Features and Columns · Movies

Blood, Sweat and Latex: The Accidental Iconography of ‘Evil Dead II’

By  · Published on September 5th, 2011

by Shannon Shea

You never know. You just never know. I wonder if back in 1930, Universal Studios make up artist, Jack Pierce while constructing his “monster” make-up on actor Boris Karloff, had wondered if he was creating something transcendent. Something that would forever infuse itself into the western culture generation after generation, becoming the mental image that every brain would access when it heard the name “Frankenstein.” I bet he didn’t. I bet ol’ Jack had an assignment, did the best job that he could, collected his meager paycheck and was grateful to be working during the depression.

Truly, that is the way it is. You never can tell what will connect with audiences. You just do the work, collect your salary, and thank God you are not pounding the pavement looking for your next job.

Evil Dead II is one of those cult favorite films that so much of has been discussed and revealed through interviews, articles, supplemental videos on DVD’s, convention panels, etc., that I’m not sure what I can add to all of this information besides my individual view point. Forgive me if you’ve heard much of this information before; just know that what you are now reading is not being pushed through the filter of a reporter. I was there in Mark Shostrom’s South Pasadena studio. And although, again, I didn’t go to location in North Carolina, what I designed and sculpted at Mark’s would follow me to this day.

After Star Trek IV wrapped up, Mark contacted me about my availability to work on Evil Dead II. Like most, I was a big fan of The Evil Dead; Sam Raimi had balanced his small budget with large amounts of imagination and ingenuity. The result was a scary, weird, thrilling film that became a cult classic. The idea of working on Sam’s latest film was thrilling, especially since it was an Evil Dead film!

Returning to South Pasadena, to Mark Shostrom’s shop was an interesting homecoming. The familiar faces of Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, and Aaron Sims would be joining the crew along with a very talented sculptor from Pittsburgh, Michael Trcic (the man with the missing vowel). I have to hand it to Mark Shostrom. He had hired a crew that he trusted implicitly and he felt comfortable dividing the artistic duties among his artists.

Howard Berger, being the most experienced among the employees would handle actor Bruce Campbell’s possession make-ups as the character, Ash. Mike Trcic would be handling all of the Linda possessions (Linda was played by Denise Bixler), Aaron Sims would be handling Ash’s “evil hand” as well as the elongated “Pee Wee” neck that grew from the possessed Henrietta. Henrietta, portrayed by actress Lou Hancock prior to possession would be played by Sam Raimi’s brother, Ted, after her possession. The make up would require extensive prosthesis as well as a bloated festering suit, so Mark decided to handle it himself. As for me, Mark asked if I would handle the possession of a character named Ed (or “Evil Ed” as he came to be called).

A day or so before everyone else started, Aaron Sims, Mark, and I spent some time drawing some designs of the various characters. The note Mark gave me about Ed was that he was going to grow an over-sized mouth. My first sketch was a color pencil rendering on deep blue paper showing a man with the signature “Evil Dead” white eyes glaring out above an elongated mouth that looked more like Universal Studios’ remake of The Mummy than anything else. It didn’t work.

The previous October, I had made a foam-latex Halloween mask inspired by the “Amy” make-up executed by Steve Johnson for Fright Night. Being a huge fan of Steve’s imaginative work, I wondered how I could take the concept further and really disguise the performer’s mouth that peeked out from beneath the over-sized mouth prosthetic. My solution was to sculpt rows of teeth like a great white shark or a lamprey. That way, the rows of teeth concealed my face and the illusion was effective. I spoke to Mark about the idea and brought him what was left of the mask to show him and he agreed that I should rework the concept.

I drew a white-line, color pencil drawing of a frightening visage with rows of more squared-off, broken teeth (rather than the shark-like teeth that I incorporated on my Halloween mask) and a concept was born.

Mark explained that the script called for Ed to do some things that could be beyond what make up on an actor would accomplish and I would have to sculpt a corresponding puppet head. Unfortunately, because of budget restrictions, this puppet head was going to have to serve double duty: It would be utilized when Ed had to spin his head completely around 360 degrees, or swallow a big clump of the character, Bobbie Jo’s hair, but it would also be used for when half of his head would get cut off with an axe.

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When actor Rick Francis came in for life casting, we did a whole head cast, teeth, and finger casts (he would be wearing finger extensions…hey, this was the 80s, remember? Finger extensions were king!). We made a flexible mold from the cast and I had the pieces I needed to commence the work.

I sculpted the make-up first, working out the design in three dimensions on a cast of Rick’s face. When I had the piece roughed out, I made a clay pour out of a flexible mold of the original life cast to begin the puppet head using the make up sculpt as a guide.

Attempting to get the most with the least, I sculpted the puppet head with an asymmetrical expression on its face. On the camera right side, the eyebrow and eye are sculpted to look shocked, where on the camera left side, the brow and eye expression reflect rage. Cutting the head on a diagonal would leave the shocked part while the angry portion would hit the ground. As simple as it seemed, it turned out to be quite effective.

For Evil Ed’s signature teeth, Mark offered some pre-cast singular acrylic teeth that I distressed with a motor tool then carefully worked into the sculptures. Of course, they would be removed prior to molding, but I needed to keep an accurate record of which teeth went where. I sculpted Rick’s dentures and hoped to enhance the illusion by putting a row of teeth on the roof of his mouth behind his upper teeth. His tongue would cover the bottom palette anyway. As for finger extensions, I sculpted several of the fingers to have two sets of nasty fingernails to keep in concert with the multiple features concept.

By the time I was deep into Evil Ed’s work, Robert Kurtzman had returned from Italy where he had been working on set for Mark on From Beyond. Bob was a good make-up artist who actually enjoyed applying prosthesis, in contrast, I’d rather be working with a puppet or creature suit. He really wanted to go on location and apply make-ups for Evil Dead II and I was asked if I had any objections if Bob went to North Carolina instead of me. I had none. I knew Evil Ed was in good hands.

We did a make-up test for Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tappert at Mark’s shop. I had the opportunity to work with Bob applying the make-up to Rick and together, Bob and I established coloration and the “look” of “Evil Ed.” The only thing that was missing was the contact lenses, but at least I was able to see my concept fleshed out and see Sam Raimi’s reaction in person before the team headed to location.

Privately, we shot some video of the puppet head. Unfortunately the hair work had been farmed out and the pieces that came back didn’t match Rick Francis closely enough. In fact, as much as I love the make-up, the finished puppet on screen makes me cringe – mainly because of the wig.

But like I said, you never know. When I saw Evil Dead II the following year, I was blown away. I thought that the film was such an incredible imaginative ride that by the time the puppet showed up I was so into the scene that I didn’t care. And as the credits rolled up, I felt pretty good about my contribution to the film.

Flash forward a few years. I’m in line at a movie theater and I see a guy next to me with a familiar looking tattoo on his arm. I asked him to roll up his sleeve – lo and behold there is Evil Ed looking at me. Someone loved the character so much that he had it permanently applied to his epidermis. I was flabbergasted. I had never produced a piece of work that someone had felt that deeply about before. Over the years, I’ve seen masks, garage model kits, fan paintings and yes, more tattoos of Evil Ed and it never ceases to amaze and humble me. I certainly wasn’t thinking about creating something so iconic.

I was just trying to hide an actor’s mouth.

…And Last Time on Blood, Sweat and Latex…: “Boldly Going to Work on ‘Star Trek IV’”

Shannon Shea, a native New Orleanian educated at The California Institute of the Arts, has enjoyed a 27-year tenure designing, constructing, and performing animatronic creatures and characters for Motion Pictures and Television. He has had the pleasure of contributing to such diverse films as Predator, Dances With Wolves, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Spy Kids, The Chronicles of Narnia, Drag Me To Hell and 2012’s Men In Black 3.

Not limited to the confines of Motion Pictures, he paints (having been shown in New York, North Carolina, and Los Angeles), sculpts, writes and authors a new blog about his motion picture experiences called Monster History 101. Recently, he was tapped by the Stan Winston School of Character Design to be one of their instructors for a lecture series entitled Garage Monsters. When not participating on Hollywood projects, he enjoys producing, writing, and directing his own short films including Hotel Superman, Blind Passion, and his current Internet project Phantom Harbor. Shannon lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Tracy, an Operatic Soprano and their daughter, Molly, who attends the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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