All these years later, the fun continues in “Ash vs. Evil Dead.”
It all started back in 1977. In The Hills Have Eyes, a torn Jaws poster was seen in the Carter family’s camper, and many took it as Wes Craven essentially saying that his movie was much scarier than anything on display in Spielberg’s hit money-maker. Whether or not that was actually Craven’s intention is up for debate – and looking back, I’m not even sure that actually was a Jaws poster – but all that really matters here is the way Sam Raimi interpreted the homage. And when it came time to make his own movie a few years later, he took a page out of Craven’s playbook.
As has been well documented here on the web, 1981’s The Evil Dead prominently featured a Hills Have Eyes poster on a wall of the cabin’s fruit cellar, and like the Jaws poster in Craven’s film, it was torn into a barely recognizable piece by Sam Raimi. As Raimi explained to Esquire back in 2007, the tribute was very much an intentional jab at Craven:
There’s a torn-up poster of Jaws in [Craven’s] The Hills Have Eyes, so I thought it would be funny to tear a Hills Have Eyes poster into pieces in The Evil Dead, to tell Wes, ‘No, this is the real horror, pal.’
The friendly war, which was really nothing more than a fun method of communication between two filmmakers who didn’t even meet until years later, continued in Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, released in 1984. In a desperate bid to stay awake and avoid the wrath of Freddy Krueger, Nancy Thompson watches a movie in her bedroom. Her movie of choice? The Evil Dead!
Not to read too far into things, but it’s worth noting that Nancy repeatedly nods off while watching The Evil Dead, and eventually turns the TV off. A tribute and a fun jab at Raimi, all in one.
How did Raimi respond? In Evil Dead 2, released in 1987, Freddy Krueger’s iconic glove was prominently on display on a wall in the fruit cellar AND above the door in the workshed…
Legend has it that the glove used in Evil Dead 2 was a prop borrowed from the production of an actual Nightmare on Elm Street film, and it certainly does appear to be a higher quality than any replica glove that was on the market at the time. Either way, this was clearly more of a tribute than any sort of jab at Craven – stories of a Craven/Raimi rivalry are pure sensationalism.
In the same 2007 interview with Esquire, Raimi confirmed that it was all in fun:
Years ago, I was at the Cannes Film Festival giving a radio interview — I had never met Wes — and he came up to the booth. I thought, ‘This is where I’m going to get old Wes.’ I hid and leaped out with a terrific shout, and he just jumped out of his skin. [Laughs] Then I introduced myself. He gave me a look like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ He’s been very kind to me ever since.
The cinema communication between Sam Raimi and Wes Craven continued into the ’90s with Scream. Randy, the character played by Jamie Kennedy, was of course a hardcore fan of horror movies, and at the start of the film’s party scene he holds up a series of VHS tapes and asks the characters which one they want to watch. Not surprisingly, The Evil Dead is one of the choices.
They choose Halloween – Craven’s final jab at Raimi.
Sadly, Wes Craven passed away last year, but through the Starz series “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” Sam Raimi has kept the tradition alive. In the Season One finale, Ash returned to the iconic cabin in the woods, and wouldn’t ya know it, that Freddy glove was still hanging up in the fruit cellar. Later, in the penultimate episode of Season 2, Ash and the gang traveled back in time to 1982. A retro movie theater was briefly glimpsed, and hanging outside was a vintage movie poster.
Yup. The Hills Have Eyes. A friendly game come full circle.