Knowing that there was a remake of The Evil Dead on the way, I did everything that I could to avoid seeing advanced footage or any photos or anything like that. I did a pretty good job until I saw Django Unchained and they played the red band trailer. I was quite pleased with how gory and graphic the filmmakers were making the movie, so I knew the filmmakers were at least attempting to capture some of the charm of the original. A lot of people initially get pretty upset when they hear about a remake being made of a beloved film, but I always try to keep an open mind. However, with something like The Evil Dead, it’s hard to figure out exactly why people love it. Between Bruce Campbell as Ash, the insanity of the special effects, and the charm of having such a low budget, it was kind of hard to wrap your mind around how any of these elements could really be recreated. It felt kind of like the original Maniac, where its charm is so intrinsically linked to a specific individual or a specific period of time that it feels like an impossible challenge to overcome. At SXSW, I had the opportunity to speak Bruce Campbell, who served as a producer on the remake, as well as a producer of the original and remake, Rob Tapert, along with director/writer of the remake, Fede Alvarez, as well as his co-writer Rodo Sayagues. I also recommend you check out my review of the remake, because I really think they were able to recreate some of those familiar Evil Dead qualities.
Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead II
WolfMan: With the impact that you two have on the entire franchise, there’s as much riding on you two with this whole Evil Dead thing, possibly more so than the other people involved, because you two are so connected with the original film. There’s different horror elements of the original trilogy, but also comedic elements. What to you is Evil Dead? What’s the heart of it?
Bruce Campbell: If you’re having another go at the first one, then it should be serious. That’s why this one is serious, it’s not jokey, there’s no one-liners, so we’re fine with it. The first Evil Dead was a melodrama. People laughed because of the weird shit that happened.
Rob Tapert: But if you’re a fan of the first one, there were little things to make you laugh. “Does that sound fine to you?” That was a line lifted from one of the other films, so there are moments that real fans are rewarded with.
The subject them came up of fans wanting to see Bruce in this film:
Well that’s okay, I can’t blame anyone for trying. We didn’t want to have an Ash character in this and I didn’t want to be in it. It would stop the movie in its, tracks, “Hey, that’s Bruce!” There’s nothing in this movie that’s going to distract anybody. Jut watch the movie. You wanna watch me? Just rent one of my movies. We’re not burning the originals of the Evil Dead movies. We’re not taking them out of circulation. Now that would be bad, but nothing’s stopping people from watching their favorite little movies.
WM: What was it like seeing the first footage, or seeing that cabin that was so familiar, to see it and how well it was recreated?
RT: I was down there, so funnily enough, I thought it looked kind of cool but in a little different setting. I walked down the set one day and they were shooting something and it was Eric, played by Lou, on top of the trap door as it was bouncing up and down, and that was my flashback moment.
BC: An acid flashback?
RT: I remember shooting it with Hal Delrich.
BC: I did a cheesy TV movie here in Austin called “Tornado” years ago and I worked with Ernie Hudson. He didn’t really know who I was or whatever, and that’s cool. We’re shooting a sequence where he’s down in a tornado cellar and I’ve gotta open the trapdoor and come down these set of steps, and he saw me silhouetted at the trap door, and he went, “Oh shit! You’re the Evil Dead guy!” That image brought it all back. He watched all the movies all the time in the military but he just didn’t make the connection. Certain visuals come back and get you.
WM: Kind of like what you were saying, about almost being a wink to the audience if you showed up, that all of the references in this film were really subtle.
BC: We want this thing to live on its own. We want it to stand by its own bootstraps. The actors can create their own personas and carve their own careers. Having an Ash character seemed weird. “That guy was different from Bruce! He didn’t do it that way!” They would’ve ripped him apart, poor fucker. Even the Evil Dead musical they hassled him.
WM: To see that reaction that the movie was getting, in that packed house, I just feel bad for everyone who’s going to see it without 1200 of their closest friends.
BC: But hopefully people will go and enjoy the group experience. One of Sam’s motivations for doing this was that not that many people saw Evil Dead in a big theater with a group of people. Now that we finally have a national release, rolling out over the world over April, May, and June, that they’re going to get that experience. Now we want to just sit back and watch the reactions. Now we watch the people watching the movie. None of us watch the movie any more. It’s just wondering which people are going to jump. That’s what’s fun.
RT: The Paramount was great because we had a preview screening that went very well, but it was stadium seating, like all these new theaters. It was less communal. You’re kind of in your chair, all surrounded like a typical theater, but it was great at the Paramount. It was interesting to see the response in the test screening because they were unsuspecting and half the people had known of Evil Dead and the other half had never really seen it. They may have heard of it, but it worked for them just fine. They were pretty darn vocal.
Director Fede Alvarez, Producer Rob Tapert, and Co-writer Rodo Sayagues
When I started talking with Fede, the first topic that came up was how well the screening had gone the night before.
It was awesome. It was really exciting. It was a long day for me. I guess it was the best day of my life. I went to have lunch at Troublemaker Studios. There were a lot of people there but I had to go and say hi to Robert Rodriguez because for our generation, he was such an inspiration. He was a guy with a Spanish name that managed to make a movie with no money and end up working in Hollywood. That made me believe that everything was possible. I had to go to say hi and thank him for that. He took me to his office and we ended up watching trailers for Machete 2 and Sin City and they were awesome. It was so cool. He showed me around and he showed me the green stage where they shot Sin City. To spend that little moment with him, I was ready to go and leave town. That, then the premiere…it was a pretty intense day for me. I never expected such a reaction. We tested before with an audience that doesn’t really know what to think or what they’re going to see, and it was great. It was awesome. These are our fans. That’s why I think it was such a great reaction. We did a test screening in Orange County. You get a score on it and we broke the record of the studio. They’d never scored that high with a horror movie ever. Usually you do tests and you cut stuff, but there was just this one test. That’s why it ended up being such a bizarre film, we ended up doing so well on the first test. The reality of why movies get watered down or cut down is usually because you test it and a director has a vision and it tests bad, so now the studio takes over. In this case, they didn’t want to. Because we scored high, they wanted to put it out there. What you see is my director’s cut. It’s our script. No compromises.
WM: Didn’t you originally get an NC-17 and then you guys had to cut it?
Fede Alvarez: The process with that is that Sony has a liaison with the MPAA and that person will see it and say, “This is an NC-17, the MPAA will watch this and say it’s an NC-17.” They were very helpful with us. They gave us precise notes. Thank God we didn’t have to get rid of anything. It was more about the amount of exposure of certain shots. You remove 5 frames, and it’s okay, it doesn’t have to be 18. It’s so bizarre.
WM: They don’t want 6 seconds of puking blood, but 5 seconds of puking blood is okay.
FA: It’s really bizarre. We didn’t think in any moment, “Oh shit, they butchered our movie.” We made a better movie. Those moments became more slick and more sharp and not just over-exposing gore. Over-exposed gore is too funny, you start laughing at the craziness. The theatrical R-rated version is the best rendition of the movie. It’s the perfect version. The MPAA didn’t make the movie suffer at all. On the contrary, I think it helped to make a better movie. Like I said, I promised it before, that this is the hardest R-rated movie out there.
Fede then went on to talk a bit about the most difficult effects to pull off:
I think there were two. The one in particular, Natalie cutting her arm, was a very complex trick. Sometimes the question isn’t about how hard it is to shoot it, but the whole process. You start thinking, “Well, how are we going to shoot it?” In the script, it’s two lines. “And she cuts her arm.” Then you’re going to make it and have to think about how to do it. Making this movie, I enjoyed playing with the conventions of the genre. Playing against the expectations. There’s so many cliches, so many expectations. People know where you’re going to go. With something like that, what you’re seeing is real. It’s a real hand and you anticipate the camera to cut away at any moment. We did a very long shot…she grabs the knife, she goes for it, and you wait for the cut away, but we don’t give you the cut away. We give you the REAL cut. That’s what I think shocked everybody. It was tricky to do because in order to achieve something like that, we had to come up with a very complex set up. Prosthetics and pipes and blood. What is real and what is not. That was all shot in camera, what you’re looking at. Other shots, we erased some. That one was 100% on camera. It was hard because Liz, the actress, what she was seeing was so real that her brain couldn’t let her go through with it. It was a real blade and everything so it was shocking for the actors and I think that translated into amazing performances because the actors are exposed to the real thing. That was one of the toughest. It was an entire day of shooting.
WM: The charm and the allure of the original movie is kind of hard to pinpoint. It’s the horror of it, it’s the comedy of it, it’s the low budget, so it’s hard to put your finger on why people love it. What do you think are the core elements of the original film that you wanted to make sure to include and what were some of the things you saw in the original movie that you wanted to do differently or expand upon?
FA: There were some ideas that are dated. Just going to the cabin to smoke pot and have beer and find good looking kids, it just would’ve been a bad start. Dealing with Cabin in the Woods just coming out and doing the quintessential thing and having it be a joke, we didn’t want that. We wrote this movie long before we had even heard of Cabin in the Woods. We wanted to make sure we updated things that needed to be updated, like why these kids would go to the cabin. To bring a more relevant story for 2013. We were talking with Sam (Raimi, producer) about “Have you seen Evil Dead?” and of course it was a yes, but then he’d ask when was the last time. Six years ago? Ten years ago? It’s not what I watch every year. It was ten years ago. So then of course we rewatched it. There was the tape recorder, and we wanted them to unleash it. We didn’t want it to be the professor. We didn’t want somebody else to do it. Pushing “play” on a tape isn’t something they should be punished for, but rather unwrapping something that nobody wants to unwrap. Playing with something you’re not supposed to play with. That curiosity that Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) has, and I think he’s a little bit mesmerized by the book also. I don’t think he’s just curious. We have this long shot behind him before he opens it that’s showing that there’s something wrong with him already. The book has some power with him. It’s like the power of “The Ring” (in The Lords of the Rings). It wants to be found. The book wants to be read from. Those are ideas that, even though we knew they were classics, with the tape recorder being such a classic element of the original, we felt that we had to be ballsy enough to challenge every idea and not be scared to change things.
Rodo Sayagues: Overall, the spirit of the movie, the frantic-ness of Evil Dead has. We wanted to work to make a movie that would make your heart beat faster. It’s like a roller coaster ride. It’s frenetic, it’s hysterical, it’s intense.
FA: At the end of the day, the way to keep the spirit of the original, it was to keep the craziness of the original. No rules, no boundaries. Every scene has to be bigger and crazier than the previous one.
RS: The over-the-top aspect had to be there.
FA: And the bizarre-ness! It’s so bizarre! I was watching it yesterday and I couldn’t believe what was happening. Not taking it too seriously, because when you get to the one-liners and the craziness of the beginning, you have to play with it.
RS: That was something Sam told us. They wanted the movie to be a nightmare. A full, hour and a half nightmare. You know how nightmares work? They’re bizarre, absurd and surreal. You don’t quite get it. I think the movie breathes that kind of vibe. It feels like a nightmare.
Evil Dead is in theaters April 5th, 2013.