Yesterday I chatted with KNB makeup-effects king Greg Nicotero about Lionsgate's new Evil Dead II blu-ray, which thankfully boasts a transfer superior to the film's much criticized DNR-laden high-def debut from Anchor Bay. The highlight of the disc, however, may be Nicotero's "home movies" – behind-the-scenes video footage of the film's making that Nicotero recorded on this, his third feature film after Day of the Dead and Invasion U.S.A. After the jump, whet your appetite for Evil Dead II's new release by reading Nicotero's thoughts on the film and the bonus feature.
Thanks for giving us some time today. With your increased responsibilities on The Walking Dead, your schedule must be pretty crazy.
I literally wrapped Friday morning. So I've been back in Los Angeles for four days. So if I fall asleep, just wake me up. I think there needs to be an electric shock in my chair in case I nod off because I'm so freakin' exhausted. But the beauty of it is I have my Walking Dead action figure toy with me from season 1. I can play with that while we're talking. [Laughs.]
As long as it keeps you awake [laughs]… Evil Dead II is a landmark film, but it's very different from your first movie, Day of the Dead. Did you discuss those differences when you signed on? There's humor in Romero's movies, but Raimi was more tongue-in-cheek.
But we didn't know that then. That's what's interesting about Evil Dead II. The only exposure we had to Sam's work was Evil Dead I. We didn't really have a lot of exposure to his unique sense of humor until after Evil Dead II. The interesting thing was, starting with Savini, and going through with Day of the Dead, I remember being on set for Day of the Dead and talking about sequels and what movies we would love to work on, and we talked about working on Evil Dead II. Because we working on the sequel to Dawn of the Dead, we just said, "Oh man, wouldn't it be cool?" So the fact that Howard [Berger] and I were able to parlay things into actually having any opportunity to work on the project.
But one of the things that I have to give Tom Savini a tremendous amount of credit for was – number one, his ingenuity in terms of how he designed makeup effects and how he went about things. Because when I got hired on Day of the Dead I sort of created this makeup effects coordinator job. I don't think that job existed before. So I got hired on Day of the Dead and I said, "I want to be Tom's assistant." Then the next thing I knew I was hiring a crew and going through resumes, listing materials, breaking down the script, doing shooting schedules, all that kind of stuff. That was my first gig, so going from that to moving to Los Angeles and working, it was the same thing – I sort of managed and ran the business end of our company.
The thing I gotta give Tom a tremendous amount of credit for is he always documented everything – he always videotaped it, he always photographed it. A lot of that came from Dick Smith. Smith was a big proponent for testing make-ups and shooting tests, and shooting it all on 16mm or Super 8 or whatever he shot them on as a learning tool. So I ended up being the guy who documented everything on Day of the Dead; and when I moved to Los Angeles I had a video camera with me, and I filmed everything. I have thousands of hours of footage of stuff that we shot. So when we did Evil Dead II, there was no Entertainment Tonight or the internet or any of that shit, I was just another guy on set. I had my video camera with me and I just assumed that that's what everybody did. I had no idea.
A lot of that documentation – your home movies – is appearing now for the first time on the blu-ray. Can you talk a little about that – about how you selected the footage you wanted to include?
Anchor Bay had used some footage. They had cut together a twenty-minute piece that was on an earlier DVD release. But the thing is that I shot this stuff really for fun, and just for my personal library. They were never made available commercially before. At conventions I always had fans come up and say, "Man, I'd love to see all that stuff and get copies." But it was something that I had always just shot for myself. So when the opportunity came up… With horror fans, I know people who will drive to Pittsburgh to go to the Monroeville Mall; I know people who will go to Martha's Vineyard to see where Jaws was shot. Horror fans are so dedicated and so into the genre they just want an opportunity to relive a piece of a film they love so much. So the fact that I literally so thoroughly and extensively covered the making of Evil Dead II, from my first day of work going from shop in Pasadena all the way to the final days of shooting, really gives people a unique opportunity to put themselves in that place of being a crew member on Evil Dead II and watching that film be made.
The people that love that film, that found inspiration in that film, you could never count how many people. I had Robert Rodriguez come by my house when we were shooting The Faculty, and he saw the tapes on my shelf and he said, "Oh, you worked on Evil Dead II?" I'm like, "Yeah." He said, "Well, what is all that?" I said, "Oh, I shot a bunch of behind the scenes stuff. It's like six hours." He's like, "Oh my God I want to see it!" We watched all six hours that night. People love that movie. It was such a great springboard for Sam Raimi. It was a great springboard for KNB, because Howard and Bob and I all decided at that point that we wanted to start our own company. But Sam had such a unique vision and such a unique imagination. I hadn't seen Crimewave when we had done Evil Dead II, so I was going off of Evil Dead and just decided that it was going to be really gut-wrenching and really gore and really horrific. But Sam brought such a unique sense of humor to it, and such a unique vision. I of course later learned that he was a gigantic fan of The Three Stooges; and even now, watching Three Stooges episodes, I can see stuff and go, "Oh my God, it's totally Evil Dead II." He really took advantage of that, and as Sam's directorial wings spread more and more, he was much more comfortable. You watch Army of Darkness and you can see the Ray Harryhausen influences, and you can see that sort of epic adventure scale influences that he had in it. And Evil Dead II is where it all started.
For you, was Evil Dead II a way to show the studios the range you were capable of? That you could work on a project like Day of the Dead but also do something with humor like Evil Dead II?
I think at that time studios regarded those movies as very similar. Those two movies were kind of looked at as the same. Nobody really differentiated Day of the Dead and Evil Dead II, because they were both unrated and both perceived as ultraviolent and ultra gory, so it wasn't necessarily an opportunity to creatively do things a little differently; I don't think. At that point in my career I was so young that I didn't really think about it that way, I just thought about the fact that we had a bunch of characters in prosthetics. And the way that Mark [Shostrom] broke everything down was, Howard Berger handled all of Bruce Campbell's makeups and Bob Kurtzman handled Denise Bixler's makeup, possessed Ash, possessed Linda. Henrietta was pretty much sculpted and then Bob Kurtzman and Mark applied all that stuff and I put all the lenses in everybody. We had other guys here and there, but that was kind of the way that it broke down. There was only the four of us there. Actually five – there was one other guy who was there: Mike Trcic, who worked on the visual effects. But there was never a conscious, "Oh, we're gonna do things differently than Day of the Dead and creatively be able to spread our wings." Ironically that came much later. Because when we started KNB people sort of looked at us as "Oh, you guys just do a bunch of gory gags." In the late '80s, it was unfortunate but makeup effects in horror movies was kind of low-brow. People didn't really flock the theaters to see those movies. Even though nowadays they do, back then they didn't. It wasn't until we started KNB that all of the sudden we had Gross Anatomy and Dances with Wolves where we were doing realistic cadavers and realistic animal replicas, that people went, "Wait a second, you mean you guys can do gory stuff and fake animals and do this and do that?" Then they sort of realized that the caliber of artists that we had working with us could do anything."