There are few movies that fit the definition of “cult classic” better than the Evil Dead trilogy — The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and Army of Darkness (1992). In particular, the latter two films became legendary for their supremely entertaining blend of horror and comedy personified in the performance of Bruce Campbell as the incompetent everyman Ash Williams. For years, fans clamored for a fourth film from Campbell and director Sam Raimi, and while the 2013 remake Evil Dead pleased many with its radical new take on the franchise, fans have missed Ash.
Earlier this year Starz announced that Ash would be returning in the series Ash vs. Evil Dead, a ten episode half-hour series that would continue Ash’s battles against the Deadites. Starz brought the cast and crew of Ash vs. Evil Dead to New York Comic-Con and Movie Buzzers was able to participate in roundtable interviews with stars Bruce Campbell, Lucy Lawless, Ray Santiago, Dana Delorenzo, and Jill Marie Jones, prosthetics designer/prop supervisor Roger Murray, executive producer/showrunner Craig DiGregorio, and of course, director/executive producer Sam Raimi. The group touched upon many aspects of the series and spoke about what they hoped for in a second season — including other noted horror icons in future episodes.
In the series, Delorenzo plays Kelly Maxwell, a young woman whose family had been killed by Deadites and turns to Ash to get revenge. On the Comic-Con excitement surrounding the series, Delorenzo remarked, “I don’t think there’s any way you can prepare for it. You hear it in theory, and I think while we were filming I was very aware of it. But now being here and seeing it live, it’s a powerful energy that you can’t even mentally prepare for. It’s so exciting because giving the fans what they’ve been waiting for for this many years brings us joy. I think they’re going to be really happy with the result.” She later added, “Bruce was so good about taking us under his chainsaw-wing and showing us the ropes.”
The series was shot in New Zealand. Santiago, who plays Ash’s co-worker and friend Pablo Simon Bolivar felt that shooting the series there served as an effective bonding experience for the cast, explaining, “For us, it enhanced the whole experience because we got to sort of go through the journey that the characters go through in real life. We were taken from a place, put somewhere, went on this Evil Dead journey together and now I wake up at home and I’m like, ‘I miss Dana! I miss Bruce!'”
Shortly after speaking with Santiago and Delorenzo, Campbell sauntered over to our table. Campbell pointed out that doing a television series will serve fans of the movie trilogy with all the Evil Dead they could ever want. He said, “In twelve years we did four and a half hours of material. In four months we just did five hours of material. Television is the way to go because people seem to want this Evil Dead, they seem to be going crazy for it. That’s how you’re gonna get your film, through television. We can finally choke these bastards with Evil and Dead.”
Since Ash vs. Evil Dead is an ongoing series, Campbell named some actors he’d love to bring into the series: Robert Englund (the original Freddy Kruger) and Kane Hodder (the best-known actor to portray Jason Voorhees). “I’d use a lot of them,” he said. “I’d get Robert Englund in there, Kane Hodder, all the guys I run into in the green room at these conventions. [William] Shatner, I’d get him, whoever. But I’d like to get a lot of the genre people in. I don’t want to exclude them at all. We used Mimi Rogers in the first season. She’s great, because she’s a legitimate actress, and then we fucked with her.”
Of course, Campbell didn’t specifically say he wanted to bring these actors in as their iconic horror characters (like in the long-rumored, but never produced crossover movie Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash), but fans can dream, can’t they? When I later asked Raimi his thoughts on that, he said, “Sure, why not? Those guys are really great actors and I think fans seeing them play cameos so I think it’s a great idea as long as they’re right for the role. Casting is everything.”
I asked Campbell if it was difficult for a Renaissance Man like himself (he remarked he enjoyed that label) to play Ash, who was, in Campbell’s words, “a luddite.” He responded, “Ash is easy. He’s not like an idiot, but he wants things simple. So I always have to work with the writers, because when you do a TV show Ash now has to talk. When we were shooting Evil Dead II, whole weeks would go by where I didn’t have any dialogue. It would just be me screaming and bashing stuff over my head, you know? Now we have to figure out how exactly does he talk? He has to talk and explain things now. How does he do it? Is he impatient? Is he a leader? He’s got people he’s working with and they depend on him now, so he’s more like John Wayne now and this is The Searchers. You got your younger cowboys and the old grizzled veteran barking orders. But Ash still fancies himself a little bit of a ladies man, so he might still have a little bit of that.”
I asked Roger Murray, who was responsible for the props and makeup effects for the series, what was his favorite prop that he designed. “Easy. The Necronomicon. We revisited that too. It ends up being a surreal thing working on iconic, key props like that. There a sensitivity to getting it right and pressure to make it similar but not exactly the same… The book has to do a lot more now, so we had to rebuild it a little.”
Though Lawless has long been involved in Campbell and Raimi projects like Xena (she is married to Raimi’s frequent collaborator, Rob Tapert), she said finally joining the Evil Dead series was nervewracking at first. “A little scary at first because I came late and these guys were already in the swing of things. I was working on Salem in Louisiana so I was a bit lost at first because the character wasn’t fully written… It was a mystery to all of us. Also, because she’s antagonistic to Ash, you had to build up his world before you can destroy it. My character comes in a little late, and then she teams up with Fisher, who is Jill Marie Scott’s character, and they are Thelma and Louise gunning for him, chasing him down across America.”
In the series Lawless plays Ruby Knowby, whose father had died during his studies of the Necronomicon and her character blames Ash for his death. I asked her if she enjoyed playing against a chauvinistic character like Ash. She responded, “You just love it. We’re all kind of straight men to Bruce because if you try to occupy Bruce’s space you’re gonna get egg on your face and it’s gonna be less funny.”
Finally we spoke with Sam Raimi and Craig DiGregorio. For those fans who have been wondering how Ash vs. Evil Dead fits in with the prior films, Raimi revealed that because of rights issues with Army of Darkness that the series follows the events of Evil Dead II. Raimi revealed, “We had to ignore it because we don’t have the rights to that… We’re not allowed to borrow any new characters or new elements that were introduced in that. But we found we had enough just for having the rights to Evil Dead and Evil Dead II.”
Of course, Raimi was quick to point out that since Evil Dead II ended with Ash being stuck in 1300 AD, so Ash made it back to his own time regardless. He said, “We pretend Bruce got back somehow from 1300 AD, but we missed that episode.” Nonetheless, Campbell also addressed the issue earlier by saying “don’t rule out time travel” in the series because it “was definitely on the table.”
Interestingly, Campbell also addressed the two endings of Army of Darkness and says that the original ending, in which Ash ends up in the far future, was the one he preferred. “I like that because Ash was going to team up with robots and he was going to a Spartacus thing.” (Raimi was an executive producer of the Starz series Spartacus, which Lawless starred on). When asked why that “future Ash” sequel never materialized, Campbell replied, “Because [Army of Darkness] bombed, for fuck’s sake! Beloved and bombed are two different things.”
Regardless of Army of Darkness “bombing,” Evil Dead fans are finally getting the super-sized sequel they always wanted.
Ash vs. Evil Dead premieres on October 31 on Starz.