Wednesday, March 4, 2015
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With the hotly anticipated television continuation of the Evil Dead film series “Ash vs. Evil Dead” in pre-production, we caught up exclusively this week with series executive producer and star Bruce Campbell, and fans can rejoice because the boomstick is back in a BIG way.
“We have a wonderful room of talented writers,” Campbell told us of the show, whose first episode will be directed by series originator Sam Raimi from a script he wrote with Ivan Raimi, Craig DiGregorio, and Tom Spezialy. Sam Raimi will also serve as series executive producer along with Rob Tapert and Campbell with DiGregorio to serve as executive producer/showrunner.
With ten episodes ordered, Campbell told us that principal photography is slated for this April in New Zealand with a planned series debut on Starz and promised of his portrayal of the horror icon he helped to create (spoilers follow), “I’m bringing everything to the table. It’s a feisty version of Ash, who’s grizzled and just wants to be left alone.”
Having had a chance to read an early version of the pilot episode last year, I can concur. In it we are introduced to a nomadic Ash, a figure who’s not only haunted by traumatic memories but also terrorized by the unwelcome continuance of Deadite attacks, which have followed him to the myriad Midwestern trailer parks he’s been forced to call home. In an effort to eke out an existence and in keeping with his previous choice of career, the character spends his days working at Ted’s Superclub as a stock room trainee and, in true Ash fashion, his evenings chasing skirt in roadside bars.
It’s a pitch perfect blend of comedy and horror, and it’s Ash through and through, which is a good thing, given the vocal fan disappointment over Fede Alvarez’s 2013 Evil Dead reboot, which chose to not feature the character. We asked Campbell if he felt the passionate fan response assisted in the return of his chainsaw arm-wearing, smart-ass antihero.
“People would just not let it go,” offered Campbell (who originated the role in 1981’s The Evil Deadand reprised it in 1987 in Evil Dead II and once again in 1992 in Army of Darkness) of Alvarez’s retool, which he produced. “They may have liked the film, but they wanted Ash [to be in it].”
Joining Campbell for “Ash vs. Evil Dead” are previously announced actors Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo, the former portraying Ash’s idealistic immigrant sidekick “Pablo Simon Bolivar” and the latter “Kelly Maxwell,” a moody wild child trying to outrun her past.
“I was there during the casting process, and they’re very talented,” said Campbell. “Aside from the ensemble [aspect], they each needed to be able to hold their own because they’ll have their own series of missions. It’s an epic tale. How could you not [plan for that]? I’m a strong proponent of the ‘big picture’ plan, and we are planning for five seasons.”
As for what we can expect, Campbell offered, “We are competitive with ‘The Walking Dead,’ like, ‘We’ll show those fuckers!’ [Our] Deadites are very clever. They not stupid shufflers. They can mimic people; they can drive cars. They’re a fun threat. They [‘The Walking Dead’] are right up there [though] with being responsible for the current resurgence [of horror].”
Reflecting on returning to the property with cohort Raimi thirty-four years following its initial release, the actor (who recently wrapped shooting the trivia series “Last Man Standing,” which he hosts for CONtv, and who also is re-releasing his self-authored books If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor and Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way in digital format) stated, “It’s the last laugh. We’ve come full circle. The first Evil Dead film allowed for the most artistic freedom on anything I’ve worked on. Starz is giving us the same opportunity with this series.”
As for his standing within the genre world (he’s beloved by film fans and convention-goers alike, a circuit he’s been historically quite active within),“A lot of actors do one [convention] and then never go back,” he stated. “I think they don’t like being stared at. For me, the conventions are my bread and butter. They put my kids through school. I thank the fans. I just learned early on that you should never stay in the hotel [where the convention is being held], or you’ll end up in the elevator with Darth Vader,” Campbell laughed.
Resuming sincerity, he finished, “It’s great, but we’re all just schmoes at the end of the day. If you forget that, you are doomed.”
When John Russo and George Romero sat down to write “Night of the Living Dead,” their goal was to make a truly scary horror movie.
They not only met that goal but created a whole new genre in the process.
Russo — who will appear at the Wizard World pop-culture convention (wizardworld.com) this weekend in Cleveland — is one of the founding fathers of the thriving zombie phenomenon, and a living legend in the industry.
But back in the mid-’60s, he was just part of a small Pittsburgh television production company that specialized in low-budget commercials.
With a goal of getting into the movie game, Russo and Romero and their handful of business partners ponied up $600 apiece for a film budget.
Russo and Romero were the writers in the group.
“We decided it should be a horror film and that it would start in a cemetery,” said Russo in a phone interview from his Pittsburgh home. “George came in with half a story that would become ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ But it was about space aliens. The girl got away and gets to the house, but more of them come after her. I said, ‘This has all the right twists and turns, but who is attacking?’ I said it could be dead people. But what were they after? I thought, just about flesh-eating. George got called away, and I put it in the script.”
Russo and Romero would further fine-tune the script. Romero added the final siege, with the zombies unsuccessfully trying to get into the house.
“Night of the Living Dead,” released in 1968, became a landmark piece of horror, a low-budget masterpiece shot in grainy black and white in the Pittsburgh area. It would spawn a stream of movies, novels, comic books and television series that shows no sign of slowing down.
A big part of its initial success was that it stood apart from the status quo.
“Hollywood was making carbon-copy horror films at the time,” said Russo. “Attack of the Giant Grasshoppers, Attack of the Giant Lizards. They were all the same. The National Guard would be called out. They weren’t really scary.”
The movie’s realism ramped up its terror and became part of the blueprint for all that would follow. Modern takes on a zombie apocalypse — think “The Walking Dead” — borrow heavily from the original film’s goal of showing how people react under pressure.
“We said, ‘If this really happened, how would people behave?’ We wanted them to be real,” said Russo, adding that there was no attempt at making social commentary. “You don’t want people to step outside of the character. The sheriff gets called a redneck, but he was just doing a job that needed to be done. They were all just creatures of their time.”
Almost all zombie movies that came in the wake of “Night of the Living Dead” also adhere to the rules of behavior that were created, with great detail, by Russo and Romero.
“We thought out the rules about zombies,” said Russo. “The way to kill them by destroying the brain. What parts of them were animated and what parts weren’t. One of our group thought they should move like Boris Karloff, dragging a foot, but I thought they would have a certain amount of rigor mortis, and move slowly and stiffly. Every single thing we thought out.”
In one memorable segment of “Night of the Living Dead,” the chaos enveloping the Pittsburgh area is shown in a series of television news reports in which various cities are flashed on the screen while “live footage” is shown. Among those cities are Youngstown and Sharon, Pa.
It was a very effective technique, but one borne out of necessity.
“We had a low budget,” said Russo. “By adding the city names, we could inexpensively show that [the zombie outbreak] was happening all over the place without actually going there.”