Splatstick secrets from the ‘Ash Vs. Evil Dead’ gore master
Roger Murray, on the phone from the New Zealand set of Starz’s “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” has one simple way to describe his job as the show’s prosthetics designer and props supervisor: “I have to think about blood a lot.”
He is, after all, the gore master in charge of the tanker’s worth of fake blood — as much as 40 gallons for a big scene — required to bring Sam Raimi’s splatstick revival of “Evil Dead” to life.
“Generally when [my team] arrives on set the [crew] all go, ‘Oh, no!’ and start gathering up all the brushes and pans and mops,” Murray says. “We do a lot of blood rigs, we do a lot of full-body dummies, body parts, decapitation, dismembering, chain saw action…. Most of my day I’m thinking about how we’re going to make it even more bloody than the last time. Everybody likes more blood.”
“Ash vs. Evil Dead,” a TV series extension of the horror franchise classic, is set 34 years after the first “Evil Dead” film and stars the same antihero, Ash, played as always by Bruce Campbell. The series, which premieres Oct. 31, ushers in a new era of splatter horror combined with absurdist humor as Ash and his newfound demon-slaying posse slaughter packs of invading Deadites.
Not to be confused with “The Walking Dead’s” walkers or George Romero’s shambling zombies, a Deadite is an entirely different class of monster.
“Typically a zombie is a mindless reanimated corpse,” Murray explains. “They’ve been reanimated by magic or something like a virus. And their skin is rotting. They’re starting to break down like a regular corpse.” But a Deadite is a possessed person who becomes endowed with the superpowers of evil and all that that entails (strength, speed, a blood lust for main character Ash).
While it can be confusing for the horror rube, there are easily identifiable markings that will help spot a Deadite in the wild.
“What ends up changing is their features,” Murray says. “Generally the idea behind a Deadite is that their head becomes sort of expanded with evil. So they usually have a raised forehead, a raised cheekbone, sunken eyes. [They’re] white gaunt. Their heads can be enlarged and distorted. Their teeth and jawline get distorted. Generally their teeth come out of alignment. And their eyes go white.”
In a sense, the creatures are so full of horror that their skin is bursting at the seams.
To get even nerdier about it, a Deadite is someone possessed by the Kandarian demon, a nasty spirit usually awakened by someone fool enough to read from the Necronomicon, an ancient book of dark magic traced all the way back to H.P. Lovecraft stories. This classic horror trope was threaded early on in Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” and the book of the dead resurfaces yet again when the hero of “Ash vs. Evil Dead” gets drunk and shows it off as a party trick to impress a date. As one does.
That marriage of foolishness and horror makes the “Evil Dead” world turn. And the melding of the absurd and the absurdly grotesque is splatstick. Somehow Raimi, the movie director turned show runner and producer, managed to find the funny in flailing limbs and contorting hordes of attacking Deadites, and now it’s Murray’s job to supply his world with extremities, bits and buckets of fake blood every time Ash takes out his weapon of choice: the chain saw.
That, of course, means lots and lots of blood.
“We distinguish different types of characters with different types of blood.” Murray says. “We’ve got a whole mix of different types.” Not blood types specifically, that is, but various vats of fake prop blood.
So how does one master splatstick?
First, put an emphasis on the practical. Everything that Murray and the crew are assigned they strive to accomplish on set. The artist stresses that tangible props and physical creatures for the actors to react to helps all the elements come to life. “That’s definitely what Sam pushed to keep alive.”
And second, trust in your crew. Murray is quick to give credit not only to his team but also to the entire cast and crew. “I think a lot of the comedy comes out of the situation the characters put themselves in and Bruce himself,” Murray says. “For us, we’re really concentrated on the gore. Stunts work on the way the scene is set up as far as who gets a head wound and how — and who gets chain-sawed up. We work with them quite closely to coordinate, I suppose, your splatstick sort of feeling. But Bruce [Campbell] is right in the middle.”
Murray’s work isn’t limited to just the grotesque and possessed. There’s a whole host of horrors he’s cooking up for the waiting fall audience. “We’ve been making some creatures,” Murray warns, “we’ve been making some puppets.”
And just like that, the odds of scaring the world just got turned in Murray’s favor. Because you can spend all day spraying each cast member with blood and constructing the scariest Deadite to ever contort-run at the screen, but there is nothing, nothing scarier than a puppet.
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