Monday, April 22, 2013

A-Z Challenge 2013: S is for Irvin Shapiro!

S time for the S post in this April 2013 A-Z Blogging Challenge - and today I'm going to distribute the spotlight on to a man who spent decades getting films out in front of the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. America - because it's my great pleasure to tell you -

S is for Irvin Shapiro!

If you saw the new Evil Dead movie (I am loath to call it a remake – due to remarks the director has made – and the same remarks have my thoughts on the movie wavering hour to hour – digress!) If you saw it – and stayed through the very end of the credits (something highly recommended) – then you may have noticed a thanks in the credits for one Irvin Shapiro. Here’s why that is:

Irvin Shapiro was born in 1906 in Washington DC. In the early 1920’s – while he was still in his teen years – he developed a love for movies – writing film reviews for the Washington Herald, and managing a movie theater in the city. He then moved to New York City and got into business importing foreign films for American distribution. He also worked for a year with RKO Studios’ publicity department. In 1932 – at the age of 26 – he set up a new company – World Pictures – later renamed Films Around the World – and continued to import foreign films. In 1943, Shapiro set up the company Film Classics – which distributed reissues of American films from earlier years and American releases of British films made at British Gaumont Studios. In the 1950’s, Shapiro purchased the rights to some 1940’s films made by MGM and others – and became one of the first film distributors to release films to television .

It's kind of sad how little known Irvin Shapiro is. There are no pictures of him on the
interwebs - so I'm forced to resort to the RKO logo since he worked with them. *sigh*

In addition to keeping his companies going, Shapiro was also one of the founders of the Cannes Film Festival through his connections in France. He also had brought to America such classic foreign films as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Germany, 1920), Battleship Potemkin (Russia, 1926), The Grand Illusion (France, 1937), and Breathless (France, 1960). He was instrumental in ending the American boycott of German films after World War II ended.

At least I can use a picture from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. By the way - how cool is that pic?
German Expressionism at its finest - and a highly recommended watch for film buffs.

So – right there – Irvin Shapiro had a fascinating run as a film distributor – and is well worth inclusion in this A-Z Blogfest – but let’s circle around – remember, he is thanked in the end credits of Evil Dead (2013) – and here’s why:

In 1981 – after a successful hometown premiere of the completed film - then titled Book of the Dead – Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell started shopping the film around for a distributor.

The boys at their premiere in Michigan. Left to right: Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Bruce Campbell. Nice tuxes, boys.
You were going to like the way you looked. Guaranteed.

They weren’t having a lot of luck, until their trip to New York City – where they screened the film for then 70-something Irvin Shapiro. Shapiro liked the film – telling the boys “it ain’t Gone with the Wind” but that it had potential and that he wanted to distribute it. Raimi and co. were delighted to work with someone as knowledgable about film and distribution as Shapiro – who they also thought was a wonderfully eccentric individual.

In the process of prepping the film for distribution, Shapiro initiated the title change from Book of the Dead (“you don’t want people thinking they’re going to have to read a book when they come to your movie.”) He offered several options for a new title – starting with the completely out there The Evil Dead Men and the Evil Dead Women. Other choices in play: Blood Flood and These Bitches are Witches. (I am completely serious). The three young filmmakers chose to shorten Shapiro's original title, as The Evil Dead was the “least bad” option.

 No one had taken production photographs during shooting, so there were no pictures from the film to promote it with. Shapiro set the boys up with a photo shoot with Campbell reprising his role as Ash and a young woman not involved in the filming of the actual movie menaced by a skeleton, and wielding axes and shotguns for promo photography. In addition to promotion – some of the pictures ended up being the photos used on various secondary VHS releases. Here's some of those photos:

Finally, with his connections to the Cannes Film Festival still in place – Shapiro arranged for The Evil Dead to be screened out of competition at the 1982 festival. This was where Stephen King saw the film – and fell in love with it – writing a gloriously glowing review for Twilight Zone magazine – and giving Shapiro a fantastic tagline quote for the posters: “The most ferociously original horror film of 1982!”

The issue that featured King's review.

With all of this in place – The Evil Dead was released – and did extremely well for an ultra low budget independent film – raking in more than $2.5 million – more than eight times its production costs - in its theatrical runs around the world. Consequently – this led to the production careers all three men have enjoyed since – and is the reason they thanked Shapiro in the end credits of the new movie.

Irvin Shapiro sold off Films Around the World in 1985. He was listed as executive producer of Evil Dead II in 1987, which proved to be his last production credit. Irvin Shapiro passed away January 1st, 1989 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 82.

Thank goodness he recognized the value of The Evil Dead – one of my favorite horror movies of all time. And thanks, Mr. Shapiro – I’m glad I didn’t have to read no stinkin’ book when I went to the drive-in to see The Evil Dead in the summer of 1983!

I think that ending fits this post to a “T” – please come back for the next one tomorrow – and until then, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Fascinating! Stephen King endorsement! Oh YEAH! I would love to read that review. Shapiro had a pretty amazing career. Great post, Craig.

  2. Oh, and those promotion photos are spectacular!

  3. dude. that's the most beautiful post I'd seen for this horror classic!

  4. Massive kudos for this guy. He shot a few of the 80s greatest promo pics. His Evil Dead stuff is delightully amazing!