The people spoke, and Bruce Campbell listened.
For years, fans of the “Evil Dead” movie trilogy have begged the fun-loving actor to reattach his wooden prosthetic hand, hoist his chainsaw high and get back to battling “Deadite” demons and spirits.
“I would hear it constantly because I do fan conventions fairly often,” Campbell says. “The fans never shut up about it: ‘When’s the next Evil Dead gonna be?’ Just a relentless demand.”
So Campbell is back as Ash Williams, wisecracking his way through Ash vs. Evil Dead, a 10-episode horror-comedy thrill ride that premieres, fittingly, on Halloween.
The debut episode airs at 8 p.m. Oct. 31 on Starz.
Behind the scenes, meanwhile, are director/executive producer Sam Raimi and executive producer Rob Tapert.
Campbell, Raimi and Tapert were filmmaking buddies at Michigan State in the late 1970s when they got the idea to make 1981’s The Evil Dead, about a group of college students who picked the wrong cabin in the woods to spend spring break.
The original movie and its bloody/jokey follow-ups, 1987’s Evil Dead II and 1992’s Army of Darkness, have endured as cult favorites. There was a fourth film, 2013’s Evil Dead (also produced by the franchise’s creative triumvirate), but Campbell’s end-of-the-movie cameo wasn’t enough to satiate fans.
“They were like, ‘Yeah, that was good, but we want Ash in the whole movie and we want Sam directing it,’ ” Campbell says. “This is how crazy it got: Sam went on to make the ‘Spider-Man’ movies, which made billions of dollars. But what did people keep asking him? ‘How about another Evil Dead?’ ”
Ash was never an ideal choice to lead the fight against demonic abominations. Now he’s older and overweight — and still not too smart — so he’s really the wrong man for the job.
Now they’ve finally done it.
Ash is re-introduced in the series as a middle-aged blowhard ladies’ man who works as a convenience-store stocker. Ash was never an ideal choice to lead the fight against these demonic abominations. Now he’s really the wrong man for the job.
“He has dentures, he wears a man girdle because he’s 10 pounds heavier — well, 30 pounds heavier — and he was never all that bright to begin with,” Campbell says. “But that’s what makes the character fun.
“If Ash were something like a Navy SEAL, it wouldn’t be as fun.”
When a new threat arises, Ash is initially reluctant to step up. But by the end of the second episode, when asked how it feels to be back in action, he declares, “It feels groovy.”
Campbell seconds that emotion.
There are no normal scenes with two guys sitting at a table talking over coffee. Everything’s a rig, everything’s a special effect, everything is blood spatter. And just like in the movies, the series doesn’t let up for a second.
Bruce Campbell, star of ‘Evil Dead’ movies
“Once we got into filming it, I was like, ‘Oh, my god, I forgot how much work this is,’ ” the 57-year-old actor says. “There are no normal scenes with two guys sitting at a table talking over coffee.
“Everything’s a rig, everything’s a special effect, everything is blood spatter. And just like in the movies, the series doesn’t let up for a second. That’s why the episodes are only 30 minutes long. If the show were an hour, we’d have to get into the kind of backstory stuff that people don’t care about.
“I mean, nobody wants to know about Ash’s problems as a child. They just want to see him kick butt as a demon fighter. So it was hard work. But now that I see the finished product, it does feel groovy.”
Also starring in Ash vs. Evil Dead is Lucy Lawless.
Campbell and Lawless are old friends. He had a recurring role as Autolycus, King of Thieves, in Lawless’ Xena: Warrior Princess (a hit 1990s series that Tapert co-created and executive produced).
“Rob also happens to be married to Lucy, so bringing her in was a no-brainer,” Campbell says. “As a result, we get to add her kick-butt qualities and, hopefully, all of her fans.”
When Campbell looks back, it boggles his mind that he’s still playing Ash Williams.
“The Evil Dead was not an overnight success,” he notes. “Everything was slow like molasses. It was a struggle raising the money. We didn’t finish the whole movie when we first went to shoot it. It took a couple of more years to finish it.
“Then we tried to get it distributed and no one would take it. Finally, we got it distributed overseas and that’s when it started: in England in 1982. It was reviewed by Stephen King at the Cannes Film Festival. He said it was ‘the most ferociously original horror movie of the year.’
“We used that quote on the movie poster and then other reviewers took another look. Eventually, we had a hit. It took awhile, but in the end our investors made about 40 times their money back.”
I’m willing to do this show for five more years, because this is where the work is good.
Bruce Campbell, star of ‘Ash Vs. Evil Dead’
Campbell, who wrapped a seven-year run in Burn Notice in 2013, is prepared to make another long commitment if the fans and Starz want more Ash vs. Evil Dead.
“In the TV business, you have to have about five years of stories up your sleeve,” he says. “The good news is we have the fertile minds of Sam Raimi and Craig DiGregorio, who is our showrunner. And Starz seems very interested in having more, so we’re going to give them everything we’ve got.
“The key to working in television is finding a set-up where you like the story and your character, where you’re working with people you know and respect, where you have creative freedom. When you get that, it’s like you’re polishing diamonds. When you don’t have those things, it’s like you’re digging coal.
“I’m willing to do this show for five more years, because this is where the work is good.”
Ash vs. Evil Dead
- 8 p.m. Oct. 31
‘Evil Dead’ movie marathon
- Hosted by Bruce Campbell
- 7 p.m. Friday
TV tricks and treats
The week is practically bursting at the seams with new Halloween-themed episodes and specials. We’ve scared up a terrifyingly long list of highlights:
100 Things To Do Before High School (8 p.m. Saturday, Nickelodeon): CJ is determined to fix Principal Hader’s hatred of Halloween in time to rescue the school’s canceled Halloween festivities.
Good Witch (8 p.m. Saturday, Hallmark Channel): In this two-hour Halloween episode, good witch Cassie tries to get daughter Grace more enthusiastic about her favorite haunted holiday.
The Hollow (8 p.m. Saturday, Syfy): In this original movie, three sisters face off with a mysterious creature threatening to kill everyone in their secluded island town.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (7:30 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/Channel 4): Peralta and Capt. Holt have an office wager: Which one can pull off the Halloween heist of a crown locked in the interrogation room?
Family Guy (8 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/Channel 4): The guys go to an abandoned asylum seeking inspiration for a new horror movie idea, only to get mixed up in a homicide.
Halloween Wars (8 p.m. Sunday, Food Network): It’s the finale of the fifth season of the Halloween-themed cooking competition show, with special guest judge Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Fear: Buried Alive (7 p.m. Monday, A&E): Three people are buried alive in coffins and closely monitored as they endure a series of escalating horrors in a chilling two-hour live event.
Cursed: The Bell Witch (9 p.m. Monday, A&E): The premiere of this reality/documentary series follows a man investigating a witch’s curse believed to be plaguing several generations of his family.
Fresh Off the Boat (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, WFAA/Channel 8): Louis, Eddie, Emery, Evan and Grandma Huang go all-out with their costumes, while Jessica tries to protect her investment property from pranksters.
Bella and the Bulldogs (7 p.m. Wednesday, Nickelodeon): The boys try to scare the girls at the football-cheerleader campout — and an urban legend about an old groundskeeper becomes a little too real.
The Middle (7 p.m. Wednesday, WFAA/Channel 8): Each member of the Heck family winds up in a situation reminiscent of The Twilight Zone.
The Goldbergs (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, WFAA/Channel 8): Adam regrets taking Barry and Erica’s advice to visit a haunted house when he is asked to go back inside to find Dana’s lost promise ring.
Ghost Hunters (8 p.m. Wednesday, Syfy): In this Halloween episode, Jason Hawes and the team go to Southern Vermont College to investigate the legend of a paranormal love triangle.
Black-ish (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, WFAA/Channel 8): When Dre’s roughhousing nieces and nephews join the family for Halloween, Dre thinks they could help toughen up his kids.
Paranormal Witness (9 p.m. Wednesday, Syfy): This focuses on a Rhode Island family’s battle with the spirit of a witch, a story that inspired the movie The Conjuring (which airs at 8 p.m. Oct. 31 on Syfy).
Bones and Sleepy Hollow (7 and 8 p.m. Thursday, KDFW/Channel 4): Crossover episodes mix Sleepy Hollow’s Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills with the Bones team. The case involves a 200-year-old headless corpse.
Last Man Standing (7 p.m. Friday, WFAA/Channel 8): Vanessa and Carol prank their husbands after the men skip out on giving out Halloween candy in favor of watching football.
Dr. Ken (7:30 p.m. Friday, WFAA/Channel 8): Ken tries to make amends for botching his marriage proposal to Allison 20 years ago on Halloween.
Exorcism: Live! (8 p.m. Friday, Destination America): In a two-hour special, psychic medium Chip Coffey will lead a team investigating the original Exorcist house in St. Louis for paranormal activity.
Hawaii Five-0 (8 p.m. Friday, KTVT/Channel 11): McGarrett’s team must track down a serial killer inspired by Frankenstein and pursue blood-bank thieves.
Grimm (8 p.m. Friday, KXAS/Channel 5): Season 5 of a series in which every day is like Halloween begins with Nick’s life in chaos following the beheading of his mother and the death of Juliette.
Scream Queens (5 p.m. Oct. 31, FX): Here’s an opportunity to catch up on the first six episodes of Fox’s slasher-themed horror comedy series with a six-hour Halloween marathon.
The Returned (9 p.m. Oct. 31, SundanceTV): Halloween is an aptly chosen day for the Season 2 premiere of this French supernatural thriller, in which the dead reappear in a mountain community.