Director Fede Alvarez
By Scott Bradley
Dowsed in blood with no end of gruesome effects, Evil Dead is back on the big screen this month. Filmjuice’s Scott Bradley caught up with the film’s director Fede Alvarez to find out what it’s like reinventing a cult classic.
Obviously the original Evil Dead had an enormous fanbase, was it at all daunting to face that pressure?
Fede Alvarez: “Yes and no. I come from a group of friends back home who’ve been making films together since we were kids; we’re all film freaks, so we really know our horror movies. So when Sam announced it back in 2006, I was so pissed like the other hardcore fans.
“I don’t think it’s that the fans have anything against remakes, it’s that they hate bad remakes. And when it has a brand or a name related to a brand, it’s even worse, because you immediately think “No, no, no, I’ll have a bad movie sitting next to the movies I love.” So it wasn’t that I was against a remake, I just didn’t want a bad one.
“So by a weird twist of destiny, three years later, I was found to be in charge of that film and for me it was a good thing. It was the only thing I could do to save it from being terrible, at least I’d have a say in it. If someone was going to f*ck it up it had better be me.
“You have no idea how much my friends are film freaks, I’m the most normal one. We’d watch seven movies a week, one a day. We’d rent three at the weekends. I never went to clubs, we’d just watch our VHS. So we really know our audience. I wouldn’t feel intimidated by hardcore fans coming up to me and saying “Oh man, you f*cked up this bit…” I wouldn’t be all (sarcastic) “Oh, I’m soooo sorry” and feel humble. No. I’m not trying to please anybody. It’s not me convincing people saying: “Come on let’s make an Evil Dead movie,” Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert said: “We want a new one and we want you to be the man to do it.” And Sam said something very important to me in the beginning: “You should make the film YOU want to see in a theatres! Don’t make what you think I want to see and don’t make what you think audiences want to see!” So I thought about what I’d want to see and what my friends and I thought to be the limits.
“I never wanted to see Ash replayed, no way, because that was just impossible. I had to create new characters. I’d seen the original hundreds of times so I didn’t want to know how it was going to end. It would be so boring: “Oh, come on, just burn the book already!” It would be so boring. So we set that up pretty early in the story, the whole idea had to be based on what would be the best Evil Dead story I would like to see? It definitely wasn’t a remake. It definitely wasn’t a sequel. That couldn’t work for a new audience. A lot of people asked if I borrowed elements from Cabin In The Woods and you have to explain to them that Cabin… was a homage to the originals. So, I had to start something fresh for the new audience.”
So would you be happy with the term reboot then?
“Maybe. But not. Because this really respects the mythology of the original films. So it could be a sequel in a way, as if it could happen 30 years later, if you like a re-quel! ”
Evil Dead II has a more comical angle but despite what some fans think do you agree that the first Evil Dead is humour free?
“Yeah, absolutely. It was never meant to be funny. If you ask Sam Raimi, he’s say the same.
“For me the first film was incredibly disturbing, even as an adult. I asked Sam if he’d intended to put funny stuff in the movie and he said: “No way. I intended to make the most scariest movie I could.“ And that was the spirit of everyone on the movie. Be as dark and obscene as they could. Nobody planned on making a comedy.
“With time they knew that audiences laughed at some of the more over-the-top moments, so they kinda embraced that for the second one and decided to go more slapstick and Three Stooges. But if we went that way, it wouldn’t work.”
And this was the same cabin a long while after past events with clues to things which happened in between, especially shown by the book, was that a conscious decision yourself to indicate its position in the mythology?
“Yeah, totally, we wrote all that. We thought the book had been around for a very long time. Some folk think the bookwas burned at the end of the first one . No, it wasn’t. When you watch the movie again, you will never see a shot wherethe book is consumed by the fire, they throw it in the fire – sorry if I geek out too much about this – but yeah, they throw it in, the face contorts and twists, but it’s never really burning. It harms the Deadites when put in a fire and that’s a part of the mythology we wanted to put right in the film.
“We have a scene with the book and a naked flame and we see the book doesn’t burn. And right after the shot we see Mia suffering because of it. But it didn’t burn, so they take it out of the fire. We didn’t want to say anything that would override the mythos, this is me geeking out about how the two films have to live together, while being incredibly respectful to the original Evil Dead.”
How did you come to cast Jane Levy?
“We wanted everyone to read for the roles, something which doesn’t usually happen in Hollywood now because they usually just give it to the next available A-lister. I wanted it to be fresh faces. Particularly with horror movies, they work best if I don’t know anybody, when I really believe everything is real. So when we managed to get everyone who we wanted to pass the reading, we got everyone we wanted to look at, and we had a LOT of people, every hot young actor in Hollywood and New York, London, Australia, New Zealand, I must have seen a thousand actors or more. It was just insane. That’s the only way you find the right person, just looking and looking and looking.
Jane Levy was so eager, it was her first movie, she really wanted to make her role the best it could be. Particularly with your first movie it’s really important to make it the best you can. And Jane was in the same mindset as me. Some actors, after their third or fourth movie, are over that kind of passion, and she was a great partner for the moviebecause she was ready to do everything we asked her to do, which was great. ”
She had some exceptionally serious, more soulful moments, but there seemed to be so much relish behind her eyes when she was possessed. Did she have as much fun as she appeared to?
“Yeah, I really wanted to give her freedom when it came to the more demonic scenes in the film and she was up for anything. It’s her big risk, you take it when you do little things like that, It’s when you try to be funny and you’re… just not that funny. She didn’t want to make a fool of herself. She could have fallen in that trap but she didn’t care. Probably the best parts of the movie are when Jane went crazy. All those shots in the cellar, we had all these long shots, there’s a shot, probably about seven minutes, of just Jane going crazy, and then she starts laughing, then she gets paranoid, all kinds of crazy stuff that was so disturbing to watch, until she turns round and says “Ok, can we cut please?”
One of the highlights of the movie was the shower scene, it had this deftly performed chill throughout it, and with that scene and the film in general, there seem to be more practical effects than we’re used to seeing these days. Was that again a conscious decision, given that you also run a visual effects company yourself?
“I didn’t want to use CGI in this film, it wasn’t necessary. When you use CGI in films like this, it isn’t scary, your brain knows it’s CGI, so you look at it and think: ”Ok, cool…” Particularly with something like this, which isn’t about ghosts, if we had to create some kind of entity in the air then maybe it might be a good idea. But this needed to be so grounded yet so in your face. I didn’t want all the old gags to just be computerised and also I didn’t want it to get old fast. You see a CGI movie when it comes out, it’s cool. Five years later, it’s ok. Ten years later, it’s unwatchable. Technology can get old very fast. There’s a legacy to the Evil Dead movies and we didn’t want a film that would be unwatchable in five years. ”
There are a lot of PG13 horrors now, but yours was full on gore. Was that a conscious decision right from the word go?
“Yeah, because that’s what the Evil Dead movies are. At least my experience of the first Evil Dead was so disturbing, so violent. I was twelve in 1990 and it was disturbing on many levels, but it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t banned in the UK because it was so funny – it was banned because it was so offensive, on many levels, that the BBFC thought it shouldn’t be allowed to be seen. Sam had to go through the courts to get it released as it was considered such an obscene, violent, crazy horror movie and so over-the-top, going against people’s expectations.
“I would never have done a PG13 version of Evil Dead. Also, as it was my first film, I hadn’t shot myself in the foot before with cuts. So many directors have had the MPAA rip their stuff to shreds, so they’re worrying that the next time and writing in a way that would give them the rating they want. I didn’t know anything about that. It was my first film. When I handed in my first draft, Robert said: “You know there’s this thing called the MPAA, right?” So for me it was like, well let’s make it NC17, who cares? And of course they did, because you’re never gonna get an NC17 in as many theatres.
“So we shot it anyway, the worst case scenario would be we’d have to cut some shots out, and Rob was so concerned at the beginning, then he just thought I should push hard with everything anyway, and, thank God, we managed to get our cut to theatres! We had to trim some shots, the very graphical ones, and that’s how we got an R. We got rid of a few scenes, not because for graphical aspects or a violent nature – for me pace was very important in this film, and some scenes dragged a bit – so they went to make it snappier.
“What you see on screen is my director’s cut. There were no notes from the studio. Imagine that, it never happens! We tested the movie, it scored 85%, and the studio said: “That’s it, we’re not giving you any notes, that’s the movie,” and they put it out that way.”
The film, for some, is completely relentless but others seem to laugh a lot.
“Oh absolutely, the audience can go in any way. I’m really looking forward to seeing it tonight. I’ve screened it in the States…I took it back to my friends in Uruguay last week…and the results were very similar, in the same scenes. Say, like with the arm…I would turn round and see some lady or guy freaking out and next to them somebody laughing out loud with a mouth full of popcorn, both at the same moment. Quite a few have fainted during this movie. I’d heard a report about a seizure. It’s just so weird but it’s the nature of this film.”
Lou Taylor Pucci’s role is a particular highligh. It felt he was very much the one providing comic relief without using straightforward gags, was that intentional?
“Yeah, he’s the one who’s with the audience 100% of the time. He’s thinking what you’re thinking. When David has to lie and pretend everything’s alright when she’s cut her f*cking arm off, and there’s the whole bit of “…does that sound fine?” – it’s a line from Evil Dead II – he’s definitely the one who’s with you, so it’s easy for him to make you laugh, because when you’re so tense in a movie, and someone else picks you up again, it’s because someone had to say it, right?
“Without being meta though, they didn’t want a film where people know about horror movies. The best ones for me are where horror movies don’t exist. I think in the best movies, movies don’t exist within their own mythology, not even horror movies. You try not to talk about movies because it will take you out of the experience. This is kinda similar.”
How did you feel as a geek getting that call from Sam Raimi and getting to hang out with Bruce Campbell for a week?
“Amazing, and it still is, we’re really good friends. It was a blast as a fan just to know these guys. As filmmakers I learned so much from them, Sam, Rob and Bruce, and no-one knows Evil Dead movies as well as Bruce does. He’s lived and breathed it every day for the last thirty years, he’s the one who’s known for The Evil Dead, and we have to give him a lot of credit too because he was the one to keep the title alive all this time.
“While the other guys were getting all the other projects together, he was going to conventions, talking about Evil Dead, so he kept it going, and part of the reason we have our success today was because Bruce was lobbying with the fans for a long time. I could find out more about the movie by just sitting down with Bruce and driving him mad with questions, everything about the original film, just to make sure I knew everything I needed to know.”
The film’s already a massive success in the States. Is there talk of another one?
Yeah, we’re writing a sequel at the moment and we’ll announce a director when we know the schedule and what kind of movie it is. Because this one opened so well we have a good chance of making a sequel. And Sam definitely wants to do another Evil Dead with Bruce, something he’d love to go back to. He’s making an Army of Darkness 2, it’s actually real, we can talk about it, and my dream will be that, if we make a sequel to this film and he makes Army of Darkness 2, we can connect the two mythologies in one actually… Oh yeah, wait… (gets out his iPad and shows an off-set picture of Bruce in a dinner jacket holding Jane Levy’s face in his hands – a Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh moment) That’s a love story to think about, kind of a Bonnie and Clyde against the Deadites thing happening.”