By Rick Bentley
The Fresno Bee
LOS ANGELES — Fans would not let “The Evil Dead” die.
It’s been almost a quarter of a century since Bruce Campbell strapped a chainsaw to his right arm, loaded a shotgun in the holster on his back and delivered quips while battling the living dead in “Army of Darkness,” the third in “The Evil Dead” trilogy. Since then Campbell has starred in numerous TV shows and feature films.
It hasn’t mattered. Fans always ask him about the possibility of bringing his killer character Ash back in another “The Evil Dead” or “Army of Darkness” movie.
There’s no new movie, but there is the 10-part series “Ash vs Evil Dead” on Starz, appropriately starting Halloween night. The production reunites Campbell with Sam Raimi, the director/writer who brought the “The Evil Dead” series to life.
“The fans have driven all this. The fans are responsible for every single bit of this. They’ve been relentless for years. The last Evil Dead movie was 24 years ago, 1991. We shot ‘Army of Darkness.’ They haven’t shut up since. So no matter what we say to them or what we give them, it will never be enough, and we’re very grateful for that,” Campbell says.
Campbell and Raimi had no idea “The Evil Dead” would become such a cult phenomenon. All they wanted to do in 1979 was a make a movie that was good enough to play for two weeks in drive-in theaters. Instead, the films have been popular for decades. And they remain popular because new generations are finding them.
Raimi’s seen how parents have introduced their children to the movies. He’s not so sure if it’s bad parenting or not, but he loves the results.
And now, there is a new series. Campbell wants to pay back the loyalty with a show he promises will be different.
“I’m very glad we can bring this series to people. Because, good or bad, you’re not going to see anything like this. This is not a cop show, a doctor show, a lawyer show. Those shows make me want to hang myself as the viewer,” Campbell says. “I want to see something that’s crazy, that’s ridiculous, that’s outrageous. These are the creative arts.”
The series picks up with Ash living the good life in a small community. That changes when during a drunken effort to impress a woman, he reads an incantation from the Necronomicon. Once the deadites know his location, Ash has to fight to stay alive and send the creatures back to their dark netherworld.
There was a lot of pressure on Campbell and Raimi to make sure the series fulfilled fans’ expectations.
One important element was to do the TV series on a channel where there would be no restrictions. Two of the “Evil Dead” movies were released without a rating. They didn’t want the series to be watered down and Starz gave them that opportunity.
“It was very important we found a network that was willing to go to the limit, really let us go anywhere we wanted with the humor, anywhere, outrageous horror, crazy amounts of gore, which is some of the hallmarks of the ‘Evil Dead’ films, because we had an obligation to the fans,” Raimi says. “And fortunately, Starz really wants things that the audience can’t get on regular television or regular cable. It’s very unique. And so this happened to be a very good marriage between the two of us.”
Joining in the efforts is Lucy Lawless, who plays a woman who has been tracking Ash for 30 years because she’s convinced he caused the supernatural massacre of her family.
The series reunites Lawless and Campbell, who played Autolycus on the series “Xena: Warrior Princess.” As soon as the series became a reality, the first question Campbell asked was what role Lawless would have.
Lawless gave Raimi a key character he needed.
“And we needed a powerful adversary for Ash. Somebody that could be formidable and you’d think could kick his butt,” Raimi says. “Because he’s the real monster fighter. He’s dealing with these beasts every day, slicing ‘em and dicing ‘em. And so we needed a human being that had some heart and soul and some gravitas and some threat to them when she wanted to pull it out. I think that’s why Lucy was a great choice.”