Ash vs. Evil Dead: Sam Raimi Talks Horror on Television & Future for Ash

We sit down with Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi to discuss transferring horror to TV with Ash vs. Evil Dead, and what the future(s) hold for Ash.

Just in time for Ash vs. Evil Dead, Den of Geek is also getting in the groovy Halloween spirit by hosting an Army of Darkness Party in NYC on Thursday, Oct. 29! Click here to find out the details about how to join us for a free screening of that film, plus the premiere episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead (two days before its Halloween premiere)!

Sam Raimi is often described as a master of horror and for good reason. As the director and co-writer of the original Evil Dead Trilogy, he is one of the men most responsible for putting phrases like “boomstick” and “swallow your soul” into the pop culture lexicon. However, he also hasn’t visited that world of Deadites and demons for over 20 years. Until now.

On Halloween night, the premiere episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead will debut on Starz to undoubtedly gory fan approval. We have already seen and reviewed that episode here, and we can vouch that Sam Raimi brings much of his bag of tricks to the foreground in the pilot episode that he co-wrote with his brother Ivan Raimi (who also co-scribed Army of Darkness and contributed to the earlier Evil Dead films as well). But while he is only directing this premiere half-hour of the first season, he has given a lot of thought about where Ash Williams is 30 years since entering that cabin in the woods, as well as where a new TV series can (and cannot) take him.

We chatted about that, the effect of the original Army of Darkness ending on the new TV series, and more when we sat down with Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi for a roundtable interview during San Diego Comic-Con.

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Here you are picking up with Ash 20 years after Army of Darkness and 30 years after the original Evil Dead. What do you think it is about this character that makes him so compelling to follow on television?

Sam Raimi: Well, very little has changed for the character, actually, since we last saw him. We made three Evil Dead adventures, and after the last one, I think what we’re saying is for the last 30 years he’s been laying low. He’s had enough and he’s kind of hiding out. So, it’s not that there’s been a change of the character as the reason for telling the story, it’s more like he’s unwittingly re-unleashed these spirits again, and now he’s been called back to service to do battle onto them.

But as far as why on TV? The Evil Dead was really a drive-in picture; it’s all about Grand Guignol, crazy, nutty camera moves, a lot of blood and gore, and trying to scare the audience. Nothing subtle about it. Nowadays, the drive-in’s gone. Well my editor Bob Murawski says it’s not gone; he says there’s 50 great screens and maybe more throughout the country. But basically, they’re not really first-run houses anymore.

So making an Evil Dead movie, we didn’t really have a great format for it anymore. But TV’s changed so much that [while] they previously wouldn’t show something like this, now they want something that draws an audience—I don’t really know the business, but what I’ve been told is they want outrageous fare to draw unique viewership. Something audiences can’t get on normal TV. So, it just so happens that TV’s changed the point that something like Evil Dead might be appropriate for it. Also, the fact that what the audience likes after the second and third Evil Dead is the character of Ash, Bruce Campbell, and they tell me television’s strength is the character.

You guys ended Army of Darkness originally where Ash is thrown into a post-apocalyptic world. And you obviously didn’t go that way for the first season, but is there a possibility you’ll go that way now with season 2 or season 3?

SR: We originally made that ending where we ended in some blasted future and then when Universal saw it, they said, “It was too much of a bummer, we’re not releasing this picture.” So, I had to write a different ending with [Ivan], which is a happier ending. “We’re just kidding, folks! He made it back to our time and he’s doing fine!”

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Ivan Raimi: Yeah, he’s got a job and everything’s good.

SR: So, they both exist for some reason, because Dino DeLaurentis had already released it foreign. And it was the weirdest situation to be in. I said to Universal, “The movie’s already out! I can’t make another ending.” And they said, “You make another ending or we’re not releasing it!”

But we talked about starting so many different things [for writing Ash vs. Evil Dead]. One idea was we’d tell two different stories simultaneously as Ash’s reality is split, and we would be following two Ash stories: one in the future and one nowadays, 30 years later. Technically, both would be in the future.

Ivan Raimi: And we wouldn’t know which one was real, and Ash himself might not know which one was real.

Sam Raimi: It was that kind of thinking, but then I said, “Forget it! This idea sucks!”

The films are famous for their crazy camerawork. On the TV series, can we expect to see some of that?

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SR: That will not be the strength. I think we’re trading off a lot of the crazy camerawork in the series for time with the character of Ash and watching his interactions. It takes time and budget to do a lot of that crazy camera stuff. It takes the development of rigs and a lot of preproduction planning. In TV, I’m finding it works much quicker than that. So, the strengths of TV are the character, and that’s where we’re trying to concentrate on the show.

But if we made another movie we might go back to that technique.

IR: Right, the strength of TV being the character you come back to and want to see the next week, and how his interaction with his coworkers or cohorts and comrades will turn out. So, we kind of play on the strength of that.

People really like the qualities of Ash. How do you think the TV show will be able to explore this further than film?

SR: I think they like the fact that he’s this rare breed of monster-fighter. I know there’s Van Helsing, and there’s a lot of superheroes, but there’s not a lot of monster-fighter heroes out there. I was trying to figure that out myself. I was thinking, “Why on earth are they like this?”

IR: There’s a lot of werewolves, there’s a lot of demons, and supernatural, but there’s not a lot of regular guys with a lot of faults, who are going out and slugging it out with the demons and the monsters. It’s a real slugfest, and that’s what Ash does well.

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Last night, you said you were interested in perhaps one day doing a crossover between your Evil Dead films and the Mia character from the Evil Dead remake. Is there a chance we could see something like that happening in the TV series down the line?

SR: You know, I haven’t even talked with Fede [Alvaraez] about it, so it’s probably premature for me to say, because that’s really his baby, the director of the Evil Dead remake, but I think it’d be way down the line. There’s a lot of story to explore with just Ash alone, I think.

Do you see Ash is a different person now than he was back then during the films?

SR: Just in the way that we all change as we get older. He’s become more set in his ways, more stubborn. Believe it or not, he’s perhaps a little more ignorant and even less open to new ideas [Laughs].

IR: And maybe a little more frustrated after all these years, he still has to deal with all these monsters. He doesn’t get a break!

SR: He’s more cranky than before, you can promise your readers that. They have that to look forward to. Some people get smarter and they blossom.

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IR: Some develop wisdom in old age.

SR: Some do, but he’s the same old guy: just older, crankier, and more sore. I promise your readers that! We will deliver that!

What is it you love about Ash [that keeps you coming back]?

IR: He’s the bully fighting on your side and kicking the kid you didn’t like, kicking his butt. And you’re kind of rooting for him, but you felt bad because you’re rooting for him. You’re a little embarrassed for him. I like that sort of mixed feeling that he’s tough, but he sort of embarrasses you… when we’re doing that, we think we’re doing the right thing.

SR: Yeah, I agree with you. And I also like that we don’t give the audience a choice. There’s a bunch of monsters killing innocent people, and there’s this guy. Who are you going to identify with? Oh, you’re going to choose him? Well, he’s an idiot! And he’s a blowhard and a coward! That’s your hero! It’s really a punishment of the audience. We talk about torturing Bruce, but we really like torturing the audience.

One part of Ash lore that I love is you had him time travel in Army of Darkness. Are there any other eras besides the apocalypse or Medieval Europe that you could see Ash going to in the future or the past?

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SR: Yeah, I think that’s a good idea, and it’s already like you said an element of the movies. And because I think as dumb as Ash is, for some reason in [the minds of Ivan and I], and as written of in The Book of the Dead, his destiny is somehow all bound up with the Necronomicon. And I think it’s because on a bigger scale, there’s a battle between the spirits of the Good Lord above or who knows what, but there is a contest going on between Evil and Good. And it’s playing out through representation of the average man, which is Ash. I think if Evil can defeat him at any time or place, then it will be again time for Evil to walk and rule the Earth. And if the average man is strong, if he’s strong of heart and spirit, and soul, it will again be time for that Evil to sleep for 10,000 or so years.

I don’t think any of us know this, and I don’t think it’s brought out, but I think what’s probably happening below the surface. And I think these battles can take place anywhere and at any time. But I wish we had better representation for mankind than him, but unfortunately he’s been chosen for some reason.

IR: You play the cards you’re dealt.

SR: I think it can take place any time and anywhere, and still be that same struggle.

Why go with TV instead of a traditional Evil Dead 4, and why half-hour episodes?

IR: Why TV? Well when our producer Rob [Tapert]—who has experience in TV and has done a lot of great stuff, he’s done Spartacus and Xena, and Hercules—he said we should think beyond making it just for a movie. The possibilities that television offers and the different situations and different writers [allows] TV to become much more bold in the way they’re allowing different genres to do what they want to do and to crossover genres. So, we decided to do that and see what we could do with that.

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Half-hour was [from] a lot of discussion about what to do. Comedies are often half hours. Drama and action are often an hour, and ours is a little bit of a mixture of both. But we wanted to keep it punchy, and keep it sharp, and not have too much backstory that took away from the basic storyline of “Ash must defeat demons in order for the Earth’s survival.”

SR: Sometimes in those shows, they have padding where on minute-42 or minute-43, where they develop some other character to fill it out. That was never part of The Evil Dead. We always wanted to cut those parts out. So, we thought this half-hour format might really be original for a dramatic or horror series, and it may make us stay on the ball and keep us very sharp and punchy.

IR: It hadn’t been traditional to do a half-hour for this sort of thing, but it seems like an interesting challenge.

Is it still mostly practical effects for the gore or is there more CG?

IR: Well, we’re trying to do as many practical effects as possible because we like that punchy analog feel. The digital world allows a lot of effects [to be] done, but the Evil Deads have had practical effects and we like that.

One of the things that I love about the Evil Dead films is their use of sound and horrific soundscapes. Can we expect more of that on the series?

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SR: I love sound, and it’s really underrated how much sound contributes or music contributes to the effectiveness of films. Specifically horror films have to [force] the audience to use their imagination to build a world. We’re going to focus as much time as we have and as much design as we can within a TV schedule, which will be much more limited than our usual movie schedule.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

We’re throwing an Army of Darkness Halloween party in NYC on Oct. 29. Click here for details on how you can attend!

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