'The Evil Dead' Reboot Ups the Intensity


Speaking from the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, "Evil Dead" producer Rob Tapert is describing the difference between the reboot, which opens Friday, and the shoestring budget 1981 movie "The Evil Dead" that became a massive cult hit and remains must-scream viewing for horror fans.

"The first day of shooting the new 'Evil Dead' cost more than the entire shooting period of the original one," he says amiably.

It's a theme that Sam Raimi, also on board as a producer, picks up when he talks from Southern California about the same movie.

"When we would get together and we would see that Fede (Alvarez, the "Evil Dead" director) had money for craft service, we would laugh, because we had nothing," he says. "The actors had a warm place to sleep, we would laugh. It was the comparisons of a modern-day low budget versus a 1980s no-budget picture."

In short, one movie could afford doughnuts and hotels, one couldn't. The new "Evil Dead" also boasts current technology like 5.1 surround sound (the original sound was mono) and about 25,000 liters of fake blood.

Yes, even the blood supply got an upgrade.

The story of "The Evil Dead" (the remake drops the "The") is legendary to the army of fans who over the years have embraced its game-changing gore and creative flair. It's the movie that launched the careers of a trio of youthful, energetic metro Detroiters -- Raimi, Tapert and Bruce Campbell -- and grew into a cultural sensation against all odds.

The three friends raised several hundred thousand dollars from local investors and convinced local actors and pals to undergo a grueling shoot in the Tennessee woods and several extra weeks of filming in Michigan. When the cast and crew members talk now about bunking together in an unheated cabin and spending cold days and nights covered in or applying corn syrup to pass for blood, they sound like military veterans sharing war stories.

The scarefest about five friends in a cabin in the woods being taken over by zombie demons never really had a big theatrical release, so few people actually saw it in a theater. But hordes of people discovered "The Evil Dead" on VHS and, later, DVD. Thanks to Raimi's assured, creative camera work and the dedication of those involved, the movie has become an influential horror landmark with a big creative footprint.

Over the decades, there has been talk of remaking "The Evil Dead," which Raimi -- whose latest hit, the Pontiac-filmed "Oz the Great and Powerful," is out now -- says comes with a sense of tremendous obligation to not disappoint fans.

The idea was never to re-create what they'd already seen, according to Raimi, who left Michigan State University to direct the original. "It was to present something new to the audience, take the horror movie to the next step, present something they hadn't seen before and to really terrify them." Out of respect for what already had been achieved, this "Evil Dead" had to be what Raimi describes as "a brand new roller-coaster ride for the year 2013."

So what turned the possibility of a revamp into a reality? "It took us meeting the right filmmaker," says Tapert. Enter Fede Alvarez, a young Uruguayan director who, much like Raimi, grew up fascinated by movies and made amateur films as a kid with his father's camera.

In 2009, Alvarez, who was working on visual effects in advertising, created a viral video when he posted a short film on YouTube titled "Panic Attack!" The impressive mini-thriller about giant aliens invading Montevideo drew millions of hits and put the newcomer on the Hollywood radar.

Raimi had begun working with Alvarez on a picture that didn't get made when the "Spider-Man" trilogy auteur realized he'd found his "Evil Dead" heir. Raimi laughs when it's suggested that he gave Alvarez the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. "The good horror seal of approval?" he quips.

"I saw in this young man's short a brilliant filmmaker," says Raimi, also describing him as a nimble storyteller. "I thought he was a reasonable, funny guy who was going to become a great director. I thought, 'I've been waiting to find the right filmmaker for this horror story I have, and he's the one.' "

Alvarez, who was at SXSW with Tapert, says his childhood memories of discovering "The Evil Dead" are indelible. It was around 1990 when he and a friend, bored with the then-current horror movies, talked a guy at a video store into renting them "a real horror movie." He wound up scared out of his wits by Raimi's original.

"It tapped into all my deepest fears, for some reason. It traumatized me. It really made me have nightmares for days and days and days," he says. In other words, it was one of the coolest scary movies he'd ever seen.

The right director

Before filming started on "Evil Dead," Alvarez traveled to metro Detroit in 2011 to explore the birthplace of the original movie. "While Sam was shooting 'Oz' in Michigan, I had a chance to go there and spend a day with him and spend a few days in Detroit, driving around and kind of seeing where he comes from, and also the characters come from there. It was important for me to get there, know the place a little bit more."

The trip inspired Alvarez, who is making his feature film directing debut. "I met a guy that was a (production assistant) on the original. The guy was like, 'I trust you. You'll make a good movie.' And that meant a lot to me," he says.

Raimi, Tapert and Campbell, who are all producers of the new "Evil Dead," worked on the casting together in Los Angeles. Raimi helped shape the various drafts of the screenplay written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (and at one point, Diablo Cody of "Juno" was brought in for some rewrites). "I never forced my input upon him," says Raimi. "I would give him notes. He would take some of them, but not all of them." As Raimi puts it, "I let him own the piece. It's the only way to make a great picture, to let the director run with it."

When shooting began in New Zealand, Raimi was in post-production on "Oz." Tapert, who lives in New Zealand with his wife, actress Lucy Lawless, and was working there on "Spartacus: War of the Damned," was able to be on the set.

"It was really the easiest movie I've ever worked on in my life," says Tapert, who credits Alvarez with maintaining a respectful attitude toward the franchise.

The creative decisions by Alvarez were deemed appropriate by the founding trio. He chose to use new characters for the five kids trapped in the woods, which allowed the original characters, including Campbell's iconic Ash, to remain unique.

In this version, Jane Levy (star of the ABC sitcom "Suburgatory") takes over the lead role as Mia, a young woman battling addiction who during the cabin getaway promises her brother and friends to stop using drugs for good. But the trip quickly turns terrifying when an ancient book found in the rustic setting unleashes hellish consequences, just as in the original.

Another key choice by Alvarez was his commitment to using practical special effects as much as possible, instead of relying largely on computer-generated effects. Back in the pre-CGI world, Raimi and his team used all sort of homemade tricks to create gory mayhem, like blowing fake blood through plastic tubes to simulate the spray of a severed limb. The effects done by Alvarez pay homage to the spirit of the original and give the scares an immediacy and realism quite different from the found-footage films so popular in horror today.

The remake contains some Michigan nods. Tapert, who met Raimi when they were students at MSU, points out that there's a Michigan State sweatshirt and an MC5 T-shirt in the movie's wardrobe. Tapert got his and Raimi's old MSU film professor Bill Vincent to do a cameo in the opening scene. He says audiences can assume that the cursed cabin is somewhere in Michigan (and Flint does get a mention indicating Mia and her pals have traveled from there).

Although "The Evil Dead" was a landmark in gore for its time, "Evil Dead" ramps up the carnage in ways that will speak to an age where AMC's "The Walking Dead" is a mainstream TV hit. The movie is being advertised as "the most terrifying film you will ever experience."

"This one is pretty operatic," says Alvarez. Raimi echoes that opinion. "It's really intense and that's in the spirit of the original," he says, launching into a story from the good old days. When a young Raimi asked a man named Andy Grainger, who ran the Butterfield theaters in Detroit, for his advice for making horror films, "He said, 'Kid, make sure the blood is running down the screen.' "

Once again, that mission is accomplished. Would a 12-year-old Alvarez be ready for this "Evil Dead"? "He'd have to be a little older, believe me. But who knows? Maybe the kid will watch it and he'll give us something new in 20 years," says Alvarez, envisioning yet another generation of filmmakers taking a crack at the movie some day. "That would be awesome."

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