This is an interview conducted with Don Campbell over one phonecall; on January 28, 2014. You can listen to the raw audio recording of the interview below, or read the edited & formatted transcription further down.
It covers his time on a number of the Super-8 short films, as a production assistant on The Evil Dead's Tennessee & Michigan re-shoots, along with working on Stryker's War, Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, and his brief appearances in Army Of Darkness.
Don Campbell holding a pump-action shotgun in Josh Becker's Stryker's War (1981)
Did you share Bruce's passion for film-making, or was that not your thing at all?
I wasn't as passionate as he was. My father has passed away now, but I think he was the inspiration for Bruce. My father was an actor in a theatre group not far from me here, and they used to put on plays at Cranbrook. He would act, put up posters, and Bruce eventually got into those plays as well, so that may have been the catalyst for his acting career.
You're listed as featuring in some of the groups earliest Super-8 films in 1973; Supa' Bad, D-Day, Day of Violence, and Son of Hitler, but nothing after this until The Evil Dead. Did the age gap mean you simply didn't hang around with Bruce's group of friends and weren't part of that scene any more?
Actually we're only about a year apart so it wasn't as much that, as either work or the military getting in the way. I joined the military in 1980, so I think that was probably part of it.
Did you have any idea that all the super-8 films your brother and his friends were making, could actually lead to anything?
No, I was very surprised because they were so low budget. I remember one movie where we built this little POW camp out of toothpicks, with these little army men in it. I built charges into the ground with gunpowder. The camera would whoosh over the top like a helicopter taking pictures, and I'd set them off electronically. I didn't really think that would lead anywhere.
One little point of interest, they used Within The Woods as a trailer to raise money. My parents contributed to the project, and to this day my mom still gets a nice residual cheque about once a year. It worked out to be quite a good investment for my parents. That money would have been used towards Bruce's college. They said "you have your choice, you can go to college or you can have this money for your film", and Bruce took the money for the film. The acting classes he took in college weren't really that useful to him anyway, he knew he was beyond that.
Don with his brother Bruce Campbell during Army Of Darkness (1991)
In his book 'Rushes', Josh Becker described you as a "Yahoo in search of an adventure", and "a little wacky on destroying things", was that an accurate portrayal of you?
Well The Evil Dead was an adventure, plus I wasn't working at the time. We were off-site somewhere in really rocky area. Between shots I was rolling boulders down the side of the mountain. It was quite loud, I remember one rolled down and hit a tree, which was laying down dead. It was about a foot and a half across, and the boulder just snapped it like a twig!
Then there was the time that I fell off the cliff, Sam had sent me up to find an access road, which I eventually found, but the mountainside was all just gravel & rocks with leaves on top. I literally just slid off the mountain, and got a big grapefruit sized bruise on my hip. They took me to the hospital, and the guy said "you're fine, take a hot bath". When I got back I went to take a bath, and the girls were doing laundry, so I filled the tub just four inches. I'm sitting there and then one of the girls knocked on the door asking "can I help you?", I'm like "I don't know how, unless you have more hot water?", It was kind of funny.
Then we had Tom practising his bruise make-up on us. One day we were all covered in bruises and there was a car accident outside the house, so we all went running out to see if everybody was all right, and some of the people thought we were in the accident, we had black eyes and stuff. I think I went into town once with a black eye too, just for fun.
Bruce working on the fireplace surround (1980)
Ellen preparing for her attack (1979)
You, Steve 'The Dart' Frankel and Josh Becker were among the people who worked on the cabin. You created the fireplace surround and did some painting, do you remember much of that and what else you did?
Well, Sam said make the fireplace look like it's got teeth, so I made it as jagged as I could, with cement and broken bricks. When we needed a window, Steve would just take the chainsaw and cut a window out, and then we'd frame it in, it was pretty funny, everything was quite low-budget.
When we first got there we discovered cattle had been roaming the property. They would shit so explosively, it went up the walls and splattered across the ceiling, I had never seen anything like it. We eventually knocked the ceiling out for lights, but I mean that place was splattered. It was all dry but just like, wow.
How much of an effort was made to make the cabin actually habitable for the cast & crew?
Not a great deal. We didn't have a phone or power lines, but we did have generators for the lights and cameras. At night when the generator was off, we would build up a big fire, but once the fire died down that was it. One night it was my turn to stay with the equipment in the cabin. The next morning I heard a motorcycle coming down the driveway, and none of us had a motorcycle. Somebody stopped, got off, and started walking towards the door. I didn't know who it was and couldn't see out of the windows at time, but I had a shotgun to hand and when they got up to the door, I racked the shotgun. The guy ran off, jumped on his motorcycle, and disappeared off up the driveway.
What sort of an area was it like back then, did you feel safe?
It was creepy because you're in the woods, hear the wind, the trees, wake up in the middle of the night and it's really cold, the fire is dead, there is blood all over the place, so sometimes it was a little creepy. I was always armed down there, I had a pistol, a shotgun or a knife just about all the time. I think I was the only one that was armed. It was very rural and secluded, we could shoot guns and not worry. There wasn't an easy way to get there. You could take the road which kind of wound around, but even that was a dirt road with few lights. The other way was several hundred yards through the woods, At night the wind would blow, it would be dark, and you couldn't see any house lights. That was pretty creepy, walking to a haunted house. Supposedly two people died in that cabin, that was a story they told us.
One night walking up the road I could hear was this click, click, click, click, and saw these dogs running to attack me, but at the last minute I scared them off. That was the one night I wasn't carrying a pistol, all I had was a knife. My arm was all the way back ready to swing before I chased them off.
Do you remember how far it was from the production house to the cabin?
It seemed about half a mile, quite a way. Supposedly the house in which we were staying was at one time a brothel, but it was a nice house. I had to share a room with Rich, but, otherwise it was okay.
What effect did the cabin being cut off have on day-to-day shooting, getting equipment back & forth and such?
We were always lugging something. I think we ate most of our meals at the main house, I don't remember Goody actually bringing food to the site, it was probably just easier for us to go back to the house and eat.
Linda's grave, dug for re-shoots (1980)
Sam lying next to Linda's grave during re-shoots (1980)
You were specifically behind the camera. Were doing just general things that needed doing or did you have a specific task?
General things, I was considered a production assistant. I swung the porch swing, swung the clock pendulum back and forth, I also did the earth breaking open. We dug a ditch and put two 2x6s across creating a big lever, and put dirt on top of that. It opened and we blew smoke out of it. I also dug a lot of graves. I ended up digging graves in three states between Tennessee and the re-shoots. Cast and crew alike, we would all get covered in blood, even if we didn't want to, the floors got really sticky after a while. Actually a local Tennessee paper came down to interview us, and in the printed article instead of being a production assistant, they labelled me as assistant producer, so I kept a couple of extra copies of that.
The production, covered by a local Tennessee newspaper, in which Don is labelled incorrectly as Assistant Producer (1979)
Everyone was very dedicated, and I don't remember any complaining except about the food, everybody worked very hard, and we were all pretty tight. I'm pretty sure they all made more money than I did, I was pretty much at the bottom of the totem pole.
Okay, did it ever snow when you were there?
Yes, I'm pretty sure it did, we had some really cold days.
Did being part of the film crew make the production a local attraction?
Not that I could tell, because we were so far removed from everything. People couldn't find us, I don't recall a lot of interaction with locals coming to us. There was a guy called Gary Holt, he was our contact guy. He could get anything; gold coins, moonshine, pistols, it was amazing. It was a dry county so there wasn't any alcohol, except for the Moose Lodge and the Elks club. Gary took us down to the Moose Lodge, and introduced us to a table with ten women sitting at it. There were no chairs and I said "where do I sit?", and this big blonde girl called Sherry said "you can sit on my lap", so that's how I started dating her. I remember we were in the back of a station wagon fooling around one night, and this goat put his hooves on the glass and looked in at us, it was pretty funny. Bruce gave me a hard time on one occasion, because I came to the set once with two girls, and we were all giggling.
Bruce & Sam working on the destruction of the bridge (1979)
Gary Holt among others, working on the destruction of the bridge (1979)
Do you have any memories of shooting the bridge location in Newport?
Yeah, I remember those big I-beams being cut and welded into a claw. It was filmed the night, and we had the foggers going, but was a long set up on that one. I placed these two big spotlights on stands, with one was slightly higher than the other, and from a distance it looked just like a car on the side of the hill, that was pretty clever. I don't believe the bridge was ever used, so I think they just left it like that.
The quality of Goody's cooking is infamous, was it really that bad?
Oh yeah, we would complain, and he was like "oh yeah, wait till tonight". He was a character, always swearing, grabbing the girls, smoking all the time. He would always say "Fuck you, blow me!", You know, he was just a character. Here is a story you probably haven't heard. We worked nights a lot, and one time he cooked up this big stew and it was so rich and heavy and everybody was so tired, that everybody just passed out after they ate it. We accused him of having his way with certain people after they passed out.
So no one took it upon themselves to try and improve things, or get some fast food?
No, that was his job. Yeah, I probably could have done a better job than him, but I had my job too. I don't recall much fast food at all, I'm not even sure if there was a fast food place around there, I do remember grocery shopping, but I don't recall any fast food.
You left Tennessee for Michigan on December 23, 1979, along with Rich DeManincor, John Cameron, and Tom Sullivan. Were you asked to stay on, or return after Christmas, or work on any of the re-shoots?
I remember coming back to Michigan, we drove in this van. I slept most of the way, and we got stuck in traffic for the last two hours. I didn't ever go back to Tennessee, but I did help them back in Michigan later on in the spring.
So you joined the Army shortly after returning to Michigan?
Let me see, it was the next year in 1980 I joined the Army. I spent 32 years in the reserves, I just got out last January, I've been on three deployments. I was able to make it to The Evil Dead's première, and the after-party.
Don in service in Iraq (2009)
Video Business UK Magazine 'Top 40 Video Rentals' (1983)
Was everyone in your wider family surprised at the success The Evil Dead enjoyed, to have a film that you worked on being number one in the UK video rental charts, before it was even released in in the US?
Yes, I'll never forget seeing that for the first time, that was amazing.
The première would have been the first point at which the investors would have seen The Evil Dead. Were any of them horrified at what we had invested in?
No, they knew what they were getting into because Within The Woods was so bloody and gory that they were not shocked by anything.
You currently own the original cabin keys, along with the shotgun. How did you come to have these, I right in thinking that the shotgun is a Winchester 37A, and do you have any idea what happened to some of the other items such as the Tape Player or Chainsaw?
I think the chainsaw might have belonged to Steve Frankel, because he used it most of the time, and the shotgun is indeed a Winchester 37A. Had I known it was going to be more popular, I definitely wouldn't have cut the barrel and stock off it. It's a sawn-off shotgun now, I think it's a half-inch legal, any shorter and it would be illegal.
It was really gruelling work in Tennessee, long days and virtually no pay. Maybe that's why I hung on to the keys and a shotgun. When we were packing up to leave, I was just grabbing stuff to keep. For a long time I had a plastic tube left over from squirting blood, we used a lot of flexible plastic tubing, and I had an unused piece about three or four feet long, I saved that thing for years. It didn't really occur to me that anyone would be interested, had I known I would have taken a lot more pictures, and things like that.
The Evil Dead cabin keys as they look today, owned by Don (2014)
Just a short time later in 1980, you featured as one of the marines in Josh Becker's prototype film Stryker's War. In Josh's book 'Rushes', he recounts Bruce stabbing you in the arm with a screwdriver. What was being shot at the time, and what were you doing to drive Bruce to such distraction?
Actually, it was after the shooting was done, we were in the front yard of a house in Bloomfield Township. I don't know, I said something to upset him and he stabbed me with a screwdriver, it wasn't too bad, it was in my arm. Josh ended up putting a butterfly bandage on me, I don't think we even told my parents.
L/R: David Goodman, Scott Spiegel, Tim Quill, Bruce & Don Campbell, unknown, Ted Raimi, and Tim Philo in Stryker's War (1981)
Actually I'll tell you two other funny stories, kind of related, Tim Philo was on Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except with us, and we were making our own blanks; taking shotgun shells, dumping the pellets out and stuffing them with cotton. Well, they were not all the same, sometimes we'd stuff them a little harder than others. There was a scene where we are circling the van, and I see Tim coming towards the front, so I put my shotgun through the driver's side window and wait for him to pass in front of the passenger side window, and I fired. Mostly the blanks would just go pop, but for some reason this one went to ka-bam! For a second I thought I'd blown his head off, I was like "oh my God, that was a live one!". Actually, the plastic wadding that held the shot had hit him on the cheek, cutting him. What is funny is, instead of being concerned about it, Tim said "oh, I hope I get a scar!". That is the mindset of these people.
The other story I wanted to tell you, we were filming out in the styx somewhere wearing Marine Corps uniforms, having shootouts with real weapons with blood all over ourselves. I still have my uniform hanging in the basement, believe it or not. Anyway we didn't tell anyone we were filming, and somebody called the police and said that DNR agent had been shot. So a state trooper, a county Mountie, and another cop, came flying down the road expecting to get into a shootout. I see these guys coming, and I'm standing there with .357 Magnum in my hand thinking "this is not good". I threw the gun under the car seat, but the cops figured it out right away. There was one cop that took a little longer to calm down, he was ready to shoot somebody, I was like "it's okay", looking back it was kind of funny.
Bruce being captured, with Don as the knight left, in Army Of Darkness (1991)
Don, a peasant in Army Of Darkness (1991)
You also had a few small cameo roles in Army Of Darkness, how did this come about and what do you remember about your time on the production?
That was kind of a fluke. In '91 just after I got back from Desert Storm, they were filming Army Of Darkness at this giant cattle ranch, in a fake castle in the middle of nowhere. Bruce was living in California, so I took a militarily hop (which was a free militarily plane ride out to California), and I was just going to hang out at Bruce's house for a couple of days, but Bruce invited me to the set, and as soon as Sam saw me he was like "suit him up!". One day I was a peasant, one day a soldier, and one day I was both. I got paid $88 a day and all I could eat, so it was a lot of fun. When Bruce was first captured, I'm the guy in the suit of armour who pulls the chainsaw off his arm. Then another day I was a peasant as they came marching through in chains. They said "throw this fruit at the prisoners", and I threw this orange and I hit this guy right between the eyes, I'm like "I'm sorry", you know, damn! Most of my scenes got cut, but there another scene where you could see me walking in the background.
Having been through Desert Storm I was used to the desert. I was sitting here in the sun wearing a suit of armour, and they asked "do you want some water?", "no", "do you want some shade", "no". Of course Sam had to have his fun with me, I had a moustache at the time, and he put a big Fu-Manchu beard on me with a gash on my nose.
It's funny because I was in it, and a lot of our high school buddies were in it, during the show we would point each other out, "there's me", and "there's me", and "there's me", you know, because it was hard to distinguish each other with all the make-up. My dad was also in it, I think he was one of the first people that got run through, when the Deadites broke through the gates.
Don dressed as a knight in Army Of Darkness (1991)