Fans of the Evil Dead horror franchise have anxiously been awaiting Halloween night, which marks the debut of Ash vs The Evil Dead, a new weekly Starz series that brings back actor Bruce Campbell as the wisecracking, chainsaw-wielding monster hunter. The series reunites Campbell with his old friend, director/producer Sam Raimi, and features a new team of creature killers helping Ash battle a growing Deadite plague.
According to the show’s prosthetics designer/prop supervisor Roger Murray, fans can expect over-the-top blood and gore.
“Starz hasn’t set any limitations yet,” says Murray, whose New Zealand-based props/make-up effects company Main Reactor also worked on the blood-soaked 2013 remake of The Evil Dead, “but I think most of that gets set up in the writing, and our writers have been fantastic about building the effects as we go along. As the series evolves, they get an idea of what we’re capable of, and the amount of time it takes to do those effects.
“Generally, we’ve been doing a lot of character make-ups,” he says, “which have been a lot of fun. Pretty much every Deadite is a character make-up, so we’ve blocked out and personalized each one. We’ve also gone back to old-school rigs, like dismemberments, beheadings, dummy rigs; we’ve even made a few puppets. I can’t say too much more, but we’ve had a lot of blood on our hands!”
While Murray and his team have used the old films as inspiration (mainly 1987’s Evil Dead II), they’ve been able to use cutting-edge material and technology to put a new spin on their effects.
“We didn’t want to dial it right back to those films,” he says, “but we really wanted to enhance those effects, including our use of silicone appliances. There’s probably more of a naturalism to them, which I think is the best way I can describe it. We didn’t want anything to be too theatrical, but instead, we wanted you to feel as though these characters had actually gone through it all, so while our work definitely hearkens back to the Evil Dead movies, it’s also its own thing. But that’s just a progression of make-up effects in general, and the fact that they were movies of their time. We’re doing our own riff on them, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
While Ash vs Evil Dead may be produced far from Hollywood’s make-up effects industry, Murray insists there’s been no trouble attracting the kind of talent needed for a project like this.
“There’s a huge gravitas to something like The Evil Dead,” he explains, “so I’m working with some really great make-up artists like Jane O’Kane and Denise Kum, both of whom share a credit for the prosthetic design, because we’ve allocated some of the tonal stuff to our on-set make-up designers.
“I think we’ve got a really good pool of make-up effects artists, thanks to things like Lord of the Rings, but we’ve also got people coming in from America and Australia. Just the tone and the desire for people to work on the show was enough to draw them down to New Zealand, so we were really lucky, because we’ve had some great technicians come down here; some great make-up artists and people who’ve worked in the industry a lot in the States who loved being in New Zealand, because it’s quite different down here.
“I also think it’s because of the way we run our workshop. Our make-up effects artists are usually technicians too, so they have the ability to potentially sculpt, do some of the designs, work on the technical side and go out there and do the make-ups, so it’s quite a holistic way we run things. Our people feel a little bit more connected to the show: they can get out of the workshop, get a little blood on their hands, come back to the shop, wash their hands and get back to work.”
In fact, Murray has been pleased to see a resurgence of practical effects in recent years.
“I’m extremely happy about it, and my company Main Reactor is extremely happy,” he confirms. “It’s a bit of a dream come true, because there was a point where we all thought lots more things would be done digitally, but we work with a great visual effects company here in New Zealand called PRPVFX, and our approach is, we’re going to work together to make effects that you don’t know where the practical and where the visual effects side begins and ends. I think marrying them together is hugely effective, because most of this show is practical, but there are some visual effects tweaks that can be done easily now, like wire removal or blood enhancement, and all of that really helps. We’re all storytellers, and all of it helps tell the story.
“We’re remaking Evil Dead as a TV series in 2015 and the producers are up for as many practical effects as possible, so I think you’re going to see a great combination of tricks, where you’re actually not sure how we did it, and I like that. Most of those effects are practical, but it’s a great marriage!”
Ash vs. Evil Dead debuts on Starz on Oct. 31. Check local listings for show times.