EVIL DEAD directed by Fede Alvarez, written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues based on The Evil Dead by Sam Raimi, with Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore. A Sony Pictures release. 90 minutes. Opens Friday (April 5). For venues and times, see listings.
If someone says "Hey, remember Evil Dead?" you probably picture square-jawed Bruce Campbell battling angry zombies by strapping a chainsaw onto the stump where his possessed hand used to be.
That's fine, but those are the sequels, not the original. Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead is a nasty piece of work, and it was that nastiness that director Fede Alvarez set out to recapture in his remake.
"We really wanted to bring that classic scary horror back to horror movies," Alvarez says over the phone. "I think you always have to do that; horror naturally will tend to go to the comedy side. I thought this would be a good moment to go back to classic, disturbing horror."
Alvarez does that by creating new characters and giving them an unpleasant backstory: estranged siblings Mia and David (Jane Levy and Shiloh Fernandez ) reunite after their mother's death, when one has to help the other kick a heroin addiction.
"For me, it's scary from the moment Mia tells David that he never showed up at the hospital while their mother was going crazy: ‘Ah, she even called me David for a whole day, and I played along,'" Alvarez says. "We just filled the story with disturbing ideas. Even if you take the supernatural element of the story away, it's still a scary story."
Another (extremely unsettling) new element is that the possessed don't suddenly explode into pustulant ghouls, as in the original. Instead, they undergo a more subtle and insidious transformation.
"It was a way to avoid the makeup [just] popping up," he says. "That was very 80s - somebody turns around to look at you and suddenly they have makeup on, or their skin colour's changed. We didn't want to do that, so we came up with the idea that the first stage of possession was always hurting themselves. [One character] burns herself with boiling water, so then she has all these scars that can start getting infected and she looks worse and worse every second. We always wanted it based on something real."
"Real" became a watchword on the set, thanks to Alvarez's decision to eschew CGI and shoot the whole picture with old-school practical makeup effects.
"You know, it's very easy to write in the script, ‘And then she cuts her arm off,'" he says. "It's very easy to write that, but it's very hard to shoot it when you decide not to use CGI, because, you know, her arm is gonna be there," he laughs.
"That rule of ‘no CGI' ended up being the most fun part. Everybody in the makeup department and the effects department, they all loved it! They hate CGI coming in and just killing their jobs [laughing]. It helped us to push outside of the box and create things that had never been done before."