A few weeks ago, Horror Geek Life had a light bulb moment. How great would it be to have a true horror heroine offer her personal insights to close out Women in Horror Month in her own words?
We needed someone who was tough and intelligent, but also handy with weaponry and witty. The first person who came to mind was Ash vs Evil Dead’s Dana DeLorenzo.
She said yes.
With that, we proudly celebrate the final day of Women in Horror Month with this inclusive and poignant piece written by Ms. DeLorenzo, because we’re kind of obsessed with her.
Don’t worry. She knows.
When Landon Evanson asked me if I would be interested in writing a guest article for Horror Geek Life to be featured during Women in Horror Month, I responded with an enthusiastic yes followed by an offensive amount of exclamation marks. He gave me free rein to write about any topic.
My immediate train of thought:
How exciting! Writing an article for WIHM! I have so much to say about strong female characters! Weeeeee!! Hope he remembers from our interview that I don’t know when to stop talking, so I really don’t know when to stop writing. Can I “break” the internet with too many words? Can it snap in half like a piece of plywood holding 20,000 cinder blocks of words? No. Of course not. Good! Then I’ll write about this and this and that and…
I’ll spare you the rest, because now I’m convinced there is actually a slight chance I could break the internet with too many words.
During this train of thought, I was surrounded by a sea of bubble wrap (and that cursed packing tape that sticks to itself more than it does boxes) as I was preparing to relocate to New Zealand to film Season 3 of Ash vs Evil Dead. Not only was I eager to get back to work — and out of the mummy wrap I somehow got myself into — I was eager to be reunited with the Evil Dead crew. Our Kiwi family.
And at that moment, ripping off the packing tape from hell, I knew what I wanted to write about.
I could write a War and Peace-length article (see: potential to break internet with words) about the importance and value of having gutsy, compelling, strong female characters represented in all genres of entertainment, not just in the horror genre. Because after a decade of reading hundreds of scripts for hundreds of auditions, this is something I can speak about from a personal standpoint.
I could then continue to write specifically about strong female characters in horror. More notably, how Ash vs Evil Dead has included both the traditional female archetypes in horror — the damsel in distress, the villain, the girl you know is going to die if she keeps tripping over her broken leg running through the woods at night like a dummy — as well as the bad-ass but flawed female characters who can’t just be tossed into “the final girl” trope.
Because this show doesn’t follow many rules. And when it does, it has no qualms about breaking them with a wink and a self-aware, shit-eating grin. And that’s what makes this show — this franchise — unique beyond its cult-classic label.
While the show has never taken itself too seriously, it has made a conscious effort to redeem some of the ill-fated female characters from the past while also empowering the female characters of the present. To avoid any spoilers for those slackers who haven’t seen Season 2 yet, I’ll put it this way: The Evil Dead 1981 tree scene. The 2016 redemption for said tree scene with a big Easter egg moment. Then Ruby and Kelly have an epic battle with a tree but in the end they defiantly take the power back. They righted the wrong. They were victorious.
Okay that was a tiny spoiler. My bad.
Let me continue with what I could write about. Otherwise I might go on a tangent about a trailblazer in the “strong female character” front (Cue: battle cry) followed by how magnificent and brilliant and fierce and funny Lucy Lawless is in real life. I’m slightly obsessed with her.
Don’t worry. She knows.
In every interview pertaining to Ash Vs Evil Dead, I’ve been asked to share my thoughts about playing a character like Kelly — a “strong female character.” I’ve proudly described Kelly as a “strong female character,” and spoken at great length (aka run-on sentences) about the countless reasons why I love Kelly Maxwell. I’ve talked about the joy and fulfillment it brings me to play her, how grateful I am to the producers and writers for creating a role like her, and for inviting me to collaborate on her character development from the beginning.
“So, how would you describe Kelly?” interviewers ask.
Kelly is sarcastic and calls it like she sees it; she’s not afraid to put Ash Williams in his place when he needs it, but will be loyal to him till the end. A friend (maybe more) and fierce protector of Pablo. A bad-ass with brains who is tough while visibly vulnerable; who shows her fear but pushes through it. She’s a warrior with a stubborn determination to save the world from evil. She is Kelly (bleep bleeep bleeeeeeeeeep)’n Maxwell!
Oh, yeah. And she swears like a sailor. (No relation to her donning anchors.) And she does so with creative flair. Thanks, writers!
My hope is that sooner than soon, nuanced/ conflicted/ victim-turned-warrior characters like Kelly Maxwell, like Prairie Johnson (The OA), like Nancy (The Shallows) become so prevalent that we no longer need to specify “strong female characters.” Instead, we can just discuss the “strong characters” in any given film or television show who happen to be women. The fact that we have to acknowledge the presence of “strong female characters” is proof that there are not nearly enough. Yet. But we’re getting there.
That’s what I could have written about.
But I digress.
Kelly is a strong character, in every sense of the word. But it takes a village of powerful vaginas to conceive and create a character like Kelly Maxwell. The passionate and insanely talented women I work with behind the scenes deserve to be lauded for their contribution to the creation and evolution of Kelly Maxwell.
So, on the last day of Women in Horror Month, I’d like to take this opportunity to shine the spotlight on a few of the real-life heroes of horror: the women off-screen who collectively bring these on-screen heroes to life.
When it comes to Ash’s hero uniform, it’s practically tailor-made for cosplayers. No spandex to be found here, folks! Ash is, after all, the everyman. He may be the King but he doesn’t have to dress like one to prove it. Blue collared shirt. Brown pants. Belt. Various stages of tears depending on which Ash you’re cosplaying. But in terms of Ash Vs Evil Dead, the various stages of Ash depend on one of the most important characters: blood.
So, how many perfectly tailored blue shirt / brown pants combos does Bruce Campbell need in order to effectively carry out the various stages of Ash covered in blood and guts (and colon) for just one season?
Have you ever wondered? I have.
And then one day, outside the studio a choir of angels sang as a light twinkled upon an industrial-sized clothing rack full of blue shirts… followed by a second industrial-sized clothing rack of brown pants… on their way to the wardrobe truck.
I was blinded by the aura of it, so I had trouble counting. My guess is 50.
I mention Ash’s wardrobe to illustrate how much work actually goes into what might otherwise appear to be an “easy wardrobe.” There’s no such thing as an easy wardrobe when you’re working on a horror comedy show. So by comparison, when it comes to Kelly’s ever-changing hero uniform, the wardrobe department has their work cut out for them. (Pardon the unintentional pun which I’m leaving in because I happen to like puns. Especially when they’re unintentional.)
Kelly’s only constant is the color purple, and in-between getting soaked in copious amounts of blood or viscera or gallons of water, she changes her clothes. (Naturally.) Nevermind how or when she finds the time to change. (Don’t overthink it people, it’s television.) Kelly’s got to maintain her rock n’ roll vibe while slaying Deadites and demon spawn! Because she’s Kelly Maxwell. Her wardrobe is her coat of armor.
And be honest: both the undead and dead alike would be hesitant before messing with a woman wielding an ax with a crazed look in her eye while wearing a t-shirt that says “Fuck the Clock.”
Barbara Darragh is our genius costume designer. I am slightly obsessed with her, too.
Don’t worry. She knows.
Let me paint a picture of Barb for you. She experienced the fashion and music and rebellion and riots of the ‘70s — and riots of the 70’s — so the true rock n’ roll vibe which she exudes is innate. (See: her homage to Patti Smith via the “Fuck the Clock” t-shirt.) She’s got short asymmetrical hair, shaved on one side and wild gorgeous curls on top, half jet black, half stark white.
She’s way cooler than Kelly Maxwell on any given day.
From day one of Season 1, Barb and I have been in sync in terms of Kelly’s look and vibe. Before arriving in New Zealand for the first time, I passed along a few wardrobe inspirations for Kelly solely as creative springboards. But when I arrived, I was blown away by what I saw.
Purple! Purple leather jackets! And anchors! And kick-ass boots! And deconstructed clothes and repurposed jewelry! Like the letter rings that spelled out a secret word each episode of Season 1; bracelets with Kelly-isms printed on plastic with a vintage label maker Season 2. These little details support the collaborative idea that Kelly is not only creative with cursing, but expresses her artistic flair by making her own jewelry and cutting up thrift store t-shirts. The takeaway: Kelly has always had a penchant for slicing and dicing.
It was there, that first day in that wardrobe room with Barb and the gifted wardrobe team that Kelly finally materialized for me.
I need to mention this: you know the fabulous purple leather jackets Kelly wears? HAND MADE. Designed from scratch, dyed from scratch, sewn from scratch! (I can’t even sew a damn button on my shirt!) And Kelly wears multiple purple leather / vegan leather jackets per season. (Cue: slow clap for Barb and her wardrobe warriors– shout-outs to Ylona, Ruth, Petra, Olivia and Marion!)
On top of creating tailor-made pieces from scratch, the wardrobe team then has to work tirelessly creating replicas of the different stages of Kelly’s wardrobe — as they also do for Ash, Pablo and Ruby. Like chemists conducting experiments, they play around with different ways they can distress the clothes to match the plot. They use the costume that gets blasted with the original blood splatter as a template to replicate, sometimes on the fly setting it with a hair dryer. They re-create interior looks to match exterior looks. Like using a sticky clear goop (think: L.A. Looks hair gel) to re-create that “wet” look and avoid it from drying when inside the cabin after Kelly battled in the rain in the Season 1 finale. They even put wax on Kelly’s rocker ripped jeans to pronounce the hand-distressed holes and tears for the camera’s detail-oriented eye.
The devil is in the details.
Slay, wardrobe department. Slay.
There are so many artistically brilliant people who make this show what it is, who make the creatures and the Deadites look just as terrifying in person as they do on screen. But in terms of helping to create and maintain Kelly Maxwell, I have to shine the spotlight on my hair and makeup artist, Tamara Eyre.
The head of the makeup department is the exuberant Vanessa Hurley, the creative artist who designs the makeup / hair looks for every character on this show. Hoo-hah! (Cue: slow clap.)
Tamara not only does the “glamour” hair and makeup for Kelly– she also has to re-create on top of that all the blood splatter and viscera and wet and dry looks, as well as the aftermath of battling evil… the cuts, the bites, the gashes and bruises, etc. And she has the added pressure of making it count where the camera is usually up close and personal: the face. (Cue: Blood curdling scream.)
Once the blood is established for a scene— the moment after the viscera cannon explodes on me, for example– Tamara uses a transparency sheet (remember those overhead projectors from middle school?!) and marks the size and shape, so that she can re-create it. Like most shows, we often have to shoot out of order. Sometimes months apart for re-shoots. And she has to match it every time.
Other days she has to create the splatter matter look before it’s established. The blood splatter is perhaps her most impressive skill. She uses a variety of tools, like a paintbrush (à la Sam Raimi) to the world’s tiniest makeup brush to dot blood on just right. But her methods also include tediously flicking the blood with her fingers or dolloping it on and letting it trickle down. Now that is dedication to the horror genre and the art of blood splatter and continuity.
She’s so passionate about her job and her work that she even practices on herself! Take Kelly’s asylum transformation episode from Season 2: I saw Tamara painting the bruises and cuts and wounds on herself, perfecting them long before it was time for me to sport them. Applied layer by layer, reaching the believable effect needed for HD cameras. (Added bonus that I had a few real bruises already because I injure myself a lot.)
Tamara is always pushing herself to new creative heights, figuring out which application tools work best and what looks most believable for something that doesn’t exist in real life. One of the greatest examples of this were the puppet bites from Ashy Slashy.
Forget playing Nudey Photo Hunt at your local dive bar — if you want a real challenge, try and spot the differences within continuous scenes shot over weeks at a time with this artiste! Thank you, Tamara! And thank you to the other talented makeup artists: Vanessa, Aly and Hannah!
I’d also like to mention makeup / special effects artist Clare Ramsey, who diligently airbrushed my whole upper body when Kelly was possessed by Eligos in Season 1. It took her hours to layer gray paint for the skin color, followed by free-hand drawing the exceptionally creepy veins using an airbrush tool. (Getting airbrushed was actually quite relaxing. I would have fallen asleep if I wasn’t “getting in the zone” blasting Marilyn Manson in my ears.) Thank you, Clare!
Brooke Darlison works in the art department, constructing and handling props. She not only has a magnificent attention to detail for every prop on set, she graciously offers options for me to decide the details when applicable: What flavor gummy leeches do I prefer to chew on? (Strawberry) Which rock size is best for me to throw? (The middle size that I didn’t drop on my foot) Would I prefer to drink food colored water from a gin bottle or a whiskey bottle? (Kelly would drink whiskey all the way) Is soda water ok for me to drink to put inside the Faygo pop can? (Yes, but I won’t be mad if you sneak in a pop) What torch do I prefer? (What the hell is a torch? Ohhh. That’s Kiwi speak for flashlight. Your call, Brooke. Whichever one is less expensive because I’ll inevitably break it.)
Brooke is not only great at what she does, she is always smiling, considerate to a fault, and has a ridiculous amount of patience. I told her this on the day: the most joyful 30 seconds I’ve ever had on camera was getting to destroy that rec room in the asylum. That weird monkey dance I did? That was Dana coming through Kelly. I got to destroy a room — twice– and not have to clean it up! Childhood dreams come true on this show, people! And that’s just one of many that have come true for me while working on this show.
But Brooke had to clean it up. After I recklessly flipped tables covered with chess pieces and mushy food, Brooke not only had to clean it up, she had to quickly reset it for a second take. I felt bad so I started to help clean up the mess I made, but Brooke just laughed and told me to stop, she got it . . . but I kept trying and then I accidentally knocked something else over and it was very loud and then I was kindly told by the AD to stop “helping.” Copy that.
So, thanks Brooke. And thanks to all the women in the art department for all of the above, and so much more.
Last quick shout-out to Anna in the art department who made the 26 gallons of blood and then told me that’s exactly how much blood was blasted on me in the Jacksonville bar in Season 2. That led to me find out from Rob Tapert that I was maybe an honorable mention in the Evil Dead Blood Hall of Fame. Bruce is #1 with 400 gallons. (Cue: slow chainsaw clap for Bruce.)
Thank you to these magnificent women, and to all the women and men who work behind the scenes on Ash vs Evil Dead. Thank you for your incredible passion and artistry. Thank you for all that you do to make Kelly Maxwell — and ultimately, this show — come alive (and dead. . . and alive… and dead) on screen.
Thank you to the fans, for whom this show is made.
And thank you to anyone who is actually still reading this besides my mother.
…Did I break it?
Dana DeLorenzo stars as Kely Maxwell on Starz Channel’s Ash vs Evil Dead.