There is a long history of films about cinema and the filmmaking process, from the classics Singin’ in the Rain and Sunset Boulevard to more recent features such as The Player and Hail, Caesar!, but the Swedes do things somewhat differently from Hollywood, Anders Jacobsson’s 1995 splatter satire Evil Ed having more in common with Peter Strickland’s tortured trip to the Berberian Sound Studio than La La Land.
His predecessor indisposed, film editor Edward Tor Swenson (Johan Rudebeck) is pulled from his work on a black and white arthouse film to work for producer Sam Campbell (Olof Rhodin) in the “splatter and gore” department on the latest in the long running Loose Limbs horror sequence, already sold all over Europe and in need of completion.
Working alone other than the visits from layabout courier Nick (LFO‘s Per Löfberg) bearing stacked cans of developed film, the demanding Sam is unsympathetic towards Ed’s sensitivities. “I’m not your mother or your shrink. I’m your boss. I don’t need to know your state of mind.”
And how is Ed’s state of mind after splicing together “ninety minutes of condensed sex and violence,” endless scenes of violence and violations, torture, stabbings, dismemberments, amputations? As unstable as the Loose Limbs killer, Ed’s nightmares are becoming more real, his reactions to them echoing into the real world as he unravels faster than a faulty sprocket.
Written by director Jacobsson, producer Göran Lundström and Christer Ohlsson, Evil Ed makes as little sense as most of the films which it is affectionately mocking and is often little more than a justification for copious blood but nor does it ever ask the viewer to take it any more seriously than it takes itself, playing like something the Comic Strip would have presented in the eighties.
As much about the love of horror as it is a horror itself, in some ways Evil Ed is little more than an excuse to link together as many acts of outrageous violence as possible, the film a conscious reaction to Sweden’s strident attitude towards violence in cinema and the subsequent censorship of films comparable to Britain’s own during the grip of the “video nasty” purges.
With different scenes clearly and specifically echoing other features – a John Carpenter shot appropriately soundtracked as Nick arrives with the rushes, Exorcist III, Legend, Evil Dead, dialogue from Taxi Driver and shots lifted directly from Hallowe’en, the editing suite and studio decked out with film posters from The Howling and Prince of Darkness to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Return of the Living Dead – it is clear where the influences and inspirations are buried.
Despite this, as perhaps would perhaps be expected of a project where the narrative is almost secondary to the prosthetics and gore, the acting is broad rather than sophisticated, nor was subtlety something Jacobsson was pressing for: “I feel sorry for the actors… I was interested in photography, editing and special effects, not very interested in the actors.”
Lead actor Johan Rudebeck concurs though downplays Jacobsson’s statement. “He gave us direction. The problem was that when he was filming he was only looking at the shot, not what I was doing.” Having been known to Jacobsson and Lundström from their short films; a chance meeting in a video store led Lundström to offer Rudebeck a part in the new project: “There was no talk of seeing the script before I said yes.”
This was perhaps just as well as Jacobsson recalls there was no script before shooting, nor were there many other items traditionally associated with professional filmmaking. “Nobody got paid. We couldn’t pay the actors or the crew behind the cameras. Everyone had enthusiasm, but no money.”
Stating that even the camera had been bartered for a couple of bottles of whisky, makeup artist Kaj Steveman confirms the spartan production while Lundström recalls visiting the set and seeing how worn out the others were, but despite the cramped and cold conditions it’s the fun they recall, Rudebeck in particular. “A Swedish horror film of this kind was something completely new… It was fun and the atmosphere was good.”
Now released as a “Special Ed-ition” by Arrow Films featuring six minutes of new footage, the journey has been a long one with principal photography having begun in Jakobsberg in late 1992 before resuming in early 1993 only for the first edit to reveal an unsatisfactory product, Jacobsson commenting “It was far too slow and not at all as much fun or as pacey as we’d imagined.”
Filming recommenced in the winter of 1994 at a disused hospital in Roslagstulls for a completely new finale, an extended sequence taking the already over-the-top levels of gore and matching them with similar levels of action while earlier scenes were cut to balance the running time. Only now Steveman can look back and laugh at the circumstances. “Our only choice was to make our own squibs… It worked, we used them, but they were lethal. Hard plastic flying around. It could’ve blinded people.”
Then followed the long looping process as the Swedish actors who had delivered their lines in heavy accents were dubbed with American voices from an English speaking radio station, Camela Leierth (studio secretary Mel) being the only member of the cast who dubbed her own dialogue, somehow remaining oblivious that what she was taking part in was a horror film: “It didn’t dawn on me until opening night that it wasn’t a romantic comedy.”
Emerging from post-production Hell, it was this version which finally debuted at the Stockholm International Film Festival in November 1995 before going on to wider distribution in 1997, eventually sold in sixty countries and becoming one of the most successful Swedish film exports of that time, beyond anything the production team ever expected.
A three disc set containing both the original and “Special Ed-ition” cuts, the various documentaries contain lively anecdotes from the exuberant crew and their cast, but made by the filmmakers themselves they can be somewhat scattershot and lacking objectivity, though considering the feature they are supporting that is perhaps to be expected, with Lundström’s summation being that “Considering the non-existent planning and total lack of thinking ahead, it’s a miracle we made it.”