We visit with stars Jane Levy and Lou Taylor Pucci, along with director Fede Alvarez, on the set of Evil Dead
Evil Dead is another in a long line of horror remakes that no one seemed to want. Then it was announced that original director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell, who became a cult legend playing Ash in the first three films, were attached as producers and creative consultants. Fans of the original stopped groaning a little tiny bit and decided to approach this incoming "abomination" with a bit of optimism. Then, after a strong presence at this past summer's San Diego Comic Con and a very gory Red Band trailer, it was fully on. Gore hounds and slasher aficionados became very enthusiastic, and were inspired by the bright, wet redness shellacking this complete rewrite of the original franchise. As evidenced by the first onslaught of footage, this Evil Dead isn't messing about. Gone is the goofy slapstick comedy that dominated the second and third film. Director Fede Alvarez is going for the jugular, literally, as he dives in and digs at the original film's pure horror roots.
Is it possible that Evil Dead 2.0 is going to be a good movie? Maybe even a great one? Will it rank up there with some of the best remakes, like John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly? That's a bold proclamation that no one wants to make until they've actually seen the movie. And if you frequent many horror chat rooms, you'll find that, despite the goodwill and love currently being poured on the previews, there is still a fair share of skepticism running rampant in regards to this gory thriller.
In terms of Fede Alvarez, though, that optimism was always there, right from the very beginning. And his confidence only grew as each day on set proved to be a rewarding one. He claims not to be a some artistic wag, pretentious about his craft and oblivious to the harsh world of remake criticism. Instead, he claims to be one of us. A horror fan that visits every and all movie blog sites looking for the latest project to get excited about. He knows there will be harsh words thrown at his work. He, himself, has devoted quite a lot of time to trolling comment sections, spewing forth criticisms both good and bad. He understands the underbelly of the slasher scene. He knows and understands why certain fans might frown upon a certain tiny aspect of any given series, especially when it comes to those film franchises that don't have a wide pop fan base. He knows how to play the game, and his goal is to stand above it and become a rock star on the gore scene. He wants to be the next Sam Raimi, and he believes he can get there someday. Maybe. If he just stays true to himself.
The man certainly comes on like a rock star. He has a special kind of energy that is all encompassing. He is friendly, outgoing, and very enthusiastic to meet you and hear your ideas and thoughts. When we met him in Auckland, New Zealand on the set of Evil Dead, he went on a tour of the sets with us. He was excited by the things he had to show us, and the ideas he wanted to present to us. He was an immediate best friend, very open and candid about the prospects of Evil Dead sucking a big turd. He doesn't think it will sink, but until the movie is out, and the public has decided for themselves, he can't really worry about that aspect of the enterprise here, in the midst of shooting, knee deep in gallons of blood and zombie guts.
What we see on set isn't very reaffirming, either. But one should never judge an entire 100-minute movie on a single two-second scene that is replayed over and over again until its done right. There is a tedium here that is sure to bore even the most ardent film enthusiast. Film sets are boring. And watching the monitors on the set of Evil Dead is no exception.
Here, we are not treated to one of the movie's grand moments. We see no real blood being spilled. There is fire. And it looks hot. But we really have no idea what is going on. Lou Taylor Pucci, possessed by a Deadite, isn't inspiring those of us watching with much hope. Shiloh Fernandez lies on the ground with a shotgun pointed up in the air, while Pucci hovers over him, looking about as menacing as a tired, burnt out hippie. There is no CGI being used. Most of the effects in the film will be practical, which is good. It's the accent Lou Taylor has adopted that has us worried, as he runs through the line "One more soul to rise!" Before being set on fire over and over again. The words hurt the ears every single time they are uttered. And its frown inducing. "What is this shit?" Someone whispers nearby, shortly after someone yells, "CUT!" Across the freezing cold soundstage.
It's not until we see the trailer months later that we understand Fede Alvarez may be creating genius here. We can see a snippet of the scene amongst the footage, and Lou Taylor Pucci is creating a character unique to the genre. It quickly becomes obvious why some actors and directors are unsure of their work in the midst of doing it. "Will this edit together? Will this make sense?" It takes a clear vision to know how all the puzzle pieces fit together, and Fede Alvarez has had it mapped out since the beginning. The movie has always had a strong script locked into place, written by the director himself, with polishes from both Rodo Sayagues Mendez and Diablo Cody.
The Book of the Dead, an iconic prop, will not be the same as seen in the past movies. There is no face on the front of it, instead it is bound in human flesh and written in blood. It's actually rather innocuous, and not very scary. Not until you crack open the front cover. Same with the Deadites. They do not have the iconic bug-eyed look seen in the original. Instead, they resemble the zombies we know and love from films like 28 Days Later and Dawn Of The Dead. At a distance, The Evil Dead kind of looks like a lot of the other horror movies we've seen in recent years. And then you start to notice the little details. Like the piano in the cabin. The cellar door. The clock on the wall, which was used in the original film.
The thing that will probably appeal to hardcore fans the most is Sam Raimi's 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, the "Classic" seen in all of his films, which is parked just outside the cabin, covered in moss, a remnant of the last people to have stayed here. While there is a cabin interior on a sound stage, the actual cabin does exists, located way out in the middle of nowhere, in a real forest where no two trees are the same. It looks and feels like The Evil Dead, and New Zealand proves to be the perfect backdrop for this creepy story. Located just a few short yards away from the "Classic" is the infamous Rape Vine, which is once again featured, almost in a staring role. It's this Rape Vine that might earn the film an NC-17. What we will get in the theater will definitely be a very hard R.
Before bringing us all together with his cast and crew for a Q&A about what we can expect from this film, the director takes us on a tour of the cellar, which is littered with debris, and decorated with dead cats hanging from the ceiling. It's a chilling scene, but Fede is quick to break the tension by playing the original film's music on a piano being used as set decoration. We get a fun haunted house tour, which includes a dog skeleton and plenty of gruesome bloodstains, before getting down to the brass tacks of this situation. Just what is this movie and why does it exist?
Jane Levy explains the story that lies at the root of this remake, and how it is quite different from the original.
"A lot of this movie is based on the relationship between the brother and the sister. They've had a broken relationship, they haven't talked for a few years, and you don't know if it was Mia's idea, or if it was one of their friends' idea, but in order to kick this habit maybe I also have to mend this relationship with my brother. He's the only family I have, and I need him to get me through this horrible thing. And again, that expands into the supernatural. But our relationship, and healing the wounds there, makes it necessary for me to survive.
Mia is trying to survive. She's like a damaged young girl who's trying to kick an addiction, and trying to survive that. And then it turns into trying to survive some other things. This is like her time to do it. Mia has made the decision that she's gonna be healthy. So she's not using drugs at all in this movie. It's like, withdrawl starts the minute the movie starts, and then she has to live. The demons might be her own demons. You know, there's a play on that in the movie, and that's what it's about for her."
Fede explains his approach to the story in a slightly different way. He wanted, not a remake of the first film, but a movie that would stir up the same emotions he had when he saw the original at 12 years old. He wanted a contemporary version of what his young adolescent mind believed he'd just seen. A monument to terror that paid homage to Sam Raimi's original vision, while pushing the material into new and more frightening territory.
I don't remember the cover, but I remember the back cover. When you went to the video store as a kid, you had to read the back cover otherwise you had no idea what the movie was about. There wasn't so much press about the movie. You have to get it [in your hand], go, "what the fuck is this?" And you have to turn it around and read it. And I remember it was Shelley in the basement. And it was something that seemed horrific. And it still is. We were talking about this the other day, and when we got to that moment it kind of happened in a similar way. We had to do a Deadite in the cellar. It was kind of a flashback to then, remembering what it was like to see that face for the first time and to try to make something scarier when remaking it. That was the biggest challenge. Basically what we pitched to Sam Raimi was doing a movie in the same tone, with the same horror that I personally experienced when I watched it for the first time. So, of course when you're 12 [it's scary]. Today you can watch The Evil Dead and go, "oh it's campy!" But back then I didn't laugh at any moment. It was traumatic. I was 12 and it was something I shouldn't have done. I should have been way older. So basically what we pitched to Sam then was the story and that same tone. So we thought it was violent, it was horrific and it was pretty cool at the same time because you're watching something you're not supposed to watch. Basically that was it. And Sam said yes right away, right?"
This meant abandoning the comedic elements the franchise has become notorious for.
"Horror comedy is Sam's thing. I would never even try to do something like that. If I go, "Evil Dead, I've got to have some jokes here!" I would feel miserable with my life. It's his style definitely. That kind of very violent horror that's at the same time over-the-top comedy. So going in to make a movie is not about doing that same style or approach. It would have been so wrong. So, right away we agreed that we wanted to make a more serious movie. And Mr. Bruce Campbell was like, "okay this is a new set of characters." We don't want to remake the old characters. In particular, we don't want to remake Ash. I've been a fan of this forever and I'm not going to touch Ash. That's something you don't do."
" No, it's not funny."
As noted, Jane suffers some rough business as Mia, the leading lady. The actress is put to the test in this movie, and she did a lot of the stunts herself, which lead to multiple bruises, and bloodstains that will probably never come out. The harsh conditions on set brought out a naturalism to her performance.
"Sometimes I don't really have to act. I'm actually freezing cold, and I'm so tired that I'm crying, because I'm so cold and I want to go home. Really, just like my character, so you know, it makes the job easier sometimes, a little bit more real. I could name ten of the most horrible things that could ever happen to you in your whole life, and all of those ten things happen to this character. It's, like, the horror of all horror films. It is extreme, and that's a lot of the reason I took this project on. I thought, like, why not do the most extreme movie possible? And the farthest from what I've been doing for the past year.
There's physical and emotional. That's what makes this part also so crazy is like. I don't want to give too much away. But not only am I emotionally going through withdrawals, heroin withdrawl, which is really intense, I'm also being attacked by evil spirits. And I think the hardest thing was actually the dramatic stuff. Which was emotional. And then physically. You know, I'm in prosthetics for six hours, and I have blood dripped all over my head, in my underwear. I'm literally wearing my underwear in the freezing cold rain and barfing on people and...You know, lots of stuff. I don't wanna give anything away."
"This is an extremely physical job, and we're doing everything that you see. I don't know how much I'm allowed to give away, but at one point I vomit all over somebody. A lot of vomit. Like, a shit-ton of fluid. I had a tube practically down my throat, and I'm on top of this girl and vomiting all over her. When you actually do something like that...I don't think I can actually describe the sensation...But I actually went to the corner and cried. I'm really sensitive. But I felt like I was really drowning my friend Jessica, it felt so bad. I was shaking.
This lead to some intense cast bonding, as Lou Taylor Pucci recalls.
"We organized a little vacation day before we started shooting, it was like a good three-day trip. We took an Easter vacation out to Coromandel, this beach, I drove everybody, and I had just learned to drive on the left side of the road like two days before. I almost killed everybody, but we really did actually get to hang out with each other for a good amount of time. Fede gave us like a week or more together, because Jessica [Lucas] had a week with us, but we were here for two weeks, and I actually didn't get to meet and talk with Fede for the first week, really, that was all us, it was just us hanging out, and then we started working about a week before we started."
The actor continued by describing his reaction to the brutally violent script, which he didn't believe he even needed to read at first."I didn't even read the whole thing because, I mean, I knew The Evil Dead. It's one of my favorite movies. So I was a little freaked out about remaking that. But part of it also had to do with finding out that they were trying to do it practically. Like, doing it with prosthetics. I thought that was the coolest idea in the entire world. And so that brought me to the next part of it, where really, I went to that second audition and I was like, 'Oh my god, even if I don't get this, which I'm not really planning on, I get to meet Bruce Campbell!' So I went in there and had the best audition, just hanging out with him. It was so cool. He made me feel really comfortable and all that kind of stuff, which was nice. But the original idea from the script was, 'I don't know how the fuck they're gonna do this. I don't know what it's gonna look like. I don't know how campy it'll look or seem or be, or whether it be campy at all or just real. So...honestly, from what it is now, I could never have expected what it is...what it would have been.
I think half of the fans are gonna love it and half of them are gonna hate it, and so they'll talk about it. Because I mean really, it takes some of the best things from the old one, but it also gives some totally new ideas on it. I mean, you don't care anything about those original characters at all. Some people love that you don't though, and some people would rather follow an actual story. And that's what this is. So I mean, it's gonna have something for a very new audience and something for the old audience."
Why did they change the iconic look of the Deadites? You can blame it on a more grounded, realistic script. Fede Alvarez explained the following.
"We didn't want makeup to pop up. The story is very...for a supernatural story, it's very grounded. There's no people floating. There's nothing that you can witness that you go like, 'woah, ok, this is supernatural.' They are dealing with violence and things that happen, everything that they witness is from the real world. You know what I mean? Like it's hard to explain, but if somebody floats and flies, it's supernatural right? If somebody beats you up with a crowbar, it's not supernatural. It's just somebody who's very pissed off. The reason why he's doing it may be supernatural, but what they witness is real. So if somebody just is looking out the window, and somebody turns and they have makeup on their face, you'll go 'ok, fuck, how did that happen?' So we didn't wanna do that. So basically, we designed them in a way that every time they get possessed, like the first stage is like some kind of self-mutilation - particularly the face. So they do something to themselves, and they're in some state of hysteria...they'll look fucked up. And they'll look very scary. But if it's something that happened naturally because of the wound they inflict on themselves...so that's why [Lou] ended up looking like that, because - and this is kind of the more extreme makeup I guess on the Deadites, but because he was dead and spent a lot of time in the water, so he's all bloated. everything is...in the real world. We don't have anything supernatural until maybe the end."
"If Fede had his druthers, there's a gag that they wanna do. I don't see it as having...It won't sell another ticket, I say. Unfortunately it's a rip-off, I think the audience will feel cheated. I think they're gonna think somebody's Bruce right away, and they're not. And they're just gonna be hanging out to see."
The longtime producer, who worked on all of the first three movies, then revealed that the end of Evil Dead does set up a sequel in the same way that the original movie did. It has a definite ending...But...
"It ends in the same...Not on the same shot, not on the same message or whatever it was, but in the same way that The Evil Dead 1 ended, which was...um, you feel like it's complete, but perhaps something else could happen."
And if the Red Band trailer keeps its promise, its more than likely we will be seeing a whole new series of films based on the Evil Dead. Are you excited? Stay tuned as we talk one-on-one with director Fede Alvarez and go even more in-depth into the making of this horror reboot! It's going to get gory up in here!
Evil Dead was released April 5th, 2013 and stars Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Phoenix Connolly, Jim McLarty, Sian Davis. The film is directed by Fede Alvarez.