Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. One of the most constant landmarks of my time at AICN has been Bruce Campbell. Call it coincidence or luck or that Mr. Campbell has excellent taste in geek interviewers, whatever the reason he has been one of the most seen and interviewed actors of my little career.
I was writing for AICN in the late ‘90s, but I didn’t really start becoming a big voice on the site until around 2000 or so. I was a regular, but the occasional review or interview was just the beginning.
On my first big trip to Los Angeles (for a Halloween anniversary cast and crew reunion screening put on by Anchor Bay) I met Bruce and he was exactly as I would have wanted him to be: bigger than life, charming and a huge, huge smart-ass. My write-up of that trip was what propelled me to cover bigger things. Harry liked my voice, the way I’d play with the character of “Quint” and just my general compulsion to lay my geek soul bare.
I followed that up with one of my first big set visits, which just so happened to be Bubba Ho-tep. I spent 2 weeks on that set and wrote a series of articles about it that are kind of embarrassing to read now, but I was all of 20 years old when I did that, so I don’t feel too bad looking back.
That trip had me spending a lot of time with Bruce and getting a fairly unfiltered look at the difficulties of low budget filmmaking. Don wore about 24,000 different hats (he’d work on lighting, props, set dec, whatever needed a hand every spare second of the day) on that show and Bruce had to shoulder so much of the responsibility of the production that things got a little tense quite frequently.
Over the years I’ve probably interviewed Bruce a good 5 or 6 times, but what was great about this one was that instead of dancing around Evil Dead and getting an eye-roll when forcing it into an interview he was actually there to talk about Evil Dead.
The immediate sense I got from Bruce was that he was incredibly proud of Fede Alvarez’s film. There was an excitement in his eye when talking about the Evil Dead universe that I hadn’t seen in all the time I’ve interacted with him. They had just had their big SXSW premiere to an incredibly responsive crowd of 1200+ people, they were a month away from the big theatrical release and had the full support of the studio behind them.
Originally Capone was slated to do this interview while I was going to tackle Fede Alvarez and Jane Levy, but I ended up sniping it out from under his him. Not intentionally. I’m not a bastard, but I happened to be there early and they happened to be early and the publicist said Bruce was ready then and if we wanted the interview it had to be right that second, so I stole Capone’s interview. Sorry, Steve.
We began by discussing my time on the Evil Dead set and how ludicrous it was that what we saw filming was end-of-the-movie/lead-characters-dead-or-dying stuff that made it difficult to write about. But that lead into a discussion of the palpable tone that was set on the stage and how relieved I was that it transferred over to the finished product. Enjoy the chat!
Quint: One thing I loved about the set visit was that the tone was so damn serious. Fede really wanted to make a scary movie, so the tone is more along the lines of the first film, which was one of the first indicators that he was going to do a good job.
Bruce Campbell: The original is not funny and it’s not meant to be funny.
Quint: There’s an absence of really scary horror now. Most horror movies now are content to make you jump with loud noises and the movies that do take themselves seriously take themselves too seriously. They don’t seem to make movies that are aimed to get under your skin much anymore.
Bruce Campbell: I agree, I agree. It’s definitely throwback-ish. I think people are ready for it. I think that the kids who go see this movie… that their fathers would like it because of the style of the effects. It’s a ‘70s style horror movie, in a way, with the beauty of modern day technology.
Quint: I do like the fun and comedy elements to the Evil Dead films…
Bruce Campbell: People were laughin’ last night. I heard several people describe it today as “fun.” I’m like, “perfect.”
Quint: I know there were people who saw the trailer and were big Army of Darkness fans that were like “What is this?”
Bruce Campbell: It all depends on what you like. If you like straight horror then the first one is for you. If you’re an original gorehound, that’s the one for you. You know, raped by vines, that sort of crap. And if you like the weird hybrid of horror, go to Evil Dead 2. And if you like adventure comedy (go to Army of Darkness)… it’s like Ray Harryhausen.
So, I tell people, “If you’re not sure what you like, start at Army of Darkness and then go backwards and stop whenever it gets too horrible.”
Quint: While on the set visit, Rob (Tappert, producer) mentioned that for the longest time you were one of the things that was keeping an Evil Dead remake from happening. What they said was it was Fede coming in and proposing a movie without an Ash character that pushed you over to the “let’s do this” side. Is that right?
Bruce Campbell: Well, it just made it clearer to see and it gave him more latitude of telling a story that doesn’t have to have this character. There aren’t any expectations of what he should be like. I didn’t want to put that burden on some poor actor. “Hey, Campbell was better! You suck!” Why do that? We want him to stand on his own (pointing to Fede doing an interview at another table), we want the actors to stand on their own and by empowering them I think it makes them work harder to create their own character, their own persona.
I can’t wait to see a Jane Levy split tongue tattoo! I’m waiting for my first one. I’ve got a collection! Look at this (Bruce pulls out his phone and scrolls through dozens images of Ash and Evil Dead tattoos). I save tattoos. Just Evil Dead tattoos. What’s the count now? 118 so far.
I’m waiting for people to ink themselves up with the new Evil Dead. I’ve offered to pay for the first Evil Dead remake tattoo (sorry, folks… someone already claimed it… from what I hear mere days after the SXSW premiere, no less).
Quint: Since Army of Darkness you’ve branched out a bit. You still act, but you’ve also directed, you’ve written and you’ve produced. My understanding is that you were a very active producer on Evil Dead, not just “Oh, I was a producer on the original ones, so throw my name on the new one.”
Bruce Campbell: Being one of the producers of the originals we were all partners and we (Sam Raimi, Bruce and Rob Tappert) felt a responsibility to the fans because we knew they would cut our heads off if we just sort of farted this one out. “Just give us your money, here’s the movie.” People know. Audiences, they’re smart. They know when you’re being lazy, they know when you’re bullshitting them. They just secretly know. They know by the amount of effort you put into it and this is still kind of a handmade movie. Fede made it his own and as producers we just tried to help him.
These things take a while to shoot. You can’t just buzz through an Evil Dead movie.
Quint: Especially with Fede being so hellbent on going practical with the gore. It makes a huge difference. We were talking about the audience’s reaction last night. People were squirming in their seats and vocally disgusted by some of these effects. If they had used CG blood and gore it wouldn’t have had that same effect.
Bruce Campbell: Oh no, no, no. CG blood sucks to this day. They just can’t get it right. I’ve tried it two, three, four times in different things and you go, “That’s the best you got? It looks like shit!” They’ll get it, but the point is if you can do it without it… this is why I think teenagers’ fathers will like it because the effects look like they’re from a different era. They are just way more practical.
I think it helps the horror because you go “She’s doing it! She’s just cutting her damn arm off!” You just watch it.
Quint: You can’t see the seam in the effect. It’s a magic trick that you don’t know how they did it. With CG you know how they did it.
Bruce Campbell: It’s just better magic tricks. Sleight of hand.
Quint: Do you think the fans of the original films will accept Fede’s movie as part of the canon?
Bruce Campbell: I heard a comment once. The guy goes (hoity-toity voice): “Aren’t you a little disappointed of how the trilogy has taken a turn?” I was like, “Dude. Stop saying “trilogy.” It was never meant to be a trilogy.” None of the movies have anything to do with each other in tone, in anything. I wouldn’t mind a trilogy out of this, where it’s out of the same guy’s brain and he’s thinking of three movies and now you can tell a cool story.
Quint: Especially with as good a job as Jane does in the movie.
Bruce Campbell: Look, I don’t like the word “luck.” I’m not a fan of it. But I think we got lucky with Fede and I think we got lucky with Jane. If you’re off on one of those… if you got tired of Jane and you’re sick of lookin’ at her or if she couldn’t bring it then it wasn’t going to work.
Quint: Or if she could only play one aspect of her character. If she could only play the vulnerable girl, but not sell the possessed girl…
Bruce Campbell: Or the kick-ass girl. She got to play three parts! That’s actor catnip! She gets to play three parts: the heroine, the evil possessed creature and the junkie. Hopefully Fede will concoct something that will allow her to want to come back happily. But she’s also now seen the end result of all that nightmare.
I don’t have any bad memories of the Evil Dead movies, even though at the time they were all fucking nightmares, every single one in a different way. But I have nothing but good memories of them now because of what we got out of them.
My theory is that movies that are easy to make are hard to watch and vice versa. If the audience knows you put your time in I think they’ll really appreciate it. This is what I think is going to tip our fans into our court. We’re not just schluffing this off. This is the movie that got us into the business. I mean, this has a very special place for us, more dear than any fan’s heart. I can guarantee that. So they don’t need to worry. Hopefully they’ll see that we were not dicking around and we were not lying (in the promo materials). A lot of producers love to tell ya’ “the most amazing, disturbing, scary film ever!” What else we gonna say? “This is a mediocre piece of shit, don’t see it?”
Quint: You have to bring it if you’re going to remake or reboot Evil Dead. Not even living up to the tagline on the poster, but the series has a beloved and well established history of going over the line, be it with the gore, the horror or the humor. You have to be able to deliver that in one of these movies.
Bruce Campbell: They’re a little over the top.
Quint: You can’t do a PG-13 version of Evil Dead.
Bruce Campbell: That would be such a waste.
Quint: Aside from the tone, the thing that impressed me the most on the set visit was going through the practical effects they had laid out and hearing how they pulled off the arm gag. Just seeing that someone gave a shit enough to go through that effort made all the difference in the world.
Bruce Campbell: It’s attention span. Fede has a really good attention span and that’s what it takes. Sam Raimi has a good attention span. They can obsess over something so much that they take the time to do it. Most filmmakers who don’t have that ability… you can tell. If the film doesn’t hold their attention it’s not gonna hold the audience’s attention.
Quint: It’s already announced that you guys are hard at work on a sequel, a month before this one comes out!
Bruce Campbell: It’s pretty bold, huh?
Quint: It is, but I’ve been hearing for a long time how happy the studio has been with the film, so it’s not all that surprising to me.
Bruce Campbell: I’ll put it to you this way: we had one preview with no edits. When the numbers came in, what they did was they went “We’re out of here. You guys have fun. See you at the premiere.” It was basically like that. That’s never happened (to me) before.
Normally, your numbers are low and you go “How do we get them up? Do we do a happy ending? Let’s cut it down by 5 or 10 minutes, like Army of Darkness, to get those numbers up.” That’s a dick’s game, man. You’re rolling the dice. You’re just guessing. With this we had an idea, Fede pulled it off, let’s walk away and just finish the movie.
Quint: Are you going to be as hands on for the sequel?
Bruce Campbell: I doubt it, to be honest. That’s no slight to the series or to anybody, but I’ve seen him in the room with actors. We auditioned these actors together, I know what he says to them. I know how he gets stuff out of them. I went through the sound (process) with him. We sat in the trenches for a month together, duking it out getting the best sound that we could. He’s so on to it, I’m like “You go, Fede.”
Quint: He doesn’t need training wheels.
Bruce Campbell: No. I actually don’t want to hold him back. What do you got? We were there just to make sure it sounded rich, that was our job. We tried to use as much production dialogue as possible. That’s huge to me ‘cause the mixes early on… they were throwing ADR in there a lot and I went, “Go back. Let me hear the production. Nope, make it work.” That way it sounds like a real movie. It’s not a floaty movie where nothing is rooted because it’s all perfect and it’s all perfect because everything has been replaced. Drives me nuts. Like Excalibur. Watch the movie Excalibur. I think the entire movie is looped. I’m not shitting you. It’s the weirdest thing. You watch it and you go, “It’s like I’m watching a foreign movie dubbed in English.”
Quint: Thanks for your time, man.
Bruce Campbell: Thank you, my friend. I appreciate it.
I didn’t quite have the balls to tell him this, but whenever Aaron Sorkin or some super smart political filmmaker gears up and makes a Mitt Romney film for HBO or something, Bruce has to be at the top of the list. He just has to make himself really, really, really dull, but he has the look down.
Anyway, thanks for reading the chat. I had a lot of fun with it and I hope you did, too. Stay tuned for more Evil Dead talk with star Jane Levy and director Fede Alvarez.