Who Should Really Be Allowed to Replace Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead?
The World May Never Know
So, they’re going to remake The Evil Dead. That was hard enough to deal with, but once its original star, Mr. Bruce Campbell, gave us his blessing that assurance that this was going to be a lovingly-made project, it was easier to accept. And now, we know that Campbell will not be reprising his role as Ash. And this opens up a lot of questions about who is the right man to fill those very special shoes. Some people have tried to come up with contenders, but I think this is a lot more delicate than some are thinking this will be.
The Evil Dead and its sequels are coming from an extremely specific place. Let’s make no mistake — the first two movies are horror movies, through and through. They are monster movies about a haunted cabin in an equally haunted wooded area in the middle of nowhere. (“Nowhere” is probably Michigan.) These evil zombies are also very evil. In fact, they are the eponymous evil dead referred to in the title of the first two movies. Are there crazy, slapstick moments directly inspired by the Three Stooges in The Evil Dead? Yes, there are. There are lots of them. It’s comic relief.
But these movies are not comedies.
And that’s why casting a lead for this movie has to be a very careful and thoughtful process. Bruce Campbell, as Ash, is the following things: handsome, slightly cocky, able to take control, silly, and kind of an idiot. He does, after all, go back to that same terrifying cabin that ruined his life and killed his sister and friends in the first movie. (Some people like to think that the second movie was a reboot of the first and that the first was somehow canceled out by the second. No. Ash went back to that cabin. He actually did that. That actually happened twice, him going to that cabin.) Ash has to be someone we can believe we can trust to take us into battle with evil zombie monsters — even if he doesn’t believe it himself. He has to be a convincing leading man — dashing, self-assured, masculine without being a meat head. Ash is no meat head, but he can probably chop firewood, and would most likely show off his firewood-chopping skills with pleasure. That’s all we really need from this guy, whoever he might be. (Being able to work an axe, or — ahem — a chainsaw is extremely important.)
Here is where it gets complicated: Ash was funny. And any leading man in an Evil Dead movie needs to be funny but not a comedian. He needs to be an actor with comedic timing. That is not a rarity, but that’s not all required of this guy. We really need to believe in him. And a guy who is merely a goofy comedian is someone we would watch in a comedy, but not someone we’d trust enough to battle monsters in a horror movie. Casting a purely comedic actor would be mocking this movie, characterizing it as a comedy, which it isn’t.
Two more things: fame and age. No one wants to see a super famous guy in this role. It will look like a blatant attempt to attract exactly the kind of people who would never see an Evil Dead movie in the first place. Same argument for going young — young, male actors don’t play men anymore. They play kids. Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, men in their mid- to late 20s at the time, played Peter Parker, a high school student. Ash is no kid. Ash is a man. So if I see anyone talk about some sweet young thing playing Ash, I will pop out of the basement and swallow their soul. True, some of the following men are famous in their genre — but they have the genre as their cred.
Now that we’ve established this very, very particular kind of role, let’s see who meets the criteria.
1. Nathan Fillion
Fillion is the obvious choice. Fans would not only accept it, but a lot of us would flat-out endorse it, even campaign for it if it was a possibility. Nathan Fillion has starred on a sci-fi genre show — that being Firefly, manning a spaceship and leading a crew. However, he was, as Joss Whedon put it when describing Mal Reynolds, “everything that a hero is not.” And that alone makes him almost perfect to fill Ash’s shoes. Ash is no hero, but he pulls out a victory because he has to. That’s very similar to Mal, who is also light-hearted without being obnoxious.
But another great part of Fillion’s repertoire is his ability to be goofy and have excellent timing while taking his character absolutely seriously. Exhibit A: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Captain Hammer. This role, on its own, should put Fillion in the running for this role. Captain Hammer has this cocky obliviousness, which is exactly what the hero of Evil Dead needs. When that kind of guy finds himself in the middle of nowhere with evil zombies attacking him and possessing the very cabin in which he’s trying to find safety, he can’t overthink the situation. He needs to take things moment by moment and act on pure adrenaline. He needs to improvise. And Nathan Fillion, based on his past work, would be perfect for this.
2. Isaiah Mustafa
Yes, the Old Spice guy. And not because Bruce Campbell is a former Old Spice guy. No, Isaiah Mustafa stands alone in this case, with nothing but his Old Spice commercials and that weird Luke Cage audition video that came out a while ago (which has since been pulled, but there is still the Luke Cage video that was actually made by Marvel). He’s handsome, he’s dashing, he’s aware that he’s kind of silly. (He loves comic books and The Venture Bros.) And that makes for a good actor for this kind of thing. Because he was also a professional football player (a wide receiver — the guy who catches long passes while running, good heavens, make me swoon whydoncha??), and that kind of physical skill would equip him well for a zombie battle. We haven’t really seen him serious, so he seems like the comedic actor I completely disqualified earlier. However — and I really wish we could still see that Luke Cage video — I think he has the gravitas that would make him a very decent pick for The Evil Dead. I would trust him with the material, and if I ever found myself in the Evil Dead situation, I would believe that he could figure out a way out of that mess.
(But also: The picture above just screams “Shop smart — shop S-Mart.”)
3. Christian Campbell
No relation to Bruce, but the brother of Neve — who has certainly proven herself a strong horror heroine in the Scream franchise — would also be an interesting choice to replace Ash. You might be wondering who this guy even is, and you wouldn’t be the only one. He’s been in a few things here and there, notably the short-lived NBC series Book of Daniel and the lead voice in the CGI series Max Steel. But what really makes me put him on this list is Reefer Madness: The Musical and its movie adaptation. In that, he plays Jimmy, a very normal kid who finds himself in the throes of a tragic dependence on the demon weed, marijuana. It’s a 100% comedic, camp-fest, and it is, indeed, a musical. However, while he’s proven himself to be a good dramatic actor on several occasions — especially in Book of Daniel, but also in soaps like All My Children and movies like Trick (don’t knock soaps — Bruce Campbell was in a regionally-produced soap opera in Detroit that made its way into the Oscar-winning movie Fargo). But Reefer Madness really showcased a different side of Christian Campbell, a side that could be confronted with terror and fear, all while singing ridiculous songs. It’s hard to describe, but it’s just a feeling you get from watching him, that he can sing while being dragged down to death row after being falsely accused of shooting his girlfriend, that makes you think he might just be able to pull that role off.
4. John Barrowman
Oh, goodness, how fun would this be? Don’t think that I’m saying Captain Jack Harkness is some kind of goofball. But someone as freewheeling and fun-loving as John Barrowman who can then turn around and be Captain Jack is someone who is perfectly suited to lead a zombie fight. If he, for some reason, found himself hysterical after being possessed — or just overwhelmed — by the evil dead, he would certainly gather himself up, shake it off, and get down to business. And, on top of everything, he looks like a matinee idol. In no way is this purely about Barrowman’s looks, but when you watch him, you definitely want to follow him. Lots of people do. (And as far as Captain Jack goes, lots of those people want to sleep with him as well.) And it’s that kind of charisma that would make Barrowman a very reasonable choice to replace Ash. As Jack, he’s proven himself ready for anything and super adaptable (in so many wonderful ways!), but also as a very, very trustworthy companion. And we have every reason to believe that John Barrowman would kick just the same amount of ass fighting the evil dead.
5. Stan Smith
Okay…yes. It’s true. Stan Smith is an animated character. But come on — that jawline, that total ignorance, the CIA spy cred — he’d be wonderful at fighting zombies. And he’s just stupid enough to be a great Ash replacement. Just think about it. Let it simmer in your brain juice for a little while…it would be hilarious, wouldn’t it? Don’t deny it. (Even though Francine would end up doing all the killing, something tells me.)
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