Betsy Baker | Surviving Hollywood and The Evil Dead

evildead sqThe Evil Dead star comes to town with “The Ladies of the Evil Dead” for the Con-Tamination Defcon 4 convention, August 2-4 at the Holiday Inn, South County Center.

 

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Like many horror fans, my first introduction to the beloved and bloody genre came courtesy of a local mom-and-pop video store. While most folks went toward the mainstream aisles for their home entertainment, I always found myself wandering the horror section, looking for those oddly titled boxes with bizarre, sometimes garish, artwork. These movies came to be known as “video nasties,” mostly due to what, at the time, seemed to be a veritable buffet of violence and gore. If you were lucky, maybe they had a little bit of nudity, as well. The first “video nasty” that I can remember renting was Sam Raimi’s low-budget 1981 masterpiece The Evil Dead. The story of a group of friends who go to a cabin in the woods and accidentally unleash demons, the film was something most fans had never seen before, and its enduring popularity is due not only to director Raimi’s creative prowess, but also to its wonderful and charismatic cast.

This weekend in St. Louis, fans can have the rare opportunity to meet the actresses from that film: Betsy “Linda” Baker, Ellen “Cheryl” Sandweiss, and Theresa “Shelly” Tilly, known collectively as ‘The Ladies of the Evil Dead.” They’ll be appearing at Con-Tamination Defcon 4, signing autographs, sharing memories of the film, and speaking all things “deadite” with their devoted fans.

I had the pleasure recently of speaking with Ms. Baker, and asked her if she was surprised about all the love still being shown for the film here in the 21st century. “You know, in the intervening years, we had all been married, raised families, and had been working on our careers. So we weren’t really aware of how much the film meant to people,” she remembers. “Then, years later, I had been contacted by a film organization that wanted to screen the first Evil Dead film on Halloween, and they wanted my help in contacting the other cast members. All of us kind of thought, ‘Well, it’s going to be on held on Halloween, so there might be a handful of people there.’ But it completely sold out in just a few hours, and we were really taken by surprise.”betsybaker 75

Slowly, she began to notice other clues pointing to the film’s ongoing impact on the pop-culture landscape. “There were signs here and there,” she continues. “I remember going into video stores—when they were still around—and I would see copies of The Evil Dead on the shelf. I went up to the counter to ask the guy if people ever rented it, and he said, ‘It’s rented all of the time—we can’t keep enough copies in stock!’” In the wake of social media, “fans have even more avenues to enjoy speaking about the movie, and spread the word. We’re on three generations of fans, and it’s just incredible.”

Being a fan of the other entries in the series, I had to ask why she didn’t pop up in any other installments. “Actually, I was supposed to be in Evil Dead 2,” she offers. “Back in 1986, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert invited me to breakfast at a diner in West Los Angeles to talk to me about a project. They wanted me to play Linda in Evil Dead 2, but when I showed up they got my answer: I was visibly pregnant with my first child! So obviously, I wasn’t able to do it.”

In the years that followed, she continued to do not only film work with her friend Sam Raimi, but she also made appearances on such shows as E.R., Southland, and Tim & Eric Awesome Show. Not content to follow one singular path, the actress is also a trained vocalist and delivers cabaret shows throughout the year, where she performs “song parodies I’ve written, plus songs from the American songbook. I would love to come to St. Louis to perform it sometime.” In between these commitments, the busy actress and singer continues to work with her fellow “Ladies of The Evil Dead:” on projects such as the David O’Malley–scripted Dangerous Women, which she calls “A pretty darn clever show, written by David, who’s a fellow Michigan-ite. It’s six episodes, and it’s about three soccer moms who have these evil doppelgangers that wreak havoc with their lives.”

When fans come to see at the Con-Tamination Defcon 4 convention, one question almost guaranteed to be asked, most likely several times, is: “Can you please do your evil laugh?” I ask her if this ever approaches anything resembling a chore accompanied by a headache, and she unleashes that same bone-chilling laugh that sent shivers down my teenaged spine so long ago. How did that creepy-sweet childlike chiller of a laugh come about? “Sam [Raimi] and I were sitting in the cabin, and it was a cold rainy night, and we were waiting for another shot to be set up. We started talking about what Linda is like when she’s possessed, and I was saying how she is so sweet with her boyfriend Ash,” she remembers. “What would it be like if she got even sweeter when she was possessed? He asked what I meant, and I started talking in that childlike voice and I did the laugh. His eyes got really big and he said, ‘That’s creepy; we have to use that!’”

The subject of the Evil Dead reboot inevitably comes up and, while she enjoyed it, she did so with reservations. “I did see the Evil Dead reboot, and I thought the CGI was amazing. But you know, when we did the original, there was no CGI, and everyone had to be creative working within the limitations of having such a small budget. They were getting effects by pulling string, using smoke tanks, things like that.” When I remarked that the original Evil Dead was scarier, she agreed, saying, “It was scarier, I think. The new one was gorier, but ours was scarier.” | Jim Ousley

For more information about Con-Tamination Defcon 4, please visit www.con-tamination.com.

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