- The Washington Times - Friday, October 30, 2015

Three decades later, Bruce Campbell still gets tortured by Sam Raimi. The Michigan natives came to prominence thanks to their extreme low-budget horror flick Dead” in 1981, in which Mr. Campbell, as Ash Williams, fought back against an onslaught of monsters from beyond at a remote cabin — thus setting a template for backwoods terror that continues into the genre’s modern incarnations.

The timbre was also set for the tortuous relationship between star and director, with Mr. Raimi finding ever-more-gruesome ways to humiliate his star on screen. In 30-plus years, their relationship has changed little.

“Yes, [Mr. Raimi] is just as cruel as he always is,” Mr. Campbell told The Washington Times of picking up the chainsaw again in “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” a new series bowing Halloween night on Starz.

Picking up 30 years after the events of “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn,” “Ash” finds the titular slob still working his dead-end job at ValueMart and fighting the memories of combating the Deadites at that remote cabin. A little heavier, a little less suave — but still a ladies’ man — Ash unwittingly comes back to bat when the evil from beyond returns to raise hell.

“It’s probably the most fun character there is to play,” said Mr. Campbell of returning to the one-handed hero for the first time since 1992’s “Army of Darkness.” “We can use all of our experience to bear on this character again and flesh him out even more.”

Ash vs. Evil Dead” retains the over-the-top comedic tone of the old flicks. The violence and bloodletting is so exaggerated and ludicrous as to elicit laughs instead of horror. Meanwhile, Ash maintains his steady stream of quips and malapropisms, even more inappropriate given the age of the hero and the actor. (Mr. Campbell is 57.)

“It reminded me of how much I hate fake blood. That hatred runs deep,” Mr. Campbell said of once again being covered head to toe in the phony gore during the new series. “It’s one of my least favorite things … because it’s chronic. It gets everywhere.”

Despite Ash appearing in all three films, “Evil Dead 2,” in 1987, was neither direct sequel nor remake of the original. Furthermore, 1992’s “Army of Darkness” used its predecessor as springboard more so than precedent. Mr. Campbell explained that due to legal reasons — the rights to the three films are owned by three different companies — “Ash vs. Evil Dead” effectively jumps over the third film as well as the end of the second as a starting point.

“That’s not material that we can do legally, so we’re not going to do it,” he said. “It’s a whole complicated bunch of legal mambo jumbo that’s not even worth going into.

“I’m just really grateful that it all worked out. Here we are. But it means there are things we can include, things we can’t. But, you know, everything that Ash needed was in the first two movies anyway.”

Furthermore, although Mr. Campbell appeared in the 2013 “Evil Dead” remake, he said that film likewise has no bearing on the new series.

“That was a director [Fede Alvarez] who had a whim, who goes ‘I have this great idea,’” Mr. Campbell said of the remake, which was far more serious in tone than its antecedents. “It has nothing to do with anything, but I wanted to [cameo].”

Despite some time line disparities, what fans crave will return, including the “classic” ‘73 Delta 88 that made appearances in all three films. Mr. Campbell related how the vehicle was sent via ship from America to the “Ash vs. Evil Dead” locations in New Zealand.

Mr. Campbell also appreciates that, unlike the Marvel and DC protagonists, Ash is flawed and unrefined — anything but a superhero. (Mr. Raimi directed the three “Spider-Man” films with Tobey Maguire.)

“He has no special skill. He is not trained,” Mr. Campbell said of his avatar. “He was not part of any government agency — nothing. So I think when you watch him, you go, ‘That could be me. The guy that works at 7-11. I mean I could do that. Why not?’

“I’m sick over trained heroes. I’m really bored with that. Guys that are just ripped to shreds and, you know, full of skills. That’s boring to me. Give me the drive mechanic that picks up a weapon. Now I’m interested. That’s my hero.”

As in the films, Ash uses whatever is on hand to tangle with the forces of evil. In the pilot episode, “El Jefe,” which is directed by Mr. Raimi, Ash utilizes anything to pound demons into oblivion — including the infamous chainsaw arm.

Mr. Campbell appreciates that not only is he returning to the “Evil Dead” universe, but also the slapsticky, fun-loving horror-comedy zone that he feels has been lacking as the so-called “torture porn” subgenre has taken over in recent years. (Starz announced this week it has renewed the show for a second season.)

“I want to mess with people’s minds. You want to startle them. You want to shock them. You want to disturb them,” he said. “And you want to keep them on edge.

“Horror films are great. You can grab an audience by the scruff of their necks and force them to look at that screen. I think that’s really cool.”

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