If you read any interview with legendary B-movie actor Bruce Campbell between 1993 and 2014, the chances are extremely high that you’ll find exchanges about the nonexistent Evil Dead 4. For over two decades, both he and franchise writer-director Sam Raimi were plagued with that undying question. That’s what happens when you’re the star of one of the greatest cult horror sagas of all time.
Since 1992’s Army of Darkness, the third and final film of the series, the franchise had a very lucrative life in the home-video arena, making a killing with countless editions in VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. It even spawned various lines of action figures and a variety of merchandise: keychains, apparel, posters, lunch pails, shot glasses—you name it. And the fans eat it up. So it was a matter of time until someone saw potential for a comeback.
In 2013, Campbell co-produced an Evil Dead remake directed by Fede Alvarez. While it wasn’t exactly what the fans had been clamoring for, it was still well received by critics. Then out of left field came the announcement that Raimi and Campbell were teaming up with Starz to brings us Ash vs Evil Dead, a 10-episode series where Campbell would once again don his signature chainsaw-hand, take up his shotgun (aka “boomstick”) and reprise his indelible role—Ash Williams. Forget a 90-minute movie. Fans were now getting five full hours that followed the events of the films. The series premiered in October 2015 to enormous praise.
Now Ash vs Evil Dead is back with its second season, ready to deliver another splatterfest beginning October 2. Here, Campbell tells us how this new season ups the ante, what Easter eggs we can expect and how Sam Raimi still manages to torment him on set from afar.
For over two decades you and Sam Raimi were hounded about an Evil Dead 4. Now that Ash vs. Evil Dead has arrived, are you still being asked about a fourth movie?
No. Thank God. It seems to have shut the masses up for the briefest of periods. The good news about television is you can really deliver the hours—way more than a feature film could. Because if the feature came out and bombed, you’d never see the Evil Dead franchise ever again. It just wouldn’t happen. Thankfully, the TV show has temporarily stifled their talk. But I’m sure the second the show is over they’ll go, “OK, time for a movie.”
Do you already have an idea on where season three will go if it gets greenlit?
Some shows are plotted out, some are not. I think ours is somewhere in the middle. We had a plan on how Ash would formulate his team and how things were going to go down. But then you have to start telling a bigger story. The cool thing about Ash is he’s got a little bit of a mythology behind him. He is foretold in the ancient book. There’s some prophecy fulfillment that’s got to happen eventually. That’ll really carry us starting with season two and beyond. We just had a great writer join us, Mark Verheiden, who is a great long-term storyteller. And that’s what you need in television—to get those longer story arcs going. I think we’re going to see the mythos develop.
A lot of diehard fans want to see all of Ash’s past experiences acknowledged in this show. Certain story elements and footage from Army of Darkness can’t be used because that film is owned by another studio, but do you guys plan to drop some sort of hint that Ash did indeed teleport back in time?
Well, here’s the cool thing: None of it matters. That is where we find Ash now, you know what I mean? Because Ash already did have time travel. We did that at the end of Evil Dead II. Time travel was always going to be a possibility. He’s got a shotgun, chainsaw and a scary book—that’s it. That’s the whole story. So we’re pretty much going to take those elements and then just keep coming up with new stuff. So less and less, as the episodes roll by, we won’t have any actual need of Army of Darkness other than people’s nostalgia.
Lee Majors plays Ash’s dad this season. Who else did you have in mind if he ended up saying no?
There’s a short list of names I can tell you, but his was probably at the top. I was like, “You go to get him. You go to get Lee Majors. I don’t care where you have to find him—get him.” It just seemed so perfect. And Lee, he didn’t know about these movies. This is not his bag. When they mentioned it to him, he goes [mimicking Majors’ voice], “Alright, let me watch ‘em!” And he watched them all. He says he laughed all the way through. He went, “Alright, the show’s funny. I got it.” So, the horror isn’t for him, but Lee is the type of viewer that we want to get. Someone who goes for the humor, stays for the gore. Or goes for the gore, stays for the humor—one of the two. That’s why we enjoy mixing up the genres a bit. There’s a lot of horror out there that’s grim, and this is not that type.
Have you guys thought about getting some of the other stars from the first movie to cameo or maybe come in as new characters?
I’ll put it to you this way: Ash is going back home. We’ll actually see the house he grew up in. So I think it’s within the realm of possibility that we will see some relatives from long ago. There’s some Easter eggs for sure. There’s at least two major cast revisits this season.
Do you tend to improvise and deviate from the script, or do you read your lines exactly as they’re written?
[Laughs] I always warn the writers in advance. I tell them, if you come up with good words, I’ll say them all. If you don’t, then don’t be surprised at what you’re going to get. Some writers aren’t thinking about certain things, or they overthought some things, so I’ve tried to simplify things in some cases, or make them way more complicated in other cases. The writers have to make sure Ash is fleshed out as an incredibly flawed lead character. Not necessarily stupid, but flawed. He has to make horrible, horrible mistakes.
What type of ending do you want for Ash? Is this guy ever going to catch a break or is he cursed with battling Deadites until he’s in a retirement home? You could almost borrow ideas from Bubba Ho-Tep.
Yeah, he’ll be in a wheelchair. He’ll be a crabby old man shouting at everybody. “Get off my lawn!” He probably will keep going. This is not the type of franchise to have a shock ending. I think people want a satisfying ending. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but it’s got to feel satisfying that they’ve gone through this journey for a reason. So hopefully we’ll see some redemptive qualities of Ash. He’ll hopefully grow a little bit as a human being. And the goal is to save the world. He has to save the world. So let’s see what happens. Good luck, world.
Sam Raimi used to torment you on set while filming the original three movies. Does he still do that to you when he visits the Ash vs Evil Dead set?
No, but he makes the writers write stuff that he knows will torment me. That’s how he does it from afar. There are some sequences this season that are quite torment-a-licious and off the charts.
I’ve seen the first two episodes of the season. You must be talking about the morgue scene, where Ash finds himself in a shitty situation, pun intended. You guys seemed to have upped the level on gross-out gags and gore.
There’s a big difference between gore and gross. Or gross and scary. You can be gross for the sake of gross. You know, we’re pushing the envelope for sure. We try to offer up a mixed bag. Horror comes in many shades so we are trying to come up with a great cornucopia of horror gags and elements. We have some good creatures this season. We have a great, über-bad guy that’s coming in.
Going back to the days of VHS all the way to DVD and now Blu-ray, The Evil Dead franchise is also well known for milking each film in every format every few years with new editions. What’s your opinion on that? Do you ever say, “Come on guys, another bonus feature?”
Oh, I’ve said it 48 times already. It started with the whole DVD craze, because you couldn’t just have a two-hour movie; now you got to have 15 hours of extras. You know what else it is? It’s been around long enough, so now you got to sell it to a whole new generation. That’s part of it too. You got to kind of do it to some degree to stay relevant. But the crazy thing is, with these fans, it’s not like a normal TV show or movie to them. They’re collectors. I’ve had people come up and I’ll sign all three versions of Army of Darkness for them because they’ve got them all. And I’m like, “OK, fair enough,” because they will become collectibles, eventually. Even if they don’t play in your machine anymore.
What’s the strangest request you’ve had from a fan? Do they ever have you autograph their nether regions?
I’ve signed a lot of boobies. And I signed a boobie where a woman was going to get it tattooed on her boob. I haven’t seen her since, but presumably she’s done it. In Austin, Texas I signed eight different appendages of people and then they ran out and had them tattooed and they’ll come back and show me. At some of these conventions now, they’re smart: They have tattoo parlors at the convention. So you can get your favorite Evil Dead tattoo right there.
Like with Terminator versus Terminator 2 and Alien versus Aliens, fans love to debate which is the better film—Evil Dead or Evil Dead II. What’s your vote?
I like Part II. We had a little bit more money. More experience. And then we got more into what we started calling “splatstick,” as opposed to slapstick. It’s like horror and comedy. I like horror with a little sprinkle of comedy. I don’t like straight horror. So that one was a little more fun and it’s a little more inventive as a movie.
In 2007 you directed and starred in a meta-horror-comedy film called My Name is Bruce, where you played yourself and your fans came to you to seek your help destroying a Chinese demon because they thought you might be exactly like your Ash character. Is that an accurate reflection of what you might be like if a real life demon apocalypse happened?
Oh, for sure. I’ve already told my kids, if you’re across town, I’m not gonna come and get you. Work it out. You’ve had a good life. Try and survive. Call me if anything works out. I’m not a hero in real life.