The film tells the story of five friends who take a vacation to an isolated cabin in the woods, and find themselves besieged by demonic forces after playing a tape recording of incantations. One by one they are possessed, and Ash (Campbell) as the last man standing, must survive the gruesome mayhem that upset British conservatism and saw the film labelled as a notorious ‘video nasty.’


Campbell spoke about the slow burn success of the movie, the moral ambiguity of the American audience, and how horror shouldn’t be something you’d hear on the six o’clock news


FRIGHTFEST: What were your expectations for EVIL DEAD in the beginning, and could you have anticipated its eventual success?


BRUCE CAMPBELL: Let’s not forget the time frame – its success was a very slow evolution. It took longer to raise the money than we had intended. We went to a different state to film it thinking it was going to be warmer, when in fact Tennessee had one of its coldest winters, and the state we fled, Michigan, had one of its mildest. So right from the start it was all very troubled.


It took about three years to complete the movie and we could not even find a US distributor. We finally got a UK company to look at it, Palace Pictures, and they finally distributed it. We were not even successful in our own country first, which was a big shock to us. It had to happen in another country first and then New Line Cinema came on board after seeing the success in Europe.


The whole thing was very strange, long and drawn out. I think the rights from EVIL DEAD 2, which was seven years later was when we finally got the investors to break even. So it took a long time for EVIL DEAD to be successful - it was a slow-motion success.


FF: From the responses to the film in the UK and Europe compared to America, is there a difference between these audiences?


BC: Well cynically, one would say in the UK they were more at the centre of the fall of civilisation, so they would appreciate chaos and nightmarish imagery. So that would be one theory for it. I think European audiences are more forgiving, whereas American audiences are a little more morally ambiguous. European girls don’t have the moral ambiguousness about sleeping with some dude – like it’s not thought of as being slutty. If you want to sleep with a guy you sleep with him. In the States, it’s this whole dance of should I, or shouldn’t I? Is it right, is it wrong? It’s the same thing in the States of, “Well that woman’s being violated by a vine in the woods, should I leave, should I stay?” Whereas in the UK it was just an outrageous scene and they probably laughed their asses off. So it’s weird, and it’s different civilisations is really what it is.


FF: When you think about THE EVIL DEAD, do you remember moments from the film or do you recall the experiences behind the scenes?


BC: …All my memories are of the experience of filming it, and then the experience of seeing the finished film in a theatre for the first time. You asked a few questions ago what did you hope to get out of it? We just wanted to make a finished movie, and when the film was completed, it was booked into my childhood theatre where I went to see basically every movie from the 70s.


I saw it on a Saturday matinee and there were only about 30 people in the audience, but I thought, ‘Okay, this is it. We did it. We’re playing our movie on our hometown screen.’ The funny thing is everything was gravy afterwards. The goal was could we figure out a way to get our movie into this professional theatre with Hollywood movies, and that was the fun part. So our definition of success might be different than other people’s, and where a big box office would be definition for some movies, for us it was just the fact we pulled it off.



FF: After sitting there in your local theatre, there was then the moment of thinking about what’s next?


BC: Obviously the first EVIL DEAD allowed us to make another movie, and that was the key thing too. We were very concerned about failing with our first movie, and it was one of the reasons why we made a genre movie in the first place. Most of our amateur movies in high school were not horror movies. Most were action or comedy, occasionally a drama, but mostly they were just silly movies, and so we were concerned about our investors getting their money back. We thought, ‘Well let’s pick a genre, let’s pick horror because it’s cheap, you don’t need any name actors and they can be very successful.’


One of the reasons why it was a horror film in the first place, was not because any of us were great horror aficionados. I was a Three Stooges fan, Sam was a big fan of the Marx Brothers, and I don’t think Rob Tapert was into horror of any kind. It was an economic choice


FF: I recall Quentin Tarantino saying that if you want to write books, read books, and if you want to make films, watch films. But could we argue that there are benefits to being less schooled, that allows for a different approach?


BC: …Very often a filmmaker’s first movie is their best because it’s all hands on deck. They go for broke, they don’t know where the limit is and when they should say, “no.” As a result it can sometimes be very excessive and masturbatory, but I thought Sam did an amazing job with his very first movie.


There’s a sequence in there where Ash is going crazy, and Sam stayed up all night doing storyboards for this sequence where the camera was tilted at a 45 degree dutch angle for every shot. I remember at the time we had discussions about whether that was going to be visually acceptable – could the audience even watch what was happening because it was such an extreme way to film. Sam was saying, “Ash is going crazy, the audience should be going crazy too.” It’s actually one of the best sequences of the movie, and it’s one of the most contemporary sequences because it was ahead of its time.


FF: Ideally, you want the film to endure and to engage with a future audience, and to not be limited to the period in which it’s made. Would you agree with this sentiment?


BC: I think nobody knows until the film is out. In my experience a film that is easy to make, is usually hard to watch. And usually films that are very hard to make, are much easier to watch. There’s just something about it when you know that the filmmakers and the actors have really sweated for a project - generally it tends to be better. If you have enough time to sit around telling movie stories between shots, I don’t think you’re working hard enough.



FF: In recent years we’ve seen torture porn and the celebration of violence to disgust rather than to provoke fear. How do you think THE EVIL DEAD fits into a person’s concept of horror who is watching it for the first time in 2020, compared to the context of horror for the 80s audience?


BC: Horror always changes and maybe it’s generational. It used to be the slasher movie, which was some crazy guy released from an institution and with an axe type concept. Then torture porn came in for a while and I’m very happy to see that go, only because it doesn’t celebrate the skill of filmmaking. You put a guy’s dick in a vice and poke it with a stick for half an hour, that’s not really horror. It’s just something you might hear on the six o’clock news.


The real success of a horror movie is getting someone to feel the atmosphere, to feel dread and to actually jump out of their seat. To build to a climatic scare is something that takes an incredible amount of skill between the filmmakers and the actors, and everyone involved. I’m just a big fan of if you’re going to do a horror movie, then it should be scary, but there’s a lot of different ways that something can be scary.


THE SIXTH SENSE I feel is a very disturbing movie, but there’s very little blood and violence in the whole thing. The movie THE TENENT, which is one of my favourite horror movies by [Roman] Polanski, it’s all mental. It’s actually making you think you’re going crazy, and that’s a skill. I’m a big fan of any horror that takes skill.


FF: I always admired that beyond the blood and the violence, it feels like you’re trapped, and you’re slowing succumbing to the oppressive claustrophobia, the gruelling psychological and emotional experience.


BC: The situation was real enough that it permeated into all of us. It was a real abandoned cabin down about a half a mile of road in the middle of nowhere. There was no electricity and no running water. It actually had some creepy history - a woman had fled there during a lightning storm, when someone was murdered at the cabin. So it all helped us to feel the reality.


We were only supposed to film for six weeks and we filmed for twelve. As the film dragged on, people were injured, they left, equipment broke, and it all added up and started to feel real after a while [laughs].


It permeated the movie because back in those days, if Ash hears a sound and swings his shotgun and blows out a window, that’s what you did. You used a real shotgun and you just blew out the window. We just did stuff viscerally back then, but with ASH VS EVIL DEAD, it’s all digital at that point. There’s no real shotgun show, no smoke, that’s digital too, there’s no flash, that’s added later. So I’m glad we made at least one of these movies completely analogue, and just about as real as you’re going to get.


Paul Risker.


THE EVIL DEAD is available for the first time on 4K Ultra HD on November 16.


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