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THE EVIL DEAD COMPANION: Bill Warren

Author of KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES looks at Sam Raimi's horror trilogy

By Steve Ryfle     January 12, 2001

Anyone who writes about science fiction, fantasy and horror films for a (probably meager) living these days owes Bill Warren a debt of gratitude. Warren, along with Don Glut and a handful of other writers, was one of the first people to elevate genre-movie reportage to a respectable level in the 1960s and '70s, taking the minimalist, ooh-aah writing in Forrest J. Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland to the next plateau with bonafide interviews, behind-the-scenes reporting and criticism; in short, Warren and his colleagues took seriously those films that had, until then, been mostly dismissed by 'mainstream' film pundits. Over the decades, Warren has written for Famous Monsters, Fangoria, Starlog and American Film, among others, but he's probably best known as the author of Keep Watching the Skies! (McFarland, 1982, reissued in 1997), a landmark, massive, two-volume overview of science fiction movies of the '50s. It's a great book for many reasons, from its exhaustive coverage of the subject matter (Warren included lots of movies that still aren't available on home video) to Warren's lively and witty writing. As one reviewer says on Amazon.com: 'Warren is as fine a film historian as he is a prose stylist. Seriously, if Warren wrote about politics, sports, or mainstream films instead of SF movies he'd be a national celebrity. But happily, right now he's just our little secret.'

Now comes Warren's latest book, The Evil Dead Companion, a behind-the-scenes account of the making of Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness (1982, '87 and '93, respectively), surely three of the oddest horror movies in history. An outgrowth of Warren's long association with director Sam Raimi (who's in the news today with all the Spider-Man hoopla), the book is already available in the United Kingdom, but Griffin is releasing it here in the U.S. later this month. I've been acquainted with Warren for a couple of years nowwe met through a mutual friend, and we frequently bump into one another at press junkets, screenings and other travails of the tradeand since I know how well he tells a good story, I thought it would be great to chat with him for a few minutes about how The Evil Dead Companion came about:

THESE FILMS CAME OUT A WHILE AGO. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON THIS BOOK?

BILL WARREN: Well, actually I was asked to do it by Sam Raimi and [producer] Rob Tapert years back. They had a deal set up at Dell books, quite a few years back now, and I wrote the book then, about '92 or '94. And then that whole arm of Dell vanished; their whole horror book arm was lopped off. So this book was without a home for quite some time. Then my friend John Baxter, author of books on Steven Spielberg and Luis Bunuel, among other things, suggested I talk to this woman in England, Judy Martin, who's a literary agent over there, and she immediately sold the book to Titan. Then they immediately sold it to St. Martin's, and it came out last summer over in England, and it's coming out early this year over here, with a different cover, by the way.

WHEN DID YOUR FRIENDSHIP WITH SAM RAIMI BEGIN?>

I started with Sam on Darkman. He did something that actually changed my life. At the time, he was living not far from where I do, in Silver Lake [a Los Angeles neighborhood]; this was before he was married, and he lived in a little cabin. I went over to interview him and [writer-actor] Scott Spiegel, and they were blown away when I said that I used to know Fritz Lang. They said, 'OK, who else did you know?' I said Boris Karloff, and they just went out of their minds. At that time, I had been feeling very sorry for myself, and Sam said, 'Gee, you must've met everybody you've ever wanted to meet.' When I went home I started thinking about it. And I realized I indeed had met everybody I ever really wanted to meet, with the exception of three people; one of those, Vincent Price, I met later that year, and the other twoone of whom was Peter CushingI never had a chance to meet. But I suddenly realized my life wasn't as bad as I thought it was, and it was because of Sam's remarks. He changed my way of thinking at that point, and it's never changed back, and I have Sam to thank for that. I was going to put that in the book, but someone said it's too personal, so it's not in the book. Sam has read the book and he likes it, and Rob, and Bruce [Campbell]. Bruce was tremendously helpful on the book. Sam was in the middle of a movie when I started, and then when I got back to it, he was making another movie, so I didn't get as much time with Sam as might have been ideal. But I had already interviewed him several times by then, because I had covered both Darkman and Army of Darkness.

RAIMI SAYS HE NEVER WATCHES HORROR FILMS. WHY?

Because they scare him! He will tell you that himself. The reason they made horror movies was they figured they could fail bigger with a horror film and still have something releasable than, say, they could with a comedy. A comedy that isn't funny is nothing; a horror film that isn't scary still will have something evil that you can put on the box.

AS A DIRECTOR, WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT RAIMI'S APPROACH TO HORROR?

The fact that he's scared! I think that's really important. And also, he was very caught up in the visual qualities. He invented camerasthe
Sam-O-Cam, the Ram-O-Cam, all these were virtually invented on the set of The Evil Dead. And these techniques were adopted by the Coen brothers, because Joel Coen edited The Evil Dead, and they worked together on Sam's second film, which he doesn't talk about too much, Crimewave. On the other hand, Rob Tapert told me that he'd seen Sam's amateur moviesthey made a couple together at the University of Michigan. And as they were driving down to Tennessee, where they shot it, Sam was inventing a shot in his head and talking to Rob about it. And Rob said it was like listening to somebody he'd never met before; he was amazed by the creativity that was pouring out. Sam is like that, as I think anybody who ends up being one of the great directors is. It's something inside; you can't relate to their past. Sam grew up on a diet of Three Stooges movies and westerns; he was forced into watching horror moviesRob and Scotty sat him down and said, 'You've gotta watch these things!' And they scared him, so he thought, 'Well, let's make one of those.'

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