The Evil Dead director reveals how set about putting flesh on his R-rated reimagining of Sam Raimi's cult favourite.
It's been a whirlwind couple of years for Fede Alvarez. Since catching Hollywood's eye after uploading a five-minute short film to YouTube in which an army of giant robots storm his native Montevideo, the Uruguayan filmmaker has found himself at the centre of a fierce fan debate surrounding the long-rumoured remake of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead. But what does Alvarez make of the attention he's received since signing on to update this most cherished of cult horrors. With his goretastic Evil Dead hitting cinemas this week, LWLies sat him down to find out...
LWLies: When the Evil Dead remake was first announced there were some interesting reactions, especially online...
Alvarez: [Laughs] 'Interesting reactions'. That's one way of putting it...
But what a lot of people don't realise is that this wasn't a studio-driven thing, it was Sam Raimi's idea.
That's true. It started because Sam wanted to do a new Evil Dead. He'd wanted to do it for a long time, and I think actually I heard something back in 2006 when he announced that he wanted to remake it.
What was your reaction to that?
I was pissed. As a fan of the original I thought it was a bad idea to just remake that film. So it was great for me that for some weird reason of destiny I'm the one sat here now talking about my movie.
So you didn't just want to do a remake?
No. I don't think that story would be relevant to a new audience if you just retold it. We had to really put it to the test and challenge every idea in the original film. So anyway, I did a film back in 2009 called Panic Attack! that won me a lot of attention from Hollywood. I met a lot of people there and eventually I got to meet Sam, who was someone I really wanted to work with. I've been a huge fan of his since Darkman came out. To my generation that film was the shit. We started talking about a film based on the short and almost right away Sam asked me if I would do Evil Dead for him. I think he was happy that I didn't want to remake Ash, that I wanted to create my own characters and story using the same mythology. He knew that I didn't want to do a remake, it's kind of more like a requel.
You achieve that with Jane Levy's character. How important was it for you to have a female protagonist?
Well, you know, it was something that happened because the story was crafted in such a way that it gets to a point that it's a natural thing to happen. I mean, after what happens to all the rest of the characters happens, it gets to a point where [**SPOILER ALERT**] you have Jane standing outside the cabin. When you get to that point it would be unfair that she just walks away. You know, she's been torturing everybody in the movie and so we thought she has to be the one to ultimately sacrifice herself. She has to confront her evil side, which of course is what she's initially there for; to defeat her junkie side.
This metaphorical device of centring the story around a drug addict who's battling her inner demons is arguably more complex than anything in the original film. But it's something so few people writing about your film have paid attention to. Is that frustrating?
Yeah it's true. You're right. It's alright in a way because people are engaged with Mia, they admire her at the beginning because she's doing something very brave in trying to confront her addiction. But she's also a character people seem to hate at certain points. I have to give a lot of credit to Jane for being able to portray the two sides of Mia's character, but most people just see horror movies as a bunch of gory moments. I don't think they realise that if it was just that it would never be entertaining.
Do you appreciate the risk of making your lead character a drug addict? There's a lot of stigma attached to drug addiction and it's not something that audiences are used to from this type of film.
I think people like characters for many reasons in movies. Usually if you see someone who is doing something really tough, like they're facing some great challenge, you warm to them. It doesn't matter if they're a drug addict or what their affliction. You admire that character because we all have our addiction and our weaknesses. Also, she's one of the most honest character's in the whole movies; David is trying to lie to please her, he's not really there to save her he's more there to say yes to her; Olivia is trying to prove that she's a good enough nurse to handle the situation; Eric is more concerned about the fight with David. Everybody has their own agenda. Mia is the only one who speaks the truth. It could have backfired, but only if nobody cares about the hero in the end, and hopefully everybody does.
The film relies a lot more on in-camera effects than computer-generated effects. What was the decision behind that?
It was just the way I thought the movie should be done. The more real horror movies look the scarier they are. If you compare two zombie movies that came out relatively close to each other, 28 Days Later... and I Am Legend, one has real zombies, people running at you, and the other has CG zombies. I Am Legend isn't a horror movie, and you could argue that 28 Days Later isn't either, but one is much scarier than the other. CGI just isn't as scary, no matter how gory or brutal it is, because you brain can spot the CGI and suddenly you feel safer.
So what techniques did you use?
Camera tricks, a lot of erasing stuff, and loads of old-school visual effects. Also, I didn't want the movie to get too old too fast, which I is a consequence of using too much CGI. When you watch Avatar, it doesn't look as good today as when it came out. It looked amazing when it came out, but it's dated badly. Practical effects get old as well, but at least you can enjoy them because they're more real.
It's kind of ironic that Panic Attack! uses CGI, and in fact that's most likely what got you noticed.
Yeah, it is, but it's the nature of the story that calls for it. It's not that I'm against CGI. If I do a sci-fi movie tomorrow, which I hope I can do, I will use CGI because I'll probably be creating things that don't exist in real life. The worst example of CGI is when you create a dog or a wolf or something that we're so used to seeing. Even blood and gore, it just doesn't have the same effect.
What do you love about movies?
Movies? I don't know... Honestly, I'm a film freak. Growing up I would watch a movie a day. In Uruguay we have this Cinematheque where you could pay £10 a month and watch 100 movies. My father is a big film fan and he gave me a card for that Cinematheque when I was very young, so I've been watching movies from a very young early age. I love them in general, and I think a lot of it is because they make you believe in things that don't exist. It takes you back to a time when you were a kid and you believed in everything.