When Evil Dead Rise bludgeons its way into theaters this Friday, gorehounds will be pleased to learn that all the things that made the franchise the self-proclaimed “ultimate experience in grueling horror” are still in place. Geysers of blood, chainsaws, shotguns, bodily dismemberment, you name it—director Lee Cronin delivers. Just don’t expect to see the wise-crackin’ guy who named his trusty sawed-off shotgun a “boomstick.” Ash Williams, the prophesied warrior from the sky who was foretold to “deliver us from the terrors of the Deadites,” is sitting this one out. Bruce Campbell’s Ash at least popped up for a “groovy” little post-credits cameo in Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake, but don’t bother waiting around once the credits roll this time.
These days, Campbell is more comfortable working behind the scenes with longtime pal and collaborator Sam Raimi to guide the Evil Dead franchise—a job that spares Campbell the agony of being covered in Karo syrup all day. During an exclusive interview with The A.V. Club, the legendary B-movie actor reaffirmed that his days playing the beloved Kandarian demon slayer are over—at least when it comes to live action. In addition to chatting about his role as a producer and where the fifth entry fits in the Evil Dead canon, Campbell also revealed his thoughts on requels, revisiting The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr., and whether or not Ash will ever appear in a Mortal Kombat game.
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead for Evil Dead Rise.
The A.V. Club: This is the first Evil Dead movie where you never show up on screen. In the 2013 remake, you at least popped up for that “groovy” little cameo. Did director Lee Cronin ever toy with the idea of you making an appearance in Evil Dead Rise?
Bruce Campbell: When Fede [Alvarez] did that, it was a random idea, which I thought was fine. With Lee, we never discussed it. But you can hear my voice in the movie if you listen carefully. Yeah, but that’s about it now.
AVC: We know you’re retired from playing Ash Williams and prefer producing Evil Dead films these days. But as you watch the gore and mayhem unfold on screen with this new cast, is there a part of you that misses it?
BC: Not on your life. This is a rearview mirror scenario. It’s time for the next generation because you need young, supple people who can handle long, horrible hours and excessive makeup—and I’m done. That box is so checked you can’t even imagine. So now, as a producer, our job is to surround these new actors, directors, and writers with the best crew possible. [Producer] Rob Tapert took care of that in Auckland, New Zealand, and Lee Cronin had himself quite a good crew that we’ve used for 20 years. So with all these guys, we surrounded Lee with the best and he very much rose to the occasion. I thought he did a good job. I think this is a good movie that actually deserved a theatrical release because it was originally slated for streaming.
AVC: During the scene where they play the old vinyl with the priest, he mentions finding one of the three lost Books of the Dead. Even though Ash is not involved in these movies, do you consider Evil Dead Rise to be part of the same universe? Like, this new film involves one particular book, and Ash’s events already happened with a completely different book?
BC: It’s all about the books now. It has nothing to do with Ash or any particular character. In Army Of Darkness, we first saw three books. So we know there are three out there, and none of them are any good. It’s about: where does that darn book wind up, who gets it, and what happens? But the universe is the same. It’s about innocent people with no special skills having to fight for their very lives, and in this case, it’s a wayward sister and this young daughter. So it’s still a pressure cooker. They get isolated. The apartment is the cabin. The fact that it’s a creepy old high-rise in downtown L.A. is just cool. You know, I think Lee did a good job of keeping the old and the new, like the kid playing the records is a good variation of how you release these demons.
AVC: As a producer, did you ever visit the set?
BC: We pretty much did everything we could from afar. Rob was the day-to-day guy. I came in during post. Last year, I spent a month and a half in Europe with post-production sound, which is always my favorite part. Casting and sound—that’s what I’m interested in. So what happened was, they were going to stream it. We had already done a test screening, which was okay, not the greatest scores ever. And then when we finished the movie, we convinced Warner Bros. to screen the finished version, and the numbers jumped up so high, it literally made them change their mind.
AVC: I’m glad that happened. This is one of those movies where you’ve got to see it in a packed theater with a bunch of horror hounds.
BC: You do, because the horror genre is really good in the communal sense. You look around and go, “Man, this movie is freaking me out.” But then we’ll look at that guy over there, and he’s hiding under his jacket. And so it’s sort of safety in numbers and you ride the waves of reactions, and it was really fun watching it at South by Southwest. They were waiting for the first gnarly thing to happen—and when it happened—they had two reactions. One was, “Ohhhhhhh!” and then the follow up was, “Yeahhhh!” Because they were like, “Oh good, we’re going to get the good stuff.”
AVC: Speaking of the good stuff, one trademark of this franchise is geysers of blood and gore, which you guys certainly deliver. And not just red bodily fluids, but black, green, white, which was a trick used during Evil Dead 2 to avoid the dreaded X rating that was famously slapped on the original. Did you avoid trouble with the MPAA this time?
BC: Some of it was to mix things up. We had a dark apartment and barfing up a milky substance, it lets you see it better. And all you have to know is that it’s just something gross. It doesn’t even matter what color it is.
AVC: Is there a more extreme cut out there or did everything get a pass?
BC: No, this is it. The MPAA had very little to say.
AVC: When I first saw the trailer, I was worried you guys might hold back because there were kids in this movie. But these youngins really get doused with buckets of blood. The first three films and Ash Vs. Evil Dead were all led by adults. Since this is a franchise known for its extreme gore, were there conversations on how far you’d go with a child actor in the mix?
BC: Well, you have to let them know what’s coming and you have to let them know that they’re in good hands and that we’ll do everything we can to make them comfortable in between this. But then, in accepting this role, you have to accept what comes with it. So there wasn’t really any reason to talk to the actors or give them a big speech because they have to live it for themselves, so I was very hands-off. Let them go do their thing. But the kid is important because this is every little kid’s worst nightmare come true. Mommy is usually the protector, so it’s a good twist when you go, “Oh, that’s my mommy. And she doesn’t look so good.”
AVC: Do you see being soaked with blood cannons as some sort of Evil Dead rite of passage they had to experience for themselves?
BC: It’s totally a rite of passage. I told every one of these actors, you will probably never work on a shoot for the rest of your career that was this difficult. That’s the beauty of doing an Evil Dead movie. I think during my first non-Evil Dead movie, I was like, “Oh, this process is this nothing!”
AVC: It’s well known that Sam Raimi took pleasure in torturing you on the set of every Evil Dead movie. Did you feel the need to subtly torture this new cast from afar, kind of like how Sam did with you?
BC: No, no, no. It’s all about support, because they’re entering into a really strange world, and you want them to feel comfortable. I’m sure Lee had his own relationship with these actors. But our job as producers is not to be the tormentor. We’re the saviors.
AVC: It’s great that we’re out of the cabin and into a creepy high-rise. For you, where does the franchise need to go next to continue to grow? Would you like to see a larger scale Evil Dead movie with more widespread chaos, like we saw during the finale of Ash Vs. Evil Dead?
BC: The only problem with that is that it can get out of hand and if we jump into that world too quickly, it’s hard to get it back. I think the stories will progress a little more now. We’re going to try and do them more like every two or three years rather than every 10 years. It’s also the first time Sam is working with his brother Ivan to create an overall Bible that will give future writers and directors an idea of where this thing should go next to potentially tie in some of these stories. So I think it’s going to get a little more tied in as the years go by. But because it’s all about the books. It could be a book in the past, a book in the future. It’s yet to be determined.
AVC: Evil Dead Rise, like the 2013 remake, is more in the vein of the original. Do you have a preference for the dark and serious tone of the original, or the splatstick humor introduced in Evil Dead 2?
BC: Well, I’ll take Evil Dead 2 any day of the week—only because we had more money, we were more sophisticated as filmmakers, and Sam and I could dick around a little more with our roots, which were comedy. Fede is a pretty serious guy. Lee Cronin is pretty serious. So we let them pick their tone because they both wrote the movies that they directed. So they have a big hand in what happens, and they both chose this route. That’s the shade of horror, really—you can really go dark or you can go light and silly. There’s a few laughs in this, but it’s certainly not a yukfest.
AVC: There’s been talk of an animated Evil Dead project. Can you give us an update?
BC: I would voice that if we did it. My voice has not aged as much as I have, but it’s in development, and there’s nothing else to say. I can’t really talk about what it would encompass, but they are noodling ideas, and we’re having meetings and all that boring crap.
AVC: What kind of final ending do you envision for Ash?
BC: Well, he’s foretold in an ancient book. So I think he would have something more of a mystical ending. And it’s animation, so you can do anything you want. He could be any age you want. So we have a lot of latitude there. I don’t know, we haven’t given it that much thought.
AVC: Are there any other characters you’ve played that you’d like to revisit?
BC: I would revisit Brisco as an older cowboy. There are some fun stories you could do there. I would also revisit Burn Notice, because there’s still a bunch of scumbags in the world that need to be fucked with—we can do it as a limited series or TV movie. That’d be fine, too.
AVC: You’ve dabbled with directing before, so do you see yourself helming an actual Evil Dead movie one day?
BC: I’m not sure if I’d feel comfortable going after that. Sam usually picks these guys. I think the trick now is to go after some younger filmmakers. Directing is fun and I’ve done a fair amount of it, but I don’t think I would dip my feet into this world. It’s too familiar.
AVC: As someone who is both an icon in the horror community and the face of a popular franchise, what are your thoughts on the recent trend of requels? If someone came up with the sacrilegious idea of making a sequel that ignores Evil Dead 2 and beyond, what would you say?
BC: We’re not that out of ideas yet. That’s when you’re out of ideas.
AVC: Evil Dead is one of the most-milked franchises on home video and I’ve lost count of the amount of times I repurchased these movies. How do you feel about getting called back for the anniversaries, events, and commentaries, or being asked about the character? Or do you still love that part of your job?
BC: I’ve been the face of this for over 40 years and if people want to consider that my accomplishment, I don’t really care if I’m known as Ash—that’s fine with me. Unfortunately, my fans tend to stereotype me much more than my own industry. I’ve played cowboys and the King of Thieves, I have been in spy shows. I’ve been in a French film, I’ve played good guys and bad guys, but I’ve learned my fans only watch what they want. So there’s a bunch of Evil Dead fans that wouldn’t really watch Burn Notice. And there’s plenty of Burn Notice fans who wouldn’t dare watch the Evil Dead movies. So, I’m way more stereotyped by my fans because they only watch what they want to watch. They’re not going to watch my whole oeuvre just because of me.
AVC: You recently did Evil Dead: The Game and there were rumors about Ash appearing in Mortal Kombat 11, but that never came to fruition. With buzz about Mortal Kombat 12 possibly being announced soon, are you open to the idea of Ash appearing in that game?
BC: No, I don’t want Ash to appear in other people’s games. Other creatures like Freddy and Jason should be in the Evil Dead game. You should be able to play as Freddy. You should be able to play as Jason and then have Ash fight those guys. So the video game format is much more welcoming, and then you make a side deal with however you get the likeness and the character of Freddy, you let the game company make those deals. So that’s what I would do. But, no, I’m not interested in loaning Ash out. They need to come to our house.