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Evil Dead - Fede Alvarez interview

Evil Dead

Interview by Rob Carnevale

URUGUAYAN director Fede Alvarez talks about why he originally didn’t want to see a remake of Evil Dead and why he then thought he was the best person to ensure it wasn’t a terrible movie.

He also talks about working with Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, why he deviated from the original in some ways while respecting the mythology and why he opted for practical gore effects over CGI.

Q. The original Evil Dead has an enormous fan-base. So, was it at all daunting having to face that fan-base?
Fede Alvarez: Yes and no because I come from a group of friends who have been making films since we were kids and we’re all film freaks. So, we really know our horror movies, we know the genre pretty well, so when Sam [Raimi] announced it [the remake] I was so pissed. He announced it back in 2006. I don’t think people have something against remakes. I think they have something against bad movies and sometimes remakes are bad movies, so when they hear about a remake they go ‘not another bad movie’. And when it has a brand or a name of something that you love, it’s even worse, right? Because you go: “I don’t want a bad movie made out of something that I love.” So, I wasn’t really pissed about the idea of it. I just thought that if they do a bad movie it’s going to be a shame that it’s next to the other movies.

So when, for some weird twist of destiny, three year later I ended up being the guy in charge of that film, for me it was a good thing. For me, it was the only thing I could do to save it from being terrible. At least I would have a say in it. So, if somebody was going to fuck it up, it better be me [laughs]. So, it was really something that by knowing those films so much and being part of… you have no idea, my friends are film freaks! I’m the most normal one [laughs]. We watched seven movies a week… line one movie a day growing up and basically rented three movies every weekend. I never went out to clubs, it was just watching VHS with my friends. So, we really know that audience. I wouldn’t be intimidated if I knew there was going to be an Evil Dead fan out there who was going to come to me and explain to me what I got wrong about it. I wouldn’t be going: “Oh shit, sorry, I was trying to please you!” No. I wasn’t trying to please anybody. I was just trying to make a movie in a way with everybody… Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Robert Tapert, they’re making the film. This is their blessing. It’s their idea to make it. It’s not me convincing them to make another Evil Dead. It’s just them going: “We want to make a new one and we think you should be the guy to do it.”

Sam said something very important in the beginning. He said: “You should make the film you want to see in theatres. Don’t try to make what you think I want to see and don’t try to make what you think the audience wants to see, because that’s impossible to know, right?” So, the only thing I could do was say: “What would be the perfect Evil Dead movie for me?” And a little bit for my friends as well, I think. So, if we were going to see another Evil Dead movie, I would never want to see Ash re-made. No way… because it’s impossible. So, let’s just create new characters. I don’t want to see the same story again because I don’t want to know how it’s going to end. I saw the original 100 times, so I don’t want to be going: “Yeah, just burn the book!” It would be so boring. So, that’s why we get that out of the way pretty early in the story. So, the whole decision making about what we kept and everything was based on what’s the perfect Evil Dead movie that I want to see. It’s definitely not a remake and it’s definitely not just a sequel. Funnily enough, a lot of people out there have asked me if we borrowed elements from Cabin In The Woods. And you try to explain that Cabin In The Woods was an homage to the original. So, there’s a big audience out there that doesn’t even know about the Evil Dead. So, you cannot make a sequel because it would never work.

Q. Are you happy with the term re-boot then?
Fede Alvarez: Hmm, maybe but no because we’re really respecting the mythology of the original films. This is crafted in a way that it could e a sequel. We’re not changing the mythology of the original films. We created it in a way that this could have happened 30 years later. It’s kind of a re-quel [laughs].

Q. How did you come to cast Jane Levy?
Fede Alvarez: We wanted her to read for the role, which is something that Hollywood doesn’t like to do lately. They just have a list of 10 actors for the main roles. Thank God everybody passed on that list! I didn’t want any well known names in the cast. I just wanted to have fresh faces. For me, horror movies work best when I don’t know anybody, when I really believe what’s happening. So, after we managed to get everybody to pass on the list, we could go out and read everybody. A lot of people read for these roles. Every young actor in Hollywood and in New York and London and Australia and New Zealand. I must have seen 1,000 actors or more. It was just insane. But that’s the only way you find the right people – by looking and looking and looking and looking. And Jane was the only one… among everybody, she was so eager to get the role. She was hungry, which is awesome. This was her first big role. Just like me, this is my first movie, so I’m trying to do everything I can to make the best movie I can. I really love the film. And Jane was in the same mind-set.

Evil Dead

If not, we might have had someone who kept going: “Wait a minute, I’m not going to do this!” Or: “I’m not going to do that!” Some actors after they’ve made three or four films, they’re over the crazy passion of ‘let’s make the best movie we can’. But Jane is still on that. She really wanted to make the best movie she could. And I felt she was a partner on the whole thing. And she was great in the movie because she was ready to do everything we asked her to do.

Q. She seemed to really relish the scenes in which she is possessed. Did she have a lot of fun with that?
Fede Alvarez: Yes. I wanted to give her a lot of freedom when it came to portraying the crazy demon moments. And she was really ready to try everything. It’s a big risk you’re taking when you do some of those things. You can make a fool of yourself – like when you try to be funny and you’re not funny. It can be embarrassing. But she didn’t care. She was ready to do all kinds of stuff. And I think some of the best parts of the movie is Jane going crazy. All the scenes in the cellar… I think we probably shot… we had long shots. There’s a shot that’s probably seven minutes of Jane going crazy. She starts laughing, then she gets paranoid and then does all kind of crazy stuff. It was disturbing to watch. I’ll have to put it on the DVD. Eventually, she said: “Please can we cut!”

Q. Was it a conscious decision to use practical effects as opposed to CGI?
Fede Alvarez: Yes, I didn’t want to use any CGI for this particular film. I don’t have anything against CGI. But for this story I felt it was unnecessary. I think if you want horror movies to be real and scarier, then I think you shouldn’t use CGI. You can do some spectacular stuff in CGI but it’s a different experience. It’s not scary. I don’t know… it’s just different. Your brain knows it’s CGI, so you go: “OK, that’s cool. But you know it’s not real… particularly when you’re doing a movie like this one where it’s not about ghosts. If we had to create some entity in the air, maybe it’s a good idea, but everything was supposed to be so grounded and in your face that I thought it was a bad idea to use CGI. Also, I didn’t want the movie to get old fast. CGI dates movies and they become something that looks great today but then when you see it in five years, you wish you’d seen it when it came out. And then 10 years later it’s unwatchable. With any technique, when it’s top of the line and has just come out, usually you should wait a little while because maybe it looks great today but it can get very old very fast. So, you don’t want to make an Evil Dead movie that’s going to be unwatchable.

Q. Evil Dead is a full on gory film. Did you decide to do that from the word go rather than opt for a PG-13?
Fede Alvarez: Yeah, because that’s what an Evil Dead movie is, right? I remember watching the first Evil Dead was so disturbing. I thought it was such a violent, insane film. I saw it when I was 12, when I was a kid. It was so disturbing on many levels. So, to me it was never funny. It was banned in the UK. It wasn’t banned because it was so funny. It was just so violent and offensive on many levels that they thought people shouldn’t see it. Sam had to go to court and everything. So, this is definitely what I thought was in the spirit of Evil Dead, which is very violent and crazy and horrifying and over the top. When you think the scene is over, it’s probably just getting started and is going to go very far. And it’s great because that usually plays against expectations. I would never have done a PG-13 version of this film. Also, it’s my first film so I’ve never been burned in the past by… other directors have been burned. They’ve shot a film and then the MPAA cut it down and forced them to turn it into something else. So, when it comes to writing the next one they know how the MPAA thinks, so they write it in a way that they know they’re going to get the rating they want. I don’t know anything about that because it’s my first film. So, when I wrote it, I wasn’t even thinking about that.

I remember once I delivered the first draft, Robert Tapert said: “You know there’s a thing called the MPAA, right?” It was like: “Yeah, why?” So, I wanted to make it NC-17 and asked ‘who cares’? And he said: “I do because they won’t show it in any cinemas in the States if it’s an NC-17.” So, I said: “OK, well I’ll shoot it anyway and worst case scenario we’ll cut some shots out.” But Rob wasn’t convinced. He was so concerned that the beginning. But eventually, he said: “You’re right, we should push forward with everything and then we’ll deal with that.” And we managed to get our cut into theatres. We had to trim some shots, the very graphic ones… like the tongue. So, instead of showing that shot for three seconds we showed it for two seconds – stuff like that. But there were also no notes from the studio… imagine that [laughs]. We tested it and it scored an 85, which meant that 85% of the audience loved it. So, they said: “That’s it. We’re not going to give you any notes.” So, that’s the movie and they put it out that way. It is the director’s cut. So, for the DVD we’ve done an extended version, which is everything we shot. It’s more as the script was originally. It’s good because you learn a lot of things about sub-plots that maybe aren’t so clear right now in the movie.

Evil Dead

Q. The tone is also very dark. It’s more straight and less humorous. Was that deliberate?
Fede Alvarez: Just like the original. It’s not that I’m not interested in the humour. First of all, I wouldn’t know how to do it. That’s Sam Raimi. He’s a master of that, the horror-comedy and how to have a balance between making it scary and making the comedy. But for me, like I said, when you think about Evil Dead, you have to know that you’re going to be introducing the Evil Dead universe to a new audience who have no idea what it is, so I thought you have to go back to the basics of what [the first] Evil Dead was. I never saw Evil Dead as a comedy. It never made me laugh when I watched it originally. It scared me so much as a kid, even when I watch it as a grown-up I still see it as horror. It’s funny. When Bruce [Campbell] starts slapping the hell out of his girlfriend, it is funny and you laugh at it. But it was never the intention. If you ask Sam Raimi, he will say the same. And that’s what I asked him at the beginning. I was like: “You were never trying to make it gunny? Or is there some humour that I’m not getting?” And he was like: “No way! I was trying to make the scariest movie I could. I was trying to make it as violent and obscene and disturbing as I could. Nobody was thinking about making a comedy.”

But with time, they realised people were laughing at the over the top moments, so they kind of embraced that in the second one and decided to go more slapstick and Three Stooges and all that. But that happened in Evil Dead II. So, if had to go back to the basics, we couldn’t be funny. But some people do find it hilarious. And others have fainted. I’ve had a lot of reports of people fainting and somebody had a seizure. But for every person that faints, there’s also somebody laughing their ass off [laughs]! It’s just the nature of the film. So, I’m happy that we decided not to intentionally go with the humour, but you still have people laughing at it. That’s why I feel we succeeded in making an Evil Dead film because it has the craziness that people start laughing, but then it’s so dark and scary that nobody is laughing anymore and they’re begging for the next laugh.

Q. How did the geek inside of you react to getting that first call from Raimi? And how much did you get from hanging out with Bruce Campbell in Miami for a week prior to shooting?
Fede Alvarez: Amazing! It was amazing! We became really good friends. I was actually with Bruce a couple of weeks ago in Miami. It was a blast as a fan just to have the chance to know these guys. As a filmmaker, I learned so much from them and from Sam. The Bruce Campbell aspect was amazing because I think nobody knows the Evil Dead movies like he does… not even Sam, I guess, because Bruce lives and breathes Evil Dead movies every day. For the last 30 years, that’s his thing. Everyone connects Bruce with Evil Dead. And you have to give him a lot of credit, too, because he’s the one that kept the title alive when the other guys were doing other things. He was going to conventions and talking about Evil Dead to everybody. So, that’s one of the things that kept Evil Dead alive and part of the reason why it’s a success today is because Bruce was lobbying for the movie with all the fans for such a long time. For me, it was a great time to learn more than I already knew about the Evil Dead movies just by sitting down with Sam and Bruce and just driving him crazy with questions during a long period of time… not just hanging out with him but during working sessions with both of them, just driving them crazy with all kinds of questions about the original films to make sure that I knew everything I needed to know to make a new one.

Q. The film performed really well in the US. Will there be a sequel?
Fede Alvarez: Yeah, we’re writing a sequel already. I’m not sure if I’m going to direct it or not. It’s going to depend on the schedule and also what kind of movie it is. But there’s definitely going to be a sequel… at least we’re going to write it and then see if we’re going to make it or not. I think because it opened so big there’s a lot of chance we’ll do that film. And Sam definitely wants to do another Evil Dead with Bruce. It’s something he’d love to go back to. He’s talking about making an Army of Darkness II. My dream would be if we make a sequel to this film and he makes Army of Darkness II, then we can connect the two mythologies in one.

Read our review of Evil Dead