The Crack of Dawn
The Crack of Dawn
Before we made Evil Dead in the late-1970s, we shot exclusively in Super-8, which was much cheaper and easier than 16mm. Wanting to expand his horizons, Bruce Campbell took a filmmaking course at Wayne State University where they shot 16mm, taught by a fellow named John Mason. Bruce made a short, black and white, 16mm film for the class called Fish Shticks (a title that was later reused on Xena). The entire cast and crew were Bruce, me, and Sam who starred in it, and it turned out quite well. Holy crap, we’d made the move up to 16mm.
Bruce and I then made a 10-minute, color, 16mm promotional film for the University of Detroit to be shown on local TV during U of D’s basketball games. It was close to an impossible schedule. We shot the entire film on a Thursday and got the film back from the lab on Friday. We rented a Moviola on Thursday for use on Friday, thus only paying for Friday, but not having to return it until Monday morning. The guy at the rental house actually asked, “You’re just using this on Friday, right?” Bruce and I glanced at each other, then we both assured him it was only for Friday. Once we had the film from the lab, Bruce and I cut non-stop for the next 48 hours. I had to choose all of the music in advance and have it transferred 16mm magnetic stock so we could cut it and the picture at the same time. I simply hoped that my music choices would sync up with the picture, and they did. We returned the Moviola Monday morning, and as the guy took hold of it he said, “It’s still hot.” We feigned innocence. We then got the edited picture and sound to the lab, had it printed, then took it straight to the TV station and it was shown that night. It turned out so well that U of D showed it for years.
In 1979 when we made Evil Dead, Bruce went back to his former teacher at Wayne, John Mason, and asked him for recommendations for crew people. Tim Philo came on board as cameraman, Bart Pierce did the stop-motion effects, and John Mason himself took the job as sound man (I replaced him when he left after six weeks).
Among these Wayne State film guys was an odd fellow named Rick Merciez. Rick didn’t actually make movies, he collected film gear, and had a lot of it: four or five 16mm cameras, a really strange 35mm Arriflex camera (used later on Crimewave), lights, stands, flags, projectors, you name it. Rick lived in a small house in east Detroit (not the best side of town) with his mother, and dreamed of making a feature film one day called Tough Babes. Rick was too weird for most of the guys to deal with. However, since we were now shooting 16mm, and none of us owned any 16mm equipment, I set up a pipeline through Rick. If I would simply go to his God-forsaken house and listen to him tell me in detail about the scenes in Tough Babes – not the story, because he didn’t have one of those – he would let me borrow anything I wanted for as long as I wanted for free, bless his soul.
So, I borrowed equipment from Rick for several films, and heard in extensive detail various scenes from Tough Babes, like: “The Tough Babes are crossing a street and a car bumps one of the babes, who happens to have a tire iron in her hand. The Tough Babe jumps on the hood of the car, smashes out the windshield, grabs the driver by his hair, then jams the sharp end of the tire iron through the guy’s head, from temple to temple, and his eyes pop out.”
I borrowed Rick’s 16mm Canon Scoopic camera to shoot the film, Cleveland Smith Bounty Hunter (1981). To my great good fortune the FX guy, Bart Pierce, who did the wonderful FX in Cleveland Smith, worked the night shift at the film lab, Producer’s Color Service. Bart would take our negative and cut it on the end of another job and make us free prints.
Bart and Rick Merciez were old buddies from Wayne State. Rick dropped by the lab late at night, which is when Bart worked, and saw the very first print of Cleveland Smith, before me. There was Rick’s name listed first in our Special Thanks.
Apparently, Rick left the lab about midnight, driving his van west along Woodward Ave. Within the city of Detroit is another city called Highland Park, which is where the very first Ford plant is located, and has worse crime statistics than Detroit. This is where Rick thought it was a good idea to stop and pick up a hooker. When he slid open the side door a man jumped into the van and stabbed Rick to death. The last thing he did in his life was see my movie.
But wait, there’s more to this tale, which I’ll finish tomorrow.
Have a glorious day. I’m certainly going to give it all the gusto I’ve got.