Nothing stays dead when you’re Bruce Campbell.
The actor and cult favourite has spent parts of the last four decades fighting zombies as Ash Williams in the Evil Dead horror franchise. He retired the character last year after Starz cancelled his TV series, Ash vs. Evil Dead, following a three-season run.
But while Campbell was happy to say goodbye to Ash with a time-travelling cliffhanger, there are still legions of die-hard fans clamouring for one more reboot.
“I can let go of it,” Campbell says. “It’s other people who don’t want to let go of it.”
Campbell is focusing his attention these days on reviving another on-screen franchise: Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the TV show last hosted by Dean Cain in the early 2000s and originally created by Robert Ripley himself in 1949.
The updated version of the show brings a documentary-style approach to its unbelievable subjects, with Campbell stepping into the role of host and executive producer.
The first episode of the show includes a man who can throw cards like they’re razor blades, another man who can balance anything on his chin and Toronto’s very own “Twisty Troy,” who can contort his limbs in all sorts of unusual ways.
Global News sat down with Campbell ahead of his appearance at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto earlier this month, when he talked about leaving Ash Williams behind, showcasing fantastic people on Ripley’s and the state of genre movies in 2019.
Global News: Ripley’s looks like it’s bringing back a lot of the spectacle that we saw in the early 2000s version of the show. What’s it like to take on the challenge of rebooting such a well-known franchise in the social media era?
Bruce Campbell: It’s all about tone. What’s your tone going to be? Is it icky? Is it gross?
I wanted to be an executive producer because that way you have a little more control over how you present the words and your tone. We wanted to be respectful. Those people have really different lives that are not like ours. People are born with certain things. And so I just wanted to make sure we weren’t going to be too snarky.
It’s a lifestyle. It just shows you what time and dedication can actually do. We’re more amazing than we think we are. This show is to show you that there’s some cool stuff going on too. We don’t suck that bad.
GN: As the host, you’re shooting a lot of this in the iconic Ripley’s warehouse with all those oddities. How much do you get to poke around?
BC: I got a crowbar and opened a few crates, but with Ripley’s you don’t necessarily want to — you don’t know what you’re going to find. It may not be the largest collection, but I feel that it has the most interesting collection.
GN: This is the beginning of a new chapter for you as a host. It’s been just over a year since you closed the book on Ash vs. Evil Dead. You retired the character after that. Are you ever going to be able to fully let go of Ash Williams?
BC: Well, I can let go of it. It’s other people who don’t want to let go of it. They’ll never be satisfied. We do three seasons on Starz. They gave us a great opportunity to do unrated television. If we did a movie it would be rated R, but fans got 30 hours of uncut new material. If this was features, that would have taken place over 10 years, but with TV you can fart it out. As far as page count, you couldn’t have done any better for fans. But God forbid, they go: “If we just had that fourth season,” and if you did a fourth season, “If we just had the fifth season you could have wrapped up the story.” They’re always going to want more.
I’m glad we did it. I was completely spent. We left it all on the table.
GN: There’s a major trend right now toward bringing back stories from 20, 30 years ago. What’s it like revisiting a character after so long, and spending more time with that character than you did during Evil Dead or Army of Darkness?
BC: It’s great because now I have experience. I know what s****y dialogue is. I know what good dialogue is and I can change it to suit. And I would threaten writers all the time because I’m one of the producers. I’m like, “If you guys don’t bring it, don’t be surprised by what you see in the dailies, because you gotta step up. This has to be a quotable character. He’s got to s**t quotable lines.” It was a great chance to badger writers a little bit, and then address the myth. He’s not just a guy who’s a low-budget idiot who picks up chicks. He’s the guy who’s written in an ancient book. So what’s the payoff?
We were concerned we were going to be cancelled, so at the end of Season 3 we were like, “Let’s do a fake wrap-up so that if they pull the plug, at least we send that show off on his last journey. A very big cliffhanger. I felt that was an appropriate end because you don’t know. He’s going to fulfill his prophecy. The only thing that’s left is to kill him, then he finally fulfills his prophecy. He dies heroically, fulfills a prophecy and hands the torch to some hot babe to carry on.
GN: You’ve lived in the horror genre for so long…
BC: I’ve watched it become mainstream. It cracks me up. In the late ’70s, there was porn and then horror. And now, because of The Walking Dead, thankfully they’ve been instrumental in making horror just another genre now.
GN: I want to ask you about another genre. You had cameos in three of the Spider-Man movies (all by Evil Dead director Sam Raimi). You’ve seen the character rebooted twice, and now we’re maybe heading for another one. What do you think when you see Disney and Sony fighting over such a big superhero franchise?
BC: It’s going to end. Everything has to end. They’re expensive movies. They seem to have been able to keep people interested, but they’ve got to keep doing stuff like Avengers: Endgame. You have to fake-end it so that you can begin again.
But Disney has to be careful, because they cranked out one too many Star Wars movies. They’re just the same movie over and over again. You throw it up in the air and all the different pieces land. They’ve all had to be careful because you’re going to run out of stories.
GN: In the middle of all these giant studio movies, the horror genre seems to stay closer to the spirit of Evil Dead where they can launch a franchise on a very small budget and hope it hits big with the audience.
BC: Movies are too expensive. Give me $200 million, I’ll give you a hundred $2-million movies. Ten of them will be classics. Fifty of them are going to suck. They’ll be unwatchable. Twenty will be OK. Two will make enough money to pay for everything else.
Hollywood’s run by bean counters. They’re not doing a good job counting the beans. They’re losing the ability to make movies efficiently. Three kids in a cabin and a couple of monsters. You’re good to go. That’s the way we did Evil Dead.
GN: What’s next for you? How do you choose your projects now?
BC: It’s a series of questions. Is it a first-time director, or does the director have any experience? Is this kid going to be learning on my time? What’s the script like? What’s the part? You stop signing up for just generic stuff. It’s a total gut thing.
GN: What kind of reactions do you get these days on the convention circuit?
BC: Most people are old guys that get excited because of the old movies, but then there’s a new generation that’s out there. I’ve been around long enough that you meet their kids now. So that’s kind of fun.
You get to see where the rubber meets the road. Big actors can fantasize about their jobs, but really, this is the ultimate job.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not premieres on Wednesday, August 28 at 10 p.m. on the DTOUR network.