While on the set of the upcoming thriller Don’t Breathe in Budapest, Hungary, director Fede Alvarez took the time to have a very long conversation with our group of journalists about the creative process behind the movie, the special filmmaking techniques used for shooting in darkness, and much more. But a lot of the questions directed at him were also about Evil Dead, which he rebooted in 2013 as both the director and co-writer. He spoke about his friendship with Sam Raimi (who specifically selected him to direct the movie — Alvarez’s debut feature) and Bruce Campbell, as well as the experience of making that film versus Don’t Breathe, and the future of the Evil Dead franchise..
Don’t Breathe tells the story of a group of young adults in Detroit who decide to break into a blind man’s house and steal from him — but he turns out to be a very formidable foe, one who feels like he has no choice but to trap and kill the intruders. It’s very different from Evil Dead, but Alvarez spoke about the freedom he’s enjoyed in filming both:
“When I was doing Evil Dead, honestly, there was no restriction whatsoever. Sam never wanted to step on set. So it was really like they sent me to New Zealand where we shot that movie and they really want me do whatever I wanted. I was so grateful to them. Sam, being a director, because he knows that for a director, what he wants is producers that enable you and they give you the freedom to do what you think is cool.
So here it’s even more freedom, I guess, because there’s not a previous movie that I have to kind of honor and tap into. And there’s no story that I have to echo. On Evil Dead I was trying to tell a new story with new characters, but still I wanted to honor what it was previously there. Here it’s different, which is actually pretty bizarre. It’s a different way to do it. Every shot I did in my life it was always from something new. But this is the first time I did a movie that is 100% that you take out from thin air. It’s pretty exciting.
I have a lot of colleagues in Hollywood that are always teasing me about that, like I have too much freedom to be making Hollywood movies. Even on Evil Dead, the cut you’ve seen was my director’s cut put out there. [The studios] also encourage us to do whatever we want. I have complete creative freedom what I want to do here. So that’s a beautiful way to make movies.”
In Don’t Breathe, Alvarez is again working with Jane Levy, who starred in his production of Evil Dead. He spoke about his love for strong female characters, and about how she was able to do something different with her role in Evil Dead.
“I think she did a great job in Evil Dead of playing that character. At the same time, most of the movie she was a monster, right? And then eventually she became the hero in quite a strange storytelling twist. On horror, it’s not the drug addict that becomes the hero at the end, and definitely not the monster. So it was pretty strange.”
He also noted how strongly people identified with and loved her character, and that they get tattoos of Levy. “I still get on my Twitter every day like some new tattoo…not every day, but once in a while somebody has a tattoo of Jane on their arm and their leg. There’s a lot of those.” He went on to say,
“I guess that something happened with that character that people really connect with her somehow. And, at the end of the day, on Evil Dead it was just like those last 10 minutes and the blood rain where she is just a girl trying to get away from all this, and she managed to come back on the other side of life. So I really wanted to make movie with her like exploiting that a little bit more.
“At first she’s not that strong in this movie either. She has an abusive mother. She lived quite a shitty life. And part of the reason why she wants to break into the house is to kind of break free from all that. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but a lot of very interesting things happen to her and she really, really gives a fight. I guess that’s a pretty unique characteristic that not everybody can play to be fragile in one moment, because in some points in the movie, as you see in the teaser, you really feel like she’s a fragile young girl and she can turn it on and then suddenly she’s quite badass. I just love to see that. And she’s awesome at doing that.”
Alvarez also spoke about his love for practical effects, and how he didn’t want to use CGI in Evil Dead or in this movie, and that he has to fight against it because it’s become so common. But he also likes to push the limits of what he can show to audiences in certain scenes:
“Evil Dead had a few of those, many of those. There were a lot of discussions about, like, ‘Are you really going to do that, and this, and that, and shoot this way? It may be too much. NPAA is going to give us an NC-17 and we’re not going to be able to release the movie.’ All those things for me just proving that they may be the best things about the movie sometimes.
Evil Dead was old-school gore, in your face gore. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we are doing another gory movie,” like a $20 million gory movie. They weren’t doing those. So like it’s still one of those classic, old-school, gore in your face. And it worked great. The audience responded and they showed up.”
Still, Alvarez says that even if he he isn’t restricted with his budget (as he was with Don’t Breathe, but not so much with Evil Dead) that, “I’m very conservative with my filmmaking. I like things to look good and have a camera on a dolly. I’m doing no handheld on this movie. I’m just sick of it. I like to be pretty old-school that way. So low budget works for certain stories.”
When asked specifically about Blumhouse Productions and their model for making horror movies, Alvarez said,
“I know [Jason Blum] and he’s a genius. He’s really giving young filmmakers the chance to go and try their things. A lot of times those movies don’t get released, but at least he’s really giving the chance to young filmmakers to come in, because that’s a format that’s kind of an echo of what used to happen in the ‘90s and the ‘80s when the VHS boom. They were making movies all the time, nonstop, and that will bring so many young filmmakers into the game. It was through that. It’s always been through that. So I’m very respectful of that because of that reason, because that’s kind of the way that young filmmakers have to get into the game.”
With Alvarez’s experience rebooting Evil Dead, we wondered if he might have an interest in being a part of other franchises or shared universes, who are seemingly grabbing up directors from all over the place:
“A lot of those movies are cool and audiences are going and watching them, it’s just as a director it’s harder to have your vision in those, if you go and do a Marvel movie … at some point we were in conversations and really I … they already figured it out. They’ve figured out the style. They’ve figured out the way they shoot them. They’ve figured out the colors, the humor. What would I do?
I enjoy a lot more freedom than that. I don’t know. Eventually I might. And it depends on probably the characters in the stories. But just something about my job as a director that I really enjoy is creating my own thing. It’s trying to do my own style when I shoot it and set the tone myself, those kinds of things.
Evil Dead was a challenge in that aspect. But, at the same time, at the end of the day I could quote things from the original movie. The original movie was such a long time ago. It wasn’t like the last one came out last year like it happens with those movies. It was such a long time ago, so it gave me a chance to kind of reinterpret that. So it was like, “OK. I feel fine. I can present this as my thing and people will know that this is mine. And this is Sam’s story. This is my story.” So it was fine.
But yes, someday maybe doing one of those movies, hopefully. It’s not going to be tomorrow. Maybe one day. Who knows?
When this interview took place, Ash vs Evil Dead hadn’t premiered yet, which opens up more opportunities to connect these worlds than Alvarez was able to comment on at the time. But with both Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi discussing how there will be more Evil Dead movies, Alvarez was asked how and if Mia’s story would continue:
“Once we finished Evil Dead 1, we started thinking about Evil Dead 2. And it was probably going to be a continuation. I think what I wanted to do was kind of bring … and I actually said in one of the Comic-Cons, and it was something … I actually talked with Bruce at some point. It was like, “Let’s bring Bruce into the second one. Let’s connect to the universe and let’s keep going.” But I think Sam had kind of a similar plan, I guess, at the same time, and that’s what the TV show is about, I guess. I think what Sam is doing … I don’t know exactly what’s going on in his mind, because it’s quite a particular mind. I think right now he’s kind of rebooting for a new generation the character of Ash.
So when that premieres we’ll know. I saw a trailer. I love it. I thought it was amazing. So we’ll see what happens after that and it will be great to see Bruce and Jane working together on a sequel.
As far as how that might come together, but Alvarez said he has an idea of how it would work, but
“f I talk about it, Sam would call me right now. I will tell you and my phone will ring and I can say hello and it’s going to be Sam knowing I just said something about Evil Dead …”
Don’t Breathe —starring Jane Levy, Daniel Zovatto, Dylan Minnette, and Stephen Lang — hits theaters August 26th, and I’ll be bringing you more scoop from the set throughout the week.