Ellen Sandweiss Interview
DEADITES: Under what circumstances did you meet the Renaissance guys?
ELLEN: I went to high school with Sam and Bruce – we did a lot of plays together and also I was in a few of their early amateur super-8 films. I met Rob Tapert when we shot Within the Woods.
DEADITES:What made you decide filming with these guys would be a good idea?
ELLEN: I was 20-21 years old, relished the thought of a semester break from college, and thought it’d be fun.
DEADITES: You had a villainous role as the boss Pettimken (sp) (probably Potyomkin or Potemkin; DEM)in an odd little filmette called “Shemp Eats the Moon” with Bruce Campbell as your rival. Could you tell the people reading this about this little known and little seen film?
ELLEN: What a great little film! Bruce played his classic bumbling private eye character and I was the cruel, sophisticated temptress/crime boss who tried to destroy him. Basically, the “moon” was a very large stolen jewel that Bruce was hired to find. My organization was also after it, and thus the conflict. The funniest thing about this film was an 18-year-old like myself trying to be an evil seductress. The other thing I love about it is seeing my old friend (who tragically died a few years ago) Bill Kirk playing my foolish assistant.
DEADITES: Was this film shot prior to Evil Dead? And if so was it the first film you had made?
ELLEN: Yes, it was before ED, and I believe it was my first film, though it was so long ago I can’t be positive.
DEADITES: Bruce’s character Shemp ultimately kills you in the end which I believe make the score 2 to 1 in Bruce’s favor. Of course your kill is from Within the Woods which much to the dismay of Evil Dead fans worldwide is still as hard to find as Shemp, could you tell us a little bit about Within the Woods that perhaps maybe we don’t already know?
ELLEN: I think you guys (ED fans) know more about all this stuff than I do! I hadn’t even seen Within the Woods, until recently, since about 1978. I did like the film a lot, mostly because I did get to kill Bruce. I do recall that running through the swamp was about as challenging, maybe even more, than running through the woods in ED (why was I always running?). I also enjoyed working with Scott Spiegel, who was always good for a lot of laughs.
DEADITES: Which was more fun, Within the Woods or Evil Dead?
ELLEN: Hard to compare, since one took a weekend to film and the other several months. But I think I’d have to go with Within the Woods because I didn’t have to deal with make-up, contact lenses, cold temperatures, etc. Also, let’s face it: it’s good to be the murderer, rather than the murderee, and fun to act all dramatic and traumatized after the kill.
DEADITES: Did you have any idea what filming Evil Dead would actually be like or was it a total shock once you actual got to Tennessee?
ELLEN: No idea whatsoever. It would be difficult to predict an experience like that.
DEADITES: You were in some rather “uncomfortable” scenes in ED, did they build character or just kind of piss you off?
ELLEN: While we were filming, they pissed me off -later, they built character.
DEADITES: You went from being the hero in Within the Woods to the lead deadite Cheryl in ED, which was more fun?
ELLEN: Was it easier to play Bruce’s girlfriend or sister? As I mentioned before, I preferred being the hero, and I DEFINITELY preferred being Bruce’s girlfriend, if you catch my drift.
DEADITES: Was filming ED as grueling as everyone makes it out to be?
DEADITES: How much were you paid?
DEADITES: After Evil Dead you virtually disappeared, what did you do afterwards?
ELLEN: Check out our Facebook page.
DEADITES: I read your voice has been heard on many commercials, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
ELLEN: I think you might be thinking of Sarah York (Theresa Tilly) – she does a lot of commercials/voice-overs (see the “Shelly” page on our web site). I’ve just done a few local Detroit ones.
DEADITES: Do fans recognize you as Cheryl when they see you?
ELLEN: Only if they’re die-hard ED fans.
DEADITES: Is there anyway we non Michiganites can see any of the things you currently working on, for example the plays that are mentioned on the web site?
ELLEN: First of all, it’s “Michiganders” (we’re very sensitive about that), but right now I’m not doing any plays – I’m too busy making appearances with the “Ladies of the Evil Dead”.
DEADITES: Do you still keep in touch with Sam, Bruce, and Rob?
ELLEN: Bruce: definitely, because we’re doing a lot of conventions with him. I’ve only seen or spoken with Sam and Rob a few times in the past 20 years.
DEADITES: What do you think about this sudden resurgence of Evil Dead popularity?
ELLEN: I THINK IT’S GREAT! If you’re asking for my theory as to why it’s happening, I think it’s because every generation has people who love entertainment that’s clearly “over the top” – that’s why the film continues to be popular. And now, with video, DVD and the Internet (none of which was around when we made the film), that part of the population can repeatedly watch the film and easily spread the word to their cohorts. I think it’s also a “retro” thing – ’70’s and ’80’s culture is “in” these days.
DEADITES: Was it the recent Evil Dead renaissance, which prompted you to step out of the shadows and return to the Evil Dead scene?
ELLEN: Yeah, basically what happened was that over the past few years, Sarah/Theresa, Betsy and I had (independently) been noticing its popularity and thinking about “coming out”. But it wasn’t until they contacted me from L.A., where they both live, around the time that ED had a special showing there last October, that we decided to officially join together and come out to meet the fans. At the same time, I met the Anchor Bay Entertainment guys here in Detroit and also re-established contact with Tom Sullivan. Eventually, all these occurrences culminated in the 20th Anniversary Detroit Reunion we had in February.
DEADITES: Any Evil Dead tours or conventions in the works?
ELLEN: No ED tour, per se, but the “Ladies of the Evil Dead” will be appearing at several conventions – check out the “appearances” page of our web site.
DEADITES: If there was an Evil Dead 4 would you or any of the other ladies want to make a cameo?
DEADITES: What can fans look forward to come from the Ladies of the Evil Dead page?
ELLEN: We’re in the process right now of adding a “merchandise” page, where we’ll be selling autographed photos and “Ladies” t-shirts.
DEADITES: Have you followed Sam and Bruce’s careers in Hollywood over the years?
ELLEN: Somewhat – just what I read in the papers or chose to go see in the theatres.
DEADITES: Why get together now and meet fans, after all these years, with your fellow co-stars?
ELLEN: Because it’s fun and we’re curious about this world of Evil Dead fanaticism – also to thank everyone for being such devoted fans.
DEADITES: Were you aware of the cult status Evil Dead achieved?
ELLEN: Not until a few years ago.
DEADITES: How have you been received by the Evil Dead fans?
ELLEN: Unbelievably well! It’s really cool to have been so appreciated all these years, and never to have even known it. Fans have, in general, been sweet, respectful, and interesting.
DEADITES: Have you seen the other Evil Dead films? Which is your favorite?
ELLEN: I’ve seen them all, but to be truthful, it’s been a very long time. I’ll have to watch them again and then give you an answer.
DEADITES: Had you been asked to contribute to the commentary track on an Evil Dead DVD, do you feel you would have funny anecdotes to reveal?
ELLEN: I think at this point, most of the funny anecdotes have been revealed in the various commentary tracks over the years. However, we “ladies” told a few in our interview booklet in the new DVD release (regular edition).
DEADITES: When you watched Evil Dead for the first time, were you pleased with the film?
ELLEN: Some parts: yes, some parts: no. Enough said.
DEADITES: What do you think of the adulation that’s showered upon Bruce when he makes personal appearances at conventions or Evil Dead screenings?
ELLEN: I think he deserves every bit of it. He’s one of the hardest working actors I know, and he makes it a point to communicate with his fans.
DEADITES: Did you ever imagine that Sam Raimi would become a Hollywood A list director?
ELLEN: Yes, I always thought he had that potential.
DEADITES: After seeing the forest scene in Evil Dead, I was wondering if you were left with any permanent scars?
ELLEN: Only that nasty case of Dutch Elm Disease, which I just got rid of last week!
DEADITES: Would you consider appearing in another film if you were offered?
DEADITES: What kind of films do you like?
ELLEN: Art films and old Mel Brooks and Woody Allen comedies. Young Frankenstein is an all-time favorite.