I sat down with Bruce Campbell the day after the SXSW premiere of Evil Dead, which he produced along with his good friends and collaborators on the original The Evil Dead trilogy, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert.
The dapper B movie icon with the chin that just won't quit kept me on my toes with his biting sarcasm and absolute lack of pretension. Here's the complete transcript of the interview, during which he shares his thoughts on fervent Evil Dead fans, how much he enjoys taunting his old buddy Sam Raimi, and why he doesn't watch horror movies. You can read my story here and my review of "Evil Dead" here.
Alison Gang: I saw the movie last night. What an outrageous reaction.
Bruce Campbell: Yeah. It was fun.
AG: Did you get the reaction that you were expecting?
BC: Yes. Yeah, we’re good. We’re done. This is what you want. You need a verbal reaction.
AG: Tell me about this remake idea. Obviously you were a little nervous about fan reaction and I know there was some in the early days.
BC: Yeah, they were visceral. They were loud. They were nasty.
AG: What were they worried about?
BC: That everything would be ruined. If there’s no Ash character then there’s no Evil Dead.
All of these absolute statements. And I’m like, hey, relax. Sam’s behind it. Rob Tapert’s behind it. I’m behind it. We are the only producers. There are no other cigar chomping producers looking to make a fast buck. This is the first movie that ever got us into the film business so as violently as opposed as a fan is or careful as they are with this Evil Dead franchise, what do you think we are? We’re going to take more time with it than the average fan I can tell you that right now. I care more than the average fan about this movie.
But we appreciate their zeal. We appreciate the fact that they care enough to say, don’t screw this up. You know, like verbally threatening us. Based on the reaction last night we didn’t’ screw them over. That’s the goal when you make a horror film, they’ve got to react. If they don’t react, you’ve failed. You’ve completely failed. Laughter. Nervous laughter. Screaming. Hiding. It’s all good.
AG: Can I be honest? I actually almost threw up. And not because I was grossed out but because it didn’t let up. I didn’t get a chance to breath and I thought I was going to jump out of my skin.
BC: It’s kind of like a noose that gets tightened a little bit. You’re in a shoot and there’s no way out.
AG: I was like, my knees were up to here, there’s people trapped all around me, I kind of almost had a claustrophobic attack so I thank you for that.
BC: Good. I like that.
AG: Did you see any of the internet buzz [after the premiere] or anything?
BC: Not since. No. Fede’s [Alvarez, the film's director] been on it. He’s good. These younger guys, their fingers work good. I haven’t’ read it yet but I just got an email with a link to a bunch of reviews so I can’t wait. Because the first Evil Dead was pretty much split. There were some very good reviews and some very bad reviews. An Atlanta paper called it the sickest of the sick, the first Evil Dead. In another one, the headline was 'Films That Stoop,' like they’re not even trying to be a legitimate movie.
AG: Now, sickest of the sick was a compliment to you I would imagine?
BC: Well no, they followed it by saying Sam Raimi took every low-budget bad idea and put it in a low budget blender.
AG: Oh boy. Yeah.
BC: Yet, the L.A. Times comes out and says instant classic. So that’s the thing with reviews, you can’t throw yourself off the cliff for a bad one and you can’t go buy a new Cadillac with a good one. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Nothing is ever that bad and nothing is ever that good.
AG: I read you were looking originally to make a comedy before you decided on doing the The Evil Dead way back then.
BC: That’s all we’d ever done was comedies. We were Three Stooges fans. If we are going to raise money from a group of business men in Detroit, comedy was like, who’s your main actor or who’s your comedian that you know? None of us. But horror movies you can make with no name actors. Jane Levy [Mia in Evil Dead] had a lot of experience, and Shilo Fernandez [David] and same with Lou [Taylor Pucci, who plays Eric] and all of the other actors. They’re all good, solid actors but we don’t have like a star or starlet that everybody knows. Horror movies can do that. You can have no name people.
AG: Because the gore is the star.
BC: The gore is the star. Yeah, that’s pretty much the deal.
AG: There were a lot of low budget horror movies around that time. Why was the original Evil Dead different? Why did it hit the way it did?
BC: Sam Raimi. His visual style. I doubt that some of these other late 70s horror movies, like I Know What You Did Last Night, Friday the 13th, all of those movies were shot in about three weeks and it looks like it. The Evil Dead took 12 weeks of principle photography. That was twice as long as we had intended. When you shoot that long you can take an entire day to get one shot. We would never do that again and have never done it since. It’s too inefficient. As a result there are shots in the movie that are arrestingly cool that are not in any other low budget horror films because they don’t have the time.
Roger Corman movies, god bless him for being so prolific, but memorable? No. He makes impossible challenges, like make a movie in 10 days. You’re going to get what you get. You really are. The occasional guys like [George] Lucas will come out of there, or [Francis Ford] Coppola. Out of the hundreds of directors, very few survive that world because they were not given a chance to do their stuff.
Sam from the get-go had these ridiculous ideas that Rob [Tapert] and I were like, 'Oh god, how do we do that? How do we do that shot?' It was before green screen. It was before blue screen. So we just had to figure out a way to do it. I think that’s what set it apart. They knew that there was somebody behind the camera that had a little more something going on.
AG: What did you guys see in Fede [Alvarez, the film's director]?
BC: Sophistication. This movie is more sophisticated than the original. He brings a really interesting sensibility. He’s not a kid. He runs a very successful effects company in Uruguay and has a very good living and just got married. He’s not a 21-year-old know nothing. He has opinions. He’s worked extensively with special effects. We just lucked out there. The rest was a little bit of a gamble. Can he make his day? What do you say to actors? Does he know how to deal with them? What if they’re pissed off, how do you calm them down? There’s a lot of that. But he had it. I sat in on a lot of the casting. To me, that’s what I wanted to see. What does he say to that actor to make him better without pissing them off? Actors are these weird, volatile creatures. So by the time those sessions were done, I’m like he’s good. I could see how when someone asked a question, he would answer it and how he would help them understand more of what it is they should be doing and what he’s looking for. That was very reassuring to me. We were very fortunate to get Fede and Jane [Levy]. We hit two homeruns. One was with Fede and one was with Jane.
AG: You’re like the king of this nerd B movie empire and you guys are shepherding this franchise. Was that ever how you saw your career ending up way back when?
BC: Well, you know, all roads lead to B movies. You start B movies as an actor because that’s how you get in movies and you end in B movies when your career is over. It’s a logical place to be. I just never left. I have no problem with B movies. I don’t apologize for them. You can make more interesting movies. You can make twist endings. You can kill your lead character. You can cut their arm off. If this movie was made by a studio it would not be this movie. It wouldn’t be anything close to this movie. Thank God.
I’m happy to work in a low budget arena as long as I’m left alone because then all of the mental shit is gone. It’s just the physical challenge of making the movie without the politics and without any other pressure. We wanted to give Fede that environment. Sam is so supportive of directors. He’d get on Rob’s case and my case and be like, 'Hey what are you bugging Fede so much for? Leave him alone.' And we’re like, 'Shut up, we’re doing our job.'
AG: What were you bugging him about?
BC: Anything.You see the film and it’s time for your editing notes. Well, we can either give him a lot of notes or few notes. It depends on what we thought. We each have things that bug us about editing. That shot seems very similar to that second shot. Why don’t we lift one of those shots? Do we need that shot? It’s stuff like that.
AG: What did you really want to keep from the original?
BC: Some of the sounds.
AG: Like what?
BC: Well the room where everything goes down, where the chick is burned alive in the beginning and where they find the book, there’s a wind in there that we buried with two other winds that is the original Evil Dead wind. In the cabin for half of the movie is this very dead, creepy, subtle wind and that’s in that room. Whenever you go in that room the original sound is there and only there. You can barely hear it but I can hear it.
AG: But you wanted it there.
BC: Hell yeah.
AG: And then the car, of course [the 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 that Campbell’s character drove in the original films.]
BC: The car I don’t’ give a crap about. That’s Sam’s. Sam’s obsession with that stupid car.
AG: It literally is the same car?
BC: I doubt it, being in New Zealand. But find a couple of car parts and glue them together and you’ve got a car.
AG: I saw Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful and I noted your cameo in there, only because I saw a picture of it ahead of time. I probably would have never known. What was that experience like in that film?
BC: Well it’s fun to go on the big movie sets because…to me it’s just fun. I looked at the makeup station they had. It was like the infinity mirror. They had to make up 200 people every day in prosthetic makeups. That’s staggering. So I worked one day and it was one incredibly long day but working with Sam was just like nothing else had happened. It doesn’t matter the budget; it all felt very small and personal when we actually got to film it. It wasn’t about this big spectacle. It was about dicking with the scene and having fun with it. But the crew didn’t know how familiar I was with Sam. These were all people who were Mr. Raimi this, Mr. Raimi that.
AG: Mr. Hollywood.
BC: They’ve got him…these crew members, they tip toe around him. Not because he’s mean but he’s a very competent director and very confident. He knows what he wants. He was getting pissy one day, saying 'Well, that didn’t work, I’m going to do this and we’re going to do this until we get this.' So I started imitating him, and I was like, 'Yeah, we’re going to do this, we’re going to shoot it 1,000 times in 18 different ways!' The crew members were looking at me like, 'Dude, what are you sassing Sam for?' I’m like, 'You don’t know anything. I went to high school with this guy.' So that’s great. And to watch a good friend be so successful is just…that’s what it’s all about. That’s why you get in the business, to go, damn, Sam is swimming with the biggest of the big dogs. He is a big dog. Sam’s a big dog. He’s’ a big Hollywood influence. Nothing could make me happier. I sit back and I laugh. I’m sure I’ll send him an email about this weekend’s box office [for opening weekend of Oz], because I think he’s going to pull it out.
AG: Last night you mentioned the sequel. You said that it's already been written or being written?
BC: Being written.
AG: Okay. Does it bear any resemblance to the other sequel or is it a whole different path that it’s taking?
BC: I think it’s going to go completely crazy in a different direction. It won’t be anything like this movie. Nothing like this movie. Which is cool.
AG: One of the things about horror is that, to get the fans to keep coming back, you have to show them something new and it gets more and more graphic, making me want to throw up and things like that. I’m just curious, how much more graphic do you think you can get?
BC: That’s not it.
AG: No? What do you think it is to top it next?
BC: Just different. There’s a lot of room for different. It doesn’t have to be more, just different. There are different ways to show carnage and mayhem. I don’t know. Fede will think of something. Sam will tell us to leave him alone and he’ll come up with something big and ridiculous.
AG: Yeah. The arm cutting…I think I’m going to live with that for quite a while.
BC: That was cool. We got just the reaction that we wanted. People were like, 'Oh my god, she’s doing it! Oh my god, she’s still doing it. Oh, it broke off.'
AG: My body was reacting in a way that I had no control over. It was weird.
BC: Yeah. Isn’t that awesome though?
AG: It was pretty awesome.
BC: This is the beauty. People go 'Why are you in a horror movie?' Because the visceral reaction that you can get from a horror film is so much bigger than dramedy or a romcom or an action movie even. This is where you get people to be vocal. That’s a powerful medium. Comedies and horror films.
AG: Oh yeah. And watching it in theaters with people is such a great experience. What’s your favorite modern horror film, besides the Evil Dead of course, that’s come out in the past couple of years?
BC: I haven’t been that impressed with any modern day horror films.
AG: Really? Even Cabin in the Woods?
BC: I didn’t see it. Half of these things I haven’t seen.
AG: What? Cabin in the Woods basically uses the beginning of Evil Dead.
BC: When I go see a movie, I go to watch the actors working. I feel like I’m at work. I feel like I’m watching dailies.
AG: It’s not fun for you.
BC: It’s okay. Last night was a blast because it was all about tormenting the audience.
AG: Well, consider me tormented.