The natural assumption when one hears that a beloved horror classic is going to be remade is that it is going to be terrible just like “The Wicker Man” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” When it was announced that Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror classic “The Evil Dead” was going to be remade, fans of the movie and its sequels feared for the worse. With the original creators of the “Evil Dead” trilogy including Raimi and Bruce Campbell as producers and a relatively new filmmaker in the form of Fede Alvaraz, they have crafted a blood-soaked and relentless movie in the form of “Evil Dead.”
Instead of rehashing the original plot which involved young adults spending the weekend at a isolated cabin so they can party, “Evil Dead” has a more reality-based plot as five twenty-something friends who gather in a cabin in the woods in order to help Mia (Suburgatory’s Jane Levy), a recovering drug addict, go cold turkey. The stuff really hits the fan when Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his friend Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) make a grisly discovery in the cabin’s basement. Among the items found in the basement is an ancient book that is bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. Wrapped in a trash bag and barbed wire, Eric reads the words from the books that unwittingly unleashed an evil force upon his friends.
I had the opportunity to speak with Alvarez a couple of weeks ago when he was in town promoting his feature-length debut as we talked about tackling an already-established horror franchise, working with its creators and coming up with the look of the possessed.
When you tackled this project headfirst, was there any hesitation or fear on your part when you found out that you were directing a new “Evil Dead” movie?
Fede Alvarez: There was. Sam (Raimi) told me about and he said I was the right guy to bring this title back to a new generation. As soon as we found the right idea and the right story, we thought there was a relevant 2013 “Evil Dead” story to tell. That was when he felt alright because it’s a great challenge. The original movie has so many iconic ideas, but it was done with no resources, with no money. Technically, the movie’s a mess. There was a lot of room for improvement. It was going to be a different movie no matter what. It is impossible to recreate what they did in the original so it was great to have the freedom to make our own movie, take the best ideas from the original, change the characters and tell a new story. It was great that they agreed of the idea of not replacing Ash…
Not putting Ashley instead of Ash…
Alvarez: Yeah. That would have been a terrible. We didn’t want to put any girl or guy filling those shoes and trying to recreate the character so we decided to go with new characters. We think it ultimately paid off at the end.
Speaking of recreation, there are elements from the original “Evil Dead” that hardcore fans would recognize like the Oldsmobile, the Michigan State sweater, the drawing pad, dialogue like “What happened to her eyes?” In terms of what to include and what not to include so you can satisfy the hardcore fans, what was the process like to pay tribute to the film while making it fresh for a new audience?
Alvarez: I think in a way we created a lot of the story based on memory. I didn’t go re-watch the original right away because I seen a lot of times when I was a kid, but when it comes to sit down and write the script, I was trying not to just go and re-watch. I was trying to remember the ideas from the movie that stuck with me for ages. At the end of the day, the best ideas in the movie are the ones that stay with you for ages and made an impact for you. Those were the ideas we wanted to have there as we have the tree rape, the book, unleashing the words. We knew we had to be brave enough to challenge any idea, no matter how iconic they were, that if we needed to update it, we will update it. Otherwise, you are going to have a new audience that doesn’t understand why something doesn’t work for them. If we just copied the original just like it is, it wouldn’t have work for a new audience. You have to realize and be brave enough to challenge a lot of the ideas. In the original movie, they played a tape and somebody else says the words. With this one, I felt that if they are going to get all this punishment, they have to deserve it. They have to do it themselves and I thought one of them should read the words instead of getting someone else reading the words via a recording. That was a very iconic idea in the original, but we were brave enough to challenge the most classic ideas.
The “Deadites” from Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” films are unforgettable and your take on the look of the “Deadites” in this film is unique as it looks like they have a zombie-like quality to them. It’s like a cross between “28 Days Later” and “The Exorcist”…
Alvarez: Those are two of my favorite movies.
How difficult was it trying to make the “Deadites” something that moviegoers have never seen before?
Alvarez: There was something about the original that worked in the original, but it wouldn’t work in this take and it was basically the white eyes. It was something that I changed because I wanted when they look at you; I wanted them to have a stronger look. When they have white eyes, it feels like a blind man that is not sure who are they looking at. These demons know you. They look into your eyes and look into your soul. That is why they are scary. If you seen the other movies, they know everything about everybody. That’s the cool thing about the demons and that was the cool thing about “The Exorcist” was that the girl knew everything about every one of the characters because that was her power. That was more about the eyes and the characterization, but with the look, we didn’t want make up to show up. In the original movie, when they around, all of a sudden, they have make-up on. Most demon movies are like that even in “The Exorcist.” In this movie, we wanted to give a reason why they look like that. Each one of the characters had to look scary because they did something to themselves. For example, Mia would burn herself in the shower with hot boiling water so half of her face would show scars from the boiling water and those scars get infected throughout the whole movie as she starts looking worse and worse. They were all realistic. We were trying to be as grounded as possible and not just have their make-up show up out of nowhere.
Howe early in the process of the making of this film that you wanted practical, in-camera effects?
Alvarez: Since day one. We were trying to make this movie 100% CGI-free. I felt this movie had to be filmed that way in order for a horror movie like this to work. If you want something really scary, you have to show real things. Showing fake CGI makes moviegoers realize that it is not real and they wouldn’t be scared anymore. We knew that in order to make a scary film that we had to go with practical effects, which was very demanding during the shooting. It was a very long shoot because of that. Scenes like when Natalie goes for her arm in the kitchen took an entire day of shooting to do that because everything that is there is real and it takes so much time to prep it and set it up to do that. It was very demanding, but I think it paid off.
With Sam, Bruce and Rob being producers on this film, how hands-on were they in helping you craft this movie?
Alvarez: They were very helpful during the writing process in a way. They never gave us the solutions, but they were always helping us realize what needed to be better. In particular, they really knew their horror audience especially Sam. He would let us know like “They are going to go crazy with that scene right there or that other scene.” When we were writing something good, he would tell us “Let’s make it longer. Let’s extend that scene.” They were very helpful during the process. During the shooting, he didn’t want to be there. He never stepped on the set. He let me do whatever I wanted. In post-production when I was cutting the movie, he would give us notes, but he loved our first cut. It was all about giving me the freedom to whatever I wanted.
There have been talks about an impending sequel for “Evil Dead.” If a sequel is going to happen, where would like the story to go from where this movie left off?
Alvarez: We want to pick it up where we left it in this one, but we want to surprise the audience. What makes the “Evil Dead” saga unique is that each one of them is completely different from the previous one. If you think about “Army of Darkness” and “Evil Dead 2,” the changes are so radical. We want to keep doing that. We want to be as radical as those movies and we want to make sure that the second one is a completely different beast than this one. Maybe the tone of the movie would change or maybe it might be more action/horror, but we want to make a different movie. We don’t want to make the same movie again. We are already writing it now.
“Evil Dead” opens in Hialeah theaters tomorrow. Click here for showtimes.