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Interview: 'Evil Dead' producer Bruce Campbell

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He's already one of the hardest working men in show business, but it's been a particularly busy past year for actor Bruce Campbell, whose gigs included not one, but two reunions with his longtime friend and collaborator Sam Raimi.

One reunion was behind the camera with the remake of their classic horror film "Evil Dead," and the other found Campbell in small, but memorable role as the Winkie Gate Keeper in the blockbuster fantasy hit "Oz the Great and Powerful."

In the latter, Raimi just couldn't resist pounding on Campbell, a shtick the actor's been on the receiving end of since before the director put him through the ringer during their "Evil Dead" trilogy.

"It's been mandatory ever since I used to be his magic show assistant at bar mitzvahs in high school," Campbell told me in a recent interview. "He would hit me in front the kids and the kids thought it was funny, so this was something that was ingrained in Sam a long time ago."

Now that there's a new "Evil Dead," Campbell is glad that somebody else -- namely star Jane Levy -- is taking the lumps.

"There's nothing in there, contractually, that says it has to happen. It's just part of the 'Evil Dead' MO," Campbell deadpanned.

Produced by Campbell, Raimi and their longtime friend and collaborator Rob Tapert, "The Evil Dead" came out in 1981, followed by "Evil Dead 2" in 1987 and "Army of Darkness" in 1992. The movies have since become cult classics, thanks for Raimi's kaleidoscopic vision that effectively mixed both horror and comedy, and Campbell's irreverent portrayal of the trilogy's square-jawed, chainsaw-wielding antihero, Ash Williams.

Fans as a result have been begging the trio for years for some sort of follow-up to the series, and Campbell said he and his collaborators finally came to the conclusion that producing a remake was a great place to start.

"We thought it was time. It's been a very under-exploited series. But we always talked about doing a sequel and never really a remake -- until we found this director, Fede Alvarez, who we were all very excited about," Campbell explained. "Fede was meeting Sam Raimi about another project and it stalled, so since Fede was a big 'Evil Dead' fan, he began kicking around ideas and pitched to Sam an idea that did not involve the Ash character. We were all interested in that, because it allows us to do more movies with the Ash character and movies with Fede's take on it. We have the best of both worlds."

See a TV spot for "Evil Dead" below.

Even though it's been more than 20 years since audiences last encountered Ash, Campbell said it was "mandatory" that the character not be in the remake.

"We didn't want to dilute the character, and I didn't want have Ash have a little cameo, either, because it could cut down the meaning of things," Campbell said. "Plus, Sam's the only one who should direct that character."

Opening in theaters nationwide Thursday at 10 p.m., the new "Evil Dead" takes place at a desolate cabin in the woods where David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and their childhood friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) gather to help David's sister, Mia (Jane Levy), overcome drug addiction and confront her past demons.

The demons become horrifyingly real, though, when the group happens upon a cellar in the cabin that contains an altar and several remnants of animal sacrifice. Also there is ancient book wrapped in plastic and bound with wire -- which when Eric opens and reads its incantations aloud, it unleashes a night of horror greater than any of them could ever imagine.

Fans of the original series will undoubtedly get everything they are hoping for out of the new "Evil Dead" -- horror, humor, gore and lots of blood -- but the thing that Campbell likes the most out of Alvarez's vision is that the story is in no way cheap and exploitative. At its center, in fact, "Evil Dead" a drama, Campbell said.

"Fede has a great maturity level," Campbell, 54, said of the 35-year-old filmmaker. "It's like a mature horror film. It's like 'The Big Chill' with carnage and mayhem. For the first half-hour, it's pretty much a straight-forward drama, then it just goes bats---. It's 'Kramer vs. Kramer' that goes bats---. The way the film is set up, with the character's withdrawal symptoms, it allows her to get possessed without anybody really noticing. And by the time they notice, it's too damn late."

Campbell said he's thrilled that Alvarez's vision of the "Evil Dead" -- like their version and sequels years before -- respects the intelligence of the audience.

"If you don't respect an audience's intelligence, you're doomed," Campbell said. "There are a lot of filmmakers, but I won't name them, who think audiences are stupid and will get distracted, so they shoot things from every different angle and hyper-cut it. This movie is not over-edited or under-edited. It's a well-edited movie, and not many movies are. Filmmakers think, 'Ah, audiences are going to get bored and we have to keep it moving,' and they can't let stuff play out.' The first part of our movie isn't racing along at any huge pace."

Since Campbell, Raimi and Tapert have been invested in the material for more than 30 years, Campbell said that the "Evil" trio was very involved in the "Dead" remake.

"Our hands are all over it, from casting to script to editing to sound," Campbell said. "It's our job to get in there and render our opinion, but mostly to support Fede. It gives the film the support that we never had."

Bruce Campbell in 1981's 'The Evil Dead' (photo -- Renaissance Pictures)

Campbell said the original "Evil Dead" was made for about $350,000, from the time shooting commenced in 1979 -- and between stops and starts -- the time it was finally released in 1981. The budget was miniscule -- especially by today's standards, and in fact, the amount it cost to make the original was probably consumed in the first 10 minutes of the remake, Campbell said.

That's not to say the filmmakers splurged on the budget of this version, he added.

"This is not the most expensive movie ever made. This is a very reasonably budgeted movie," Campbell said. "We had enough this time to pay people and make the movie without stopping, and have enough for promotion and distribution to all happen at the same time."

Of course, the vital next step is the reaction to the film, and thankfully, preview audiences have fully embraced it, Campbell said. He noted that when the film was announced, fans "were pissed" and expressed outrage on Twitter with tweets like, "Noooo with 87 exclamation points."

"But now they're turning," Campbell said. "I sense the tide is turning."

Better yet, with the (blood red) tide, another film or two could roll in with it, Campbell said.

"Sam Raimi claims he's going to write 'Army of Darkness 2' this summer with his brother (Ivan), so we'll see what happens with that, and ironically, this new 'Evil Dead' could fuel that movie," Campbell said.

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed more than 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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