Bruce Campbell Talks about The Evil Dead
The Evil Dead is a classic for a variety of reasons. It's a bit useless to list why, but one of those many main reasons: Bruce Campbell's Ash. He's your average Joe and also a total dope, the latter making him even more charming. Despite the ridiculous situations of the Evil Dead franchise, Ash still remained real. Thanks to Bruce Campbell there was always a sense of grounding to him. To Campbell, as he says below, that was key to making Ash work.
With the making-of story, which most diehard geeks know about, The Evil Dead could've easily been a disaster. The shoot was grueling, there was difficulty in financing, and it was absolute guerrilla filmmaking at its finest. Now it's the thirtieth anniversary, and who would've thought a bunch of kids going out in the woods with very little money would be in the position that they are in now?
And while there's been more home video releases of The Evil Dead than we can all count, this Blu-ray release is an excellent one. The transfer is wonderful and it's packed with special features.
The Evil Dead is now on Blu-ray.
DVD Talk: Everyone always talks about how cool the idea is of what you guys did with going out in the woods and making the film that it is, but when you were shooting did it feel as exciting as it sounds? Based on the commentary and on those stories, it also sounded like a grueling process.
Bruce Campbell: It was exciting as hell to go down to Tennessee and shoot a movie, and we pulled it off. We got enough money from these investors to go shoot what was our first real movie, and that was exciting. I was twenty-one, Sam [Raimi] was twenty, and Robert Tapert was twenty-four, so we had the stamina to do the movie. But it didn't help the fact that it was one of the coldest winters in Tennessee at the time (laughs). The shoot went twice as long as it was suppose to, so it just became kind of a living hell, but we had to do it. We had to finish it, but we did.
DVD Talk: Listening to the commentary, it sounds like a bunch of war buddies sharing stories.
Bruce Campbell: It was. It was a war story. I slept on the floor in my bedroom afterwards when we got back from shooting, and I even grew a beard. My mom would come in and ask why I was sleeping on the floor, and it was because that's what we did while we were in Tennessee. It was all of us basically in one room.
DVD Talk: Even when telling the stories of the bad times you still manage to sound upbeat about it.
Bruce Campbell: In retrospect, it's funny as hell. The last three days of shooting Evil Dead we never fell asleep. At the time we were just zombies. Various people would fall asleep in the middle of the woods and we'd find each other randomly.
DVD Talk: Did you ever think during all of this the film would turn out the way it did?
Bruce Campbell: We didn't even think we'd finish the movie, so there was none of this, "Wow, I hope we make a hit!" We were just hoping we'd get the hell out of Tennessee in one piece. We were wrecking rental cars, rental trucks, cameras, wrecking actresses and ourselves. Everything. We were getting poked, bitten, scrapped, and my brother fell off a cliff. It was a comedy of terror. That was the most terrifying part: making the movie.
DVD Talk: But it must've made the response it got even more gratifying, right?
Bruce Campbell: Yeah. Well, the fact that thirty years later I can be here talking about it now that it's considered one of these cult classic horror movies is fun. It makes you say, "Great. Maybe the swamp was worth it then with the freezing cold, Sam getting chased by a bull, and just really ridiculous stuff." It felt like we were making Easy Rider. The other thing is that it's a movie where you are there, and there's no faking it. We are going to rural Tennessee, 1979, where there's moonshine, squatters, and it was the real deal. The south was the south in 1979. There was no franchise this or franchise that. It was a completely different world and mentality. And another point is that there is no CGI in the whole movie and it's not a digital soundtrack either, but it's been remastered. We used real ammunition in the shotgun and we shot it at a real cabin in the woods, with hunters and howling dogs in the background. To me, I like it because it's so real. You are there.
DVD Talk: It's like an extreme version of guerilla filmmaking.
Bruce Campbell: Yeah, I know. It was an early version of guerilla filmmaking.
DVD Talk: Obviously, Ash has become a bit of an iconic character, do you think a part of the love for him is because he's kind of an idiot?
Bruce Campbell: Well, my feeling is that people can relate to Ash because he's no better skilled than them. You see these movies with guys where there an ex-navy seal or something like that, but Ash isn't an ex-anything. He's just a guy that might as well be a garage mechanic, but he evolved over time. In the first Evil Dead, he's just this guy. In Evil Dead II, he's a little wiser and a little more weary and a little more willing to fight these damn things. By Army of Darkness, he's just this bragging ugly American. It evolves, because between Sam and I, we just wanted to do different things with the character.
DVD Talk: With Ash, was it difficult trying to keep him grounded as a real person, especially with the ridiculous circumstances he's thrown in?
Bruce Campbell: Well, you have to believe he's a real person and the character has to believe what's happening, because the audience wouldn't believe it if that was the case.
DVD Talk: But was it important to you that he didn't become a cartoon character?
Bruce Campbell: I don't know, because in the first film I was just trying to figure out how to act. I wasn't able to think of any long term anything. I didn't know how to play this or play that. I didn't know what was good or bad. We had to figure it out as we went along.
DVD Talk: But you don't think he comes off like a cartoon in the first movie, do you?
Bruce Campbell: No, no. We tried not to, and the first movie was more of a melodrama with stuff like, "We can't kill Shelly, she's a friend of ours!"
DVD Talk: Why was Ash's last name never said in the series?
Bruce Campbell: I think because Sam just liked it that way. He liked that he was just known as Ash.
DVD Talk: Was it a self-aware choice?
Bruce Campbell: Sam could answer that. That I don't know. I don't remember any discussion of it, but Sam likes mystery.
DVD Talk: The distribution deal with New Line and how they didn't give back what they were suppose to is briefly touched upon in the commentary track, but what happened there specifically?
Bruce Campbell: New Line gave us one check to distribute the movie, and then we never saw another penny. We had disputes with New Line. We didn't feel like they were honest with us. Seriously, that movie not returning any money... they just had to recoup 125,000 dollars, and they couldn't recoup that for some strange reason? We felt there was an irony with how we thought we were going to get all our money in the United States, and then overseas we'd never see a penny. We thought we'd sell it to them and get one check, and that's it. But it was just the opposite. We found a very good foreign distributer who cut us check after check. We were just like, "Wow," and that pissed us off even more about New Line. We were thinking, "These other guys were paying us hands over fists, what's your problem?" We made most of our money overseas.
DVD Talk: Who came up with the idea of using that song for the end credits?
Bruce Campbell: I think Sam did while we were in New York City doing the music. The film was so relentless that it was an idea to play counterpoint to that. When the music was playing earlier in the film when Ash is running around and bleeding it was just crazy. The funny thing is: the song itself dies and slowly starts to degrade to that dead wind from the end.
DVD Talk: It always felt a bit like a reminder that the film is also suppose to be funny.
Bruce Campbell: Well, yeah. I don't think Sam's intentions were to ruin anybody's life or anything. He wanted to make it disturbing, but still entertaining.
DVD Talk: Was it always the plan to make a horror-comedy, and not a total horror movie?
Bruce Campbell: No. Again, with the first movie there was none of that discussion and we didn't know all that much. Sam either liked something or wanted more, or we'd have an idea. We never had a tone meeting. We never thought what the tone was going to be. We do now, but there was a lot of discussions that we never had. We were just trying to make a scary horror movie based on what we thought would've been scary. There was just a lot of things we didn't know.
DVD Talk: Lastly, you've spent a lot of years talking about Evil Dead, but is there maybe anything you've never been asked about? Whether it be a specific scene, or just something about the making-of?
Bruce Campbell: No one ever asks about the business side, or what meetings with investors was like. It's always about what was it like making the movie, did you think it'd be successful, and it's always that sort of stuff. With the investor's meetings, that's where the rubber met the rope. That movie wouldn't have been made without those meetings. What took place in those meetings is something I'll always enjoy for the rest of my life: it was us trying to be businessmen. We bought suits, matching briefcases, and it was pretty hilarious seeing us go into meetings. I wore a gold vintage suit that was sublime. I thought I needed to look like a sharp businessman from the forties, but why? I have no idea why (laughs). Whether it be July or August, we'd always be dressed like that. When we'd go down to downtown Detroit we'd say, "Jesus Christ, what is this city?" because you gotta remember: we were suburban kids. We didn't know anything about that, and now we were parking there all the time. It's a rough town, even in seventy-nine. Some of these buildings these guys were in were just beautiful, even the lobbies. We had a couple of meetings with a guy who owned a theater chain and he even had one of those old telephone operators who would go, "Wait a moment, please. I'll connect you." It also was a wood padded room with high ceilings and glass windows; it was just old school.
DVD Talk: That sounds more surreal than the actual making-of.
Bruce Campbell: It was. Just imagine jump cutting from that to us in Tennessee covered in blood and freezing our asses off. It was just a fun contrast. We had this intense business experience to making an over-the-top horror movie.
Eagleheart: Paradise Rising
Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland
A Talk with Pete Holmes
DVDTalk chats with William Friedkin and Emile Hirsch