Interview: Sam Raimi on ASH VS. EVIL DEAD, DARKMAN and THE LAST OF US



Sam Raimi talks about the new Starz series ASH VS. EVIL DEAD, classic “DEAD” films, gives us a progress report on THE LAST OF US and shares his thoughts on bringing back DARKMAN.

Back in 1981, long before he directed the billion dollar SPIDERMAN trilogy, director Sam Raimi’s career as a filmmaker began with a low-budget horror movie called THE EVIL DEAD, which would become a huge influence on decades of horror filmmakers as it began his long-standing working relationship with Bruce Campbell. 

After two sequels and a 2013 remake, EVIL DEAD fans are finally getting their wish with Bruce Campbell returning to the role of Ash for a new STARZ series, ASH VS.EVIL DEAD, the pilot for which Raimi co-wrote with his brother and directed, just like the previous movies.

As the buzz surrounding the show has been growing, SHOCK had a chance to sit down for a quick interview with Raimi while he was in New York City for the show’s debut at New York Comic-Con where three years earlier, the crowd had gone just as wild for THE EVIL DEAD remake.

While we mainly talked about his return to the world of Bruce Cambell’s Ash Williams and his battle with the “deadites,” we also got a brief update on Raimi’s involvement with bringing the Playstation game THE LAST OF US to the big screen and his thoughts on possibly bringing back his early superhero DARKMAN.

SHOCK: First of all, congratulations on coming back to this. I know you’ve literally been hearing for two decades from people wanting you to do more EVIL DEAD…

SAM RAIMI: Yeah, thank you.

SHOCK: What convinced you to come back? I know Bruce has been really gung-ho about doing this.

RAIMI: I guess I finally opened up my ears to a lot of the fans’ requests. I would make a SPIDERMAN movie and they’d say, “That’s fine, but can you please make EVIL DEAD 4?’” They didn’t care. I’d make SPIDERMAN 2,” they’d go, “Enough of this. Make EVIL DEAD with Bruce Campbell.” So we tried to sate that fan request. I said to Bruce and Rob, “Let’s remake ‘EVIL DEAD’ with Fede Alvarez, my friend. He’s super-talented and that will finally give the fans what they want.” So we did that and they really loved his movie and I loved it, but afterwards, I still heard that, “Now we want your EVIL DEAD with Bruce in addition to Fede’s movie.” So I went, “Oh my God. There’s no quieting them. Why am I running from it anyways?” I mean, maybe it was out of fear a little bit. They seemed to like these movies and I didn’t want to make one that they didn’t like. I didn’t know if I had much to gain, but they were so insistent we finally said, “Alright, let’s just do it.” So my brother and I sat down and we started to write a feature. Then that’s a long story, but it eventually turned into a TV show.

SHOCK: What’s interesting about doing it as a show is that if you put together the three previous EVIL DEAD movies, that’s four and a half hours but with a TV show, you’re going to have that much just in the first season, although you also have other writers and directors. You’re basically handing your baby over in some ways.

RAIMI: Exactly.

SHOCK: So how has that been? Do you still keep in touch with the dailies and all that stuff?

RAIMI: It’s a learning experience. I have to learn to let go and let other creators work with the material that I wrote originally. They’re bringing their own great ideas and their own visuals and their own concepts and it’s exciting to watch.

SHOCK: I think Fede did a great job capturing the spirit of what was so great about the original movie when you made it back in 1981.

RAIMI: Me, too.

SHOCK: I just re-watched the original movie and it was interesting to see what you could do in 1981, with no budget and still have amazing practical effects.

RAIMI: Oh thank you.

SHOCK: How has that changed with doing it for the TV show? I’m assuming you can do a lot more these days?

RAIMI: Well, back then, we were on a really tight budget, like no budget. This one, we actually had department heads, a makeup department and a mechanical effects department. So I would liken this budget more to the budget of EVIL DEAD 2. So we didn’t have to do everything from scratch and we got to hire professionals to do an excellent job in each of their specific departments. That’s about where it was budget range.

SHOCK: You have a lot more people who know how to do this stuff now then back when you made the first movie, because they’re studying the movies you and John Carpenter and Peter Jackson made, and you now have experts doing this sort of stuff.

RAIMI: Yes, and especially in New Zealand, there’s so many great crews there. We worked with a top-notch crew that worked on a lot of Peter Jackson’s films and some of the LORD OF THE RINGS people and people that worked on SPARTACUS. So they’re really top-notch professionals.

SHOCK: The movies in the EVIL DEAD trilogy change tone drastically from one movie to the next. The first one is very much a dark, horror movie. The second one became more of a comedy and Bruce got to play with the Ash persona and the third one was a big, epic fantasy thing. For the show, you’ve mixed the tone of the first two movies, so how much of that third movie mythos did you want to bring onto the show? Where did you want to start?

RAIMI: Well, that’s a question we had to ask ourselves, “Which EVIL DEAD are we going to make the sequel to?” That was part of the confusing thing. It’s like, the fans want another EVIL DEAD, but which one do they want? Because they’re as different as you say. I think we thought, “Well, we don’t know, but here’s what we’d like to see. We’d like to see something that had a little bit of the humor of EVIL DEAD 2and Ash’s character of EVIL DEAD 2 but the horror of EVIL DEAD 1, the more serious, intense stuff that scared the audience. So we tried for kind of a blend of those. So Ash’s character is big and funny, but the evil is taken seriously and hopefully, it’s intense.

SHOCK: Last night, I saw Bruce tape an NPR trivia show, and he talked about your relationship, how you first met and how you love throwing blood on him, which I guess is a good reason to come back to it right there, to be able to toss a bucket of blood on Bruce.

RAIMI: That’s a pretty good reason, a pretty good incentive for me. It’s great to be working with him again because we grew up together. We were in high school together, did high school plays, made Super 8 movies together as kids, and that’s where our careers started. We went on to make our first feature film together and many features beyond that, so this is a return to the character that was in our first feature film, so it’s very exciting to come back to it.

SHOCK: When I re-watched the original movie, it was also a little strange seeing Bruce 35 years ago.

RAIMI: Yeah, it’s really weird for us and cool.

SHOCK: You brought back Joe LoDuca to do the music. I know he’s been working with Rob and Bruce on other things for some time, but this is the first time you’ve been back with him since ARMY OF DARKNESS, I think.

RAIMI: Correct. Joe was the sound of “Evil Dead.” We had a great time working on this, too.

SHOCK: I was curious about that and the show’s editor is also someone you’ve worked with.

RAIMI: Bob Murawski. Yeah, he cut the SPIDERMAN pictures and DRAG ME TO HELL and he co-edited ARMY OF DARKNESS.

SHOCK: How important was to keep that part of the sound and feel from the movies?

RAIMI: Yeah, this way, Joe can stay and the other episodes will have his signature sound on them, but also, I only did the first episode and now it’s a little bit like handing off the torch to other writers and directors, not a little bit, it’s definitely that. They’re coming up with their own versions of the EVIL DEAD stories and their own visions of it.

SHOCK: So what are you doing after this? I assume you’re overseeing this as much as you can. Have you started developing other things?

RAIMI: Well, right now, no. It’s really in the hands of the showrunner, Craig DiGregario, who’s here, and his staff of writers. In fact, there is a team of writers working right now. I don’t know what they’re up to, but they’ve got things on the board, ideas for season two up. Really, even though my brother and I started with a concept for the series, I had to leave and do pre-production on this pilot and then I had to be away for weeks and weeks while the writers were writing, so really, you do have to hand that torch off and hopefully, they’ll come up with something great as the season goes forward

SHOCK: You’ve been working on developing the video game THE LAST OF US into a movie and that’s one of the video games that people consider cinematic due to how much it’s like a movie already.

RAIMI: It’s great.

SHOCK: Are you working very closely with Neil (Druckmann) to develop it?

RAIMI: Neil did a great job writing a first draft screenplay and I now he’s writing another draft right now and I can’t wait to read it.

SHOCK: Do you think you’ll be able to get into that fairly soon?

RAIMI: I don’t know what his time schedule is right now. I think he’s working on another videogame right now, so I think that’s where most of his time is going at this moment, the commitments he’s made, but I’ll just wait and see if he delivers a new draft. It’d be great.

SHOCK: Would you be interested in directing that?

RAIMI: I don’t know.

SHOCK: When you return to horror, it’s always something really special and a treat to the fans. I know that not every director that starts in horror wants to do it forever.

RAIMI: Oh, thank you. I love the field. I didn’t at first because horror movies scared me too much, but I really do love the genre and it’s a playground where you can really be artistic and create ideas in the minds of the audience and portray the unreal. It’s very cool experimentation ground for a filmmaker.

SHOCK: I don’t know how much you’ve seen of the upcoming season, but being that it’s Bruce and lot of your collaborators, do you think you’ll just be able to watch it as a fan?

RAIMI: No, I’m too involved. I wish I could. That would be fascinating. I’d love that opportunity to be completely divorced from it and just enjoy it as a thing apart for me. I wish I could. I don’t think that’s ever going to be possible.

SHOCK: What about other things, like DARKMAN? Have you ever thought about revisiting that?

RAIMI: Yes, but not personally, not as a director, maybe as a producer, to bring that character back. I’ve always wanted to. Maybe one day we will.

SHOCK: Liam Neeson’s a bigger action star now, but I doubt he would want to do another DARKMAN movie, but it was such a great premise. I saw it in theaters three times.

RAIMI: Oh, you did?

SHOCK: Yeah, I was such a huge fan of that movie, because I was into comics but that was a cool twist on the concept.

RAIMI: Oh cool, thank you for that. It was a strange mix, yeah. I remember working with Liam, too.

SHOCK: Have you been approached about doing something more with DARKMAN or do you think television might be the way to go with that, too?

RAIMI: I never thought about it for TV. But I like the character and it is an interesting mix of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE SHADOW and whatever else, and I’d love to get back into that.

SHOCK: I love THE SHADOW but was bummed by THE SHADOW movie.

RAIMI: I never saw it. I never saw it.

SHOCK: I was a big fan of the old stories and comics.

RAIMI: The pulp magazines? Yeah, me too, Maxwell Grant.

SHOCK: What have you watched lately that you’ve liked?

RAIMI: I love BREAKING BAD. I’m not caught up on it yet. I’m a little behind. My kids and I just finished the last season, we’ve seen them all, of FALLING SKIES. That was awesome.

SHOCK: Congratulations for getting this thing out. Hopefully you can move on and you won’t get asked about EVIL DEAD for the rest of your life.

RAIMI: I can’t make another one(Laughs).

ASH VS. EVIL DEAD Season 1 will air on STARZ starting on Saturday, October 31. Look for our interviews with Bruce Campbell and the rest of the cast over the coming days.