Published: February 27, 2013
What came next would be talked about by horror movie fans right up to the present day. In 1981, Campbell, Raimi and friends scraped together enough money (thanks to Within the Woods) to create The Evil Dead, a now-legendary horror movie about a group of college students who go off to a cabin in the middle of the woods to do whatever it is that college students do. They discover the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, in the basement, along with an old tape player. When the tape is played, words are recited that summon evil spirits. From that point on, chaos ensues. People are possessed, trees rape, and blood spews by the gallon. Campbell plays Ash Williams, employee of S-Mart and future horror icon. Thanks to the crazy amount of gore and some clunky dialogue, the movie is both horrific and hilarious, as well as genuinely magnificent. Campbell says that the humor is unintentional.
“We were not comfortable using humor in the first Evil Dead,” he says. “That’s the melodrama. That one’s only funny by mistake, and in its excess. When somebody’s getting jabbed over and over again, sometimes stuff that’s over-the-top makes you laugh as well. We didn’t officially introduce comedy until Evil Dead 2, when we felt a little more comfortable manipulating the audience, and we felt more involved putting stuff in that we liked. That wasn’t always there, and that’s why people are hesitant about the fact that the current Evil Dead remake doesn’t seem funny. It’s not funny at all. The first one wasn’t either. Obviously if you have inexperienced actors, lousy dialogue, some things are going to come across as being less than ideal.”
Over in England, The Evil Dead was banned, lumped in with the likes of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Driller Killer as “video nasties.” Campbell remembers that whole incident as being nothing but beneficial. “We were right in the middle of it,” he says. “It was awesome, how it all played out. By the time it got re-released, everyone was so fascinated to see why it was a video nasty that it became the No. 1 video in the UK. My favorite list to look at is the top videos of 1983. The Shining is No. 8 and we’re No. 1. I’m like, ‘Eat it Stanley.’ Those are the times when you really feel like, ‘OK, we’re really playing this game. We’re swimming with the sharks now.’ It’s awesome to be able to beat your idols.”
The original Evil Dead movie spawned two sequels — ’87’s Evil Dead 2 and ’92’s Army of Darkness. Evil Dead 2 managed to confuse nearly everyone by opening with a reshot recap of the first movie. It seems like an odd move, to try to re-create scenes from the original film using Campbell and a bunch of new actors, but that’s what they did. “We made it seem like this guy was stupid enough to come back to the cabin with new friends,” Campbell says. “He had so much fun the first time, let’s go back and have a ball. That was an error on our part. It was prompted by the fact that we didn’t own the rights to our own footage from the first film, so we couldn’t do a recap with that footage. We had to shoot fake footage as a recap, and it confused people. Technically it’s a sequel, though I can see how people might think it’s a remake. What would really make the most sense is if the evil force comes up to Ash at the end of Evil Dead, and then you cut right to the evil force in Evil Dead 2. He lands in the puddle, the movie continues, he’s hailed as a king at the end of Evil Dead 2, and it goes right into that sequence in Army of Darkness. If you cut all the bullshit recaps out of it, the trilogy would make perfect sense. Each film was made by a completely different company. We have different legalities, different ownership, different pettiness between the companies about whether they’re going to cooperate or not. We felt cornered into how to retell a story that we couldn’t get the footage to. It’s pretty convoluted. Also, I’m dead at the end of the first movie. We wanted to do a better Evil Dead movie, so suddenly I’m still alive. These things evolve, not in some overarching design. I hate to say it, but it needs a fan edit. Then people would know what I’m talking about.”
Between the first two Evil Dead movies, Campbell worked with Raimi on a big-studio project called Crimewave, written by Raimi and the Coen Brothers. The movie tells the story of a hapless exterminator framed for murder, telling his story from the electric chair. Campbell’s memories are far from fond. “Crimewave was an unmitigated disaster,” he says. “I’m about to do the DVD commentary on it about 10 days from now, and I can’t wait. That movie was insane. Everything about it was ridiculous, so there are a lot of stories to tell. It’s not like there was one bad guy or good guy, it was just our first experience making a Hollywood movie rather than an independent movie. You’re dealing with unions, actors in the Screen Actors Guild, we went way over budget, the film was retouched. After having complete control on the first Evil Dead, we had zero control on Crimewave. It was a great wake-up call. We had executives giving us notes, we had rewrites in the script if they weren’t happy. Everyone asks for the ‘director’s cut’ of Evil Dead, but there is no director’s version because what you’re seeing is the director’s version. There’s only one version of Evil Dead and there will only be one version because we now own the copyrights for that. We own the negatives.”
At this point, Campbell was still living in Michigan, though not for long. “I think by the ’87, that’s when I moved out,” he says. “We were just traveling too much for business. It seemed like the writing was on the wall that, in order to stay active in the business, to make a living, we had to finally get out of Detroit. We did three movies based out of there and that was a lot. We wanted to get serious and get in the film business. The only way to really do it was to spend some time in L.A., so I did.”
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