Ask any gore-hound, fan of the paranormal, or demon-loving cinema buffs what the best horror movies of all time are, and you’ll more than likely hear The Evil Dead arise like a Deadite from a lake. Revered now, perhaps, but there was a time its future was in question, and that’s when Stephen King got involved.
Part of the franchise’s charm is its humble beginnings — it’s a testament to the ingenuity of passionate independent filmmaking (and lots of fake blood). Sam Raimi’s 1981 original was reportedly made for $375,000. Not exactly a student film, but a low enough budget that the cast and crew needing to get creative resulted in one of the most successful running amuck productions committed to celluloid.
Despite the relative success of the first zombie movie, Evil Dead 2 was far from a sure thing. And to cross the finish line, it received a surprising boon from the genre’s crown jewel: Stephen King. If he had not lent credibility to the series, we may not have sat gagged and teary-eyed this year watching Evil Dead Rise in cinemas. Should we thank him or punch him?
When The Evil Dead was released in 1981, the film’s marketing heavily deployed a quote from The Shining and IT author, who promoted it as being “the most ferociously original horror film of the year.” And Raimi told IGN that this essential piece of the ad campaign, said by King after a Cannes screening when the film was attempting to lure in a buyer, was a lifeline.
“During one of these marketing screenings at the Cannes film festival, where there were different distributors watching the films trying to make their judgments as to what they’ll buy that year, Stephen King was in the audience, and we heard, ‘Oh, he was really screaming and shouting during the movie.’ And I was the biggest Stephen King fan in the world.”
“[Sales agent] Irvin Shapiro said to me, ‘Ask him for a quote if he liked the movie.’ So I called him… and said, ‘Could you give us a quote, what you honestly thought of the film?’ He said, ‘I won’t do that, but I will write a review. If there’s something in the review that you want to use as a quote, you can.’”
“So he wrote a review for Twilight Zone Magazine. It was very generous of him, and we were able to use the very positive quote that he gave us. Without that, the movie may have been lost, but with Stephen King’s endorsement, we were able to make our first sales.”
In Raimi’s dreams, the story would have ended there, but despite the financial success of The Evil Dead, Raimi still was met with dead ends instead of Deadites when trying to get the sequel made.
Like an angel descending from heaven, King again burrowed his way into the franchise’s lore because his words, which have delighted many in different ways, lent themselves to Raimi’s grimy endeavors once more.
Running into hurdles trying to get financial backing for Evil Dead 2, the zany, more comedic entry in the series, Raimi recalled how “The first one was a little successful, and we thought we could get financing for it. But again, we couldn’t get anyone interested in financing that picture. And then there was a woman… who was going to be one of our assistant directors, and she was helping us prepare pre-production.”
This mysterious unnamed woman (who definitely deserves her flowers) would ultimately be the stepping stone to King’s second intervention in the fate of the franchise. “We finally had to say to her, ‘We don’t have the money. We’re going to have to stop paying you until we can find the money for this thing. We’re broke.’”
“And she said, ‘Okay, well I’m going to take this Stephen King movie [Maximum Overdrive],’” and apparently she did, because the story goes she told King of Evil Dead 2’s real-life curse of pennilessness.
“So Stephen King, I’m told – I’ve never talked to Mr. King about this – but the rumor is that he called [film producer] Dino De Laurentiis and said, ‘Dino, you’ve got to make these guys’ movie, Evil Dead 2.’ So we got a call from Dino De Laurentiis, and he sat us down in his big office and said, ‘Okay, we’re going to make the movie.’ So Stephen King, that’s twice he’s come to my rescue.”
Evil Dead 2 was released in 1987 and is without a doubt one of the most beloved horror movies ever made, lauded for how it leans into camp, improved on the production values of the original, and has basically no story, instead opting for an hour and a half of baked insanity.
Is it too good to be true? Who knows. Maybe it was the mystery assistant director, maybe the news got to King another way, maybe the phone call never happened… we’d open the history books to find out, but we’re concerned about reciting a passage that may welcome uninvited guests.