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Evil Dead Rise Executive Producer Bruce Campbell On The Latest Gory Chapter In The Evil Dead Saga - Exclusive Interview

It's been an incredibly fun ride over the past four decades for the venerable "Evil Dead Rise" creative trio of Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert, who in 1981 released what soon would become a modern horror film classic with "The Evil Dead." Directed by Raimi and produced by Tapert, "The Evil Dead" opened the book (of the dead) on the Necronomicon, which unleashed an invisible demonic force that would possess its victims and turn them into wicked, zombie-like beings who came to be known as "Deadites." It's also where fans met a resourceful everyman, Ash Williams (Campbell), who is destined to become a chainsaw-wielding, boomstick-slinging Deadite slayer, delivering classic quips like "Groovy" and "Come get some."

Ash and the Deadites returned for "Evil Dead II" in 1987, and thanks to the trio's mutual love of the humor of the Three Stooges, "Evil Dead II" — as well as the 1992 threequel "Army of Darkness" — morphed into horror-comedy territory. Since the fervent fanbase of the franchise kept demanding more, Campbell, Raimi, and Tapert, all in producer capacities, hired director Fede Álvarez for a straight-up horror remake of "Evil Dead." Campbell then returned to play his famed character in "Ash vs Evil Dead," a spin-off series of the original movie trilogy that ran on STARZ for three seasons from 2015 to 2018.

Now, 10 years after the "Evil Dead" remake, Campbell, Raimi, and Tapert are producing "Evil Dead Rise," a continuation of the film series written and directed by Lee Cronin. The big difference with Cronin's vision is that the film is largely set in a dilapidated suburban high-rise, where Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a single mother of three children, becomes possessed by demonic forces after one of them discovers another version of the Necronomicon, which upon opening and hearing an incantation unleashes hell. Lily Sullivan also stars as Beth, Ellie's estranged sister who attempts to protect the children from her sibling's horrific actions. Campbell discussed the film and more in an exclusive interview with Looper.

How Evil Dead Rise rose to its theatrical presentation

I love how "Evil Dead Rise," which originally was scheduled to debut on HBO, is making a rare leap to theaters first. That never happens. What was the turning point during the production that catapulted the movie from streaming and cable to theaters? I've seen "Evil Dead Rise" in the theater, and it clearly is the best way to see it.

I agree. It deserves to be theatrical, but they don't do things for altruistic reasons necessarily at a studio. We screened it before the movie was done — you always screen it while you're finishing it up — and the scores were okay but not amazing. We're like, "Okay, let's just finish this movie," because they had warned us early on, "This is going to stream, so don't get your hopes up."

Because the industry was really weird a couple years ago, they didn't know if [theaters] were coming back or not. We had a second screening when the film was done, and it shot up so dramatically [that] Warner Brothers went, "All right, we're going theatrical." It proved itself, which is where we give them credit for being flexible. I give the movie credit for kicking ass enough that they [changed their minds], because it does deserve a theatrical [release]. I'm a producer; I'm supposed to say that, but some movies don't. But "Evil Dead Rise" is very visually arresting, and if you want a movie with good visuals, man, you want that as big as you can.

Campbell is thrilled how Sutherland and Sullivan took charge of their roles

Now, I'm not trying to compare your portrayal of Ash to Alyssa Sutherland's Ellie or Lily Sullivan's Beth, because they do make their characters their own. But did you, Rob, Sam, and Lee sit down with them and say, "You know all the physical punishment Ash suffers in the 'Evil Dead' movies and 'Ash vs Evil Dead'? You two are Ash." You put these women through the wringer in this movie!

It wouldn't help telling them anything. I stayed completely out of their hair. I don't want to get involved in their process. I don't want to be in their head. They both leaned into their roles, which is all you could ever hope for, that they didn't grope their way through this. They charged through it. They both were very confident in their performances.

Lee is a decent director. He's good at [getting the best] performances, and he cares about everything. He cares about the technical stuff, and he cares about the acting. He wrote it, so he cares about the dialogue. You have to have a good tour guide through it. Even though it was very hard on every cast member, [the Kiwi crews are] the best crews in the world. They started with "Hercules" and "Xena," they worked with Peter Jackson [for "The Lord of the Rings" movies], and they came back to Rob Tapert.

They've done so much work down there that they know how to take care of actors. They know how to get them clean and fresh, and they have all kinds of standby. They have Hudson sprayers to spray them down; they have little bathtubs they can jump in. They have towels and warming blankets. They're not shivering in the cold like we were on "Evil Dead" — not even close — but it only helps so much. The blood never lies if you're covered in blood. During "Ash vs Evil Dead," my wife came into my trailer one time; she goes, "Man, you look like you're sitting in a poopy diaper." I said, "That's a good analogy. I am sitting in a poopy diaper." I call it "poopy diaper syndrome."

Campbell says Evil Dead Rise is part of the entire Evil Dead timeline

Where does Sam, Rob, and Bruce's "Evil Dead" fit into Lee Cronin's "Evil Dead" realm?

The rules are the same, just different characters. These days, it's all about the book. Where is that darn book, and who's going to find it, and what's going to happen? These are the next victims. Because in "Army of Darkness," we hint ... You see there's three books, so that book can get around. That's what led us out of the cabin — these books are not all in some cabinet in this one cabin in the woods. They're all over; they're wherever we need them to be.

The rules are the same throughout. The rules of possession and the innocent people who find it — the people with no special skills, no CIA or ex-FBI — these are civilians. Part of the reason why Ash was a successful character was because audience members are going, "Crap, I could do that as good as that guy." Yet it makes them relate to him because you go, "What if he was just a regular S-Mart employee who got dragged into this?"

So it's all on the same timeline? It's not a multiverse, "Doctor Strange" Pizza Poppa thing in a different realm?


Campbell is not ready to concede that Evil Dead Rise is the bloodiest Evil Dead film

Back to the "poopy diaper syndrome" and how there's no avoiding the fake blood if you're an actor in the "Evil Dead" films: I would venture to guess that there was more fake blood used in "Evil Dead Rise" than any previous "Evil Dead" production. Is that a fair assessment?

I don't know. Lee wants to hold the record, and I appreciate that because every horror director wants to go, "I used the most blood of any 'Evil Dead.'" Those are big bragging rights, but he's got his [competition]. "Evil Dead II" gives him a run for his money. We have a blood flood in that.

Out of the cellar!

Out of the cellar. You never knew one person had so much blood inside their body when that guy got diced up in the trapdoor. "Army of Darkness" has quite the geyser of blood. In "Evil Dead" 2013, the entire end sequence is raining blood. I don't know, Lee; I'll put you [in the] top two maybe. Someone's going to have to measure that, like an effects guy. I'm sure Lee will claim that his effects guy measured it. But he did use quite a bit of blood, no question about it.

The reason Campbell, Raimi, and Tapert have remained grounded after all their success

I think a big part of the reason the "Evil Dead" franchise has been successful over all these years is the fact that you, Sam, and Rob have remained grounded. You've always been accessible over the last 20 to 25 years, and Sam is the same way. Is there something that's tucked in the corner of your mind, your past filming that first "Evil Dead" movie when you guys were knee-deep in the muck filming in Tennessee, that lives in the corner of your mind to remind you where you all started?

We're from the Detroit area. That's a working stiff town. [In] Detroit, you didn't have to like your job; you just had to have one. My parents were the first investors. My dad was a frustrated thespian, so he got into advertising. He became a Detroit madman for about 35 years. But he and my mother wanted to support the arts, which is critical. They didn't have the money to put in at that time. They had to cobble it together.

Early support is really important. The first "Evil Dead" was a very handmade movie. It's analog, hand edited, hand shot, [and the camera is] sometimes taped to Sam's hands. It's that handmade. That sticks with you — having to run around in a snowstorm, trying to find a pay phone to call the equipment rental house and plead with them to rent to you again because we wrecked so much equipment during the first "Evil Dead." It was a bumpy ride. It took almost four years to make the movie. It wasn't like we were handed a box office smash right off the bat. It's hard to get spoiled when you have to work for it and keep working for it. 

We did our second movie, [and] we thought, "Let's do a movie that [has] no blood." It was called "Crimewave," and it died on the vine. Sam's like, "Maybe Ash didn't die at the end of the first 'Evil Dead.'" Part of it was career resurrection. We can credit all these movies in many ways [for] getting us into the business and then also sustaining us in the business. There's always going to be a lot of gratitude. I have no need or desire to distance myself from that at all — [if] you want to say I'm best known for Ash, knock yourself out.

About that guy who raised a ruckus over the Evil Dead Rise screening at SXSW

I love the way you sent that guy off at SXSW who got up and yelled at you all after the premiere screening of "Evil Dead Rise." That's part of the reason fans love you, Bruce. You are saying things to people the way audience members would want to say it, like "Get the f*** out of here!" to the guy as he stormed out of the theater.

"Look, don't be dissing the movie, man. You slept through it, so obviously you're an idiot. I don't need to fan those flames anymore."

I think Rob said it best when he said after the guy left: "Wow, it's funny that he waited until after the credits to do that!"


What is the status of the "Ash vs Evil Dead" animated series? Would it pick up after where Season 3 left off, where the story is set in the future? If so, would you like to get Kelly and Pablo — Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago — involved? To me, their fate was up in the air at the end of "Ash vs Evil Dead" Season 3.

They're in the video game, so we're still trying to work with them a little bit. I can't talk about any of the story aspects of the animated other than the fact that it's being developed. It's in an early enough stage that it may not get off the ground. That's where that is. There's not much to talk about.

"Evil Dead Rise" opens in theaters on Friday, April 21.

This interview has been edited for clarity.