"Maybe they like it!" Sam Raimi on audience reaction to Ash vs. Evil Dead, and his own future as a filmmaker

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Nov 3, 2015, 6:27 PM EST

Sam Raimi tells me he is a circus clown, an entertainer just trying to get his audience to laugh, jump and scream. And though it has been more than a year since Ash vs. Evil Dead was announced, Raimi's big top performance with Bruce Campbell, and Rob Tapert, on Starz over Halloween weekend was a big, bloody success.

But that was never a guarantee. Although the announcement that the team behind The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness was finally bringing Ash back generated fan excitement, we've all been disappointed before. Even after an encouraging San Diego Comic-Con trailer was released, it seemed possible that these guys might no longer have the mojo to do the original films justice in television form.

And Raimi agrees it was a fear he shared with his childhood buddies from Michigan. But the director of the AvED pilot (which he wrote with brother Ivan Raimi and Tom Spezialy), and an executive producer on the series, can feel a bit like a relieved clown, at least. Because not only is Ash back, but the world of the Evil Dead is as well, and it feels bigger, and better, than ever before.

And the horror comedy is already killing it enough to be renewed for a second season full of Deadites. But before the announcement was ever made, Raimi said they already had a room full of writers breaking the story for the second season.

Sam Raimi joined me to converse about the first episode, and the audience reaction, of Ash vs. Evil Dead, which airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz. We also touch on the show's future, and his own future as a filmmaker.

I love what this team of guys from Michigan did with Evil Dead, but you aren't those kids anymore. How do you think you channeled those younger Michigan kids now that so much time and so many projects have passed between you, Bruce and Rob?

Those guys are really who we are. It is everything else that's artificial. We have to pretend to be grown up and sophisticated while we make those Spider-Man movies or big-budget studio films. This is the easiest thing we could do, to be ourselves, have fun and try to make it for the fans. They never ask me for another Spider-Man movie, or a sequel to A Simple Plan. They only ever talk to me about this. We finally listened. And, in making the deal, the only important thing was we need complete creative control. We needed to give the fans what we think they wanted to see. Not to sound high-falutin', but we couldn't compromise on this.

It is a good time for horror on television. But is AvED bringing back a certain style of horror that has gone away, like the sex, gore and rock 'n' roll?

I'm not aware enough of the TV landscape to say that. But we were trying to be true to the spirit of the Evil Dead movies, so it is a retro-feeling experience.

Can you talk about the music, like Deep Purple's "Space Truckin,'" that gives this show that retro feel?

When my brother Ivan and I were writing the character, and asking where he'd been for the last 30-35 years, we realized he had not grown. He stopped his development. My brother said the music should reflect the last time he was engaged in society, and living. My brother and editor chose those different pieces to reflect his lack of growth.

You had to do some world-building to flesh out Ash's universe and craft new characters for him to hang out with. What was your approach to this while staying true to the original mythology?

That was a new experience for me. That's exactly right; that's what we had to keep in mind. My brother and I, in writing the pilot, knew we had to build new characters Ash could interact with. They had to be interesting enough we could cut to their story and the audience would be into that also. They would be monster fighters also and, as the story progressed, see them coalesce into a monster-fighting unit. So, that way, Bruce wouldn't have to be on camera all the time, every day. And the audience could follow two sets of people. We tried to think of characters who would be interesting interacting with Bruce, like someone who saw the nobility within Ash. Like Pablo. Even though Ash is acting in the worst, cowardly ways, he's someone to have a positive influence on him. Maybe someone who can depend upon Ash. And Kelly, and maybe a relationship can form with Pablo and Kelly. And a human adversary, either in the form of Lucy Lawless or Jill Marie Jones' Michigan state trooper.

Will we see the emergence of a Big Bad? Ash is fighting against evil, but is it necessary to have a villain character?

I don't have very much experience in TV. I've got, like, none. So I don't know. Maybe that is important. I don't know. Maybe they'll do that. But as a filmmaker, I've had to pass the baton to writers and showrunner.

Although I was there for the formation of the first, second and part of the third episodes, and had a lot of input (my brother and I basically wrote the story for that), I had to go away and direct. So it's like, "Guys, good luck with the stories; I'm going to be in preproduction in New Zealand." I would go there for three weeks, and the writers decided to go on their own. Then I came back for a week, but it was me catching up with what they're doing. And letting them run with it. Then I'd go away for seven weeks and direct, and all the scripts were written and the directors came in. Like the Spider-Man movies, I had to pass the baton on to the next storytellers. It is humbling, and sad, and it is an interesting experience when you pass the baton.

You debuted the first episode at New York Comic Con. Tell me about walking on stage after the screening and seeing the crowd reaction? Were you touched?

Yes. It is what this is all about. It is why we made this. We made this because we wanted to please the fans. I was so relieved and delighted that the crowd seemed to have enjoyed themselves. A tremendous weight was lifted off me. I thought, "Maybe, maybe they like it!" It is so hard making something somebody likes. It is even harder making something they don't like. It is so awful making movies they don't like, and I've made plenty of them. I was greatly relieved there was an inkling fans liked this one. I hope that they do.

Did you ever exchange looks with Bruce and Rob, and ask, "Did we f*** it up, or did we do it right?"

Yeah, we were looking at each other with those looks during the show. We were on the side watching the crowd, kind of giggling and looking at each other, wondering if they'd like the next joke or the next scare would get them. And we were happy when it would. It was wonderful. Wonderful.

Some filmmakers are artists. They make films to stand the test of time. But I have always considered myself an entertainer. It is very hard for me to make a movie and say, "It's OK this audience doesn't like it; one day people will realize what kind of work this is." I am just an entertainer. If they don't like it, I've got nothing to hide behind. I am just trying to get them to laugh, or jump, or scream. If they don't, it is a pretty barren place to be in. To hear them jumping and laughing was like … I'm like a circus clown, and the jumping and laughing is the ultimate.

Do you want to go back and direct another episode at some point?

I don't know that they need me. Right now I'm really looking for a feature film to direct. If they needed me, I would come in and do something like a big, goofy finale. Or kick off the first episode of the season. But there isn't really a request for that right now.