The Lovable Demon Killer
Bruce Campbell, a horror hero taking on your worst nightmares.
“To build suspense, to make somebody jump, to make somebody believe that an arm got chopped off, it’s actually a lot of visual wizardry,” says Bruce Campbell.
Actor, author, and producer Bruce Campbell may be a horror movie icon, but the Michigan native confesses that he “never had love for the genre” before becoming the lovable demon hunter Ash Williams in Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead franchise, a character he's revisiting on the hit Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead.
“Ash, he makes bad deals with bad people,” Campbell states when asked how much of his own personality is embedded in the character. “For a guy who’s smoking angel dust, like Ash, I’m not that bad. I certainly have my foibles like Ash but Ash is a guy who’ll go to extremes and I think that’s an admirable trait. Ash is me either on my worst day or my best day. I’m somewhere in the middle as a human.”
The second season of the series arrived on Blu-ray and DVD on August 22, and “the essence of the story” finds Campbell visiting his hometown to save it from a demonic invasion and “redeem his name.”
“These demons are a lot like the mafia. If you can’t get to the guy you get the family. The evil manifests itself in his hometown so he’s gotta go back.
"The challenge of course is, they don’t want him back because he’s part of an urban myth. He’s the guy from the original Evil Dead who killed a bunch of friends with an ax in a cabin. He’s been renamed Ashy Slashy. So he not only has to save the world, he has to redeem his name and save his small town. That’s the heavy load he’s got to carry in season two.”
Campbell has chronicled his B-movie career in three candid memoirs, the first was 2001’s If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. It was followed by Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way in 2005 and on August 15, he released his third title, Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor.
He hit up 33 cities in support of the memoir — from August through October — which he says was a “really fun creative process because the math makes much more sense in publishing.”
“For some reason, in the movie business, they don’t know how to add and subtract but in the publishing business they know how to. So that’s been a very gratifying thing to get into.”
Campbell’s film and television career spans four decades and includes the lead role in the wildly popular The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and starring roles in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys , Xena: Warrior Princess and on the USA Network series Burn Notice. While he has played roles as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Santa Claus, fans have come to love him for his character in the Evil Dead franchise, which made him a cult icon.
In 2007, Campbell directed the comedy-horror film My Name Is Bruce, which spoofs his career and is in the vein of the Evil Dead series.
The original trilogy includes The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and Army of Darkness (1992), all written and directed by Raimi and starring Campbell. Back in 2013, there was talk of the duo revisiting the franchise with a follow up film to Army of Darkness, but the plan was scrapped and it was later announced that Ash vs Evil Dead would serve as a sequel to the trilogy — picking up where the third installment leaves off.
Starz has renewed the series for a third season and fans can expect Ash to be taken on a “Mr Toad's Wild Ride to find out what is his real purpose ‘cause he is foretold in an ancient book he’s not just a loser smoking dope in trailer home.” Ash will also gain “some fatherly instincts” and “his family is going to grow.” The third season of Ash vs Evil Dead premieres February 25, 2018.
Campbell began acting as a teenager — making short Super 8 movies with friends. Inspired by The Three Stooges, their goal was to make “slapstick comedies” but they quickly realized that without a celebrity attached to the project, their movies would go unnoticed.
“When we decided that we wanted to make a movie, we were a little concerned that you didn’t really hear too much about comedies that didn’t have a well known comedian in them and in this case, back in the ’70’s, you still had drive-in movies.”
And these “cheesy drive-in movies” that played horror movies starring “nameless actors” would serve as the catalyst for Campbell’s foray into the genre.
“We thought you can do horror cheap. You don’t need a name actor in a horror film. They don’t even have to have nice clothes or cars. They can even be in some beat up cabin, just some college kids.
"So conceptually, horror movies seemed inexpensive enough and we could point to other cheap movies that succeeded, such as Last House on the Left, Night of the Living Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All those were made for like, $12, with nobody in the cast. So that gave us hope,” he says.
“Sam had been reading about the Sumerian Book of the Dead in some like, humanities class at Michigan Stage University, and the HP Lovecraft stuff. So he had been toying with that and when we decided to try a horror movie he sort of expanded and it became Evil Dead.”
With decades of playing witty rogues and monster fighters comes an appreciation and “respect for horror now because to do a good horror movie actually takes a lot of skill,” says Campbell.
“Horror movies are actually very difficult to make, so we bit off more than we can chew, I think. But for me, that’s mostly what led us into the horror genre. It wasn’t that I didn’t like horror but it wasn’t really on my radar. I was a fan of Bob Hope… idiots like that.”
The Evil Dead launched the careers of Campbell and Raimi, who would collaborate on several films throughout the years, including Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy. 36 years after the chainsaw-wielding Ash Williams slaughtered the silver screen, the character remains a cinematic hero.
“Ted Raimi and I were on set, he was revising Henrietta from Evil Dead 2 and at that point, Evil Dead 2 was 30 years old and the original one was 36 years old. So I looked at Ted, he’s still playing Henrietta 30 years later, I’m playing Ash 36 years later and we looked at each other and I was like, ‘Boy, Ted, our careers have really taken off here,’ ” he laughs.
“It’s very gratifying because throughout media and time, I became best known as the guy from the Evil Dead movies and my very first job was in a film that was probably one of the most successful. So I’m known for something that I was kind of the least experienced in and now I feel like George Lucas.
"I feel like I can go back now and take the Ash character and fix him and make him into a full-fledge character now. That’s the beauty of television. You can take a character and spend time with them and put them through all these new circumstances.”
Campbell has one simple message to fans hoping that Bruce Campbell himself, or Ash, will make an appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Doubtful. Very doubtful,” he states.
“Ash is… it’s a little cult film. Those are popular comics and there’s a very specific universe there. And also, I’d like to keep Ash in his own universe. There was a temptation at one point to team him up with Jason and Freddy and fight those two but it just starts getting really watered down, so I’m good. I’d rather keep Ash in his own miserable universe.”
Audiences love horror not only for entertainment but also because the genre often plays on and, in some cases, relives our worse fears. With Ash vs. Evil Dead, viewers “get to experience them all,” Campbell says. “Anywhere from buried alive in a dream sequence. I think that was the first season. Strung up, if I had claustrophobia that would be bad, being in these harnesses and stuff.”
When asked whether the series plays on any of his own fears, Campbell notes that “Mentally, it’s weird. I don’t have the whole ghost issue and there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t mostly believe is real. So I’m not really haunted by any of that.”
However, he does have one main gripe: ignorance, which he describes as the most “terrifying thing of all.”
John Carpenter once described horror as “a reaction, not a genre” and Campbell agrees that “horror works when it is mental as well as physical.”
“Some of the best horror movies just make you think you’re going crazy. So horror, to me, is literally your worst fear comes true. And in this case it would be that your best friend, your wife, your mother, your son gets possessed and you have to kill them with a chainsaw. Basically the worse case scenario.”