AUSTIN — The producers of “Evil Dead” had a lot to be nostalgic about as their film premiered at SXSW 2013. Bruce Campbell appeared in and co-produced the original “Evil Dead” with Rob Tapert in 1981, and original “Evil Dead” director Sam Raimi helped co-produce this time around. Since Raimi is busy promoting “Oz the Great and Powerful,” Campbell and Tapert sat down with myself and a couple of other journalists to talk about what it was like returning to the “Evil Dead” world.
(Q stands for a question from another journalist, and AG represents a question from myself.)
Q: You were on set, obviously, for the original trilogy. Did you get on set here?
BC: Nope. I had a day job. Burn Notice.
Q: Did you see any of the dailies?
BC: Of course we saw dailies. We saw everything they turned out. Rob was on set. He was there, so he saw it first-hand. Sam [Raimi] and I, from a distance, were still watching.
Q: Was it kind of a kick to see the progression of the practical effects from then to now?
BC: Yeah, but it takes a long time to finally see the finished version. It’s not until they finish the effects that you can finally say, “That either worked, or it didn’t work.” It’s only recently when we were like, “Cool, that worked.” We had a pretty good idea, but we still had to fine-tune plenty of things.
AG: Even though you weren’t physically on set, how fun was it for you to be back in the “Evil Dead” world?
BC: Very good! I was working with Sam and Rob [Tapert] again, I always run into these guys through various things, but this time we actually had to get on phone calls together and talk about the script and run through it like that. Rob was very involved in the actual production of it. We came and went whenever we could.
RT: Post-filming, we brought it here, we did the previews, worked on the sound all the way through.
Q: Why did you film it in New Zealand?
BC: Because Rob’s the king of New Zealand.
RT: I was down there working on something else. It is less expensive, but it was also very easy for me to be there and keep an eye on it.
BC: This is Rob’s world. I mean, these are good crews. I’d put a New Zealand crew up against anybody as far as discipline, ability, craftsmanship. Those guys are really good. I remember I went to direct a “Hercules” episode in the early days. I went to move a table on set, and I about threw my back out. It was a real wooden table. They hadn’t even learned how to fake stuff yet. Like, “Here, you want a wooden table? Here’s your wooden table.” I’m like, “God damn!” So, they’re good craftsmen, and their job is to support Fede. It’s a good place to work, New Zealand, and he’s from Uruguay, so whatever.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the preparation for this film?
BC: The script was everything. We know that know. We’ve been around long enough to know that the script is everything. It’s your blueprint for your movie. The trick was just to have Fede pitch us a tone and a story. Together, the four of us would have long conversations. He’d come back with something, and we would slowly work up the script. Then, Rob mostly had to determine whether we could afford to shoot, based on the budget. It’s always a dance of creative versus monetary.
RT: But it was the easiest movie I’ve done in a long time. It went really smoothly. Fede knew what he wanted and was able to communicate as a director. The most important thing a director can do is tell you what wants, how he wants you to do it, and how he wants you to do it again differently, and you can understand all those things he says.
Q: You guys put this cast through the wringer.
BC: Oh, they should’ve been there for the first one (laughs).
Q: Was it difficult to find this cast?
BC: Chemistry is an amazing thing. It either works or it doesn’t. When we got further into the casting process, we did start to put people that we thought could do the part with other people we thought were good for the part and then just saw how they reacted. Sometimes right in the room you go, “All right, good.” Shiloh [Fernandez] and Lou [Taylor Pucci] did a lot of auditioning together, and they had to be the two guys in the movie who were close with each other. In the room, it worked. That’s what can put it over the top. You might have someone who looks good with this person, but they have no fucking chemistry whatsoever, and two people can be very unlikely and have great chemistry. Chemistry is everything.
Q: Sometimes there is a weak link in the cast, but I think they all knocked it out of the park.
BC: Look, guys like Shiloh had a tricky part. He’s not the obvious hero. He’s a guy who has flaws. He’s a coward, and he’s a little weak-spined. He couldn’t muster up to see his mother when she was sick, and it’s just not his bag. Greatness is forced upon him. He’s not the ripped guy, Dwayne Johnson getting out of a Jeep like, “Hey, how are you guys?” That’s not what it was. It was one of those tricky things. I give Fede credit for writing a character that was that obtuse and slightly flawed.
Q: Was it difficult to fight the temptation to cast some known actors or was it pretty easy to find these guys?
BC: We had pretty much total control of casting. The distributor, Film District, they wanted us to have one person. They were very happy to have Jane [Levy] in that role, and Jane had the most physically demanding part. Her attitude on set help set the tone for everybody else. They saw “Oh, she’s really going through hell doing that. If she can do that, when my turn comes, I can do that. I’ll get through it one way or the other.” So that was really great. Within everything else, we pretty much had freedom to – the distributor, as they always do, that’s the only thing they asked us for. “We’d like one person that we can book.” Can they get on Kimmel? (laughs)
AG: Was there any anxiety or pressure revisiting the “Evil Dead” now that it has this huge cult fan base?
BC: The pressure was the same as the first three. As partners, the three of us just tried to make the best movie we could based on that script at that time. It was no different. We were just making another “Evil Dead” movie. That’s why I call this a new Evil Dead movie. To me, it’s not a remake or a prequel or a sequel or re-imagining. It’s just new, or another Evil Dead movie. People wanted it. They’ve been pressuring us and hassling us for years.
RT: Now that it’s in the marketplace, actually the horror genre. It’s different than anything that’s out there in a way. I think it’ll be a welcome relief to people who actually like horror. It’s something different. It’s familiar if you like “Evil Dead,” but it’s different from what’s currently out there. It’s kind of an old-fashioned, hard-hitting horror movie.
BC: The parents of the kids that see this movie will still go, “Okay, cool,” because it’s going to look like effects from the 70s. You know what I mean? Their parents are not going to know, it doesn’t feel like a “modern movie.” It just feels like a movie.
Q: How satisfying was the crowd last night? They ate it up.
BC: It’s everything you need to hear. You need to hear people laughing and talking back to the screen like, “No, no, no, don’t, don’t, don’t!” I mean, there was legitimate dread. One of my favorite sequences that played last night is when Eric is walking into the bathroom to see what’s going on, and you hear this weird sound. The audience is like, “No, no, no,” and he keeps going, “Are you okay?” The audience was like, “No, she’s not okay, she’s not okay!”
RT: Everyone was laughing.
BC: They did! That’s the thing. You can’t worry about people’s reactions, because it’s in the moment. They’re like, “Fuck no, she’s not okay.” That’s great. That’s a reaction where you know the audience is paying attention.
AG: There were these two big guys sitting on both sides of me, and the guy to my right was slouched over covering his eyes and the guy to my left was like, “No, nah-uh, stop!”
BC: They punch each other! We watched screenings the other day with a bunch of football players. Whenever they got scared, they were, “You got scared! No, you did! No, you did!” (enacts punching)