The Disgusting Truth Behind Evil Dead's Melting Corpse Scene

Sam Raimi's 1981 film "The Evil Dead" is a film about a man being attacked by monsters in a cabin in the woods, yes, but it's also about an actor being attacked by a genre. The plot is almost knowingly oversimplified and contrived, and the summoning of demons — via a tape recorder; it's not even something the protagonists elect to do wittingly! — is so incidental as to be arbitrary. As such, when the aperture to Heck is opened, and Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) is beset by cackling humanoid manifestations of eldritch ungodliness, it plays less like an eternal struggle against the forces of evil and more like a whimsical contemplation of the absurdity of life as it exists inside a slasher movie. Indeed, there is a scene in "The Evil Dead" where blood is splattered on a film projector, and Ash stumbles into its light, the projected blood cinematically running down his body. He is not so much a human being, but an abstract tool of the horror genre, a gore recipient with no free will. 

As you can imagine, Ash doesn't feel too good about this. 

When "The Evil Dead" was first released in 1981, it faced some pretty harsh scrutiny from censors. Raimi didn't really care about ratings or censorship while he was making the film — a goof he made with friends on a budget of $375,000 — so he went for broke and, following in the footsteps of the great Herschell Gordon Lewis, made the film as gruesome as he possibly could. To this day, Raimi and Campbell can tell you the best way to make fake blood. The film initially received an X rating, and notoriously became one of the Video Nasties

Some of the gross effects seen in "The Evil Dead" weren't just gross to look at either. Some of them were gross to make.

Days of Coffee and Corn Syrup

The makeup and effects for "The Evil Dead" were made by the now-legendary Tom Sullivan, a friend of Sam Raimi's. The two of them had a mutual excitement for gore and stop-motion animation, and they worked on all three of the "Evil Dead" movies together. Sullivan was one of the original artists who came up with the above-mentioned blood recipe (red food dye, Karo syrup, and coffee; make some today!) as well as the designer of the film's Necronomicon. 

The effects in "The Evil Dead," like every element of "The Evil Dead," had to be done on the cheap. the production was wild, dangerous, tiring, and pretty miserable for most people involved; Campbell has talked a lot about how uncomfortable the shoot was, and Raimi claims that he was working so hard on the film he passed out. This was also a time when safety wasn't necessarily of highest concern on film sets, so the shotgun blasts you see were not blanks. Also, Campbell admits that some rogue filmmaker forced him, forced him I say, to ingest cannabis during production. It's kind of a miracle no one was seriously injured while making the film. 

When it came to creating demon and gore effects for "The Evil Dead," Tom Sullivan had to get creative. He also wanted more than just the usual blood, and was, perhaps passingly, aware that too much traditional red blood would get them in trouble with the MPAA. As such, the demons in "Dead" needed to look, in Sullivan's words, "like their biology had changed." 

The Melting Corpse

Near the end of "The Evil Dead," the character of Scott (Richard DeManincor, credited as Hal Delrich) is possessed by a demon and, naturally, attacks Ash. Ash yanks a tree branch out of his gut, and he falls to the ground. His corpse melts. It's friggin' amazing. In order to make a melting corpse, Tom Sullivan had to get really creative ... and really gross. More than just blood, the corpse had a much more pungent recipe. The stringy guts were made of warmed up marshmallows — I like to think the crew were having s'mores after hours — and the wiggling snake-like things were actual snakes. To make the blood look clumpy and necrotic, Sullivan mixed oatmeal into the usual mixture. Side note: Coffee-flavored blood oatmeal sounds like an amazing breakfast for writers, or a good hangover cure. 

And yes, creepiest of all, were the Madagascar cockroaches. You know, the big orange ones with the long bodies. The ones that hiss. The cockroaches were acquired from Michigan State University. A sure way to delight any horror fan is to dump a fistful of cockroaches onto a rotting corpse. It's like a Thanksgiving meal to us.

I imagine it didn't smell too good in that cabin.