Few Hollywood celebrities can claim to have done as much for horror as Bruce Campbell. In the role of Ash Williams, Campbell helped filmmaker Sam Raimi to turn The Evil Dead into one of the most beloved franchises ever, spawning four movies, the Ash vs. Evil Dead TV show, and multiple video games and comic books. And what’s most surprising is that after more than four decades, the franchise keeps delivering amazing horror stories. There’s not even one chapter of the franchise we could consider subpar. So, of course, when the opportunity knocked on our door, we had to sit down with Campbell to discuss Evil Dead Rise, the fifth movie in the franchise.
While Campbell is mostly celebrated for the Evil Dead franchise, the star has also been part of dozens of movies and series as an actor, producer, and, more rarely, writer and director. Campbell also has written and released three successful books and plans to expand his reach as a publisher to bring other manuscripts to light. In short, Campbell has a unique insight into pop culture, and everything fans love, from horror to science-fiction, passing through superhero culture. That’s why he’s going on a tour with the Bruce-O-Rama show this April, a mix of a live game show and a classic B-movie screening.
Inspired by his beloved game show Last Fan Standing, Bruce-O-Rama invites the audience to prove their geek knowledge by answering tricky questions about movies, TV shows, video games, and even comic books. As Campbell describes, “anybody walking in that door could take it off. We don’t pre-plan, we don’t vet people, we just let the chips fall as they lay. And it makes for some fun evenings.” Any Campbell fan willing to try their luck must download an app before the show starts and answer 20 questions as quickly as possible. The app measures the speed and accuracy of the participants, selecting the four best fans to go on stage and compete until there’s only one person left standing. Besides being part of a unique experience, participants can also score some exclusive goodies, as winners “win all kinds of wonderful prizes because we’re getting a tie-in with Evil Dead Rise, so they’re gonna get some swag from that movie.”
After the game shows part of Bruce-O-Rama is done, Campbell says everybody “takes a break, and then I’m gonna come back and do an intro for one of the old classics.” These old classics include, of course, one of the three movies in Raimi’s original Evil Dead trilogy: The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness. Campbell also wants to try and sneak in Bubba Ho-Tep in a few screenings, a marvelous movie where he plays a retired version of Elvis hunting down a mummy. What about some lesser known classics, such as Mindwarp? Or maybe something truly wacky like My Name Is Bruce? As Campbell puts it, “Well, I’m for it. But it all depends on these promoters. People want movies that are very popular. They tend to go with, you know, the crowd pleasers, Army of Darkness, you know, movies like that.”
It’s not a bad deal to watch, or re-watch, the original Evil Dead trilogy in theaters this April, especially considering how Evil Dead Rise is just around the corner. Written and directed by Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin, Evil Dead Rise is the first franchise movie in a decade, reason enough for fans to be excited. And since Cronin’s debut feature, The Hole in the Ground, was so well-received, we have high hopes for Evil Dead Rise. Still, Campbell warns us that Evil Dead Rise “is nothing like that [The Hole in the Ground]. That movie is nothing compared to his new movie. This is Lee sort of unbridled.” But what does Cronin bring to the franchise? According to Campbell:
“Well, he brings what he needs to bring which is tension, suspense, or chaos. So it brings all that, he brought what he had to. But because Lee is a good Irish boy, I think that he brings a certain DNA of darkness to the whole thing with his European background, you know, of making movies that are a little more somber, you know. This is a very serious approach to filmmaking that he’s taking. And it’s pretty interesting in the horror dynamic rather than just a bunch of cheap scares. He’s building mood, he’s building tension, he’s building relationships with all the characters. So he’s come up with a very unique movie, I call it kind of like a ‘Euro Evil Dead.’”
While every Evil Dead movie is drenched in blood and guts, most franchise chapters also have a good dose of humor. However, as Campbell underlines, Evil Dead Rise tries to make its own thing. So, when asked what he wants fans to expect from the upcoming movie, the star was blunt to say, “just don’t expect to laugh. I mean anything but laugh, you will, I fully expect you to be completely creeped out to the core of your being. Nothing you think is safe anymore.” Fede Álvarez already made a serious The Evil Dead movie in 2013, but Cronin’s film promises to be the scariest chapter of the franchise yet. As Campbell describes it:
“This is serious, very serious, very straight, very gory, very hard-hitting, very unrelenting. So it’s not going to be too many laughs other than uncomfortable laughs in this way. We like to give the filmmaker enough rope to hang themselves, as they say, to experiment a little bit. Our job [Campbell and Raimi] is to keep them in the sandbox, ‘The Evil Dead’ sandbox, a little bit. So Lee was able to sort of branch out from that, it’s no longer a cabin in the woods, you know… Even in ‘Army of Darkness,’ there wasn’t a cabin in the woods, it was a crazy adventure story. So this [Evil Dead Rise] is, it’s an urban version with a family, a family where they go to turn on themselves, it’s sort of like a child’s worst nightmare.”
One of the reasons the Evil Dead franchise is successful is because it boasts an incredible cast of Deadite killers. Of course, Campbell’s Ash Williams is the face of the franchise. But in 2013, Jane Levy stepped up as Álvarez’s movie protagonist, Mia, and instantly became a fan-favorite. Then, the Ash vs. Evil Dead series gave Campbell two fantastic co-stars, Ray Santiago as Pablo and Dana DeLorenzo as Kelly. Evil Dead Rise is presenting a new cast of characters, with Lily Sullivan as Beth and Alyssa Sutherland as her sister Ellie. In the movie, Ellie is the mother of three children who becomes possessed by a demon summoned by the Necronomicon, and Beth needs to become an unlikely heroine. Regarding Beth’s journey in Evil Dead Rise, Campbell told us:
“Well, she has a troubled relationship with her family, she’s a bit of an outsider. So she asked to come into her own during the course of this when the protector, the mother… you think would normally be the one who would be the protagonist ends up being the antagonist, the chief antagonist, and tortures her own family. So this wayward sister has to step up and be responsible. She is the new head of the family by the end of it. And it’s a good journey for a hero. And we’ve had women be tough characters before. And so this is just a continuation. There are a bunch of badass women in this movie. Even the little kid is badass.”
Of course, Beth is not the only important character in the movie, and the whole cast had to prepare to meet the mental and physical challenges of being in Evil Dead Rise. In Campbell’s words:
“And so there’s a psychological component, but there’s also a very physical component, all these actors had to do a tremendous amount of physical stunts and acting and blood and, you know, wearing harnesses and prosthetics and shooting long, long, difficult hours. So ‘Evil Dead’ movies are never easy to make, and these actors found out for themselves what it takes to survive.”
Everything we hear about Evil Dead Rise makes it harder to wait until the movie hits theaters. So, we’ll all be marathoning the previous movies in the franchise in the upcoming month. But how does Evil Dead Rise fit into the franchise’s canon? Campbell reveals that the key to making everything make sense in the same timeline is one particular scene of Army of Darkness. In the cult classic, Ash is tasked with recovering the Necronomicon and finds three cursed books in a cemetery. While two of these books could be seen as decoys, they are actually equally capable of summoning the Deadites. As Campbell explains:
“The only thing that connects everything now is the book. There are three of these books out there, as we found out in ‘Army of Darkness,’ so you never know where they’re going to pop up. So this story is really ‘where is the book now?’ The book is in this particular place in Los Angeles and a set of circumstances kind of release it into the world again, and it lands upon this one particular family in a gritty old high-rise building in Los Angeles. It’s cool, it’s cool setting.”
Evil Dead Rise is not the only franchise chapter in development, as Campbell recently revealed there’s an animated series project being discussed. Unfortunately, Campbell can’t say much about this series for the moment, since the project is still in early development. As the star tells us, “All I can say is it’s being developed. But that doesn’t mean shit. It could never see the light of day. But there is interest. We are interested. So we’re gonna see what happens.” Still, if the animated series does become a reality, Campbell will be back to voice Ash Williams.
Even though Campbell said he would retire from the character at the end of Ash vs. Evil Dead, in 2018, he has already come back to voice Ash in 2019’s Dead by Daylight game DLC, and in 2022’s Evil Dead: The Game. According to Campbell, he chose to come back to the role of Ash only as a voice actor, without the pressures of being on set. As he puts it, “It’s my voice, I’m not being covered in blood, I’m not doing stunts, I’m not getting the shit beat out of me. So a lot easier to go into a nice comfy booth with a lovely cup of tea and record your lines. It’s a different story. So that’s no problem.” Does that mean a live-action cameo from Ash somewhere along the road is out of the question? Campbell says “I’m not going to say anything. Because every time I say something it’s wrong, so I’m just not gonna say anything. It’s better just to spit nothing.” That is not a no, so we’ll keep hope in our hearts.
While we all love seeing Campbell playing Ash Williams, fans of the star are yet to see one of the most interesting parts of his career. In 2017, Campbell was part of a movie called Highly Functional, in which he plays a struggling country singer. It’s a rare dramatic part for Campbell, and he even sings in Highly Functional. Unfortunately, the movie’s chaotic development process put it in a distribution limbo from where it never came. Six years later, we still wondered if we would ever be able to watch it. Fortunately, Campbell had some great news, as “there is a producer who has swooped in” and is working to release it. Remembering the long road to releasing Highly Functional, Campbell said:
“Two weeks after I finished filming, they fired the director. A little while after that the producer leaves the movie and I’m like, ‘Who’s gonna finish this? The caterer? Who’s gonna finish this movie?’ Finally, the director comes back on, finishes the movie, I see it. I thought it was delightful. But sitting there like a stone, this other producer calls me up and he goes: ‘You know what? This movie is too good. I’m not gonna let it die.’ So he has been slowly, he put a new score on it, which I wasn’t sure about. But then I saw it. I was like: ‘Holy shit. That’s way better.’ And he did a little substructure stuff, which normally when a producer gets involved, it’s bad. Because they put their big tittied girlfriend in there, you know, or whatever. They make bad decisions. But everything this guy did was good for the movie. He had to rename the movie. So I think it’s going to be called ‘Hardly Functional.’”
And when will we be able to watch Hardly Functional? In the star’s words:
“I told him [the producer]: ‘I’ll tour with it. As soon as you finish it, maybe we contact, you know, there’s Alamo Drafthouse. There are certain theater chains that would be good.’ So I would tour with it. So I hope within a year or two years we can bring this movie. Blow the dust off of it. That’s really, it’s a nice little movie.”
Campbell also revealed new details about the Hardly Functional plot. As he summarizes the movie’s story:
“It’s about broken-down country western singer. That’s me. A guy named Chili Youngfield, who had one hit in his whole career. And it was the only song he did not write. So he hates to perform it. That’s called ‘It Ain’t the End.’ And we meet him, he’s performing at a pharmaceutical convention at a casino. So these are not the big gigs anymore. This guy had one hit in the 80s. This guy’s career is mostly over. Meanwhile, we introduce a young fella who has Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s on the spectrum. He has a caretaker named Dan, whose favorite song is called ‘It Ain’t the End,’ by this guy. And he thinks if he can find this guy, and bring him back to sing this song for his caretaker, it’ll heal him from a heart ailment. So it’s a very weird story. So this guy gets kidnapped by the kid and they go on this ridiculous crazy road trip so that he can make him sing ‘It Ain’t the End,’ for his caretaker, Dan, who’s dying. And it’s the one song that he’ll never play, and he’ll never sing and he hates singing it. So it’s a very good story.”
It’s always sad when a movie fails to reach its public, and even worse when the concept is so intriguing as Hardly Functional. So, it felt great to wrap our interview with unexpected good news. Hopefully, we’ll be able to watch Hardly Functional sooner than later.
Evil Dead Rise will have its world premiere on March 15 during the SXSW Film Festival. After that, the next chapter of the Evil Dead franchise hits theaters on April 21, 2023.