mr. Lubitsch
meant the details) are amazing.  I noticed a girl troubled over the proper
fork to use.  She stopped short at her fish fork and waited for her hostess
to proceed so she would make no mistake.  Such care for the minor things is
wonderful and is typical of the excellence of American direction.”
Mr. Lubitsch spoke of “Broken Blossoms” as being very popular in
Germany.  “It is so beautiful,” he said, “so artistic.  Mr. Griffith is a
wonderful director to be able to put such beauty on the screen.”
Through Mr. Blumenthal’s apt interpretation I gathered that things had
not been so rosy in making “Pharoh’s Wife” as Mr. Lubitsch had expected.  A
little of the spirit of American unrest crept into the studio.  “Pharoh’s
Wife,” which Lubitsch made for Famous Players-Lasky, is an Egyptian story, a
mammoth spectacle in which 25,000 men and women are employed.  A great battle
was in progress when one side of the army suddenly stopped work and refused
to go on with the picture.
“What is the trouble?” demanded Lubitsch.
“More money–money like the Americans get,” was the cry.
This faction had no more been quieted with bigger salaries than the
other side of the army stopped short and staged a little strike of its own.
Both armies quieted, the picture progressed until the entire outfit put their
heads together and with due accord furnished a strike that took the entire
studio force to quiet.
“Pharaoh’s Wife” will not be the cheap picture every one expected.  Its
cost is on a par with any spectacle made in America.  And it seems likely,
now that the Germans have learned not to work for nothing, that pictures made
on Teutonic ground will hereafter rank in price with our American-made
product.
Mr. Lubitsch was taken on a tour of inspection of the American motion
picture theatre.  He saw the Capitol, the Strand, the Rivoli and the Rialto.
“They are very beautiful,” he said.  “Much more pretentious than
anything we have in Berlin.  Our theatres have no such elaborate programs and
are not designed with so much thought and care.  They are but simple
playhouses compared with these theatres.”
In fact Mr. Lubitsch is the sort of young man who is prepared to give
his unqualified endorsement to anything American.  He is very good-natured:
smiles continually.  He has a personality that is both gracious and pleasing.
He says he likes Charlie Chaplin better than any actor he has ever seen and
the last time a Chaplin picture played in Berlin he went three times.  Harold
Lloyd is also a great favorite of Mr. Lubitsch.  He thinks he is one of our
best actors.
Perhaps one reason for his interest in our comedians is the fact he
started in life playing comedy roles.  It was Max Reinhardt who discovered
him and engaged him for his own theatres.  His success was rapid and he
toured Europe with the Reinhardt company.  At the time when Lubitsch had made
a place for himself on the European stage Paul Davidson, owner of numerous
German film undertakings, saw him acting the leading role of the devil in
“The Green Flute.”  Impressed by the young man’s talent, Mr. Davidson talked
films to the young actor, and a contract was signed making young Lubitsch
director and scenario writer, as well as actor of his own company.  His first
undertaking was “Lubitsch Comedies.”  It was not until after that he became
identified with bigger features, but it is as an historical director that he
has become recognized in this country.  It was he who discovered Pola Negri,
who was at that time an unknown cabaret singer.  Her charm and her talent,
combined with his directorial skill, made “Carmen or Gypsy Blood” one of the
best-known pictures in the world market.  Then followed “Passion,”
“Deception,” and “One Arabian Night.”
Mr. Lubitsch was highly amused at the questions asked about the papier-
mache sets, which we have been told are a part of his historical settings.
He laughed merrily and said he had never heard of them.
“Pharaoh’s Wife” took six months to produce, but it took a very short
time to cut and edit.  Mr. Lubitsch does his own cutting and editing and
believes no director should entrust this work to any one else, whether he is
German, American or English.
After a brief visit here he will go West to look over the studios in
California.  He is in favor of our directors visiting Germany and European
directors visiting America for an exchange of ideas.  Although his first
picture was for an American concern and belongs to Famous Players-Lasky, we
understand there are many film offers being made in his direction.  Good
directors are scarce.
He said as I was leaving to make room for several other newspaper folk
who were waiting, “Next time we meet I shall try and learn English.”
He said most of the sentence in good English, which makes me wonder if
he doesn’t know more English than he pretends.  Foreigners are always such
expert linguists.
As for Pola Negri, he says she is everything charming a woman should be,
and it is unnecessary for him to say more because she will visit America
early next year.  This was said in German, with a twinkle in his eye.  In
fact we suspect the young man of having a great sense of humor.  He laughed
so frequently and with such enjoyment.

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Pola Negri in THE WILDCAT / DIE BERGKATZE (1921)