Thanks to a pretty impressive first trailer, there's now quite a bit of hype for Bruce Campbell's return to the horror franchise that made him famous in Ash vs Evil Dead. Airing on Starz with a pilot episode directed by Sam Raimi, the show picks up decades after Ashley J. Williams last tangled with the Deadites and sees him once again fighting off the demonic menace as they threaten to wipe out all human life on Earth.
Fortunately for Ash, he doesn't have to work alone this time. Accompanying him on his dangerous quest are his two young Value Shop colleagues, Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). Meanwhile, our Ash is being pursued by a mysterious woman called Ruby (Lucy Lawless) - who believes that Ash is responsible for the Deadite plague - as well as a cop called Amanda (Jill Marie Jones), who thinks that Ash is to blame for the death of her partner.
Screen Rant got a chance to chat with Campbell, Lawless and the minds behind Ash vs. Evil Dead at San Diego Comic-Con 2015, and we picked up a few key facts about the show that fans of the original Evil Dead movies will be interested to hear. Why does Ash work at Value Stop instead of S-Mart? Will the spirit of the Evil Dead movies have to be toned down for TV? Does this have any connection to Fede Alvarez's 2013 Evil Dead movie reboot? Read on to find out.
Ash Is Exactly The Same
Ash vs Evil Dead might be set 25 years after Army of Darkness, but that doesn't mean that Ash has used the time to grow and improve himself as a person. What has he been doing for those last 25 years? "Nothing. He's been doing nothing," Campbell replied. "He just runs round with his wooden hand and tells stories late at night to women... He's a crabby old man version of Ash."
As the trailer showed, crabby old man Ash is still working on the bottom rung as a stock boy, living in a beat-up old trailer and wearing a girdle to maintain his figure. He seems prepared to drop everything and start killing Deadites again at a moment's notice, but he's also pretty out of shape.
"He's been not growing as a person for quite a while," showrunner Craig DiGregorio explained, adding that it was this aspect of Ash's character that drew him to the show. Unlike the usual overgrown children in sitcoms, who insist that they'll never get married or settle down but inevitably do by the time they hit middle age, Ash has shown real dedication to his immaturity. "He did exactly what he set out to do, which is not grow one ounce."
Ash Really Is The Chosen One
Despite his likeness appearing in ancient prophecies, there's always been some sense in the Evil Dead movies that Ash is just a guy who ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and had to shoulder the burden of stopping a Deadite plague despite not being particularly well-trained or well-equipped for the job. According to Campbell, however, the fact that Ash is kind of a loser doesn't mean that he can't also be the hero we all need. The actor relayed his view of Ash in the form of a somewhat misremembered, but nonetheless poignant, religious tale:
"He is the chosen one. You know, this is kind of biblical, because - I think it's Job - there's some story in the Bible, that the Devil was like, 'OK, God, give me your best guy, and I'll give you my best guy, and we'll duke it out and we'll decide who's going to rule the Earth.' So God sends Job, just a schmo, and he's like, 'Hey, my worst guy can take your best guy.'"
For once, however, Ash doesn't end up facing the Deadite threat alone. In his young allies Pablo and Kelly he finds what DiGregorio described as a "nuclear family," and what Lawless somewhat less charitably called a "loser gang."
Sam Raimi Wants To Return For Season 2
The Evil Dead's original director, Sam Raimi, might have made a killing in the movie business and as a TV producer, but when it comes to actually directing TV episodes his experience is a bit more limited. That's why he chose to only direct the pilot episode of this season, and if given the chance to come back for a second season he would only direct one episode of that, too.
"I'd like to direct one [episode], if there's a second season. I find that it takes all my time to do one... I'm used to being a film director, so I'm used to staying with it during pre-production, casting, production, post-production, sound, working with the composer. I guess TV directors don't do that, but for me I like to stay with every aspect of it."
Other directors who helmed episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead include Michael J. Basset, David Frazee, Michael Hurst, Tony Tilse, and Rick Jacobson. Hurst in particular will be a familiar name to fans who have long been keeping up with Raimi and fellow producer Rob Tapert's past projects, as he starred in both Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys as Iolaus, and directed several episodes of both shows.
The 2013 Evil Dead Reboot Doesn't Exist
In an entertainment culture where shared universes are becoming ever more popular, it's understandable to question what exactly the relationship is between Sam Raimi's original Evil Dead trilogy, Ash vs Evil Dead, and Alvarez's 2013 movie reboot (in which Campbell has a very tiny cameo). We asked Campbell and Raimi if they consider Ash vs Evil Dead and the 2013 movie to exist in the same canon, but the impression we got is that the two universes are entirely separate.
"That is a different story... Not the same," was Raimi's short reply when asked about a possible connection between the movie reboot and the TV show. He also explained that Alvarez's film was a way of attempting to satisfy fan demands for another Evil Dead movie, and that Ash vs Evil Dead was a way of addressing continued pleas from fans to see Campbell back in the role of Ash.
Campbell seemed to agree with Raimi, explaining that the Evil Dead movie reboot and Ash vs Evil Dead are wildly differing in their tone. "[Evil Dead] wasn't real funny," Campbell said, "because Fede Alvarez, the director, wanted to take it back to the original Evil Dead, which was... more of a melodrama." By contrast, Ash vs Evil Dead aims to have "as many laughs as there are scares." The bottom line is that fans probably shouldn't expect Jane Levy to show up in the TV show.
S-Mart Doesn't Exist Either
"Shop smart. Shop Value Stop," doesn't quite have the same ring to it as the slogan of Ash's original workplace, but unfortunately legal reasons prevented Ash vs Evil Dead from using the name of the store that was a centerpiece of one of Ash's most famous speeches. "I just know that we were told we can't use S-Mart. So we didn't," was DiGregorio's brief explanation for the missing store.
The legalities surrounding the Evil Dead franchise are a little confusing, since the movie rights are scattered among various studios, but since the trailer showed clips from both The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II it's safe to assume that Ash vs Evil Dead isn't completely cut off from the source material. There were just a few sacrifices, and S-Mart was one of them.
Don't feel too bad for the S-Mart, though. DiGregorio indicated that Ash doesn't spend much time working as a stock boy after the show begins anyway, as the fight to prevent the world from becoming a Deadite-ridden hellscape becomes his new 9-5 occupation.
Ruby's Last Name is Knowby
When asked if she could give any more details about Ruby, Lawless admitted that even she doesn't know much about her own character - that's how mysterious Ruby is. One key detail she did give away, however, was Ruby's last name: Knowby. If that sounds familiar, it's because Professor Knowby was the researcher who was originally studying the Necronomicon in the remote cabin of the original Evil Dead movies, and who unwittingly unleashed the Deadites upon the world.
Ruby's connection to Professor Knowby isn't clear, but what is clear is that she's "got a big-ass chip on her shoulder," to borrow Lawless' phrasing. If she's Raymond and Henrietta Knowby's daughter then she may know that Ash violently dismembered her (admittedly already undead) mother and had a hand in the death of her sister. Of course, it's also possible that Annie Knowby actually survived and changed her name to Ruby.
Lawless agrees with the assessment of Ruby as an antagonist figure in the show, and compares her to Jaws: a shark that's constantly swimming ever closer to Ash with the intention of figuratively biting his legs off. "[Ruby] thinks Ash is responsible for all this, and he begs to differ," is how Campbell describes their relationship. "She's 100% right," Lawless assured us.
There Will Be Blood...
The Evil Dead franchise has never been particularly conservative about showing blood on screen. Quite the opposite, in fact. As indicated in the trailer, Ash vs Evil Dead continues the grand tradition of drenching actors in gore, and Campbell describes a converted beer keg - simply called 'The Keg' - that was used as a "high-pressure delivery device" to squirt blood into actors' faces, over the walls, and wherever else it was needed.
In fact, there were around four or five different types of blood used on set, for various different situations. There was oozing blood, blood for staining clothes, blood for squirting and blood for splashing - all with different ingredients to adjust the color, consistency and behavior on impact. There was even a special rig made for Ash's chainsaw that makes blood come flying off the blade.
Ash vs Evil Dead passed through the hands of several different networks, all of whom demanded various restrictions on the content, before finally ending up at Starz. "We could not do this show how we wanted to without Starz, because they have no restrictions," Campbell enthused. "It's awesome. We can say any word we want." Knowing the frequent double standard when it comes to violence and sexual content, I asked whether things are going to get a bit sexy as well. "Evil Dead has never been sexy," was Campbell's response.
"There kind of is sex, though," Lawless revealed, cringing and laughing at the same time. "It's weird, it's so wrong... but hilarious. I can't tell you any more than that."
...The Fun Kind Of Blood
'Gritty' and 'realistic' might be popular buzzwords in movies and TV these days, but Campbell maintained that grittiness and realism aren't things that he's ever interested in seeing the Evil Dead franchise take on. "I never want to watch something I can see on the six o'clock news," was his bottom-line way of describing the approach to violence in Ash vs Evil Dead. Describing 'torture porn' horror movies as "boring," Campbell said that the intent with his show is to scare people and make them laugh, not to disturb them.
"Ash vs Evil Dead is nothing you're going to see on the six o'clock news. It's too ridiculous, it's too over the top. We don't want to disturb anyone watching this, we want them to go, 'Fuck yeah, that beheading was really hilarious. That was awesome! Did you see how much blood there was?'"
The half-hour episode length lends credence to the idea of Ash vs Evil Dead being a horror sitcom, and the trailer was definitely heavy on comedy. There was even a scene of Ash being attacked by a cute little doll that was reminiscent of his fight scene with the little Ash clones in Army of Darkness. Be prepared for plenty of ridiculous, slapstick violence.
Ash vs Evil Dead has some not inconsiderable challenges ahead. It has to prove that the franchise can survive being handed over to writers and directors who weren't involved with the original movies, and that it can also survive a change of format from fun, cheesy horror movie to fun, cheesy half-hour TV series. It also needs to break away from the temptation of relying on familiar catchphrases and references to the movies and become its own entity.
Can Ash vs Evil Dead win over both die-hard fans of the movies and a new generation of TV viewers who might not even have heard of Ashley J. Williams and his boomstick before? Can this horror series find new life on TV, or would it have been better off returning to the big screen? There are many more questions yet to be answered about this show, but luckily there are only a few months left before we can see it for ourselves.
Ash vs Evil Dead premieres October 31st, 2015 on Starz.