Interview: Bruce Campbell

We have an extended chat with the horror icon Bruce Campbell as he talks about the original Evil Dead and the planned remake…

When was the last time you watched Evil Dead, and how did you feel about your performance retrospectively?

Well, it was my first movie, so my performance was a first movie performance and I’m happier with the first half than the second half because we kind of got up to speed as we went. You know, I haven’t seen it in a couple of years.

What are your memories of working on the movie? What was going through your mind when you were making it?

Well, that’s a big question. It was a nightmare, it was a four-year ordeal making that movie. The actual shoot itself was twelve long, miserable weeks! I wouldn’t wish that shoot on anyone. It was primal, weird, long, exhausting, exciting, kinda everything.

Were there moments when it seemed like it wasn’t going to come together?

Yeah, we left Tennessee after filming the first time and we had an incomplete movie, so we had to keep raising money, shooting a little, keep raising money, shooting a little. There were no points where we could kick our heels and go ‘ha-ha! We’ve done it’ until the movie had actually finished.

When did you feel the project had finally come together?

When it finally screened in my local movie theatre that I always went to as a kid. Then I knew we had done it.

Were you expecting it to be a big deal at the time?

No, how could you? We were lucky to make the movie and get it out. We were just hoping to kind of go the distance, you know? We wanted to get in there and play with the big dogs, but we had no expectations, so it wound up being a good response and here we are thirty years later, talking about it.

Why do you think the appeal of the movies is so enduring?

They’re hand-made movies. For me, Army Of Darkness is the least hand-made, because it’s the product of a studio. Part II was half-indie, half-studio because it was Dino DeLaurentis. And the first one is the one I’m fondest of because we had complete 100% control over every aspect of that movie. I long for those days.

Do you think that kind of mentality no longer exists in movie making, then?

It only exists if you get money from individual doctors and lawyers and form a company of your own and raise the money that way, because we had such control that the investors in our own movie couldn’t even step foot on the film set if we didn’t want them to.

How do you feel about the sequels, retrospectively?

I feel differently. Evil Dead II is probably my favourite of the bunch, just because we had a little bit more experience and a little more budget, and we were able to more effectively manipulate our audience. Army Of Darkness…it was a bomb when it came out, and it was a very studio-meddled-with movie, so I’m kind of ambivalent about that one. It was not a fun process.

Can you discuss the progress of the fourth Evil Dead movie?

Well, that one – people are going to have to wait on that one, because Sam and I are still working. I have a day job now with a TV show called Burn Notice and that takes up about seven or eight months out of my year, so it doesn’t leave a lot of time to make an Evil Dead movie in between. Each of those movies takes about two years. And Sam, as you know, is making a lot of A pictures right now. He’s got some time ahead of him before we can do that. Actually, we are kind of pitching towards a remake, though, much more seriously. We now have a story for the remake and we might go into production as early as next year.

Do you have a script ready for that, then?

We have a story, not a script. We’re slowly getting there.

Do you know what your role in that remake would be?


Possibly a cameo?

I doubt even that.

Are you not interested in reprising that role at all?

No, not unless Sam’s directing it.

Outside of the Evil Dead movies, what roles are you proudest of?

It’s hard to say, because things I see, you don’t. There’s a lot of projects you haven’t even seen yet, because you’re across the big ditch. Bubba Ho-Tep I was very satisfied with. I like a cool little indie film called Running Time. I like a TV show I did called The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr, so I have a smattering of things I enjoy.

Do you have any preference between doing TV shows and movies?

Not really, because TV now is starting to offer some really good roles, whereas television before…a lot of actors used to frown on television, but I think sometimes it’s where the good work is. For me, I never drew the distinction, so I’ve gone back and forth for a while. I think it was five or six years – I think actors were out of work. They probably hit a big period where actos were like, ‘I’m out of work. I’m going to do TV.’

You have a tendency to do cameo roles – what is it about that kind of role that you enjoy?

You can come in, do your little zinger and get out of there, without having the weight of the movie on you. It’s fun to step into a Spider-Man movie, crack some jokes and go home, and they’re still shooting for months and months and months!

Can you relay the experiences you’ve had touring and meeting your fans?

I’ve been touring for 20 years, making appearances, and I’ve interacted a lot. I mostly just revel in their tattoos now; the tattoos are just getting crazy. I was in Austin, Texas, and a lot of people have an Evil Dead tattoo on say their arm or leg, but in Austin on one particular day, I signed eight different body parts on people where they had a freshly-shaved section underneath the tattoo, so I could put my signature on it. And they would go back to the tattoo parlour and tattoo my signature underneath their tattoo. I’ve seen guys come back and show me the finished result, and sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s sucks.

Is that something you appreciate about your fans?

Oh, sure. A guy came up to my signing table and threw a picture down of the poster for Army Of Darkness, but it looked different, it looked…weird. I said, ‘why is this picture so weird?’ and he goes, ‘cause it’s on my back!’ And he took his shirt off and his whole back was the poster of Army Of Darkness. The whole poster…his whole back.

Do you find the fan response now is as fevered now as it’s always been?

Yes. For some beguiling reason, it’s still strong.

Do you see the movie as revolutionary in pioneering that low-budget, high-impact horror movie that would become a big deal in the Eighties?

Well we’ve joined a collection of them, not that Evil Dead doesn’t stand out completely. Night Of The Living Dead, the original one, was a very standout, low-budget movie. Halloween had a big impact on us because we saw that in the theatre, we were amazed how John Carpenter could get an audience to actually jump. We found that impressive. And you know, Texas Chainsaw Massacre was my favourite. I saw that at a drive-in and it scared the living crap out of me. It’s nice that we’re in that mix. When people have discussions about cult horror films, we’re in that discussion and it’s kind of nice to be there.

What did you and Sam want to achieve when you started making the movie? What philosophies did you set out with?

We just wanted to make a scary campfire movie sort of story, you know. Kids go to the cabin and all hell breaks loose. It was more of a monster movie. The one thing we didn’t want to do is something you can see on the six o’clock news. We wanted to do something more fantastical, like a monster movie, things you would not see today. I don’t think any of us are fans of this horrible trend of torture porn, that’s out there now.

So you wish the horror genre could return to how it was before?

Yeah, I yearn for a return to scary. I yearn for a return to not disturbing. There should be a new genre for torture porn – I’d call it ‘bad film-making’.

Can you discuss your unique standing as an actor? Few have movies that are essentially just about themselves and people’s perception of that persona…

I don’t really know why. Perhaps I’m a little more accessible than the average actor who loves their life to be a mystery. I’ve written a book about my life, so there’s no big mystery. I don’t mind interacting with my fans. I don’t mind insulting them if they insult me. We throw it right back and forth. I don’t know, I get out there and press the flesh. I’m like a politician.

Were you sad that Spider-Man 4 fell apart? Surely you were due a cameo in that…

No, not at all, because I think it had run its course, frankly.

You think Sam was done with the franchise?

I can’t speak for him, I know he really enjoyed making those movies and they mean a lot to him – he likes the actual character of Spider-Man. So it’s hard to say. I’m sure he’s disappointed on one level. So they’re going to retool it and I think they’re feeling the pressure from Twilight, because they’re retooling it as a high-schooler now and I’m like ‘bleugh’… It’s set before he’s bitten before a radioactive spider. What are you going to do there? So they’re gonna have to really tweak that one to make it work. So good luck.

People see those cameos as such a big deal – were you surprised that would be the case?

Well, the first movie, I don’t think any of us really knew – in that wrestling scene there was like 1200 extras for four days. They just sat forever. I was like, ‘jeez, this is like a movie!’ I was just really glad for Sam that, when it came out, it did $112 million in four days. It was huge, so it was really fun to see that thing blow up. Then Spider-Man 2 made even more money, it was ridiculous. Then Spider-Man 3, I think most people are of the opinion it isn’t as good as the other ones, but it still cleaned up. Sam can still pay his electric bill.

Is financial success something you think about with your movies?

No. It’s such a crapshoot. We’ve met guys in the industry who have seen a finished version of ours and they look at us and go, ‘guys, this is going to make $100 million’ and then it falls on its face. So I try not to have expectations about anything. I’ve done a couple of movies that were a slam dunk and they fell on their face.

Can you tell me what movies they were?

Well, one of them was an epic that I made called Man With The Screaming Brain. I did it for the Sci-fi Channel. It’s about a brain transplant, had a catchy title, we did whatever we could to entertain the audience but we clearly failed miserably. It really was a dog for the Sci-Fi Channel. I think they still screen it to get some ad revenue back.

But you have no regrets, right?

Not at all, because I fooled them into making the movie. It was a movie that the Sci-Fi Channel probably shouldn’t have made. It was a little too allegorical for them.

How about Bubba Ho-Tep? You got behind that movie in a big way…

Yeah, because I have a softspot for truly independent film-makers. That movie, again, was picked up by MGM late in the game. They had nothing to do with financing it. Don Coscarelli is a truly independent filmmaker. I think it was his own money, that made the movie, it was really inexpensive but I liked it because it was really unique. I’ve enjoyed Coscarelli’s work over the years, especially the Phantasm series but I thought, you know, this could be good. I thought it was too weird to catch on in any real way, but you know I still classify it as a cult movie. But that movie made some money…not for me, but somebody.

Can you give us an update on Bubba Nosferatu?

Don Coscarelli’s trying to make it but currently, it will not be with me, because we couldn’t agree on a script. It’s one of those things that happens all the time in Hollywood. We can’t agree on something so we walk away from it. He’s trying to get it made – he’s talking to other actors.

Evil Dead is out now on Blu-ray.