As I arrived at the swanky Soho Hotel in central London, the venue for my round table interview with Fede Alvarez seemed a million miles away from the cabin in the woods featured in Evil Dead. The same cabin that dominated both his remake and the original movie.
Entering the hotel suite with four other movie reporters I was immediately struck by the black and white wallpaper, decorated with twisted tree outlines and the leaf print chair which Alvarez rose from to greet us. He did so with a firm handshake and the confrontational first line “Right, who here hated my movie?”
‘This is more like it’ I thought, and as the group chuckled nervously, taken aback by his forthright first words trying to avoid answering outright, I exclaimed through my genuine laughter that this was a great way to start an interview.
Up front from the off and being responsible for updating such a cult classic movie, Alvarez explained how as a fan himself he didn’t want a remake either “I come from a group of friends like me who have been making films since we where kids and we are all film freaks so we really know our horror movies and we know our films and we know the genre pretty well so when Sam (Raimi) announced it back in 2006 I was so pissed. I don’t think people have something against remakes they have something against bad movies. Sometimes remakes are bad movies so when you hear about a remake with the brand or the name of something you like its even worse because you go ‘why, no I don’t want a bad movie sitting next to the movies that I love.’
“From some weird twist of destiny 3 years after that I ended up being the guy in charge of that movie for me it was a good thing because it was the only thing I could do to save it from being terrible at least I was going to have a say on it right. If someone is going to fuck it up it better be me. By knowing the films so much and coming from a group of friends who are film freaks we really know the audience. It would be intimidating if I felt an Evil Dead fan is going to come to me and explain to me what I did wrong and why and I would have to say ‘Oh shit sorry I was trying to please you.’ No I’m not trying to please anybody. Sam said something very important at 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.’
“For me I would never want to see an Ash remake, no way because that’s impossible. I want to create new characters because I don’t want to see the same story again because I don’t want to know how it’s going to end I have seen the original about a hundred times. The whole decision making of what we kept was based on what is the perfect Evil Dead movie I want to see. I was definitely not a remake, it was not a sequel because it wouldn’t make sense to make a sequel for a whole new audience. A lot of people out there are asking me if we borrow elements from Cabin in the Woods and I had to explain Cabin in the Woods is an homage to Evil Dead so there is a big audience out there who don’t know about Evil Dead so we can’t make a sequel as it would never work.”
Further proving his fan boy credentials Alvarez went on to explain that keeping the mythology of the original films was vital to him especially when expanding on the Necronomicon “We thought the book was around for a long time. Some people may say ‘but the book was burnt at the end of the first film’ No it wasn’t. If you watch the movie again you will never see a shot where the book is consumed by the fire, sorry if I geek out about this too much, they throw the book in the fire, you can see some weird faces but it is never really consumed it never disappears. There is a moment in my film where they put the book in the fire and everyone says ‘the book doesn’t burn’ and then they take it out although they probably should have left it. We didn’t want to say anything that would override the original film, like I said this is me geeking out about the details on how the two films live together without overriding each other while being very respectable.”
“I didn’t want to be Meta” Alvarez exclaims, “I didn’t want to make a film where people know about horror movies and they talk about horror movies. I think the best horror movies exist in a universe where horror movies don’t exist, they haven’t seen them, they don’t know if there’s a book, don’t read it, they don’t believe those things. I think in a lot of the best movies and horrors if you think about them movies don’t exist in their mythology and they don’t talk about it because it takes you out of the experience.”
When asked about hanging out with Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi, every Evil Dead fans dream come true, Alvarez’s face lit up. “It was great, we became really good friends. I was actually with Bruce in Miami a couple of weeks ago. It was a blast as a fan to have the chance to know these guys. As a filmmaker I learnt so much from them. Nobody knows Evil Dead like Bruce not even Sam because Bruce lives and breathes Evil Dead every day for the last 30 years Its his thing, everybody connects Bruce with Evil Dead and we have to give him a lot of credit too because he is the one who kept the title alive for such a long time. When the other guys where busy doing other things he was going to conventions and talking about Evil Dead to everybody and that has kept the whole thing alive and is part of the reason why it’s a success today because Bruce was lobbying for the movie with the fans for such a long time.”
Moving on to casting Alvarez said how he didn’t want anyone who was a name commenting that he felt horror movies work best when you don’t know the actors. After seeing thousands of people in Hollywood, New York, London, Australia and New Zealand he finally found Jane Levy. “ Jane was the only one who was so eager to get the role. She was hungry which was awesome and this is her first big movie just like me. This is my first movie and I am trying to do everything I can to make the best movie I can and Jane was in the same mindset.”
One thing that the remake shares with the original is the use of practical effects and even though Alvarez comes from a visual effects background he was keen to avoid using computer-generated effects in his Evil Dead. “I didn’t want to use any CGI for this particular film, I don’t have anything against CGI its just for this story I felt it wasn’t necessary. I think horror movies if you want them top be real and scarier you shouldn’t use CGI.
You can do some spectacular stuff in CGI its just a different experience, its not scary, your brain knows its CGI so you think that’s cool but you know its not real.”Talking about working with her on set he said “I wanted to give her a lot of freedom when it came down to portraying the crazy demon moments. She was really ready to try everything. It’s a big risk your taking and you can make a fool of yourself but she didn’t care. I think some of the best moments in the movie are just Jane going crazy.”
Expanding further he wisely added “CGI dates movies. Something that looks great today in a five years you come to show it to somebody and you have to say ‘you should have seen it when it came out’ and in ten years its unwatchable. With any technique not just CGI when its top of the line and just came out usually you should wait a little bit because maybe it looks great today but its going to get very old very fast. There is a legacy for the Evil Dead movies and you don’t want to make a movie that’s unwatchable in five years”
Following on from the effects things came round to the excessive gore, graphic scenes and high rating the movie has something Alvarez wanted from the start because of his views on the original. “My experience of watching the first Evil Dead I though it was so disturbing. It was such a violent and insane film. I was 12, I was a kid and it was so disturbing on so many levels. It was never funny to me.”
Going on to talk of how the original was banned in the UK he said, “I would never have a PG13 version of this film. This is my first film so I have never been burned in the past. Other directors have shot a film and then the MPAA (American censors) just start cutting it down and force them to turn it into something else so when they come to wrote the next one they know how the MPAA thinks so they wrote it in a way they will get the ratting they want. I don’t know anything about that as it’s my first film so when I wrote it I wasn’t even thinking about the ratting.”
“I remember once I delivered the first draft (producer) Rob Tapart said you know there is this thing called the MPAA right and I said right lets make it NC17 (the highest rating in the US) who cares and he said I do because they will never show it in any cinemas. I said well okay lets shot it anyway and worse case we have to cut some shots out and Rob was so concerned at the beginning. But then he said you’re right let’s push forward with everything and we will deal with it and thank god we managed to get our cut to theatres. We had to trim some shots, the very graphic ones like the tongue, so we instead of showing it for 3 seconds we show it for 2 seconds.”
Interestingly he mentioned that they also cut some scenes out not for gore but for pacing. “What you saw is my directors cut there is no notes from the studio, imagine that,” he said laughing. “We tested the movie and we scored an 85-84 which means 85% of the audience loved it so there where no notes and they put it out that way. Because there wasn’t going to be a directors cut on DVD later we did an extended version which was everything we shot which is exactly what the script was originally. It’s good because you learn a lot of things that might not be so clear in the movie”
As a fan of the humor in the Evil Dead series I was interested in quizzing Alvarez on his decision to take the tone of his remake so far into darkness without any real light. The subject of comedy obviously touching a nerve he was quick to jump on the fact that the original was not meant to be funny at all calming down he admitted “first of all I wouldn’t know how to do it, that’s Sam Raimi he’s a maser at that the horror comedy and how to balance between making it a comedy and at the same time making it scary.”
“For me” he continued “when you think about Evil Dead and bringing it back to a new audience you have to know that while you are making this film you are going to be introducing the Evil Dead universe to a new audience who have n o idea what it is. So I thought you have to go back to the basics of what Evil Dead was. I never saw Evil Dead 1 as a comedy on any level because it scared me so much as a kid every time I re-watch it even as grown up I still see it as a horror movie.”
“I mean its funny when Bruce (Campbell) starts slapping the hell out of his girlfriend it is funny and your laughing but it was never the intention. If you ask Sam Raimi he was never trying to make it funny he was trying to make the scariest movie he could, that was the spirit of everybody making that film trying to be as violent and obscene and disturbing as he could no one was thinking about make a comedy. Then with time they realised people laughed at the over the top moments so they embraced that in the second one and went more slapstick. But if you have to go back to the basics it shouldn’t be funny.”
Expanding on his comments I drew attention to the extremely over to top epic finale of his remake, the part of the film I personally felt truly embodied the ethos and spirit of the Evil Dead “Its always the same” he commented “in the same scenes I would look back in the theatre and I would see some lady covering her eyes and some guy next to her with there mouth full of popcorn laughing their ass off at the same moment. For some people those moments are so funny and others its so disturbing. I have heard a lot of reports of people fainting and some one had a seizure. But at the same time someone is fainting because its too much someone is laughing. It’s just so weird but it’s just the nature of these films. That’s why I am happy we decided not to go with the intentional humor but then you have the laughter in the theatres because its so crazy and over the top people start laughing and then its so dark and scary again that no one is laughing anymore and people are begging for the next laugh.”
As the interview was about to be wrapped up there was just enough time to ask Fede Alvarez with the film doing so well in the US if there would be a sequel which he replied “Yeah we are writing a sequel already. I am not sure if I am going to direct it or not as it will depend on schedule and what type of movie it is but yes there will definitely be a sequel.”
More excitingly he went on to say that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell would be back working on Evil Dead as well. “Sam wants to do another Evil Dead with Bruce its something he would love to go back to. I think he is talking about making an Army of Darkness 2 and my dream would be if we make a sequel to our film and he makes a sequel to Army of Darkness we can connect the two mythologies together.”
Stopping conversation, Alvarez reached into his bag to grab his iPad “In fact, now that you asked me about it, I want to show you something I think is kind of cool”. Turning the screen around he revealed a picture of Bruce Campbell and Jane Levy against a blank background, embracing in an old, Hollywood style romance scene.
With a beaming smile on his face mirrored by the bunch of Evil Dead fans around him (myself included) this picture hinted that perhaps that Ash and Mia may get together sometime in the future. And it was the perfect way to end our interview, uniting the past and the present in a way that I’m sure all Evil Dead fans would love to see.
Evil Dead is in cinemas nationwide from 18th April.