Remembering When ‘Evil Dead II’ Possessed North Carolina
Evil is alive in theaters this weekend, with the reimagined ultra-gory Evil Dead currently the number one movie at the box office, and to mark the occasion we’re looking back at the second of three cult classics that preceded this latest incarnation of “deadites”, filmed in North Carolina over 25 years ago.
Released on March 13, 1987 in only 310 theaters, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn is the film that became a legend, made a franchise, and created a new icon for horror fans to embrace in its unique hero Ashley “Ash” Williams, played by Bruce Campbell, and it all started with a few cameras in the woods in Wadesboro, North Carolina.
Production of the low-budget sequel to the even-lower-budget 1982 original The Evil Dead took place in North Carolina and Michigan in 1986.
Stephen King was reportedly such a huge fan of The Evil Dead that he convinced producer Dino De Laurentiis, who was producing King’s Maximum Overdrive in Wilmington at the time, to have his DEG (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group) production company finance Evil Dead II.
De Laurentiis had originally wanted director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Oz The Great and Powerful) to film in De Laurentiis’ elaborate Wilmington studio, but the production team didn’t like the idea of being so close to the producer, so they moved to Wadesboro, approximately three hours away.
Steven Spielberg had previously filmed The Color Purple in Wadesboro the year before, and the large white farmhouse used as an exterior location in that film became the central production office for Evil Dead II.
Most of the exteriors in film were shot in the woods near that farmhouse, while the interior cabin, cellar, and woodshed sets were all built inside the gymnasium at J.R. Faison Junior High School. The cabin exterior set was built specifically for the production on the same property as the farmhouse in Wadesboro.
Filming of Evil Dead II took approximately 14 weeks, from May to September 1986, followed by a few reshoots in Detroit, Michigan.
Among the special bonus features on the Evil Dead II Blu-ray released by Lionsgate in 2011 is a short featurette called ‘Road To Wadesboro’, in which special props crew member Tony Elwood revisits various Evil Dead II shooting locations, including J. R. Faison Junior High School, and the exterior cabin set located in the same area. Although in a badly neglected state, the cabin structure was still shown to be standing, along with the workshed exterior and a number of the fake trees from the production.
An area in and around the Bonsal Ballast Pits in Lilesville, North Carolina on Highway 74 was the location used for the climactic medieval scene at the end of the movie. The castle in the scene was a full size facade made from plywood mounted on power poles on a hill overlooking the area, and filmed from down in the pits, according to Book of the Dead.
The tunnel seen at the beginning of the film just after the main titles is called the “Fryingpan Tunnel” and is located along the the Blue Ridge Parkway, running through the Blue Ridge Mountains approximately 22 miles south of Canton.
Many of the scenes from the first film were recreated with Campbell returning as Ash and other new actors now in the roles from the original, mainly because the producers could not obtain the rights to use the actual clips from The Evil Dead and needed to recap how Ash got to the cabin.
Upon its original theatrical release in March 1987, movie critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars, describing it as “a fairly sophisticated satire.” Ebert praised the film’s sense of surrealism, comedic timing, and “grubby, low-budget intensity,” stating “if you know it’s all special effects, and if you’ve seen a lot of other movies and have a sense of humor, you might have a great time at Evil Dead II.”
Raimi and Campbell fulfilled the promise they made in the final cliffhanger scene of Evil Dead II with a third film in the series, Army of Darkness, released in theaters in 1993. Twenty years later, Raimi, Cambell, and original producer Robert Tapert are all executive producers of the new Evil Dead, which opened in theaters on Friday.
After more than three decades of scaring (and grossing out) generation after generation who discovered it on VHS and DVD, the Evil Dead franchise is currently on top of the Hollywood box office, but it was Evil Dead II that first brought it out of the cellar, and it is Wadesboro, North Carolina that remains the true home of most iconic cabin in the woods in movie history.
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