About the Production
In 1981 The Evil Dead opened in theaters and drive-ins around the world, terrorizing filmgoers, polarizing audiences and launching the careers of director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and actor Bruce Campbell. The story of five young friends who go to a remote cabin in the woods to party and accidentally release unspeakable evil forces, The Evil Dead surprised even its creators by becoming a cult classic and a right-of-passage into the horror-movie experience for millions of fans.
The Evil Dead's fanatical audience has continued to grow over the more than 30 years since three novices with a shoestring budget created what is still considered one of the scariest movies of all time. Raimi, Tapert and Campbell have been debating a remake for a number of years. "When we were making The Evil Dead, it was a struggle just to get to the next day," says Tapert. "We never dreamed it was going to be a successful franchise, with two more chapters."
The new film, Evil Dead, is a bold reimagining of one of the most original and successful horror movies ever made. With Raimi, Tapert and Campbell producing, Evil Dead is on track to terrorize a new generation of filmgoers with a combination of 21st-century technology and classic hardcore horror elements.
Raimi was the first to come around to the idea of a fourth film. "I really felt it was great ghost story that deserved to be told again on the big screen, but with high quality visuals and great acoustic treatment this time," he says. "We had to shoot the first movie in 16 millimeter. The sound was mono because we couldn't afford stereo, let alone 5.1 surround sound. There were probably only sixty prints made, so it was released in very few theaters. It only showed in certain markets on the big screen because it was unrated. So almost everyone who has seen it viewed it on either videotape or DVD. Even when it has been seen on a big screen, it was with compromised picture and sound."
Campbell, on the other hand, was the least inclined to revisit the material. "Fans saw Freddy and Jason and all their other favorite horror characters making movie after movie," says Campbell. "There was demand for another film. But how many years am I going to strap on a chainsaw and run around without my shirt on? There's statute of limitations for that."
Raimi also felt that a reboot of the original would be a great vehicle for a young filmmaker to tackle. "It's like a campfire ghost story that is retold every generation and it improves with age."
The storyteller in this case is director Fede Alvarez. "He's a great filmmaker," says Raimi. "I wanted him to be the guy to tell my ghost story to a new generation, with pristine sound and picture, on the big screen, seen for the first time as it was always meant to be."
Alvarez burst onto the filmmaking scene with his 2010 short film, Panic Attack, A hugely inventive five-minute thriller featuring an attack on Uruguayan capital Montevideo by giant robots, Panic Attack garnered more than 7 million hits (and counting) on YouTube, capturing the attention of the film industry in an instant.
Raimi and Tapert were among the many fans of Alvarez's viral short film. They quickly set up a deal for him to develop it as a feature film at Ghost House Pictures, a joint venture with Nathan Kahane and Joe Drake dedicated to the horror-thriller genre.
"But as often happens, that project stalled," Tapert says. "Sam had become a big proponent of Fede and suggested involving him in Evil Dead. Fede really wanted to write it with his partner Rodo Sayagues as well, so he came in with a full pitch. He showed us that we didn't need to keep Bruce's character in the movie. For Bruce, that allowed him to see it as a new project and it finally began to pick up momentum."
Alvarez and Sayagues presented the partners with a startling new take on The Evil Dead that remained true to the essence, while introducing new characters and making subtle changes to the plot. "Bruce, Rob and Sam recognized a kindred spirit at the pitch," says executive producer J. R. Young. "Fede and Rodo understood what goes into making an Evil Dead movie, and were able to make that their own."
The writer-director says his primary goal was always to create the scariest movie possible. "The movie that I pitched was for me the movie that I saw when I was twelve and saw The Evil Dead for the first time. It didn't look like anything I had seen before and it was set in such a crazy universe. That was the tone I wanted to recreate and that's the idea that we all agreed upon, right away.
"We were committed to one thing: making sure that we kept everything that is necessary and timeless about the original and updated the rest," Alvarez says. "We kept the idea of a group of best friends in what is meant to be a safe place. Once there, they try to kill each other. For me, that is a very scary feeling, worse than strangers menacing you in a zombie movie. Your best friends are turning against you one by one. The walls are closing in. That is part of the magic of the originals. It has always stayed with me."
Deciding which elements to update was the toughest part of the job, he says. He made Mia, a young woman trying to overcome her addiction, the central character. "She's battling with withdrawal and her friends are trying to help," explains Alvarez. "In the original, the kids are there to smoke pot and drink alcohol, which made sense because those characters were a little younger. We needed another reason to go to that cabin. I think this a strong concept that is relevant. It's not really about the drugs, but anything that you're trying to leave behind. And that is the whole theme of the movie. It's one thing to know the path, and another to walk down it. All the characters are struggling with that."
Tapert was impressed by how close the basic concept was to the original Evil Dead movie, without slavishly recreating the plot. "The storyline is different, but ultimately, somebody's going to open the book, and bad things are going to happen.
"Fede is very passionate about his work," Tapert adds. "The better we got to know him, the more sure we were that he was right for the job. He knows what's important. He doesn't have exactly any of our takes on it, so he brought something fresh and new."
Evil Dead marks Fede Alvarez's feature directing debut. "But we knew he was the guy for a number of reasons," says Young. "He has The Evil Dead in his veins. He knows the responsibility we have to fans to deliver something special. Panic Attack proved that Fede could work with limited resources to make something really special. When I look back at what Sam and Rob and Bruce did when they made the first film, it came from the same place that Fede was working from: a desire to make something outrageous and scary for the audience."
The collaboration was a first-time filmmaker's dream come true. He was allowed enormous freedom to create his own, original project, but he had the combined experiences of Raimi, Tapert and Campbell to fall back on. "They always tried to back me up and they brought their own crazy point of view," Alvarez says.
The original team knew they needed to take a step back from the property that had been theirs for over thirty years, in order to allow Alvarez to make the best movie he was capable of making. "We helped, but it was a bit like a parent having to let go of their child's bike as they ride off," says Tapert. "No matter how much advice is available, we all have to experience things ourselves."
Raimi worked closely with Alvarez on developing the script, while giving the director the space to make the film his own. "For instance, I liked his treatment and his screenplay, but I gave him simple notes on both. We never insisted on anything because we knew we had a great writer and a great filmmaker. We just offered our suggestions. Sometimes he took the notes, sometimes he didn't, but every time he did a draft, the screenplay got better and better."
"The same is true with the cut of the picture," Raimi continues. "There were certain things we objected to. Sometimes he listened to us, sometimes he didn't. Slowly but surely, I ceded artistic control to him, because I so respect his vision."
"Our biggest gift to Fede was not to micromanage him," agrees Campbell. "We focused on the things that we want to keep true to the movie series. The rest is all Fede."
When the remake was announced, there was some concern among the fan community, which the filmmakers were extremely sensitive to. "The fans are really important," Raimi says. "The original picture only survived because a dedicated group of individuals found it on video and began to tell their friends. They allowed us to make two sequels. In fact, they allowed us to make this movie, some 30 years later. So the fans are everything and I think this picture will give them what they seek in spades."
But, says Tapert, the new film isn't a simple remake, it's a complete re-imagining. "Five kids still go to a cabin in the woods and one by one become possessed. But there are a lot of twists and turns that make this very different from the original. It's a whole different roller coaster."
For his part, Alvarez seems immune to the pressure of living up to the original. "The biggest pressure for me was trying to make the best movie possible," he says. "Yes, we're remaking a classic, but I don't see that it matters what you do with a new movie. The older movie is always there. It's not going to be better or worse because a new one exists. The three previous Evil Dead movies will be there for fans to watch. This is just a new chapter. We're not overwriting the original at all -- we're just looking at it from a different point of view."
Alvarez says that remakes hold a special appeal to him because some of his favorite childhood favorites, including The Thing and The Fly, were based on earlier films. "But I had never heard of the originals. It's been more than 30 years since the original Evil Dead and I think it's an appropriate time to reimagine it for a whole new audience. And they're not going to get anything watered down. This is balls-to-the-wall horror."
The Evil Dead created enormous controversy when it was first shown. The distributor chose to release the film without a rating, anticipating that its graphic violence would earn it an X-rating, limiting its theatrical exposure. Tapert notes that while the original plays uncut on television today, in 1981, audiences hadn't seen anything quite like it.
"To make a great horror film is a huge endeavor," the producer says. "In Sam's words, it's using a butterfly net to capture the human spirit. You have to want to scare the audience out of their wits. You need to have the ability to surprise the audience. While they're looking this way, you come at them from that way. You don't necessarily need A-level stars or the best equipment, but you have to have a desire to manipulate and lead the audience, without letting them feel like they're being led or manipulated, through 90 minutes of terror."
And to make a really great, groundbreaking horror film that lives up to its legacy, Tapert says, they had to go in a direction that feels fresh and new. "The audience wants to feel like this is something they haven't seen before. The genre is always evolving and what you saw as a kid is no longer that scary.
"I remember a headline in the Christian Science Monitor: Exactly The Kind Of Movie We Do Not Need," he adds, referring to the original film. "We hope this movie hits the audience just as hard. This movie will deliver what my son wants to see in a horror movie and he's seen pretty much everything. For those that want to go on this ride, we're going to provide everything that they hoped for."
"Evil Dead is the ultimate experience in terror," says Young. "It is a ticket to the outrageous. Today's audience has seen a lot, so we've had to push the limits even further. We tried our best to deliver something that will stand on its own legs. The original will always be there, it was born of a special time and place with some really innovative creators. We wanted to respect that and create something that is wholly new for the audience."
Raimi guarantees there will also be a lot of surprises in the new film "It's got a whole new storyline," he says. "The situation's similar, but the ways in which the kids are possessed and their interactions are all different. It delivers great new visuals and scares for the audience."
Campbell describes the new film with one simple word. "Relentless. Fede has done everything he could story-wise to slowly suck you into a vortex that you just can't get out of. It grips you and it doesn't let you go.
"This isn't a jokey little horror movie," he warns. "This is a full-on, strap-yourself-in sort of ride. It gets more and more outrageous as it goes. It's high-octane fun. And kids: if you find a book in a cabin in the woods, just turn around and drive away."
Adds Raimi, "It's the ultimate experience in grueling terror. And I dare you to see it."
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