A large portion of my trip to the Auckland, New Zealand set of EVIL DEAD was devoted to sitting down and chatting with stars Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci, Shiloh Fernandez and Elizabeth Blackmore, director Fede Alvarez and producer Rob Tapert. No, neither Sam Raimi nor Bruce Campbell were there (Raimi was working on a little something called OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL), but this gang would more than suffice. Especially since the tales they told were filled with descriptions of hideousness, gore, vomit and mutilation.
As you hopefully read in the first part of my report, Fede Alvarez essentially came out of nowhere to nab the primo gig. As a first time director (at least on the feature end), Alvarez was clearly quite in control of the production and unintimidated by his famous bosses. Which lead us to wonder: how much feedback does he get from Raimi, Campbell and Tapert? Are they involved in every aspect of the movie?
"Oh, they were very involved in pre-production," Alvarez said during a filming break. "I actually had the chance to spend a week with Bruce in his house in Miami. I lost a flight connection and I knew he lived there, we were already in contact because of the movie and he invited me over, so I had the crazy awesome chance to spend the week with the team. On pre-production we had a lot of time together, talked a lot about the movie and what we were going to do. But then Sam Raimi said to me 'Once the ship has sailed, it's gone. Once you start shooting, I cannot be the guy screaming 'Go the other way! Go the other way!' they have to let you go. Now it's about us, the people that are down here. And they send their feedback here and there saying 'It's looking great, keep going. Awesome. Take care of that. Watch this thing.' Those kinds of things, but not "in control" of the thing."
Tapert backed up Alvarez's assessment. "You know, when it comes to Ghost House business as a whole, Sam actually defers to directors almost more than he should, but certainly is incredibly deferential to the director in letting them have their say until the director’s cut comes in. And then everybody’s all over it as they always are. But by and large, once the movie’s out of the gate he’s quite hands off in terms of…he watches dailies, but there’s nothing you can do. You know, the ship is sailing and it’s either gonna hit rocks or not."
Obviously, that sailing ship metaphor is a popular one at Ghost House.
The fact that, at the end of the day, EVIL DEAD is being overseen by a gigantic company like Sony (TriStar will distribute) has not affected the production a bit, according to Alvarez, mostly thanks to Raimi's clout.
"Sam, being who he is, has a lot of power because people trust him, he's a great artist. So the studios, they hand everything to him and he has the power to say 'This is the way it's gonna be.' And everything on this movie has been basically down to his word. And Sony has been supportive 100% in everything. So in a way it ended up being very indie, the way were doing it. Because I don't remember a moment where I said "I want to do this." And someone said 'Oh no, you can't do that.' It hasn’t been like that. So far it's like 'Let's go for it.'"
And they are "going for it in a big way"; this movie looks like it pulls no punches in the violence and gore departments. Alvarez and the producers agreed early on that this version of EVIL DEAD is going to be straight-forward horror, so don't look for any Bruce Campbell-y goofing around. (Or a PG-13.) "Right away we agreed that we wanted to make a more serious movie," Alvarez states. "And Mr. Bruce Campbell was like, 'okay this is a new set of characters.' We don't want to remake the old characters. In particular, we don't want to remake Ash. I've been a fan of this forever and I'm not going to touch Ash. That's something you don't do."
Pucci, who plays Eric (a teacher), reiterated Alvarez's point, apparently having a similar conversation with Campbell. "Bruce Campbell gave us an email that was just kind of like, 'don't worry about trying to copy anything that we did, or trying to make it anything lke what we did, because what we did worked for a totally different reason than what you guys are trying to do.' So I thought that was kind of cool, everybody is on the same page about us making our own characters that has nothing to do with the original characters."
Pucci was in full make-up when we met with him, his face covered in demonic blisters and sores. To hear him tell it, the prosthetic work is not the most lovable part of acting in a film like EVIL DEAD. "Yesterday... I think that was my worst day ever. (Laughs) And it's because I had to do all day what I'm doing just for a little bit of the day today. But it's the exact same thing: I'm covered in water right now, and wearing mesh under this and knee pads and shit that doesn't let water out. And I was just sleeping, but that's usually not well-enjoyed because I have these fucking contacts in that are– you can't even see. It's the worst thing in the world.
The lead of the film is Jane Levy, best known for her role on ABC's "Suburgatory." Levy plays Mia, a recovering addict who, along with her brother (Fernandez) and friends head to the secluded cabin in an effort to clean her system of the drugs that have plagued her. The actress, like Pucci and the rest of the ensemble, frequently finds herself covered in all manner of latex and fake blood during filming, which makes things a little more "method." "Sometimes I don't really have to act. I'm actually freezing cold, and I'm so tired that I'm crying, because I'm so cold and I want to go home. Really, just like my character, so you know, it makes the job easier sometimes, a little bit more real."
Speaking of real, things got pretty real for Jane and a co-star during one particular sequence, which I'll let her describe: "I don't know how much I'm allowed to give away, but at one point I vomit all over somebody. A lot of vomit. Like, a shit-ton of fluid. I had a tube practically down my throat, and I'm on top of this girl and vomiting all over her. When you actually do something like that – I don't think I can actually describe the sensation – but I actually went to the corner and cried. I'm really sensitive. But I felt like I was really drowning my friend Jessica, it felt so bad. I was shaking."
Levy later admitted that she had been warned about the perils of making a hardcore horror film, by someone who knows these things all too well. "When we were in the audition room, Bruce [Campbell] especially was like, 'do you know what it's like to be buried alive? Do you know what it feels like?' And, of course, I wanted the job, so I was like, 'yeah yeah yeah, bring it on!' And then you do it, it's hard, but like I said, you'll see it in the movie, I think it'll reflect on our performances. It's as real as you can get without actually hurting each other."
According to Alvarez, that kind of sardonic warning was par for the course with Bruce. "Bruce was trying to scare everybody. 'Have you ever done this kind of make-up, you're going to be miserable.' 'I haven't, but I'm ready to try!' 'You're not going to like it.'"
Elizabeth Blackmore, an Australian stage actress, seems a somewhat surprising addition to the cast, as the other actors are more or less recognizable to moviegoers. To hear her tell it, she can't quite believe she's in the film either, having not at all been a horror movie buff growing up. "I’m no good with horror. I think a bit like Fede, I have older brothers and sisters and they showed me horror films when I was way too young to deal with any of it. And as a result, kind of…it just scares the shit out of me. So reading the script kind of [was] why I wanted to do it. It’s such a big challenge, it’s so hard, and I’m no good with horror. Not at all."
Perhaps the most important question, at least for Rob Tapert who has helped guide EVIL DEAD since its very humble beginnings, is why remake the film that so many people still hold so near and dear. His explanation is rather interesting:
"[Sam] thought it was a great chance for a young filmmaker, a new filmmaker, to have the tools to go and remake something. In terms of entertainment, he said, ‘nobody saw the movie as we intended [people] to see it,’ which was in a theater or in a drive-in. The first movie was meant to be a drive-in movie. So he said, ‘nobody has seen it in the theater. It’s a title that a young filmmaker should be able to take, improve upon with everything they have available today, give it a story, give the characters last names if we have to. And kinda get it uh…so he was always for it, for all those reasons. But he wanted to see it remade and brought to a theater as a real movie."
Tapert reassured us, and in effect all the fans out there, that they're not watering this thing down at all. In fact, for the amount of gore that's sure to be in the theatrical cut, we have even more to look forward to in the DVD/Blu-ray release, saying an uncut version of the film is already in the cards.
Perhaps it's best to wrap up with this quote from Tapert about the longevity of the original and the hopes for the remake: "...there was a motto that we wanted to punish the audience. So there was a punishment, we wanted to scare them. And I think we brought that into the movie as entertainment and scaring the audience, and this one has the same straightforward goals. …It really is to go for the jugular…as often as we can."