With the anticipation running at fever pitch for the upcoming horror re-imagining of The Evil Dead, the film which rightly has its place as one of the horror genre’s modern classics of all time, I had the opportunity to have a sit down face-to-face interview this past weekend at this year’s WonderCon in Anaheim, CA with the incomparable Bruce Campbell, the franchise’s original star and main players, who also has become an absolute icon of the genre and is part of the production for the new film.
Looking sharp, lean, and distinguished, Campbell waxed about the new film, the original trilogy, why he surprisingly didn’t enjoy making Army of Darkness, his career highlights, what scares the hell out of him, and the horror genre itself, in which he even used a marijuana metaphor to describe its appeal (!). Fun, unassuming, honest, bold, and witty, spending time with Bruce Campbell is intimidating in the best possible sense. He knows exactly what he is and that confidence shows in multitudes. The man looks you directly in the eye when he speaks to you and he doesn’t mince words. In essence, Campbell is his own boomstick, one that is groovy indeed, and whip smart… S-mart.
Continue reading to see what the man himself had to say.
Geeks of Doom: So the upcoming Evil Dead has already gotten tremendously good buzz. That must be pretty amazing for you to hear.
Bruce Campbell: Yeah, it’s pretty good, it’s catching on like wildfire. That’s what you want with a horror movie, you want good word of mouth. And even after it comes out, we want good word of mouth.
Geeks of Doom: Why did it take so long to get to final fruition?
Bruce Campbell: It didn’t. Everyone thinks that, I don’t know where they thought that. We had never talked about a remake of any kind. We talked about sequels, but never a remake. But the sequels, because Sam [Raimi, original trilogy director] was doing these big blockbusters and I was working on a TV show for seven years [Burn Notice, on the USA Network], there didn’t seem to be time. So Sam ultimately met Fede Alvarez, this filmmaker from Uruguay, who did a short that everybody liked a lot called Panic Attack, and Sam was spitballing with him and he pitched a few ideas about a remake without the Ash character. We got pretty interested in that, and it seemed like the world was ready to put up money for it, so that’s what we did. So it actually was a pretty quick process, it was only about a year and a half process.
Geeks of Doom: How was it comparatively to the original?
Bruce Campbell: There was no comparison whatsoever. We did the film all the way through, people got paid, nobody got hurt, I mean everything was different. Real equipment, real photography, real sound, better actors, good script.
Geeks of Doom: Do you still kind of miss those kind of shoestring days?
Bruce Campbell: No. Everybody thinks that I do, but I don’t. I am impressed with what we put up with, but I dare any actor to survive the Evil Dead shoots. I just have no sympathy to these actors. None. I am the least sympathetic guy to come to, because I defy somebody to just survive those movies physically. But the first one, yeah, it would have been nice to have a little more money, but we did the best we could. It was like a time capsule of that time period, of us in our early 20s, of what our abilities were then, based on the money we had. So it’s just nice to kind of be able to tell a similar story, with a budget.
“I am impressed with what we put up with, but I dare any actor to survive the Evil Dead shoots.”
Geeks of Doom: Was it always a plan to make the new film real serious like the first film?
Bruce Campbell: Well, the first one is not funny. It’s a melodrama. People laugh cause it’s hokey, there’s some cheesy stuff in it, but the tone of it is not funny at all. So if you are remaking the original, the thought was yeah, match that tone.
Geeks of Doom: So if this new series becomes a trilogy, is it going to go the same way regarding the tone, the first one serious, and by the third one, it becomes a campy horror film of sorts?
Bruce Campbell: See, the trilogy was never meant to be a trilogy. We only made the third movie because our second movie bombed. We had to get back to something that made money. I mean, it was just survival tactics. So the second one, Ash was dead at the end of the first one. So it was Sam’s imagination to bring him back to life, but he was technically dead.
Geeks of Doom: They were all tour-de-forces for you, but the third one especially.
Bruce Campbell: Sure, because they just kept getting bigger and bigger.
Geeks of Doom: It seems like you had a ball filming that third one [Army of Darkness].
Bruce Campbell: No. Are you crazy? No. Worst experience of my life.
Geeks of Doom: Really?
Bruce Campbell: Yeah.
Geeks of Doom: It certainly doesn’t show on screen.
Bruce Campbell: Well, no, but that’s the idea. I mean, if you sit around and have fun on a film set telling stories with all your friends, that means you are not working hard enough. My theory is that a movie that is easy to make is hard to watch. And a movie that is hard to make is a lot easier to watch.
Geeks of Doom: Did you throw in a lot of off-the-cuff lines, a lot of improv, when you did those?
Bruce Campbell: Well, Sam would throw out a bunch of stuff, and it was always a combination. It would start with a script, but then he would get a lot of ideas while we were filming. That’s why I like working with Sam, he would always try to improve stuff.
On if he had a ball filming Army Of Darkness: “No. Are you crazy? No. Worst experience of my life.”
Geeks of Doom: Was it ever in the ring that you might have directed this new version?
Bruce Campbell: No. I wouldn’t touch this series. It’s just too dear to us and Sam is the director of the bunch, so he will be the boy genius of the bunch.
Geeks of Doom: What made Fede then become the one to direct it?
Bruce Campbell: His short was pretty skillfully done. It was very sophisticated for having no money. And he had a great grasp of special effects and he was a bright guy and he wasn’t that young, he was 34 or whatever. He’s like a man. And he brought a whole different sensibility that’s not American.
Geeks of Doom: And he seems to have a huge passion for this.
Bruce Campbell: He does. I think we caught him at just the right time in his life.
Geeks of Doom: What is your opinion on why this horror genre is so off the charts lately? The fantasy, the sci-fi, they all kind of tie in a little bit.
Bruce Campbell: Horror comes and goes. It’s like Westerns. Westerns get hot, they come, they go; Clint Eastwood makes a Western, people like them again, then they make too many and they all die off and no one makes a Western for ten years. Horror movies are the great staple. But it’s kind of like weed (marijuana). Horror films are like weed. It’s a lot more mainstream now than it used to be. People will admit that they like horror movies now, whereas before, maybe they didn’t, as opposed to, do you smoke weed, yes or no? People, they wouldn’t even bring up the subject, but now with two states being legal, now they will talk about it. So, that’s my parallel.
Geeks of Doom: So will people have to get their “horror card” to come see the movie in California?
Bruce Campbell: [laughs] Yeah, get your horror card. To see this movie, I think you need it. Audacious.
Geeks of Doom: The tagline for the movie alludes to the fact that it’s going to be “the most terrifying experience ever.” For you growing up, what were some of those as a kid?
Bruce Campbell: The original Exorcist.
Geeks of Doom: Released 40 years ago this year.
Bruce Campbell: Yeah. Just great. The Exorcist had Ellen Burstyn in it, she’s a good actress.
Geeks of Doom: An Academy Award winner.
Bruce Campbell: Right. And the way the film treated a possession was as though it was real. They were like scanning Linda Blair’s brain, and they were trying to figure out clinically and they discounted every clinical reason why she is doing what she’s doing and in a really like methodical way, and [William] Friedkin was just at the top of his filmmaking game, and Linda Blair, they caught her at the right spot, and they just treated it like it was real, like it was clinical, like she was possessed by a fucking demon. And it was also within the Catholic structure which was real, and there are exorcisms, but this was one of the first times they went, what if this really happened?
Geeks of Doom: You were kind of young then when the film was first released in 1973. Did you get a chance to see it in the theater?
Bruce Campbell: Oh yeah, I saw it in a theater. It was horrifying. And then, there was another movie called The Tenant which was a whole different kind of movie.
Geeks of Doom: Roman Polanski.
Bruce Campbell: Yes. Because it makes you think you are going crazy. So to me, that was a very effective horror movie because it messed with my head. It wasn’t a visceral, make you scream or jump, it made you think like you were losing your mind, which is good filmmaking.
On how he hopes audiences will react to the new Evil Dead: “I hope it freaks their shit.”
Geeks of Doom: Is that what you look for when you are looking for horror projects?
Bruce Campbell: No. With horror projects, you still have to tell a story. No matter what genre you are doing. So your effects are not the story. You use effects to tell the story. In the old days we didn’t know what a story was. Now we have a better idea of a three-act structure and what you want to do with it and I also know now like, I ask people, how many weeks do you have to shoot it, and if they say three weeks and it’s a huge script, I am like, you don’t know what you are doing. So no, because I know what kind of experience it would be. Like with Bubba Ho-tep, I asked Don Coscarelli, I said, how long are you going to take to shoot this? He goes, six weeks.
Geeks of Doom: Your scenes?
Bruce Campbell: No, the whole movie. I went, okay, I’m in. Because I knew that he was going to take his time with it, and not ram this thing through like a [Roger] Corman movie.
Geeks of Doom: Did you enjoy playing Elvis?
Bruce Campbell: That was tough. It was difficult, a lot of makeup and stuff. But it was good, it was a very good experience. I did it because it was the weirdest script I had ever read. But it had a nice message of two old guys trying to find usefulness as old people. It had a weird little underlying theme.
Geeks of Doom: You have kind of run the gamut in your career, I mean, you have pretty much done everything, with your Old Spice commercials, with your television work, with your voiceover work, so any uncharted territory? Ever want to do something against type just for the hell of it, a romantic comedy, or Shakespeare in the Park?
Bruce Campbell: No. You know, you have got to just stay with the times, stay relevant, cause entertainment is changing all the time, so it’s getting easier to make movies now, so I wouldn’t mind making a few more movies in Oregon where I live, just dick around and having some more fun with it, because it’s getting easier and easier to do.
Geeks of Doom: Out of your entire career, what are some of the highlights for you?
Bruce Campbell: Well, The Evil Dead movies, they got me into the film business, and they have stayed relevant for some reason. Briscoe was fun, just playing in a Western for a year, playing a cowboy, it was a long single season, but it’s pretty well regarded after the fact and it has aged pretty well.
Geeks of Doom: It has a pretty good life on its own on DVD.
Bruce Campbell: Yeah. And a couple of movies that not that many people saw, a film called Running Time which was cool, it was done like the Alfred Hitchcock movie Rope, where it’s all done in one shot, with hidden cuts.
Geeks of Doom: Did that present challenges? I’m sure it must have.
Bruce Campbell: Of course it did. It was way more ambitious than Hitchcock. And that was done for about $110,000. I did that just after McHale’s Navy. I was looking for something cool to do.
Geeks of Doom: Did you like the original McHale’s Navy? [a naval sitcom which aired from 1962-1966 on ABC-TV and starred Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway]
Bruce Campbell: Yeah, that’s why I did it.
Geeks of Doom: What do you like doing better, TV or film?
Bruce Campbell: Both. Films, you can take more time with it, you can tell a better story, but they move too slow for me now. I like TV because it moves fast.
Geeks of Doom: It seems like TV is experiencing a Golden Age now, with your program Burn Notice and many others currently and recently on the air.
Bruce Campbell: Cable is coming into its own. Cable used to be the B-movies of television. Now it’s like, fuck you man, we’re cable. Eat it.
Geeks of Doom: A-list completely.
Bruce Campbell: [laughs] Yeah.
Geeks of Doom: Your character on Burn Notice uses the alias “Chuck Finley.” Is that an allusion to Charles O. Finley, the old Oakland A’s owner whose team had won three World Series in a row from 1972-1974?
Bruce Campbell: Actually, it’s to the pitcher Chuck Finley. [Stoogeypedia note: Finley pitched most of his career for The Anaheim Angels, formerly known as the California Angels.]
Geeks of Doom: Are you a sports fan?
Bruce Campbell: No. It’s actually also from the original Sam Axe TV movie that we made where he is talking to a guy on the phone and he is trying to come up with a name and he sees a copy of Sports Illustrated and Chuck Finley is on the cover. So he uses that name, and he still uses it to this day. My dad had a friend named Chuck Finley too, so it’s an easy name to remember.
Geeks of Doom: And to sum up, what do you hope that the audiences, especially the new generation, get from this Evil Dead film?
Bruce Campbell: I hope it freaks their shit. I hope it does. I want good word of mouth, that’s what I want.
Evil Dead hits theaters this Friday. Thanks again to Bruce Campbell and the people at Sony for making this colorful interview possible.
Be sure to check out our on-site coverage of the Evil Dead panel from WonderCon 2013.