Starz’s 10-episode, half-hour series Ash vs. Evil Dead is the long-awaited follow-up to the classic horror film franchise from Sam Raimi (who also directed the first episode). Aging lothario and chainsaw-handed monster hunter Ash (Bruce Campbell) has spent the last 30 years avoiding responsibility, maturity and the terrors of Deadites, but when a plague threatens to destroy all of mankind, Ash is finally forced to face his demons, whether he likes it or not. At least this time, he has the help of Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo).
During this exclusive interview with Collider, showrunner Craig DiGregorio (who’s new to the Evil Dead franchise) talked about how he came to be working on Ash vs. Evil Dead, what a huge fan of the franchise he is, how cool it was to get on set with Bruce Campbell, finding the balance of making something the fans want to see while still bringing something fresh to it, the show’s aesthetic, sidekicks, the advantage of the half-hour format, practical effects vs. CGI, and making sure they left themselves open for future episodes (they’ve already been picked up for Season 2).
Collider: How did you end up as the showrunner and new guy for this, among all these folks that have been working on this franchise for a very long time?
CRAIG DiGREGORIO: Sam [Raimi], Ivan [Raimi] and I have a mutual co-worker/friend. In the early stages of the series, I came in for a couple days to help them with talking about the series and bigger questions. And then, when it turned out that they needed a showrunner, he recommended me for the job. I ended up talking to everyone on earth – Bruce [Campbell], Sam, Ivan, and Starz, over and over again – a bunch of times. I’ve always been a huge fan of the franchise, so it was one of those things where I was like, “I’m not going to get this. They’re going to hire someone else.” And then, they liked me and hired me. That’s how I came into it.
Did they know that you were a big fan?
DiGREGORIO: Yes, and they knew that I’ve been working, back and forth, in comedy and drama for a long time, and that’s what we blend in this show. Whether or not it’s an advanced skill set in those things, I have a skill set in those things. I think they appreciated that I could blend genre and I love action-comedy. I’ve worked on action-comedy, I’ve worked on straight comedy, and I’ve worked on all the things that this show is. I think that was another reason why.
Was there anything that you were particularly excited about getting on set with, whether it was Bruce Campbell with his chainsaw hand, or the Book of the Dead, or something like that?
DiGREGORIO: Bruce and the chainsaw was one huge one. Besides the normal stuff, like getting to hold the Book of the Dead and talk to Sam and Bruce about it, which was incredible and really fun, the thing that was most interesting to me was getting on set and seeing everything. Ash is living in a trailer, at first, and to see that part of his life and what’s happened in the last 30 plus years was also really interesting to me. Where did he go? What’s he been doing? It was just cool to see that reality. To go onto set and see that he’s been living a rough life was cool. One of the cool things about the show is that it doesn’t shy away from anything. Ash, as he progresses through the movies, has become this loudmouth, selfish, charming asshole that you can’t help but love. A lot of times on TV, you see the man-child character who’s like, “I’m never going to grow up! I’m never going to do it!” They’re 25 when they say it, and then they’re 30 and they’re like, “I got married.” And Ash never did it. He just stuck to it and really carried that whole life out. Now, he’s getting on in his years and he’s realizing, “Maybe this is a little bit lonely.”
How did you balance bringing something fresh to it while still making this show something that fans want to see?
DiGREGORIO: You have to balance it. Sam was very adamant that he doesn’t just want this to be a rehash. That was great. We always wanted to do new stuff with the show. But, to have that be the objective from the jump was fantastic. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t think about the fans first when we were thinking about episodes and what’s happening in them and the type of horror, action and comedy that we’re doing. We just have to also branch off and make sure we’re telling interesting new stories.
Sam Raimi brings a highly stylized look to the Evil Dead world. Will that continue throughout the series?
DiGREGORIO: Yes, Sam set up the aesthetics of the series, for sure, from the way he shot things to the way the cameras move to the angels he used. He definitely set up the look of the world, in general. When you look at the old films and the new show, it’s difficult to tell which is which, at some points, and that’s all on purpose. We wanted this to be a retro throwback show that’s still in the present. We were very aware, going into the show, that it should have that feel to it.
Did you decide to give Ash a couple of sidekicks to open up the world more and give him people to play off of?
DiGREGORIO: He’s so good and funny and fun, but you can’t just have him walking by himself on screen for a half-hour. It’s better when you can tell little B-stories and give a story a second to breathe before you come back to it. It was very intentional to have sidekicks and to have Bruce always be the focus of episodes while allowing it time to develop itself.
Did you always know that you’d get to premiere on Halloween, or did you just get lucky?
DiGREGORIO: From when we started, that was the discussed premiere date, but it was fast. From the selling of the show to when we started writing to when we started filming to when we started airing it was a foot race. But we knew we wanted to try to back into that date, if we could, and we did. It was great. It was such a cool date to premiere the show.
Do you like having the half-hour format to pack the story into, or is it challenging to cut things off at 30 minutes?
DiGREGORIO: It was helpful. It was great to pack it in because it allowed the show to be frenetic and crazy, much like the movies were. The movies also are slow, creeping tension type of horror. We do that on the show, as well, but it lives best when it’s just moving. That’s what being a half-hour really allowed us to do. It’s not paced like a sitcom. It is a horror-comedy. There are jokes, there is real horror, there is real action. It just allows us to go 100 mph, all the time.
Have you found a balance between practical effects and CGI, or are you learning more towards one over the other?
DiGREGORIO: There is a balance, but whenever possible, we tried to make it practical because that’s what the movies did. Because of the aesthetic, that’s what we really like doing. We decided, early on, that we’re going to do as much practical as we can. Sometimes you don’t have the time for that, to just build the thing that you want. But, we did build a lot of cool stuff. There are a lot of practical effects, but there’s some CGI, and some stuff gets augmented, a little bit, with CGI. Especially on a TV schedule where you’re shooting stuff fast, if you can’t build something in two weeks that will look the best, you may need to augment it a little bit. But, we really tried to have it be more practical.
Because people who know the franchise will be familiar with the type of demons and Deadites that are in the Book of the Dead, did you intentionally want to introduce some surprises?
DiGREGORIO: Yeah, and there are other things in the Book of the Dead that come to play throughout the series, but we wanted to be slow about that. We didn’t want everything to come out of the book, all at once. You want to show what it can do, and then put it away for awhile and let the characters breathe a little bit. You can have anything come out of that book and really grow the world, but you want to do that slowly. You don’t want to inundate people with new stuff because they’re still catching up with what the show is.
When you bring in someone like Lucy Lawless who everyone knows is a bad-ass, how much do you utilize that and how much do you play against that?
DiGREGORIO: There are layers to her character that aren’t immediately told. She’s a mysterious character. My hope is that you get to know her in such a way that you’re happy when you figure out what the mystery is behind her. That’s very vague. Sorry. That’s a tough one. She’s a really fun character. You don’t shy away from what she does best. It’s hard to. So, you definitely have her kicking some ass. But, there are also sides to her that you won’t see immediately.
Did you approach this thinking about future seasons and set things up for that?
DiGREGORIO: Yes, definitely! As the end episodes were being written and produced, we definitely thought about how to properly end this season, yet also leave ourselves the opportunity to continue. We wanted to do more. The show is really fun.
Ash vs. Evil Dead airs on Saturday nights on Starz.