Starz is breathing new life into the Evil Dead franchise with Ash vs. Evil Dead, a horror-comedy hybrid chronicling the Deadite-dueling exploits of Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell). Filmed in New Zealand, the 10-episode season debuts on Halloween. Here are eight things we learned while visiting the show’s set in Auckland.
Director Sam Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, and producer Rob Tapert all hail from the Wolverine State, the same place the show is set. Kiwi prop master Marney McKenna snagged a bunch of Michigan memorabilia on eBay and peppered it around the set for authenticity.
To wit: A T-shirt from The Fish Market in Erie dangled from a clothesline outside Ash’s Airstream trailer. Bottles of Jolly Pumpkin and Motor City Brewing Works beer were strewn around a fictional watering hole loosely inspired by Detroit’s legendary veterans’ bar, The Old Miami.
“You’ll see other Michigan products like Better Made Potato Chips and Detroit Tigers baseball stickers on cars’ bumpers,” said Raimi, who still has lots of family and a holiday home in the Midwest state.
As a kid, he and Campbell guzzled more than their share of locally made Faygo Red Pop.
“I contacted the company and asked if they’d be interested in having their product in the show,” McKenna said. “They said they were more than interested and sent it all for free.”
Fans of The Evil Dead — or Raimi’s movies in general — will instantly recognize Ash’s yellow cake batter-colored ’73 Oldsmobile Delta 88. The engine’s baritone rumble filled the cavernous soundstage during a trailer park scene.
“You can’t just drive it to New Zealand; it had to be shipped like the Crown Jewels,” Campbell said.
Raimi’s dad bought the set of wheels in the ’70s. It served as Raimi and Campbell’s main mode of transportation when they were students at Wylie E. Groves High School in Beverly Hills, Michigan.
“We’d go to movies in that car, we’d make movies in that car,” Campbell said about ‘The Classic,’ which has several replicas. “Sam has put that car in every movie he’s ever made, that same piece-of-s–t car that I’m going to kill if I ever get the chance because it’s an unhealthy obsession.”
When we last saw Ash in the 1992 film Army of Darkness, he had a retail job at S-Mart. (Who could forget the catchy logo? “Shop smart. Shop S-Mart!”)
These days, our aging under-achiever makes bank by stocking shelves at a joint called Value Stop.
“It’s the equivalent of S-Mart,” Campbell said. “It’s just a fictitious place where a loser would work.”
His fellow employees are Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas), described as a moody wild child trying to outrun her past.
“She’s a tough but lovable ball-buster,” said DeLorenzo, who fronted an Amy Winehouse tribute band in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles for her acting career. “When we first meet her, she’s gone through a tragedy — so she’s a little lost, trying to find a purpose in life. She finds her calling with Ash and the fight against the Evil Dead.”
Another one of their coworkers is Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago), an idealistic kid from Honduras who desperately wants to be an all-American boy.
“As somebody who comes from a different country and is here illegally, he’s struggling with fitting in,” said Santiago (Touch, Meet the Fockers). “But he’s smart and very Americanized. He’s USA all the way.”
He must be a hard worker, too. A sign in the Value Stop break room lists him as employee of the month.
Fantastical fight scenes are the stock-in-trade of The Evil Dead franchise, and the TV series seems intent to carry on that tradition.
Ash’s Airstream trailer — built nearly twice as big as normal to accommodate the camera equipment — is the site of an epic, bloody brawl. So is a country home where Michigan State Trooper Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones, Sleepy Hollow) responds to a call in the series premiere.
“Stuff goes down in this house,” Jones said while sitting on the set of the vacation home under a row of ominous-looking mounted deer antlers, just waiting to impale some poor sucker.
“In episode one there are so many set pieces and action sequences,” said production designer Nick Bassett. “It’s kept us busy.”
The Deadite-slaying protagonist is a superhero of sorts and that’s meant to come across in Ash’s wardrobe, which includes a royal blue shirt topped with a red jacket.
“I’m trying to portray the Superman look,” costume designer Barbara Darragh said. “It’s based on a very sad Superman.”
“We have racks and racks of blue shirts,” she added. “It’s also a good color to show blood.”
Ash lopped off his right hand with great fanfare in 1987’s Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn. When he isn’t wearing his chainsaw glove, his arm is capped off by a dark, swollen-looking appendage with five sausage-like fingers.
“It’s just a rubber hand,” Campbell said. “You put baby powder on there and slip it on and off. Everything has to be fast and modular in television.”
He was wearing it when we were introduced on set and he reached out to shake hands — a sensation I won’t soon forget.
“It’s like a dead fish,” Campbell said. “I give a real limp handshake just to freak people out.”
Raimi first gave a shout-out to his childhood Camp Tamakwa in 1981’s The Evil Dead. A T-shirt emblazoned with the Canadian summer camp’s beaver logo hung in the closet of the haunted cabin in the woods.
Souvenirs from the camp have popped up in myriad movies since then, both in Raimi’s films and others, like American Pie.
The trend continues. I spotted a Tamakwa decal on the rear window of Ash’s car.
“Sam’s always threatened we’d do this,” veteran TV producer Rob Tapert said about resurrecting The Evil Dead. “Sam’s not a TV guy. It’s not in his DNA. He and his brother [Ivan Raimi] had been working on an idea and I said, ‘Guys, we should do this as a TV series.’ The reality is the Evil Deads were never very successful theatrical motion pictures. They succeeded in their longevity after developing a fan base. That’s the model for television. And the half-hour format is good for a show that doesn’t want to get bogged down in heavy drama. We want to horrify the audience but we also want them to laugh.”
Tapert (Xena: Warrior Princess, Spartacus) is no stranger to making TV in New Zealand.
“Financially it was advantageous to shoot it here with the incentives, the dollar exchange,” he said. “There are cheaper places to shoot in the world but not better places.”
It’s also where he lives with his Kiwi wife, Lucy Lawless, who’s in the show.
“She plays Ruby, a mysterious figure — our version of The Smoking Man from The X-Files,” he said.
“It’s ridiculous on some level that we’re here doing a TV show about a movie that we made way back when,” Tapert said about reuniting with Raimi and Campbell. “The last time we were all on set together working on something was Army of Darkness. We forgot how much we like it.”
Ash vs. Evil Dead premieres on Starz this Saturday, Oct. 31, at 9 p.m. Read reviews here.