This weekend, director Fede Alavrez’s remake of Sam Raimi’s classic horror film The Evil Dead opens. Recently, I had a chance to chat with the director about the film, working with Raimi and the perils of remaking a cult classic. Part of our discussion moved into territory that would spoil the film, so we’ll save that for later this weekend.
Q: Over the last several years, we’ve seen a lot of horror film remake that no one has been too happy about, but the word coming out of SXSW (following the screening of The Evil Dead) has been very positive. Did you have to live with the worry that fans were not going to be receptive no matter how good a film you put out there.
A: A little bit, at the early stages when we didn’t know exactly what the movie was going to be. Remaking a cult classic sounds like a fool’s errand and it’s going to be impossible to succeed. But it’s so different from all those other movies in that it isn’t a big studio release. This is a franchise that is owned by Sam Raimi, Rob Tappert and Bruce Campbell, the guys who did the original movie. They’re the ones who wanted to do a new Evil Dead, they’re ready for a new film. It comes from them and they’re the creative producers.
It’s completely different from those other horror movies you’re talking about. Those are properties that are owned by studios and they’re not connected to the original creators at all. They do three or four different scripts from different writers and then one day a director comes in and shoots it. This movie, I write it with one of my best friends. The two of us are the biggest Sam Raimi fans since we were kids. So we write it from scratch. We do two drafts and then we had Diablo Cody do a pass on dialogue but we didn’t use much of that, so that’s why she doesn’t have a credit. Then we shot the movie and cut the movie and my director’s cut is the one you’re going to see in the theaters.
And that doesn’t happen often in Hollywood. Usually there’s a producer’s cut and that doesn’t have much to do with what the director wanted to do. And like I said, [those other remakes have] a script that was written by several writers trying to do different things and that’s why those movies sometimes don’t work as they’re so many voices at the same time. This one is just Sam and myself basically just going out and making the movie. It’s a more independent film in a way.
Q: How involved was Sam in giving feedback during development? It seems to be that it would be like an adoptive father trying to raise a kid while the biological father was looking over his shoulder.
A: Part of his job was to give us as much freedom as he could. He knows as a director that the last thing a producer has to do is not be in the director’s face forcing him to do something that he doesn’t want. He was really committed to giving me that freedom. He said at the beginning “I am going to give to you everything that they never gave me, which is complete freedom to do whatever you want to do.” And he knows his audience better than anybody. He was really helpful in the process of the writing. When he read a scene that he knew that the fans were going to love, he would always encourage us to keep going and go a little further. He was a great mentor to have. He struck the perfect balance between being there and giving me all the room possible to make the movie I want.
Q: I think most people see the decision to cast the film’s lead as a female character instead of a male one as a concession that you just can’t replicate what Bruce Campbell did in the original films. Was there anything else that came out of that decision that you discovered you could do while in the writing process?
A: Well, it wasn’t so much that we said “Well, since we can’t use Bruce let’s create a female character,” as it was more an organic thing of the story. The thing, though, is if I talk too much about it, I’ll be spoiling the movie. The heart of the story is kind of the same as the heart of the original story – these women are driving these men crazy, right? The women are the ones to get possessed first and the guys are the ones who have to deal with it. Such a great idea from the original and it’s something that really sets apart the original film from the rest of the trend which was always a woman being chased by a guy with a chainsaw or a hammer or whatever. Evil Dead was completely contrary with guys being harassed and tortured by the women. That’s something I think is a key idea in the original and is definitely back in this one.
We have a new hero, in a way, and at the end of the day Jane’s character is that person. But like I said, if we talk too much about it I think we’ll be in trouble. But it wasn’t just trying to do something different from Ash it was just something that organically happened with the story.
Q: In the film you stayed away from a lot of computer created visuals and instead opted for practical effects.
A: I think horror needs to be done with practical effects. Nobody’s scared of CGI. Even if you don’t consciously recognize the CGI, I think your mind does. And if for some reason you see something that feels off or weird, you’re not scared. So we knew that we wanted to be scary, graphic and gory we had to go practical. All of the best moments of the movie are not only practical, but 100% real. It’s the same kind of effects you could have done in the `50s.
And also you want to pay some respect to the original movies. Those movies are classics, they’ve stayed around for ages. You want to make sure that you don’t make a film that is forgettable in two or three years. And when you use CGI usually movies get dated fast. Usually the greatest CGI in five years looks weird and then ten years later is unwatchable.
And it is here where our conversation veered into spoiler territory, so see the film this weekend then come back on Sunday for Part Two.