"Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn" is a horror movie. The movie rating system is a horror story. How the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group managed to avoid the rating horror and get its horror movie into 340 American theaters today is more like a mystery.
"Evil Dead 2," a movie that one DEG insider said was "so grisly you have to see it to believe it," was financed by DEG and, until recently, was scheduled for American release by DEG. But when newspaper ads for the film began showing up last week, the name of the releasing company was not DEG; it was something called Rosebud Releasing Corp.
Alex De Benedetti, executive producer of "Evil Dead 2" and president of Rosebud, said DEG sold the American rights to the movie to him when DEG executives and director Sam Raimi could not agree on cuts that would be necessary to get an R rating.
The movie was never submitted to the movie rating board, but everyone involved claimed there was no question that it would have gotten an X in its current form.
An X, as has been mentioned many times in coverage of the recent ratings controversy over "Angel Heart," is considered the commercial kiss of death, and DEG, as a signatory member of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, would have had no choice but to release the film with whatever its eventual rating.
DEG still owns all rights to "Evil Dead 2," De Benedetti said, but does not own the American theatrical rights. If DEG is not involved in the American release, how did Rosebud--a company with no distribution network--manage to book it in 340 theaters and who is doing the advertising?
De Benedetti said DEG's distribution people booked the theaters before the movie was sold to Rosebud and that the advertising material had already been prepared by DEG's marketing department. Is DEG being paid for these services? Will DEG share in whatever profits Rosebud receives?
"I can't answer that question," said Lawrence Gleason, president of marketing and distribution for DEG. "That deal was made between Dino (De Laurentiis) and Alex (De Benedetti)."
"That is a personal question, I am a private company and I don't have to go into that kind of detail," said De Benedetti, who has offices at DEG headquarters in Beverly Hills.
If "Evil Dead" is an example of circumventing the ratings system, part of the blame rests with those newspapers and television stations whose policies against accepting advertising for MPAA X-rated movies have contributed to the reputation of the dreaded X. How do they justify accepting ads for a movie whose own film makers bluntly admit deserves an X?
There is a full page ad for "Evil Dead 2" in this section of today's Times. There was a full page ad in last Sunday's Calendar, and a small ad Thursday. What gives?
"When we get an unrated film, we ask our editorial department whether or not the advertisement falls within guidelines of our standards of acceptability," said Leonard Pomerantz, Times display advertising sales manager. "This one was approved."
Times film critic Kevin Thomas got the assignment of seeing "Evil Dead 2" and determining whether or the newspaper should accept advertising for it. He had the same chore a couple of years ago when the original "Evil Dead" was released without a rating.
"It is a very funny movie," said Thomas, who reviews the movie on these pages today. "I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be advertised. If they (DEG) had submitted it to the rating board, I think it would have gotten an R."
DEG's Gleason disagrees with Thomas.
"Obviously, there was going to be a problem with the rating," Gleason said. "It would have been very tough to cut the film for an R rating and keep it in the same spirit its audience expects from it. After a couple of audience screenings, we agreed (with director Raimi) that it worked great in that form."
Gleason said Raimi was obligated by his contract with DEG to deliver an R-rated film, but it became apparent that it couldn't be trimmed effectively.
"We could have forced him (to edit it)," Gleason said. "But with an R rating, it would have been about 62 minutes long."
Whatever rating "Evil Dead 2" might have gotten, it is now playing in theaters near you with no restrictions at the door. Any kid who has the price of admission and is tall enough to reach the ticket counter can get in to see what the Village Voice critic called "Pee Wee's Haunted Playhouse."
There are decapitations, ax killings, like that.
Meanwhile, MPAA President Jack Valenti says that there are no changes being contemplated in the rating system. It has been suggested here and by many critics that the MPAA adopt an A (for adults) rating to remove the pornographic stigma attached to the X, and would likely open advertising outlets.
"We're looking at this (issue) but nothing is contemplated," Valenti said. "Sam Rayburn used to say to me the three most important words in the world are 'Wait a minute.' "