Raimi cast his friends Bruce Campbell and Ellen Sandweiss as the two protagonists and produced the film for $1600. Shot on location at a farmhouse owned by producer Rob Tapert’s parents, production was a difficult process. Several of the special effects presented in the film were done in a severely low-budget manner. The film centers around demonic possession and mysterious forces originating from the woods.
#3 – Production
Before the development stages of Within the Woods, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were long time friends who had grown up with each other. The duo had produced several low-budget films with super 8 mm film during their youth. During the early parts of Raimi’s career, he directed films that were mostly classified as comedies, such as Booby Bartenders, Shemp Eats the Moon and The Great Bogus Monkey Pignut Swindle. While those films were described as “goofy” and primitive by members of the cast and crew, Raimi eventually produced the short film It’s Murder!, which featured mostly comedic moments. One of the sequences of the film involved a suspenseful moment where a criminal jumped on an unsuspecting individual. Raimi later dismissed the short film, but complimented that scene, stating that it was “the only part of It’s Murder! that really worked well.
While working on the film, it inspired Raimi to approach the horror genre with more enthusiasm, leading to the conception of his next short film Clockwork. The film featured a woman being stalked by a demented man, and launched an interest in Raimi to pursue working on more horror films. While both Raimi and Campbell expressed a positive opinion on the genre, they admitted they had little experience with the genre and went to drive-in theaters to research various science fiction and horror films. Raimi developed the motto “the gore the merrier” during these sessions at the drive-in, and quickly developed an interest in films featuring high levels of blood. Raimi gained an appeal in B movie cinema, which lead him to want to pursue the production of a more ambitious film for his next project. In order to gain the interest of producers, Raimi and Campbell set out to produce a “prototype” film that would serve as a showcase of their talents. The film would work as a trailer to help promote further cinematic productions.
The prototype film was called Within the Woods. In addition to Raimi’s interest in various horror films, one of the main inspirations came in the writing of H. P. Lovecraft, who introduced the concept of the “book of the dead” to Raimi. Raimi studied the concept of magical books, in particular the Necronomicon, which formed the basis of the film. Campbell described the film as a combination of “creative writing and ancient history”. In order to flesh out of the idea, Raimi came up with a concept where a group of teenagers went into the woods and were attacked by demonic spirits, summoned by the disturbance of an Indian burial ground. The book of the dead concept was not present in the finished film, but appeared extensively in later films by Raimi.
Raimi was able to secure $1600 to produce the film. Raimi and Campbell collected a group of their friends and family who were interested in participating in the production of the film. The film was primarily shot at a farm house belonging to one of Raimi’s friends located in Marshall, Michigan. One of the regular actors involved with Raimi’s early short films, Ellen Sandweiss, was cast as the film’s protagonist. This decision stemmed from the notion that most horror films at the time involved female leads, who were more enjoyable to watch terrorized. The current boyfriend of Sandweiss was cast as the film’s antagonist, a demon who threatens the cast. Campbell was cast as one of the protagonists, though he initially was not familiar with horror cinema and instead identified as a fan of comedies. One of the films that inspired Campbell’s interest in the genre was John Carpenter‘s film Halloween. Another Raimi regular, Scott Spiegel, was also cast as a protagonist based on his prior collaborations with the group.
The effects of the film were entirely low-budget. Nearly every effect in the film was done via things picked up at a make-up and Halloween store located close to where the film was shot. The effects in the film were notably more intricate than the simple ones featured in Raimi’s prior projects, and contained mutilated bodies, stabbed body parts and demonic possession skin-attachments. Tom Sullivan was one of the primary make-up supervisors on set, and he found it difficult working presentable effects out of such low budgets. One notable example involved a chest stabbing rig that had to be attached to Spiegel’s chest by straps and duct tape.
Campbell had to sleep wearing his make-up. Because of several scenes that required to be shot in both the day and the night, it was considered easiest to have Campbell sleep all night wearing his make-up, since removing it was too complicated. When Campbell eventually had the effect removed, he was alarmed to notice that his face had actually “changed shape” because of how long the make-up had been applied, though it returned to normal after an extended amount of time. This serves as one one of several moments where the film-makers had to be creative to make the film considering the low budget. Other examples include blacking out the windows to make scenes darker and shooting all night long to make the filming schedule. Raimi had to get increasing inventive during production, often coming up with “bizarre” ideas while shooting scenes. This lead to him experimenting with camera moves and camera speeds, “taking it a little further than we had gone before, recording synch-sound at a third slower for a more monstrous effect.
Though production was difficult for many of the actors involved, especially Campbell, the film was eventually completed within acceptable budget limits. Raimi had completed the filming of his “prototype” and sought out to develop and edit the film as cheaply as possible. Though at the time it was unknown how the film was going to be distributed. Raimi had shot the film in the same style as many of his earlier films, with 8mm film. He intended to blow the footage up after filming to the industry standard of 35mm in order to save money, though Campbell noted that the idea was without precedent. Though the request was “obscure” in nature, a company in San Francisco managed to accommodate the task with little difficulty. Upon testing how the footage looked at a local movie theater, it came out mostly acceptable, until further tests led to the footage appearing grainy and difficult to make out.
#4 – The Legal Mystery (or, why it’ll never see an official release)
When Anchor Bay announced the DVD release for Evil Dead – the seminal Book of the Dead edition – in 2002 the horror community wet their pants over the prospect of witnessing the promised extra of Raimi’s “Within the Woods”. A digitally cleaned image with a newly mastered soundtrack was promised and indeed advertised in the run up to it’s release, BUT almost inevitably an unseen force intervened: there was a problem. What exactly that problem was remains a mystery to anyone outside of AB or the legal team circles but more importantly what this problem meant was that there probably wouldn’t be a release EVER!
What do we know? ABUS chief Michael Fleisher posted this over at http://www.mhfv.net, dated 15th January 2002. I’ve abridged it slightly but all I’ve removed are the parts which didn’t mention or refer to the situation:
“on Monday, we were notified of an unexpected situation that is going to prevent us from including WITHIN THE WOODS on our DVD. I do not have further details on that. However, this is not an attempt to hold the short back for another release of EVIL DEAD down the line, or anything of that nature. Needless to say this is disappointing for us as I am sure it will be for the fans. As a result of this, WITHIN THE WOODS is being removed from our packaging and website details, and will not be mentioned in any further ads or print material concerning our March 5th EVIL DEAD promotion. Unfortunately a few advertisements were already running that do mention WOODS, however at this stage we weren’t able to recall everything.…….In the end, we did everything we could to make WITHIN THE WOODS happen, but, as many other studios have experienced, sometimes last-minute roadblocks can intervene when everything seems set in stone. We’ve never had an occasion where a feature of a DVD had to be dropped at such a late stage in the process, …..”
Obviously this got a few responses so Mr F retorted on 16th January 2002:
“Without getting into specifics, here’s what the situation is. The music clearances WERE resolved and the situation had been put to rest, however another legal issue came up out of the blue and because of it, WITHIN THE WOODS will most likely never see release on home video. That’s really all I can say about it. It’s a unfortunate situation in any case.”
So the chances are we will never see this one in a pristine release. We will have to be content with the bootlegged edition doing the rounds on the net. This has been discussed in the forum so head over there if you fancy venting some steam about it. Incidentally the unedited version of the main post is there as well.