Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is one of the most iconic horror films of all time, and its rabid fanbase will be the first to tell you that the idea of rebooting the franchise for a modern audience is akin to blasphemy. But when Raimi and original series star Bruce Campbell are producing the project, and when they handpick a visionary young director to helm the film, it stops sounding like another Hollwood cash-in.
Indeed, this new Evil Dead is a bloody, violent experience that pays brilliant homage to its source material while making the story feel fresh enough for today’s moviegoers. During a recent promotional stop in Phoenix, we sat down with writer and director Fede Alvarez to discuss bringing Evil Dead to a new audience.
Did you feel any pressure adapting one of the most iconic horror films of all time?
When you write a movie, you just care about the movie you’re writing. You shouldn’t care about what’s going on out there or what else they did in the past. You just have to care about your story: what’s the best story you can tell? You have to kind of know the audience, but at the same time you’re making the movie for yourself.
This was a very personal movie, in a way. Rodo [Sayagues] and I wrote the movie together, we’re best friends since we were twelve, and we had a chance to go and write the scariest movie ever. We love horror movies, and we had a chance to do one, working with Sam Raimi and all these guys, and it’s going to be part of the Evil Dead universe. It was all excitement. I don’t think any of those things bothered us at all.
There are a lot of nods to the original trilogy in the film. Which is your favorite?
There are so many references to the original. I think in a way it was in my mind, it was kind of a blessing of every set – I would bless every idea with something from the original film. Like having the car outside the cabin would make everybody feel you were on sacred horror ground. Sam didn’t want me to have the car there, [he was] like “no, do your film and forget about the originals” and I was like “no, I think those things are important,” and they were important for me.
What are some of the challenges of shooting with practical effects rather than utilizing CG?
It’s hard on many levels, of course, it takes way more time. When Natalie cuts her arm off, that’s one day of shooting. It didn’t work the first time, so then we had like four hours to reset the whole gag and be able to go again. If it doesn’t work, you’re in trouble, because you need to add another extra day. It takes a lot of courage – I shouldn’t say that about myself, but it did. As a director, you have to be 100 percent convinced.
I remember with the tongue cut… I think it looks great in camera, and it’s effective in the moment when you have it in the scene. We took a sample of her tongue and did a latex tongue and she had to bite on it, and we were puppeteering the tongue from outside. So when we go on the first day, we set it up and go “okay, action!” She started moving the tongue, and it looked so bad and embarrassing. So you have to go “let’s do it again, let’s do it again” until you nail it.
That was one that never really worked until we cut it together. When we put it together in the editing room, it was like “that’s it! Magic!” If we showed one extra frame, I think the tongue just fell out of her mouth. We had just fifteen frames we could show, the rest looked like shit. So you really have to be convinced, and go for it. It was really, really challenging.
Have you and Sam Raimi talked about the idea of Mia meeting up with Ash in a future film?
Yes, we did. Sam wants to do Army of Darkness 2, he’s definitely in love with the saga, and Bruce and Sam want to work together on one of those films. It’s something that hopefully will happen, it depends on Sam’s schedule – he’s taking care of his small independent movies like Oz. But we’ll see.
I’m going to write the sequel now, and if I find a story that I want, I’ll direct it, too. We want to tell the story of [Mia] and where she goes, where here character goes, and eventually yes – it would be awesome to have the mythology of the original film connected with this one.
The film was originally rated NC-17, and you had to cut some things and resubmit to get an R rating. The violence in the film is so extreme that several people walked out of the screening. Do you feel this might diminish the audience’s enjoyment, or do you consider it a badge of honor that your film affected someone so strongly?
I think you have to shock people. The best horror movies always did that, right? You have to shock them. For me, it’s hard to get scared when I watch it today, it’s just very funny for me. When I watch it I’m laughing all the time. I feel like a maniac because everyone around me is scared… It’s just because I find the genre so entertaining, just playing with the audience and making them jump and things, it’s just very entertaining for a director. It’s like you’re the puppet master, moving everybody, and that’s a great feeling.
Regarding the NC-17 thing, the first cut we submit, they told us “that’s gonna be NC-17, you have to address these five notes.” They were very precise and very helpful with us. Sometimes the MPAA will tell you “just figure it out, this is NC-17, it’s your problem” and you can go crazy trying to figure out what’s the problem. This time they were very helpful, they just asked us to trim down a little bit, so we lose five frames, ten frames of those shots. We managed to still put everything we wanted to put out there, and it kind of helped us to make a better cut. In a way, it was a good challenge.
Evil Dead is currently playing in theaters nationwide.