Thursday, August 18, 2011

Part 40: EVIL DEAD II - The First Truly Defining Job

This is a difficult post.  So much has been said about the making of EVIL DEAD II that I'm afraid that this will all seem redundant.  On the other hand, history IS history and I was fortunate enough to participate in one of the greatest cult movies ever made.

After STAR TREK IV wrapped I found myself back in our little apartment in Eagle Rock, CA unemployed for what seemed like a day or two.  Mark Shostrom called me to tell me that he had just landed the sequel to Sam Raimi's incredible midnight movie classic THE EVIL DEAD.  I had seen THE EVIL DEAD but not in the theater.  Oh no.  I watched the film on video in a dark room, by myself in the middle of the night.  It was so unique, frightening, funny, weird, and wonderful that by the time it was over I wasn't sure how I felt about it other than I loved it.  I had also seen CRIMEWAVE (The XYZ Murders) and loved it! So the opportunity to work on EVIL DEAD II would be a career high, after two previous career highs.  I seemed to be on a wave and was so happy and fortunate to be invited to participate.

Mark told me that he had also hired Howard Berger and a friend of his, a sculptor from Pittsburgh that he and Greg Nicotero had worked with on DAY OF THE DEAD.  This was Mike Trcic.  Greg had already worked for Mark as his coordinator and would be returning as well as Aaron Sims, who Mark had asked to do a few designs. Because of the nature of the effects in the film, Mark said his plan was to parcel it out amongst the artists and have each artist take care of one of the major characters in the show.  He would be handling the "Henrietta" chores.  It was to be be the largest, most ambitious possession character in the show.  Howard would handle all of the "Ash" possession make ups on Bruce Campbell.  The "Linda" corpse effects would be sculpted by Mike Trcic.  Aaron Sims would work on Ash's "Evil Hand" as well as Henrietta's "Pee Wee Neck" as Mark referred to it.  That left the character of "Evil Ed" in my hands.

Mark asked if I was interested in doing some drawings.  The only note I got was that Ed was going to have an over-sized mouth.  Hmmmmmm.  I got to thinking.  The best over-sized mouth make up I had seen was the one that Steve Johnson had done for the character of Amy in FRIGHT NIGHT.  In fact, I LOVED that make up.  But what could I do to sort of take it to the next level?  I thought back to my Halloween costume the previous year.  Remember?  This one:

For all intents and purposes, this was the prototype for my Evil Ed make up.
My goal was to do a practical big mouth but somehow hide the fact that beneath the over-sized, foam latex mouth, there was a regular sized human mouth beneath it.  That's when I came up with the lamprey multiple rows of teeth idea.  This did two things (that you can barely make out in the photo above):  It successfully hid the actor's mouth and it allowed the shortening of the nose length to really exaggerate the size of the mouth.  If you look closely at the photo, you care barely see the indication of the shortened nose.  Armed with this experience an inspiration, I drew this:

My design for Evil Ed.  White prismacolor on black paper.
Of course this was just a conceptual piece.  Not having access to who was actually playing Ed nor the limitations of his transformation, I tapped into something that had scared the hell out of me when I was a kid - the cover of one of my brother's books, "Tales To Tremble By".  Here, take a look at the cover and you can see my inspiration:

I can't remember a single thing about this book, except its haunting cover.
I showed the first piece to Mark and he responded positively to it and asked me to draw a couple of more sketches, one of "Henrietta" and the second, a variation on Evil Ed that showed a bit more than just his face.  I drew two color pencil sketches that were ultimately never used.  Besides, I would have a lot of work to do for Ed anyway.

After we all met in the shop, it was evident that we would all have to establish our working areas because there were so many artists and so many pieces to build in the show.  Within a few days, actors began arriving for life casts.  The first up was Ted Raimi, Sam's little brother whom many of you might recognize from his later efforts like SEAQUEST and the SPIDERMAN series.  Ted arrived first because he was going to go into the suit to portray the possessed Henrietta. As Sam Raimi put it - He could torture his brother on camera with no fear of repercussion.

We life cast Rick Francis, who would portray Evil Ed, Denise Bixler, Linda, Bruce Campbell, Ash, and finally Kassie Wesley, who played Bobbie Jo.  I can't remember why it happened, but we realized that we needed a pair of leg casts for Bobbie Jo after Kassie's casting session had been completed. Calling her back would have been a problem, so we called in my girlfriend (at the time), Tracy, to come in and get her legs cast up to her hips!

And the, the sculpt-a-thon began...Howard started on sketches of Bruce Campbell's possession make ups.  Mark started on his Henrietta sculpts, Mike Trcic began work on his Linda headless possessed Linda body, Aaron worked on Ash's possessed hand, and I began Evil Ed's appliances.

How often do you see video of a photo being taken or vice versa?

I can't remember how many weeks it had been before Bob Kurtzman and Dave Kindlon returned from Italy and the shooting of FROM BEYOND.  Bob came back to the shop to help out Mark with the hand and feet sculptures of Henrietta.  Dave was "farmed out" a few jobs, but more on that later.

Sam came by early on to see Howard's sketches and check on our progress...

Finally, it is revealed.  My "true" inspiration for Evil Ed:

After Mark had finished the Henrietta suit, Don Pennington (SPLASH, COCOON, THE ABYSS) was hired (I have NO idea who contacted him or how we got in touch with him or him with us) to make the fiberglass mold on the huge body.  Again, I'm not sure why Steve Patino was not hired; perhaps he was too busy at the time.  I'm not sure but he might have been building stuff for John Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS around that time.

So Don came in and did something that I've never seen someone before or since do when prepping the clay for molding in fiberglass: He had Mark buy two cases of Krylon Crystal Clear acrylic spray and then sprayed all 12 cans on the sculpture allowing each coat to dry completely before going on to the next layer.  I recall that it took him the better part of a day just to do that.  Don Pennington knows his craft where it comes to fiberglass!  The mold he made was outstanding.  I wonder what Mark did with it when he closed that shop location in South Pasadena???

No, I didn't ACTUALLY sculpt like this, but wouldn't it have been cool if I had?
 Inevitably it was time for foam running (which, generally Howard, Bob and myself would do first thing in the morning so the molds could get loaded into Mark's oven early.

For Evil Ed, I had sculpted the facial appliance that had broken down into two parts: The face, and the bottom lip.  The pieces needed to be pre-painted so that the multitude of teeth could be glued in prior to the application.  I also fashioned a set of dentures for Rick that not only changed the shape of his pearly whites from their photogenic straight appearance to jagged, sharp teeth and I even included a set that protruded from the roof of his mouth!

Working on the appliance sculpt
See how I was able to shorten the nose by burying Rick's real nose within the upper lip?
The effects lenses (because it had been established in THE EVIL DEAD that once possessed, your eyes turn pure white) were handled by Larry Odien.  Larry, had researched soft effects lens-making techniques and had ventured out making his own lenses.  So Ed would not only wear his facial appliances and teeth, but lenses AND latex finger extensions I had sculpted for him as well.

Ah, the 80's, when we loved finger extensions!
 I had pulled a clay pour out of Rick Francis' head mold and began changing it to match the appliance sculpture with the understanding that it would have an asymmetric expression.  The idea was that Ash was going to chop the top of Ed's head off, revealing a shriveled brain (Mark Shostrom's genius idea) and the piece that hit the ground would appear to have a different expression as the eyebrow moved up and down.  Dave Kinlon mechanized the little eyebrow move via cables.

Rick Francis' clay pour became...
...this sculpture of the Evil Ed puppet head.  This photo appeared in MAD MOVIES, a French publication.  Remember that for later.
I don't recall why, other than sculpture quality, I replaced the clay ears with flexacryl copies from Rick's cast.
 I made a second fiberglass core (thinner than FROM BEYOND!!) cut the foam skin and the fiberglass along the bias that divided the face's expression.  The result was that the remaining face looked shocked where the chunk on the ground looked angry.  I fabricated a brain by putting foam latex into a syringe and "noodled it" around a small cut piece of upholstery foam.  For the webs, Mark gave me some DuPont Elvacite (that plastic that Dick Smith had used on SCANNERS to make fluid-filled bladders) and using a hair drier and a chip brush I created the webs by stretching the Elvacite from the inner head cavity to the withered brain.  The result was quite amusing.

"Chop Top" with his withered brain and Elvacite webs...
Here is the left over piece, mechanized by Dave Kindlon so that the eyebrow moved.
This was in the spring of 1986 and the details of why  a.) either I decided I was not interested in going on location or b.) it WAS decided that I wasn't going on location are fuzzy.  I will say that I was the only crew member that was living with their girlfriend if that means anything.  Honestly, I think it was better that Bob Kurtzman went instead of me.  Bob was (is) a much better make up artist that I ever was (am).  I knew that if he applied Evil Ed, it would be superior and take much less time than if I was there sweating my butt off struggling to blend foam edges down.  And when it came to blending edges, Bob was amazing!

Okay, so not technically "first person" but designing and sculpting this make up has been one of the defining pieces in my career.
So much was going on in that little shop in South Pasadena, that I need to break some things out that when I recall them, it impresses me.  The first is that Mark Shostrom, who landed the job, sculpted that giant Henrietta body and head on his own in oil clay (Roma plastilina for the body, white oil clay for the head).  Nowadays that sculpt would be done in less-expensive water clay and would get "banged out" in a few days.  Not so with Mark Shostrom.  That sculpture meant the world to him; he took his time and refined the hell out of it and I think it shows.  The Henrietta demon may not resemble Lou Hancock, the actress who plays the human character Henrietta, however the result is now an icon of horror thanks also to Ted Raimi's fantastic performance.

I would also like to recognize Aaron Sims, who at the time was still relatively new to the business, however, Mark let Aaron spread his wings and sculpt several important items.  Ash cutting his own possessed hand off with a chainsaw is still, to this day, one of the defining moments of EVIL DEAD II.  Aaron's illustrations and sculptures set a foundation for what he has managed to accomplish for himself today as one of the preeminent creature designers and production designers working in contemporary Hollywood.  Good show!

A few weeks before everyone left for North Carolina, Sam Raimi and Rob Tappert came to the shop for a marathon make up test day.  Howard made up Lou and Bruce, Bob and I made up Rick Francis.  The only thing missing that day were lenses, but in any case, I was able to see that my "big mouth" theory was going to work well.

Howard doing an out of the kit possession make up on Lou Hancock
Howard applying an Ash possession make up to Bruce Campbell.
Bob applied the camera-left side of the test make up...
I applied the camera-right side, although technically I'm taking the make up off in this photo.
Here's how Rick looked in the shop from the side.  Look how BIG that mouth looks!
See? Teeth on the roof of his mouth!
 Satisfied with what they had seen, Sam and Robert Tappert left the shop and we all were elated.  Everything looked awesome however, there was one thing Sam requested that wouldn't get made until reshoots later that year: An over-sized Bruce Campbell head that would have a "hollow eye" that could be filled and drained with white fluid to simulate the eye metamorphosis during possession.  Bob built that after they had all returned from location.

This Bruce Campbell head went to North Carolina for "Fake Shemping" - a Sam Raimi term meaning to stand-in for an actor who is about to be physically abused on screen.
 One the last days before we shipped everything, we tested the Evil Ed puppet to see how effective it would be. For the most part I was happy.  Unfortunately my biggest regret was that the hair work on the puppet didn't match Rick Francis as closely as it should have.  I do remember that the heads were farmed out at the last minute to be punched by someone off-site and when they returned, we barely had the time to shoot some video tests and photos before they were packed up and shipped away.

The Evil Ed puppet prior to shipping and filming.
Bob tried the puppet on to get a feel for it when he operated it on set.
 This is where the First Person of this Monster blog stops.  We packed everything and it shipped to North Carolina.  At the time, Bob, Howard, and Greg all lived in a rented house that we called the "home of wayward make up artists."  As they packed their stuff to go to location, I stopped by and said my good-byes.  I felt a bit like Chuck Yaeger watching the other test pilots go off to become astronauts.  And in a way it was.

What those guys experienced in North Carolina really defined THEIR careers in many, many ways.  It established long-lasting relationships between them all and Rob Tappert and Sam Raimi.  During the shoot, they sent me a video tape to share their experiences, but since I wasn't actually there, you'll have to watch a DVD or Blu Ray of the film's extras to get a sense of everything they went through.  

No one could have predicted what a cult sensation EVIL DEAD II would become.  But it would be some time before the film opened, and I was to continue working on the show, but at another location.


  1. I love these postings. This one is especially good. This movie is special to me.

  2. Thanks for posting all of this! I love seeing how this was done.

  3. My pleasure, folks! More about EVIL DEAD II, but unfortunately, no new photos. Then we're on to AMAZING STORIES, MONSTER SQUAD, and PREDATOR, so check back soon!

  4. Hi Shannon, Rob from the Evil Dead Trilogy fansite Book Of The Dead ( ) here! Someone sent me a link to this page and I thought I'd get in contact with you. I recently added an interview with Mark Shostrom about a month ago, but reading through this page I think there is still some aspects that I haven't covered. Would you be interested in being interviewed? Even if this page's text is the bulk of the interview, and it just gets fleshed out a little to make it into an interview. You can contact me via the email link on my site if you're up for it? Rob :)

  5. Shannon, this is so awesome that you shared this with us! Thank you! Though I am rather confused. I believe Richard Domeier played the role of Ed, but you refer to him as Rick Francis here. Am I missing something?

  6. Deadite Slayer! Nothing too strange. Rick changed his name - especially when he ended up on QVC! I could call him by his changed name, but when I was dumping alginate on his head - It was Francis! Thanks for reading!

  7. Hi Shannon,loved reading this post! I am a student make-up artist about to finish college in Scotland. I am such a long way from hollywood,but feeling very inspired!