Auckland, New Zealand — Hollywood director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell, and producer Rob Tapert huddled around a camera on a Southern Hemisphere soundstage earlier this year, filming a scene for their TV show.
Rewind to 1979, Michigan. This then-unknown trio of Detroit-area natives was hitting up friends and family to fund a low-budget horror flick. The Evil Dead would go on to become a cult classic, spawning sequels, video games, a rock musical, and now, a television series.
The franchise has found new life as Ash vs Evil Dead. The first of 10 episodes debuts on Halloween on the Starz cable network.
Campbell, now 57, stars as an older — but not necessarily wiser — Ash Williams, roughly three decades after his first encounter with blood-thirsty Deadites during a trip to a cabin in the woods. Tapert is back on board as producer, a credit shared with Birmingham Groves High School grads Campbell and Raimi, who directed and co-wrote the series premiere.
“It’s hard to believe that we’re actually here making this,” Raimi said on the New Zealand set. And although the scene was being filmed in the Southern Hemisphere the set was tricked out to look like a Michigan trailer park, home of the one-handed, chisel-jawed, monster-hunting hero, Ash.
“There’s a small but very dedicated fan base of The Evil Dead films. They really want to see Bruce Campbell in his role as Ash. That’s why we’re making this,” Raimi said.
Ash may be an AARP member these days, but the Deadite slayer still drives his trusty ’73 Oldsmobile Delta 88 — the same one Raimi and Campbell used to ride around in as teenagers.
The cake batter-colored automobile has played a part in every one of Raimi’s movies, including Spider-Man and 1995’s The Quick and the Dead. (The latter is a western, so they stripped it down to the chassis and covered it with a wagon.)
The baritone rumble of the Oldsmobile’s engine filled the soundstage as Campbell, Raimi, and Tapert reviewed footage of one of the film’s myriad bloody battles.
Gruesomeness and gore aren’t in short supply in Ash vs Evil Dead. Neither is comedy. Campbell, Raimi, and Tapert are unapologetic fan boys of “The Three Stooges.” Their earliest collaborations skewed more toward humor than horror.
Raimi met Tapert, who is from St. Clair Shores, at Michigan State University. They made extra cash in college by charging admission to their amateur movies. Raimi and Campbell go even further back. They first crossed paths at West Maple Junior High in Bloomfield Hills.
“He was sitting in the middle of the hallway dressed as Sherlock Holmes, playing with dolls,” Campbell recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘That guy’s got a screw loose.’ ”
Raimi, whose family moved from Detroit to Franklin when he was in third grade, laughed and wearily rolled his eyes when asked to tell his side of the story. “I was performing a piece, shooting a video,” he said. “Bruce likes to leave that part out.”
Even though the Starz series is being made in Tapert’s adopted home of Auckland, where he lives with his Kiwi actress wife and Ash vs Evil Dead cast member Lucy Lawless, shout outs to the Wolverine State are everywhere.
Motor City Brewing Works beer bottles line the bar of the fictional Woodsman watering hole, loosely inspired by Detroit’s legendary dive bar The Old Miami. A T-shirt for The Fish Market in Erie hangs on clothesline. A bag of Better Made potato chips sits on a table at Value Stop, where Ash works as a stock boy. Nearby is a can of Faygo Red Pop, “the soda we used to drink as kids,” said Campbell, author of the 2002 best-seller If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor.
Multiple replicas of the iconic Olds with Michigan license plates are kept in the studio’s garage, along with the original classic.
“That thing had to be put on a boat to get down here,” Campbell said about Raimi’s beloved car. “You just can’t drive it to New Zealand. It had to be shipped like the Crown Jewels.
“It’s kept in a secret location back in Michigan,” he added. “Sam’s even kept the location secret from me because he’s afraid I’d try to wreck it.”
There’s no doubt the Delta 88 has a lot of sentimental value to Raimi. So does The Evil Dead.
“It’s probably the closest to my heart,” the prolific director said. “It’s something we conceived ourselves. It’s where I got my start.”