Normally you wouldn’t expect a 35-year-old movie intended to be a drive-in B movie slasher to engender the kind of fans that warranted two sequels and now, a full fledged TV series, “Ash vs. Evil Dead” (Starz, 9 p.m.).
But that was before “The Walking Dead.” And though the popularity of that zombie saga comes despite its dour storytelling and nonstop violence, the new series succeeds with dark humor nearly as plentiful as its blood.
In it, Bruce Campbell reprises his role as boorish and reluctant monster hunter Ash Williams, back on the case after he accidentally reawakens the evil he thought he had vanquished decades earlier. Original filmmakers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert are back as well, in addition to a colorful cast of sidekicks and personalities that includes Lucy Lawless.
But it’s mostly about Campbell, who’s managed a film career all these years, but has still been asked all that time to make another “Evil Dead.”
“The fans have driven all this,” Campbell told reporters at the TV Critics Association summer press tour. “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.”
Though Campbell has long said that a fourth movie would be a mistake, he now says the Starz series “is better than a fourth movie.”
It’s likely success will cause more movies, he goes on. “This is not a dead issue. Because I think what’s going to happen is this series will force us to make more movies, because people will go, ‘Oh, that’s only 10 hours of programming. I need eight more movies.’
Raimi, director of the original and executive producer of the new series (who also directed the first episode) concurs.
“It’s really important that we fulfill our obligations to the fans who’ve asked us to make this either as a movie or a series,” he says. “But they have certain expectations. Because after three feature films and, like Bruce said, 35 years of fans following, they want particular things. And so 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.
Starz, he says, is the kind of network that “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.”
“Ash vs. The Evil Dead” goes way beyond R ratings of movie theaters, Campbell says. “If this came out as a movie, this series, it would be unrated. Because part of our criteria for finding a suitor for this show was who will let us do what we need to do in an unrestricted fashion. Two out of the three ‘Evil Dead’ movies were unrated, so it would be silly for us to rip the fans off by giving them a watered down version of this series. So the beauty of working with Starz is we have no content restriction whatsoever, and that’s vitally important as filmmakers.”
What does that mean? Campbell tries to be clear: “People ask how much blood is there going to be? I went blind the other day shooting a scene. Just picture that. Like, take a shower and open your eyes right into the faucet. That’s how much blood there is on the show. I’ve been gagged once and I went blind. That’s a lot of blood in the show. So anyone who’s looking for it, it’s coming your way.”
The goals of “The Evil Dead” when it was conceived, was very modest, Raimi said.
“We were simply trying to make a film back when we were planning it in 1979 that would be good enough to play in the American drive ins, of which there are very few even left today,” he says. “We were only hoping it would play two weeks. It would be good enough that we wouldn’t be thrown off the screen. We never expected the success that the movie would be met with overseas or domestically.”
He says he, Campbell and Tapert never expected it to be back 35 years later. But since it is, “I guess Starz might be the modern day equivalent of that drive in.”
Raimi, who went on to make three “Spider-Man” movies, is astonished how the original horror movie held up for generations.
“There are kids who are now being introduced to it by their parents, and there are parents that just grew up with the thing, all the movies. So they’ve done the work of showing their kids the movies — if you want to call that work. Or poor parenting. It’s hard to say. But they’ve shown these kids, and the kids now are fans.
“And we’ve just kept our own expectations as to what we thought made a great horror movie, what the audience liked in the others ones, trying to keep that in mind while making it new. That’s what guided us for this series,” he says.
“Good or bad,” Campbell says, “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. I want to see something that’s crazy, that’s ridiculous, that’s outrageous.”
Plus, it’s only a half hour.
“It allows to just go at a pace that really suits the show,” says producer and showrunner Craig DiGregorio. “You never have to sort of sit down and live in melodrama. The show is just always moving so fast.”
Plus, says the irrepressible Campbell, being on Starz means “you’re not cutting away to Chevy commercials. It affects the structure of TV shows, and I don’t know how many people really understand this. ‘Dun, dun, dun. Your father’s the murderer.’ They have to put that crap in at the end of each act to get you back after the Chevy commercial. Now you just tell the story.
“None of it is affected by some bogus structure that serves an advertising purpose. The only reason why these TV shows are structured the way they are is because you have to cut away to commercials and you want to get people back, so you have to give them these little cliff hangers,” he says. “It’s bogus. Now they can just write and tell a full story in a half an hour.”
Starz is happy enough with the series that it’s already ordered a second season, days before the first one started.