“I am a great detective.” Scott points to his shoe. “You see that heel? I ran that down.” The kids in the high school Biology class laughed at Scott Spiegel who was always cracking wise. One kid chuckled and then quickly spotted the source material. That line is from a Three Stooges short thought Sam Raimi. After that moment, Spiegel and Raimi would become friends and along with their pal Bruce Campbell would start making their own Stooge inspired short films. Eventually, one of the most popular genre franchises of all-time would be created around some of the ideas and concepts that were in their earlier Super-8 work. Funny, without that Stooge line in a high school biology class, the EVIL DEAD films may never exist.
Spiegel has has an infectious energy and spits out film titles and film history like machine gun. He’s also one of the more gracious people I have met in this business. It’s tough to go more than a few minutes without Spiegel thanking someone for being where he is. Even without EVIL DEAD 2, the first major film he wrote with Sam Raimi, he would have a spot at the genre-king table.
Spiegel just finished up work on HOSTEL III, after producing the first two films in the franchise he decided to jump into the directing chair and get his hands bloody. Between (finally) the uncut version of INTRUDER dropping on 12/13 from Synapse and HOSTEL 3 dropping to DVD on 12/27, Spiegel is going to have a hell of a month. Hopefully some new fans will discover his work. It’s okay if you’re late to the party, but what took you so damn long?
This interview is the first of two parts, the second part will be posted on Thursday. Tomorrow we will have a look at INTRUDER on Blu-ray (out 12/13 from Synapse) and on Friday we are giving five lucky bastards an autographed copy of that release.
In the first part of our Spiegel interview we hit Hammer Films, Stooges, EVIL DEAD and more.
Alright ramblers, let’s get ramblin’.
DAILY GRINDHOUSE: So what was the first film you saw that made you want to make movies?
SCOTT SPIEGEL: Hammer’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the 1962 version. I think it was knocking around the drive-in around that time and I saw it with the original PINK PANTHER if I am remembering it correctly. All I remember about that one though was the cartoon credit sequence. I was far too young to see THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. I was far too young to be seeing that, it was just so creepy and horrifying. But yeah, the Hammer British invasion just took over my world. PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS really blew me away as well. I saw those at the Fox Theater in 1966 and I had no business seeing that one either. Those movies really just juiced me and then of course you had THE MUNSTERS and THE ADDAMS FAMILY on T.V. along with all the Universal horror stuff, I was kind of a 60’s monster kid I guess.
Man, Lee’s Dracula still is probably my favorite version of that character. You toss some Cushing on top of that and you have some good shit going down. What was it about the Hammer films that worked so well?
I don’t know man. I remember seeing THE AVENGERS on T.V. and there is just something foreign about the Brits. It’s like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS; they look like us and they speak the same language but they’re not us. It’s always just kind of creeped me out. There is just a whole different vibe to those films that I just dig. They were just incredibly graphic, it was just before the ratings system kicked in around ’66 and in DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS a guy’s throat gets slashed and you could see it, and then all the blood going into the coffin, it was just incredibly graphic. In fact in PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES we kind of ripped off a gag from that for EVIL DEAD which is the decapitation of a zombie chick’s head with a shovel.
So it was just really intense stuff and then color made things more realistic. Then you had the ratings system start up in like ’68. Fast forward to 1979 when Sam Raimi and I saw DAWN OF THE DEAD and I won’t speak for Sam but I didn’t see the distinction between an unrated film and a hard R film. I mean when that zombie took that chunk out of woman’s shoulder in the beginning I was just like what in the world is this? DAWN OF THE DEAD really opened the flood gates for films like EVIL DEAD in terms of excess.
That’s pretty cool that these two future directors are watching this hugely influential film and they would eventually themselves make films that had a similar impact.
Oh well thank you man I appreciate that. Yeah Sam and I saw a lot of films together. I think we saw RE-ANIMATOR together as well and that got us the same way that DAWN OF THE DEAD did. It was for a local WLLZ radio station promotion and we had no idea it was unrated then it was just, oh man what in the heck is this? That film really had an influence on me as well.
And you can see that influence pretty clearly I think. I mean look at EVIL DEAD 2 and how you play the audience, get them laughing and then smack them over the head with what really is a horrific scene.
Well you have to keep everything in check you know? There always has to be a point though when you tell the audiences that hey, we’re not fucking around you know? I could be mistaken but for me in EVIL DEAD it’s that point when the pencil goes through that girl’s ankle and the audience is wondering what the hell is all of this? That’s what EVIL DEAD is though; it’s a collection of those type of moments. Most movies at the time were lucky if they had just one.
I am trying to think what that moment is in INTRUDER… the “we’re not fucking around anymore” moment. It would have to be the compactor scene don’t you think?
You know man, good for you. That scene is great because it’s done in such a way that it’s like a fake out. You think it’s done but then there’s one last blood burst. So people think it’s done and you tell them to open their eyes and then you get that wince. So yeah that and the band saw are probably good marks for those moments.
So you’re watching the Hammer films and responding to those in a pretty vivid way. At what point did you finally decide to pick up the camera and start playing around with film?
Yeah it was those films but also Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine because you could order Super-8 versions of these condensed movies like WOLFMAN and FRANKENSTEIN and the crazy Castle stuff. So that was a huge influence and we were buying all these films but then my buddy had a camera and we all kind of agreed to make our own films instead of buying someone else’s. We kind of morphed into the Three Stooges. We did one called INSPECTOR CLUGG SAVES THE DAY and it was cool cause I made a movie in 1969, it was just so cool.
We got into this whole stooges riff where we were throwing pies and stuff but it was cool. We took a lot of Stooges stuff and just morphed it into our own style. We did one short film where Bruce Campbell played Jimmy Hoffa and Sam and I were these thugs who abduct him mistakenly, it’s all just a crazy mess but we did some amazing stunts.
We all know Bruce can do stunts but Sam and I did them as well. I had one where I jumped off of a second story fire escape into a bunch of boxes I mean, that was dangerous stuff. It was learning though. Bruce did a stunt once actually where he was jumping into a river and some concrete had been poured in there, really deceiving. Bruce checked to see how deep the river was and he jumped in and hit his head and really got hurt. So, we did a lot of silly stuff like that but it was cool and I am glad we did it while we were young.
Was Ted (Sam Raimi’s brother) kind of in the crew with you, Sam and Bruce?
Oh heck yeah man. Ted went everywhere with us. He was always ready to shoot. I was so happy to put him in INTRUDER and I know his parents were happy to see that as well. It’s an honor to work with that guy. I am huge fan of Teddy, in fact that’s what is so cool about knowing these guys (Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell). If I didn’t know them I would still be just huge fans of theirs.
So let’s talk Stooges real quick since you brought them up. As you just said you guys were inspired by them and the humor shows up all over the EVIL DEAD films. Who was the first guy in your crew to kind of introduce them to everyone?
Well Sam was in my Biology class in high school and I was just trying to be funny one day and I used a stooge line that was “I am good detective you know how?” and then I point to the heel of my shoe and say “I ran that down.” It got a big laugh but Sam must have thought “hey wait a second, that’s a stooges line” and that’s how we met. I was friends with Bruce already but then the three of us just all kind of clicked and we were always doing Stooges stuff. They were still very popular in the 70’s. It was like an early version of JACKASS I guess: We can do stunts, throw pies, and act crazy.
What’s your favorite Stooges short?
I have a soft spot in my head for CRIMIN’ OUT LOUD which is Shemp’s last one but man, I don’t even know if I could pick one. They are all really incredible in their own way. What about you?
I am a huge fan of A-PLUMBING WE WILL GO, it just is insane and they are at the top of their game in that one.
Of course I am going to get off the phone and say I should have picked this or that. The reason I like so much of Shemp’s stuff is they had the sound effects that I wanted. Even though the shorts with Curly are incredible they don’t have nearly the amount of sound effects that the Shemps had. It’s a real funky criticism but there you go. A PLUMBING WE WILL GO though man, that is really amazing. I think Sam kind of pulled from that when Bruce is going crazy in the basement and the pipes are freaking out.
Do you still watch them on a pretty regular basis?
Oh yeah, they’re just so ahead of their time.
What do you think of the Farrelly Brothers getting the Stooges film together?
Anything to keep the Stooges going is how I look at it. Stooges are so of their time you know? I am not sure what kind of take they’re going to do but hopefully it works out, that would be great.
So let’s talk some DEAD and start with the first film: EVIL DEAD. Stephen King kind of did the Pauline Kael thing and really championed that movie. What does that franchise look like had he not done that?
It still would have been pretty big I think. Maybe not as big at least early on but Bruce was on the cover of Fangoria and they did this whole thing about the film and there was a lot of interest. If you are going to have one guy kind of bless a film like that it’s Stephen King, though which after he did that it was pushed into all these other venues which was cool. It still would have found its audience though.
What were you doing around the time that Sam was making the first DEAD film?
I had a lucrative job as a store clerk back in Detroit that I just couldn’t leave at the time, I was just making some good bank. Sam and Bruce were always calling me and saying “we need you, we need you” but I just couldn’t drop that gig. At least I got EVIL DEAD 2.
Not a bad gig to end up with.
Yeah I thought it turned out okay.
So at what point do you get involved with EVIL DEAD 2?
Sam called me from California where he was renting a place with the Coen Brothers. We had already started working on it back in Michigan but Sam had to do some stuff going on out there so I went out to California and met back up with him. The Coen Brothers were living there, Holly Hunter and Frances McDormand were also living there. Eventually Sam and I had to go somewhere else to finish the script. There were just too many Academy Award winners in that house. The non-Academy Award winners must leave and write a genre movie. It was surreal though. I remember Holly coming up to me when we were writing EVIL DEAD 2 and telling me “I was in a horror movie once called THE BURNING” (Spiegel can NAIL a Holly Hunter impression). She was really cool, I remember her sitting in the corner reading the RAISING ARIZONA script. Those were good times man, I was a nut back then. I actually did the old shaving cream gag on Ethan Cohen in that house where you put shaving cream on the receiver and then call from the other room. All Ethan did was (imitates Ethan’s laugh). I don’t know why I did that, I think I meant to do that to Sam but it ended up being Ethan.
Did you know the Coen Brothers in Michigan?
I did. I think I knew Ethan pretty well but yeah I did know them. Oh man, when I read the script for BLOOD SIMPLE it was, that script reads exactly like the movie which is amazing. One of them had given it to me in this leather bound book.
When did you realize that EVIL DEAD 2 had such a huge following?
Somewhere back in the 90’s. Spin magazine did some feature called the 100 Coolest Movies and EVIL DEAD 2 was number 1 which was just like, really? REALLY? Although ARMY OF DARKNESS has kind of taken on a life of its own. That one is the safest of the three though. It’s kind of Ash meets Harryhausen which is what Sam was going for.
Do you consider EVIL DEAD 2 to be a remake or a sequel?
I think it’s a sequel as originally conceived it’s just unfortunate we couldn’t do that cool thing of using EVIL DEAD and condensing it into a little mini-recap like they did for FRIDAY THE 13TH pt 2. That was funky and we discussed that and wondered how we could do it. Do we bring the actors back or what do we do? So yeah it was a little weird but no, it’s a sequel. What we wanted to do was to try and take it out of the cabin but for budgetary reasons we kept it in the cabin and kept it close to the cabin, none of this other nonsense. I am just so thankful to those guys for bringing me on.
Was there anything you had in the script that didn’t make it to screen?
Not really. Sam was very clear about what he wanted to do. I had made a short film called ATTACK OF THE HELPING HAND that Sam actually co-starred in and it’s about the Hamburger Helper helping hand attacking a house wife. It’s full of all these hand gags and Sam said he wanted to take that film and add it to EVIL DEAD and I knew what he wanted to do after that. It was really just one of the all-time great collaborations. The opportunity to work with Sam and Bruce on that scale was just incredible.
So we learned I think last month that EVIL DEAD is getting a ticket on the remake train. As just a pure fan of that franchise, are you down with this? I know Sam and Bruce are producing but what are your thoughts on a remake?
I am an unabashed EVIL DEAD fan. If Sam and Bruce are involved that’s a great sign. Keep the franchise going I say! I’d like to see another version. There’s room for everybody, plus the new version most likely will stir up interest in the previous EVIL DEAD films.
Hey Bastards. Part 1 is a wrap…
In the second part we talk INTRUDER, HOSTEL III, William Lustig, Clint Eastwood, and Spiegel tells us some cool stories about some dude who slept on his couch while he was making his first film called RESERVOIR DOGS.
SEE YOU ON FORTY DEUCE,
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