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'Evil Dead' series aims to preserve low-budget roots

Bruce Campbell in “Ash vs. Evil Dead”
Source: Ash vs. Evil Dead
Bruce Campbell in “Ash vs. Evil Dead”

Cult movie icon Bruce Campbell and his collaborators can afford to spray prop blood across a film set in any number of ways now that Starz is backing a revival of their "Evil Dead" franchise.

Sometimes, however, the best solution requires an old low-budget approach.

"You can get all your pumps and sprays, but just take a paint brush," Campbell said, flicking his wrist for emphasis. "Because then you can angle it a little bit, too. It's a beautiful spackle."

Twenty-four years after last featuring the misadventures of "Evil Dead" lead character Ashley "Ash" Williams, Campbell and filmmakers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert are bringing their horror comedy into the 21st century with the Starz series "Ash vs. Evil Dead." But while they have more resources than ever at their disposal, they are seeking to preserve the original trilogy's visual comedy and aesthetic, which was in part born out of necessity.

It's a position Raimi didn't expected to find himself in 1979, when the fledgling filmmakers went into production for "Evil Dead" with just $85,000 on hand. The tale he wrote about a malevolent force accidentally summoned from a magic book hardly seemed like it would spawn a lasting legacy.

"When we made 'Evil Dead' we were just trying to raise the money to make a film that was good enough to go in the drive-ins. That was really our goal," he told CNBC at New York Comic Con. "It was always about surviving in the moment and making it work."

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Forget 'Spider Man', what about 'Evil Dead'?

To be sure, "Ash vs. Evil Dead" takes advantage of advances in practical special effects and digital editing. But the first episode — the only one directed by Raimi — is full of visual references to the original series: hyperbolic action set against green screen backdrops, quick cuts of smirking ghouls with chunky white contact lenses, and lots of blood spurting from mangled mannequins.

"Contact lenses, rubber faces, rubber monsters. We've embraced a lot of that," Campbell said.

After Stephen King lauded the film in Twilight Zone magazine, "Evil Dead" gained traction and picked up buyers. Raimi, Campbell and Tapert released "Evil Dead 2" in 1987, followed by a 1993 sequel set in medieval times called "Army of Darkness."

Raimi eventually went on to direct Sony's $2.5 billion Spider-Man trilogy — but fans continued to ask when they could expect the next "Evil Dead" installment.

The reason they've had to wait is simple, said Campbell. " 'Army of Darkness' laid an egg. That movie bombed. It cost $13 million and it made $13 million. So that's not the way to keep pumping out the sequels," he said.

Bruce Campbell and Dana DeLorenzo in “Ash vs. Evil Dead”
Source: Ash vs Evil Dead
Bruce Campbell and Dana DeLorenzo in “Ash vs. Evil Dead”

Ash's ultimate path back to fans would be on Starz, a channel Raimi developed a relationship with while executive producing three seasons of "Spartacus."

Roger Murray, props supervisor for "Ash vs. Evil Dead," told CNBC the camera work follows the precedent set in 1979, when the filmmakers couldn't afford realistic body doubles, and so, pushed in on shots of violence to cover the absence.

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"Part of the great things in those films is they realized their limitations, and then they used them to their advantage," he said. "I think part of the editing and the way they structured the shots [on 'Ash vs. Evil Dead'] harked back to that."

Campbell acknowledged that playing Ash without Raimi in the director chair was difficult, but said he believes they've produced what the fans want.

"All these guys had to figure out how we do this and what we care about, and not everybody gets it," he said. "But we have a good group, so we're ready for season two."