Blu-ray Interview/Review: Greg Nicotero On 'Evil Dead 2' 25 Years Later, Sam Raimi And 'Walking Dead' Without Frank Darabont
If you don't know of makeup effects master Greg Nicotero, you’ve probably been living under a foam latex rock. As one of the founding members of the legendary effects house KNB Efx Group (Greg’s the K!) along with Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger, Nicotero and company have not only collaborated with a very diverse list of filmmakers (from George Romero to Taylor Hackford) but have earned a slew of accolades including an Academy Award for the 2006 film "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Not to mention that Greg is currently both effects makeup department head and Co-Executive Producer of the hit AMC series 'The Walking Dead,' which recently got a slew of Emmy nominations for his team’s outstanding work. (Bike Girl zombie is pure genius!) A memorable early makeup project from Greg in the form of five-star Sam Raimi flick "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn" is hitting Blu-ray this week in a new special 25th Anniversary Edition and Starpulse got a chance to chat with Nicotero one-on-one about the film some 25 years later, the genius of Sam Raimi and current life on "The Walking Dead" without Frank Darabont. Brushes and prosthetics at the ready, here’s...
I remember previously asking you about the hours of awesome footage you shot behind the scenes for "Evil Dead 2" and if it would ever be available - did the idea to finally release it come from fan demand?
Greg Nicotero: I would have to imagine so. For the guys at Anchor Bay, Lionsgate and Michael Felsher who produced the documentary it was one of those situations where he knew I had the footage. They had called me a couple of times and said they wanted to do a definitive "Evil Dead 2" and talk to everyone that worked on it. So they talked to AD’s, they talked to transportation - they pretty much talked to everybody. One of the things was that there had always been this truncated half hour version and so they said we really want to include more footage and really want to give fans more of an appetite. The thing is I never sold that footage and it was never available at conventions and I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘How do I get a copy of all six hours?!’ It was just one of those things where I filmed it for myself with my camera. I have to give a lot of credit to Tom Savini because Tom had - because of his background - documented everything that he had done during "Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead" and all that kind of stuff. He had footage behind the scenes and photos and everything, so when "Day of the Dead" came up I just thought that was what everybody did. I just assumed you always had a camera on your shoulder. This was before the Internet and before Entertainment Weekly or Inside Edition, so it wasn’t like the footage was gonna get out anywhere. It was just something that I did; I did it on "Day of the Dead," on "Evil Dead 2" and I’ve done it on every KNB movie that’s ever been done. But the thing about "Evil Dead 2" was I such a fan of the original movie that it was like working on "Day of the Dead," where you’re like my God, I’m working on a sequel to a movie that I love – I want to be able to preserve these memories. So we recorded everything.
Another part of the doc that I thought was interesting was the idea that some of the camera crew kind of revolted and got let go early – was this a surprise since you and the rest of the makeup team were there out of sheer love for Sam and the project?
GN: As far as the original DP who shot all the night exterior stuff, I think that there was just a change that came about. But then it went from that to Peter Deming and he came on board when we hit the stage work. What’s funny is I don't really remember a lot, I remember the night exterior stuff and I remember shooting that stuff because we shot it first, but then it was like all of a sudden they were gone and it was a new guy. But we were so involved in what we were doing that we stayed away from all that. I don’t even remember what the reason was for the change honestly.
It looked like and from everyone’s description sounded like everyone working in the makeup department was having a real hoot – was that the only time you remember having that much freedom and fun while making a film?
GN: It’s always like mixing a soufflé – you gotta mix the right people together. And I think because of the tone – and this is something that stands every friggin’ day I’m on a movie – the tone always comes from the top. It always comes from the director. If he’s quiet and he’s not necessarily outgoing then it will be a quiet shoot and everybody will be more subdued. If you have somebody who’s a little more outspoken and a little more outrageous there you go. We’re talking about a guy who was in his mid-twenties, who was just having a good time with it – Sam had a great time making that movie. And going from the budget of "Evil Dead" to a three million dollar movie for "Evil Dead 2," I think it gave him that freedom. Freedom to do the stuff he had wanted to do on "Evil Dead" but didn't have the financial means – he was like a kid in a candy store. But I loved the idea that "Evil Dead 2" was more outrageous and silly and fun and more blood and the eyeball fly ball!
GN: Yeah! We were on set talking about something one day and Sam’s like, ‘The eyeball flies around, flies into her mouth and she chokes.’ And I was like okay! He said, ‘It’s right out of The Three Stooges.’ There was a scene where they were filming a pie fight and they threw a pie in one of the actresses faces and she started to choke on camera – they cut away pretty quick. It was like one of those outrageous things and that’s when I started learning about Sam’s comic sensibility. I hadn’t seen a lot of Sam’s early short films and Super 8 movies and I didn't end up seeing them until much later when Scott Spiegel brought them over. They had made tons of movies as friends; between Bruce and Sam and Rob and Scotty they had shot a bunch of Super 8 movies in Michigan when they were younger that were wacky and funny. Those movies are really funny and I think "Evil Dead 2" was a great launching point for Sam and showed what an imaginative filmmaker he really is.
Since Sam is sort of MIA on this edition - which is still five-star - in terms of any new comments, what is your beat on how Sam feels about "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn" within his body of work?
GN: He loves it – he loves the movie. I think Sam, like many other directors, I think he’s kind of like I’ve said what I want to say about the movie, I love it and it’s great. Maybe he feels that he doesn’t have anything new to add and his comments are out there so they can stand as is. But I certainly know that it’s not like he has any ill will towards the project or is like ‘I don't want to talk about that movie any more!’ I honestly believe he is as proud of "Evil Dead 2" as the rest of us are – I just feel like he’s said what he wants to say.
Looking back on the experience what would you say you learned most and took with you from making "Evil Dead 2?"
GN: It was a great family. We all literally lived in the same house together – all the makeup effects guys. We all shot in this High School in Wadesboro, so we were in the science lab and others were over there and so on. The thing I loved about it was it was a big family - we all basically lived together in this town for the summer and shot the movie because there was nothing else to do. It really gave me a unique sense of style and a very unique sense of imagination because what was on the page in the script was really never what was onscreen. You know the scene where headless Linda kicks in the door in the woodshed with a chainsaw and comes flying in and Bruce pulls the crowbar up and the chainsaw spins backwards and cuts into the body? That scene was written later when we had gotten to location. That wasn’t in the original script - it was in a later draft. I remember reading that and thinking ‘Oh my God, it’s this horrendous, headless, decomposing corpse coming in and attacks a guy with a chainsaw’ and in my mind I’m thinking Tobe Hooper and George Romero. And then I see what we shot and it’s fun and exhilarating and it’s exciting and it’s over-the-top and I thought I can read a script one way and the translation through the director’s vision comes out like that. It was an intriguing experience for me.
And I think with Sam he continues to do that. When we did "Drag Me to Hell" it was like being on an "Evil Dead" movie with Sam again. Because you have this girl who is possessed by this evil spirit and she’s fighting off all these demons and there’s very tense sound effects and all that stuff played a huge part in it. I learned a lot from Sam too in terms of what you can tell without showing it - sound effects and sound design is so important to him. And the gag where Alison Lohman wakes up and the woman is in the bed and she rolls on top of her and vomits worms into her face, in the original script that wasn’t there. We were in a meeting and I had said to Sam it would be really funny if we did this gag where she rolls over and pukes worms in her face. And he started laughing – it was this very sort of demonic laughter that Sam has. Because he has this pension for wanting to torture his actors - and when I say that I mean in a good way - like poor Bruce Campbell who has endured more then any human being should endure. And then we did a test and we cast the actresses head and we made this prototype and we did a test of vomiting the worms in a double’s face and sent the DVD for Sam to look at. He literally called me and said, ‘You should be arrested it’s so offensive – but we have to shoot it!’ (Laughs) I just love he has that degree of dedication! And so with Evil Dead 2 you have all this documentary footage watching him gleefully sharpen his teeth on this and really become the filmmaker we all know and love.
Congrats on the well deserved Emmy nod for Season One of 'The Walking Dead' – my one question would be having taken 'The Walking Dead' due in big part to your long relationship with Director Frank Darabont and loving his cinematic vision, does the job have the same passion for you now that he’s no longer with the show?
GN: Listen, I’ve been best friends with Frank for eighteen years, but I love the show. I love the actors. I mean get to go to work everyday with Jon Bernthal and Andy Lincoln and Sarah Wayne Callies and Laurie Holden and that fantastic cast and I get to go to work with that crew every day. But I tell you, I’ve done eight hundred projects and I would put the crew and the cast of 'The Walking Dead' up against any of them – it’s the best group of people I’ve ever worked for. I get to work with Gale Anne Hurd and some of the best directors on the planet and I’m really proud of it. But I’m really proud of what Frank created - because Frank created the show. He laid the groundwork for it and cast all these actors and had a big hand in it. So it was a horrible moment when Frank wasn’t on the show anymore and I still miss his contribution because Frank’s contribution to 'The Walking Dead' was significant. I love the show so much and it is what it is because of what Frank did. You had a bunch of really dedicated people who want the show to be great and would fight for the show to be great – we’re all in that boat. What’s funny is we’re coming to a sort of mid-season hiatus on Sunday and the fact that I can’t talk about the last six episodes will drive me insane because the show – the second half – is so fantastic that I really can't wait for people to see it. It goes to so many great places and the actors have so much great stuff to do. I’m so excited about it, aside from one of the episodes I directed...
You actually directed an upcoming episode?
GN: It was one of the greatest experiences in my career and to be able to direct that cast and have the crew behind me going, ‘Dude, anything you need’ – it was amazing. I had a great script and I had a fantastic episode. I had eight days to shoot my episode and it was the most rewarding time of my career. To be able to stand there behind the camera and direct Norman Reedus and direct Andy Lincoln and direct Jeff DeMunn and to work with these people and collaborate with them on a different level – it’s a very rare opportunity that I’ve been given. Because I’m a make-up effects guy who’s been made a Co-Executive Producer and I directed second unit for six months, I directed my own episode, so I’m proud that my finger prints are on that show.
Ready to be Dead by Dawn again after twenty-five years? Check out the review below!
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks
Director: Sam Raimi
Rating: Not Rated
Runtime: 84 minutes
Release Company: Lionsgate
The Flick: Asking if the film is good is kind of like inquiring whether or not "Citizen Kane" is an important piece of celluloid – painfully obvious folks. Mixing the terror of his previous "Evil Dead" with a comic sensibility that we have come to love from him over the years, Director Sam Raimi put together one of the first horror comedies and it's a total hoot. From amazing stuff like leading man Bruce ‘Ash’ Campbell beating himself up via a possessed hand to Ted Raimi’s deliciously demonic work in the evil Henrietta suit, everything about Evil Dead 2 screams pushing the envelope to both scare the senses and tickle the funny bone. Shotguns, chainsaws and carving up a witch (and many others for that matter!) – let’s go!
Best Feature: That’s a bit like asking which child is your favorite! This five-star 25th Anniversary Edition is chocked with no less then a half dozen amazing featurettes that talk up every aspect of the film – effects, casting, controversial release - that fans have been waiting for. (Let me put it this way – besides the original commentary, Sam Raimi is MIA from this edition...and it’s STILL a five-star product!)
Best Hidden Gem: Finally some of the footage that KNB man Greg Nicotero shot behind the scenes is on this version for all to see – from Ted Raimi getting made up and then stripped down (love the sweat pouring out of his costume!) to fun in the shop with the makeup gang! (I think Christmas just came early!)
Worth the Moola: For what they’ve included it’s a steal - dump all other previous versions ASAP and get groovy!