'Evil Dead' Rises Again
Three originals brought in Fede Alvarez for this horror remake
Few filmmakers remake their own films. Cecil B. DeMille with The Ten Commandments. Michael Haneke and Funny Games. Now the three men behind the original The Evil Dead – star Bruce Campbell, producer Robert Tapert, and director Sam Raimi – have cracked open the Necronomicon again to resurrect the franchise in Evil Dead. The trio didn't want a shot-for-shot remake. They wanted a director who would fight to get his own way, and that's why they picked Uruguyan filmmaker Fede Alvarez. They took him under their Ghost House Pictures shingle in 2009 after his independent short "Ataque de Pánico!" became a YouTube smash (7.1 million views and counting) and had been searching for the right project ever since. According to Tapert, "Sam said, 'We should see his take on Evil Dead, see if he wants to do it.'"
But what kind of movie was Alvarez making? No franchise has morphed as much as Evil Dead. The 1981 original is a microbudget shocker, so gloriously gruesome that it faced endless ratings wars in Europe. Evil Dead II (1987) was as much schlock as shock, and five years later Army of Darkness was a catchphrase-riddled farce. For this latest installment, Tapert says, "There was never a question on this one that we were doing a hard-hitting horror film." Of the three, the first has shown the greatest cultural and commercial longevity. Tapert says, "Those hardcore horror fans want hardcore horror, [and] Fede was only interested in coming aboard if it was horror."
Alvarez knew that the franchise has been all things to all people. He says, "You look at the original saga, and it starts off as five kids in a car, and suddenly it's 'Hail to the king, baby.'" However, he still had his own vision. "When Sam asked me about this, I said, 'Wait, I want to tell you what Evil Dead is to me.'" As a 12-year-old burned out on 1990s horror-comedies, he and a friend begged their local video store clerk for the scariest movie on the shelves. Alvarez says: "We go, 'C'mon, we can take anything. We rent here every day; we've rented out all the store.' He said: 'You know what? Take this one,' and he gave us The Evil Dead as a punishment." It terrified and fascinated Alvarez beyond measure. He says, "It tapped into every primal fear I had back then, and it's stayed with me forever."
The neophyte director won Campbell over during auditions: a tough sell, since the veteran character actor's cult status is rooted in playing deadite-slayer Ash. However, Campbell says: "There are a lot of directors who can do cool shots, but the other half of it is explaining motivation to actors and blocking and where people go, why do you sit in a chair. Actors love to have those conversations, and I saw him watch an actor do a reading. He would give them notes, and then the next take was better. That's the goal: Can you get the actor better on every take? He could."
For Alvarez, resurrecting the dead was a new experience; Tapert, Raimi, and Campbell were just summoning the old coven. "The first time I saw Sam," Campbell recalls, "he was dressed up as Sherlock Holmes, playing with dolls in the middle of the hallway in eighth grade, and I went, 'That guy's different.'" Now with a director they trusted, the three producers had to balance their roles. It wasn't, as Campbell put it, all "chomping on a cigar, sitting by the pool, having your assistants do everything."
The four worked together on preproduction and the script, but with Raimi tied up directing Oz the Great and Powerful and Campbell shooting Burn Notice for the USA Network, Tapert picked up most of the on-set duties. That put him in the center of one of the toughest arguments: whether to go practical or computer-generated for the film's many gruesome and blood-drenched scenes. Tapert says he pushed for CGI because "we could do this a little better or a little faster, and [Alvarez] had very strong arguments why not." Ultimately, after getting some sage advice from another director, the producer let Alvarez spray as much practical blood as he wanted. Tapert figures: "No one has ever made anything scary with CGI. It's great at making beautiful images, but it's never scary."
Alvarez argues he was just conjuring the visceral spirit of the originals. "You have a responsibility when you're making an Evil Dead," he says, and for him that meant real fake blood and latex wounds rather than postproduction goo. He adds, "[CGI] may look great today, but maybe in five years it's going to look like shit. It gets old really quick."
Evil Dead opens in theatres Friday, April 5. See Film Listings, for review and showtimes.