1979… Memories from the set of THE EVIL DEAD

So, after editing and listening to our podcast episode about The Evil Dead I realized there were some things that I had left out – things I wanted to mention or talk about. (And this after recording for over two hours–Ha!). So, I thought I’d do a follow-up blog with the rest of my notes.

As the podcast said, I was a Fake Shemp on the shoot – working with Sam, Rob, and Bruce, along with my friend Wynn Thompson (notice the spelling) and my girlfriend Barbara. We worked for the last month of shooting not expecting anything other than the opportunity to work on a movie. We were surprised as anyone when we actually saw our names in the credits! (Although, Wynn’s was misspelled. His actual name is Wyndell Thompson, but he is credited as Wendall Thomas).

This podcast was only the second time I’ve ever discussed working on the film or my memories of such – aside from one interview I did for Matthew Powell and L.J. Landrum for a documentary they were shooting called Evil Dead Uproot. (Check out the project on Facebook at Evil Dead Uproot and Luminous Midnight Films.) It was interesting to think back and see what I remembered and what an impact those few weeks had on my life.

Here are some brief notes that I wanted to add to the podcast:

  1. The path going to the cabin site was really scary. Due to the cabin placement on the property and Sam’s penchant for filming erratically, we always parked our cars on the main road a good half mile from the site and walked down the path. Many times this was at night. The path was overhung with trees, bordered on one side by a fence and a steep incline going down and on the other by an even steeper incline up. Many nights Wynn and I trudged up and down the path with flashlights to get to the cabin. And it was spooky! Woods, night, flashlights, cold, working on a film with demons – you get the picture. We spooked ourselves more than once.
  2. Sam was not a fan of master shots. He had the film so locked in his head that we would dive right into shooting without a master. This, I have read, caused a lot of trouble in editing.
  3. Tim mentions Bob Dorian in the podcast. That was the voice Sam got for Professor Knowsby. Bob is mostly known for American Movie Classics. He actually narrated The Evil Dead three years before starting AMC.

And there is one major story about the cabin that I did not share on the podcast. Wynn, myself, our friends – Dan, Steve, and others actually had a history with the cabin. For the two Halloweens prior to that November in 1979 we had used the cabin as a setting for Halloween pranks. The first year – we sent out mysterious notes to our “guests” and invited them to a local cemetery on Halloween night around 8:00 pm. After they arrived a van drove up with hooded figures. Without words, they ushered everyone into the van and drove, off. The group had NO idea where they were going. When the van stopped, they got out to see the cabin and torchlight awaiting them. They were ushered forward and seated on blankets. Then Dan and I emerged and read horror stories for a while. After that, we went back to a friends house and partied. Everyone was talking about how spooky the place was, how scary it was to be taken somewhere unknown and the real fear they all had of being shot at by some angry farmer.

The following Halloween we decided to up the ante. We knew we couldn’t just do the same thing. So we decided we would use their own fears against them. Again, invitations were sent out. This time they had a strange H.P. Lovecraft-inspired art piece on the cover. The envelopes were on blood-red paper. The copy was inviting them to “a summoning” in the moonlight. Again they were invited to meet at a cemetery and again silently transported to the cabin. We knew they would start to relax seeing the same set up as the previous Halloween. But this year proved to be different. After they sat, strange, robed figures came out bearing torches. They were chanting eerily. Dan and I came out as “priests” and began an initiation ceremony. We sliced arms and bled into a chalice which was then passed around with what tasted like blood and everyone had to sip. (It took weeks of experimenting to get the right recipe for something metallic and warm with a thick consistency.) We would sprinkle things into a central fire pit that would sparkle and smoke. Everything building up to some strange summoning ritual. Suddenly a gunshot rang out. Dan went down. A second shot and I was lying on the ground. People were scampering and screaming and not knowing what to do as a figure moved through the woods toward them. People could barely make out a figure against the moonlight with a hat and a rifle (obviously the farmer that owned the land). And then he turned on a flashlight and said something pithy like “I always hate them demon rituals” – revealing himself to be Wynn. We all got up and talked about fear. It led to some awesome conversations.

So, ironically the cabin had been used for “evil” and to scare people before Sam, Rob or Bruce ever came down and discovered it.

And almost always, when people mention Evil Dead, they talk about Sam, Rob, and Bruce. But the movie would never have been made without the others that helped, many of whom I had the pleasure to work with. David Goodman (Goody). Tim Phillo. Josh Becker. Tom Sullivan. And Bart Pierce. These guys came into a situation that called for them to do much more than go above and beyond. They had to be creative, frugal, brilliant and patient in some very adverse conditions. Their work shows in the film just as much as Sam’s, Bruce’s and Rob’s.

I mentioned the impact the filming of The Evil Dead had on my life. It has been profound, although not lucrative in any way. Sadly, I did not keep in touch with Sam, Bruce, and Rob, save for a few letters in the first few years. Ironic, since they went on to be filmmakers and that was exactly what I had wanted to do since I was 10 years old. Had social media or even email existed at that time – who knows – I might have lived that dream. But I am a horrible correspondent and never pursued it. But what I learned working with them helped me in my career both in Theatre and in theme park work – especially for haunts such and Knotts Scary Farm and King’s Dominion Fear Fest. The process of filming helped me in the shorts I created as well as an appreciation for horror films in general. But overall I took away a sense that passion and determination can lead to great things. That any entertainment is a collaborative process often born in tears, pain and (sometimes) blood. And that sharing a vision is one of the most satisfying things in the world.

The Evil Dead is not the greatest horror movie ever made. But its legacy is lasting, the scares are real and it’s one of the best “Jaycee Haunted House” movies ever!

In closing, I thought it might be nice to include some photos. (None of these were taken by me – no camera phones (or even cameras) on the set for me at this time.) Most of these are from websites scattered about. Enjoy.


Do you like our show? Want more cool stuff? Help us continue…

Reach out to us…