A couple weeks ago, Fede Alvarez‘ remake of Evil Dead premiered at SXSW to an ecstatic crowd (click here to read my review). For those unfamiliar with the film, the story centers on five friends who go to a remote cabin in the woods, and stumble upon a demonic evil that begins possessing them one by one, which causes horrific scenes of gore and mutilation.
I got the chance to interview Alvarez at SXSW, and we talked getting down to an R-rating from an NC-17 rating, the appeal of the film’s extreme violence, working with Sam Raimi, developing a sequel to the remake, and much more. Hit the jump to check out the interview. Evil Dead opens April 5th.
FEDE ALVAREZ: No actually, I mean the MPAA is actually a bizarre thing. You don’t have to try to understand it. We didn’t butcher any scene or anything. We just had to trim. We took out frames here, of [Dick's] precision to certain shots. You know, when she cut her tongue, we were showing a lot. You see the tongue, you get to see the tongue moving. Probably there was a version where we showed more frames. We’ve cut about 20 frames here, that kind of stuff, where you take that out and you get your R rating. They were very nice to us. They were very nice to us because they were saying it was supernatural horror, which means it’s not real, like the other is real. But anyways, I guess there’s worse things that are more offensive. This is because it’s supernatural, it’s not really happening and it’s from, it’s kind of a fantasy universe, so that makes it more friendly. Don’t ask me.
That brings me to my next question. What do you feel is the appeal of this level of violence? Because people who are seeing these films aren’t going to be like, “And now it’s time for me to grab my chainsaw.” I’m curious about why you think people are attracted to and cheer when they see these kinds of scenes.
ALVAREZ: Two things. Horror taps a very primal [side]… We live in days where everything is fake, everything is impersonal. You come and watch these films, it’s like you’re not in control. Your body thinks it’s being attacked. The music and all the things. When you jump, you’re not jumping because you think you’re going to die. Nothing is because you think somebody’s going to hit you. Your body thinks that, your brain thinks that. You? You know that nothing is going to happen to you. But it’s amazing how people jump, react, cover their eyes, it’s just because your body says, like, it’s just like injections of a lot of shit at the same time, emotions, and that’s why… I personally love that violence. It just exposes you to a lot of things. In Clockwork Orange, you’re there with your eyes, watching all those things, your brain goes off, ahh, exposes you to so many things, and at the end of the day, it’s just like a roller coaster. Why do you jump in a roller coaster? You want a thrill. I love this. Every time I walk into a new one, jump into a new one, a roller coaster, I think I’m going to fucking die. I’m doing a loop and I go, why the fuck I doing this? Your body thinks it’s going to die, it injects you with all kinds of adrenaline rush, and then you’re safe. You know nothing’s going to happen at the end of the day, you know you can walk out safe. The good thing with movies and supernatural horror, it stays with you through the night and then you’re in the bathroom by yourself and you go like, shit maybe I unleashed something by watching that movie. That’s what I think. It’s just a rush of adrenaline that you don’t experience every day.
I was at New York Comic-Con when you all had your presentation. I remember you saying that when Sam Raimi comes to you and asks you to remake Evil Dead, you say fucking yes.
ALVAREZ: Yeah, you don’t say, “I don’t believe in remakes.”
Exactly, but I was curious, this is your debut feature. So was there any conflict there about saying my first feature out the gate is going to be inevitably compared to this original that everyone loves. What was that sort of thought process like for you?
ALVAREZ: You know what, yeah you could think about it that way, but I was thinking more about it like, yeah I’m going to make a first movie and people are going to care about it. People are going to talk about it even before the movie comes out. That’s amazing. Nobody should complain about that. Most filmmakers go out with the first feature and nobody cares. Maybe by the third one, they mentioned somewhere and people care, so it has some attention. Usually it’s all uphill. It’s very hard to find, particularly these days, with cameras are so available to everybody, everybody can make a film. You can make a film with a phone and a computer if you want, if you have the time. So it’s a world that is saturated with films and all kind of stuff, so it’s such a blessing to be able to make a film and people care, and even if they say that it’s a bad idea, at least they care and they’re talking about it. I always try to think about it in good terms, you know, like yeah, fuck I’m here at Comic-Con with my first movie. Fuck yeah. Who cares what they think, if it’s going to be good? The good thing is that they care and that you’ve got the chance to be a part of all that. You’re making an Evil Dead movie. I’m a huge Sam Raimi fan since I was a kid. Suddenly I’m hanging out at Bruce Campbell’s house. I was like in the pool with him, just talking about Evil Dead and I was like, what the fuck is going on. You and Bruce Campbell talking about Evil Dead and you’re going to make one of those. Do you think that’s bad man? I don’t see any bad side to that. I would’ve seen it if the movie wouldn’t have worked with an audience that was a bad film. Yeah that would’ve been a bad movie. I knew that if they liked it and they loved the script like they did in the beginning — Sam Raimi loved the script and was like this guy must know one thing or two about movies. They’re so confident about the script, I know I can shoot this, I know I can shoot this movie. Then it was all a matter of if people were going to get it or not. It’s a movie where either you get it or you don’t. People got it. It’s supposed to be insane. It’s supposed to start so realistic and grounded and suddenly somebody’s under a chainsaw. It has no boundaries. That’s why I think it was awesome.
Last night was, I assume, the first time ever seeing it with any audience, having it premiere. When you’re watching it with an audience, what was your reaction in terms of where people really jumped and cheered. Were you expecting those moments? Were there any moments where you were like, I didn’t think they’d go for that as much as they did?
ALVAREZ: I think yesterday was out of control. Yesterday was like a rock concert. And there was a lot, not only people that are fans, but filmmakers too, and they see these things with different eyes, and [the normal standard screen of Evil Dead?] We did want it ready when we tested the movie at the beginning of the process. Back then, when we watched the movie to a normal audience, the movie opens, we introduce the characters, we introduce Jane, she’s seen in a car, nobody’s paying attention. Yesterday, that shot shows up, everybody starts cheering because they see the classic. That’s the good thing about this screening. They see details. They spot a lot of Evil Dead homages, they go crazy about it. So that also made the whole ambiance… The mood was very safe. I think people walked out of it because they were too scared. They could not handle this and walked out. And then, but that was a great thing, I guess. That was a great thing that people couldn’t stand it. But at the same time when the last… The tension in the room is so high, they’re not laughing that much. They’re laughing in a lot of moments that are more when Eric’s going to deliver the line, it was more precise. Yesterday was a chaos of craziness, of fans having a blast. So that made it a different experience. I really prefer to watch it with a standard audience on opening night and see what happens.
You mentioned the references in there. What was the give and take in there with Sam Raimi in terms of referencing the original, but not being slavish to it. Sort of establishing your own vision. The original is actually, it feels like Sam Raimi trying to find his voice as a filmmaker. What was that relationship like?
ALVAREZ: In terms of what I could do, what I could not do… Sam Raimi’s job was to let me do whatever I want. That was his code. He was like, I’m going to give you what nobody else gave him. Completely free to do what I want. And of course, he had to sign off on the script, but he helped us to make scenes better, encouraged us to write more, never giving the solution, but basically telling us, okay that scene is great, but it should keep going, it shouldn’t end there, but it should keep going. So we’d write more. It was never by giving us any solution, but just by encouragement to do more. Stylistically, those were the biggest challenges, I think for me as a director. Everybody talking, oh you’re remaking this story, you’re remaking this classic, all that’s not a problem. The problem is that you’re going to tell a story again, and it’s the first film of a filmmaker that has such a strong style. And that’s the scary part for me because you don’t want to remake somebody’s style. You don’t want to get even close to touching somebody else’s style. What actually ended up happening, and there was some things that I wanted to keep. I wanted to keep at the beginning the [forest?], I didn’t want to have that in the beginning. That was Sam Raimi’s vision of what an evil entity is. And I thought I will do a different thing, but then we’re like, and they want to have the forest, it’s like you know what, I got to take some elements and that’s going to be Sam Raimi’s cameo, not him in person, but his style is going to be Sam Raimi’s cameo there. Because then the rest, I believe, is different on many levels, but there was some moments that I wanted to do kind of the same thing.
ALVAREZ: I think it’s going to depend where we take it. Right now, we’re just going to write it. For me, if we manage to agree on the story, we manage to agree exactly what kind of movie it’s going to be, I’ll do it. It definitely depends on the story. Because personally, I think it has to shock everybody, it has to go to a completely different place, just like Army of Darkness did with Evil Dead 2. It has to do that switch that every Evil Dead movie did with Bruce. Evil Dead is one thing, Evil Dead 2, some of it’s comedy, it’s a completely different movie.
Well my question is, you have this new Evil Dead brand, but what does that mean if you’re not copying the sequels because Evil Dead 2 is slapstick, it’s a comedy, and that doesn’t seem like it would fit with what you’ve established here, so what does that mean in terms of going forward with the vision you’ve established now?
ALVAREZ: I mean, right now we have to create something different and completely new. It’s exciting for me. In a long time, this new one, the next one, is going to be a completely new, fresh, 100% original Evil Dead. This one has so many ties to the first one that at the end of the day, being what it is, it’s like a spawn of the original. But this next one, it’s not a remake of Evil Dead 2. It’s something completely new and different, so I’m so excited to see where that’s going to go. It’s going to depend on what it is.
ALVAREZ: He’s not.
He’s not writing it?
ALVAREZ: He wants to do it, I will tell you that. He wants to try to find the best moment to do it. He has a story. He pitched it to me. But what he wants to do with Bruce and Rob on Evil Dead 4, it’s definitely something he wants to do. And, at the end of the day, bringing this saga back is the best way to do it. Bring it back to life and look, they don’t call him the Master just because. He will find a way to make all this good.
Evil Dead opens April 5.