Michigan plays major role in Starz’s ‘Ash Vs Evil Dead’

Mekeisha Madden Toby
Special to The Detroit News

Actor Bruce Campbell wants to make fans happy — or at least keep them quiet.

If that means turning his wildly beloved “The Evil Dead” trilogy into a premium cable series, so be it. The end result, “Ash vs Evil Dead,” debuts Halloween night on Starz.

“The fans have driven all this. The fans are responsible for every single bit of this,” the Birmingham native told television critics at a panel this summer in Los Angeles. “They’ve been relentless for years. The last ‘Evil Dead’ movie was 24 years ago. They haven’t shut up since. So no matter what we say to them or what we give them, it will never be enough, and we’re very grateful for that.”

“Evil Dead” fans can expect more charm like this from Campbell aka “The Chin” on his irreverent new series, which like the movies, is written, directed and executive produced by Royal Oak native Sam Raimi.

But there are a few tweaks. For starters, Campbell is doughier, a fact the show playfully pokes fun at in the first five minutes. There’s also a new team in place to help Ash fight an endless army of demons and this includes Jill Marie Jones (“Girlfriends”) as Amanda, a Michigan State Police detective from Detroit. Meanwhile, Lucy Lawless stars as Ruby, one of Ash’s adversaries. Just in case you’re wondering, “Ash Vs Evil Dead” is set in Michigan, but shot in New Zealand.

“It’s really important that we fulfill our obligations to the fans who’ve asked us to make this either as a movie or a series,” Raimi said of his kitschy, but brilliant horror comedy, “but they have certain expectations. After three feature films and, like Bruce said, 35 years of fans following, they want particular things. And so it was very important we found a network that was willing to go to the limit, really let us go anywhere we wanted with the humor, outrageous horror (and) crazy amounts of gore, which are some of the hallmarks of the ‘Evil Dead’ films, because we had an obligation to the fans.

“But I believe that Starz wants things that the audience can’t get on regular television or regular cable. It’s very unique. And so this happened to be a very good marriage between the two of us.”

And to think, the whole “Evil Dead” universe came to be nearly 40 years ago when Campbell, Raimi and their friend, Rob Tapert, raised $350,000 to make the first movie, which was released in 1981, but didn’t rise to cult status for another four years. “Evil Dead II” arrived in theaters in 1987 followed by “Army of Darkness” in 1992.

Since then, Campbell, who graduated from Birmingham Groves High School with Raimi, has starred in dozens of TV shows and movies including “Burn Notice,” “Cars 2” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.” But B movies and TV shows inspired by B movies, are the husband and father’s favorite.

“I’m attracted to weird material,” Campbell said. “I’m not attracted to normal, generic stuff. I find it too boring. And I don’t mind being in cheese ball, exploitation movies. I really don’t. It doesn’t bother me in the least. B movies can do things that are way more interesting sometimes than A movies, because you don’t have the restrictions. You don’t have to please 100 million people. If your movie only costs half a million dollars, you only have to please, like, eight people.

“You can tell more fantastic stories. I’m very glad we can bring this series to people,” he added. “Because, good or bad, you’re not going to see anything like this. This is not a cop show, a doctor show, a lawyer show. Those shows make me want to hang myself as the viewer.”

Mekeisha Madden Toby is an Los Angeles-based TV writer and critic.

‘Ash Vs Evil Dead’

Premieres 9 p.m. Saturday