Life After Ash
Bruce Campbell had just one piece of advice when it came time to cast Evil Dead. "I said, this time we've got to get better actors," he recalls. "When we made the first movie, we were completely inexperienced. I would now call the dialogue poor, but back then, we didn't know the difference. We just said it with great earnestness and audiences loved it."
Finding a talented young cast wasn't difficult given the reputation the film had built over the years. "So many actors wanted to work with us," says Tapert. "With many horror films, you don't get the cream of the crop coming in. We got to cherry pick some of the best young actors Hollywood has to offer."
Acting talent wasn't the sole criteria during casting, though. The production was shaping up to be especially demanding. "In addition to the prosthetics and makeup, I wanted to scare them for real and get that on the screen," says Alvarez. "And without exception, our cast went to it with no reservations. No one ever said, I would prefer not to do this or that, and I am really grateful to them for that."
No one knows the challenges better than Jane Levy, who plays Mia. "We all had this mental image of Mia," says Tapert. "Jane was not in that mold, but she gave a dynamic audition. Sam, Bruce and I agreed pretty much instantly that she was the one -- and she proved herself to be up to the challenge. It is a really demanding part, but she's feisty and I think she's brought a huge amount of energy and commitment to it. She actually enjoyed being a monster, which is helpful if you're in a horror movie like this one."
"Jane was a godsend," agrees Young. "She is such an exciting actress to watch. Mia goes through extraordinary punishment and Jane jumped in feet first. Whether it was a vulnerable dramatic scene or an outrageous horror scene, she was unafraid."
Playing a demonically possessed junkie was a welcome change of pace for Levy, who stars in the ABC sitcom, "Suburgatory." "She's a great sport who never said no to anything," Alvarez says. "In fact, she was always asking for more. Whatever happened to the character, she was ready to do another take. She is also the sweetest girl, which is crucial for the story. You see her vulnerability and you root for her right away. But when she turns mean, she's the scariest person ever."
Following up her television show with a hardcore horror film offered the actress just the kind of challenge she was looking for. "I was able to try so many different things in this role," she says. "I'm a recovering drug addict and I'm possessed. It gave me the opportunity to go somewhere new. Plus, the people behind this are extremely talented, which made me eager to do it. I also thought going to New Zealand to work sounded romantic. Little did I know..."
Levy's character is the youngest of the group. "She is David's little sister and almost like a little sister to Eric and Olivia," the actress says. "They grew up together and Mia's always needed a little bit of parenting. David wasn't really good at being that person. She's trying to fix what's broken in their relationship, as well as in herself. Until she goes out in the woods and sees that ominous figure, she's trying to keep it together. She's 100-percent committed to going through the physical pain and paranoia of withdrawal. But when she sees the figure, she realizes this place isn't safe, only no one listens to her."
The demands of the part tested the actress' discipline. Hours in the makeup chair before and after shooting added to an already stressful day on the set. "I went to bed at 8:30 every night," she says. "I ate only vegetables and fruit, stayed in on the weekends. I did yoga and breath work, so that I was able to give as much as I could. Otherwise I don't think I would have been able to do this job."
But surprisingly, it was playing Mia at the beginning of the movie, before she is possessed, that was in some ways the most difficult part of the job. "That was actually more painful," Levy says. "As a demon, I could be whatever I wanted. It's very animalistic and I was given a lot of freedom to explore. I was destroying people, torturing people. In a weird way, it was fun to be able to do that."
Although she calls herself "a huge scaredy cat," Levy has become intrigued by the horror genre after this experience. "It's rich as hell, because it's based on primal fear. This film is a supernatural movie, with lots of character development and great story telling. The horror starts right away and it doesn't let go. It's extreme. When I was reading the script, I thought 'Oh my God, blood rain?' And then I thought, yeah, cool, bring it on!"
Mia's brother and their friends are still living in the "real" world when her transformation takes place. David is simply unable to believe what is happening, even though Mia tries to tell him. "None of us would be able to," says Alvarez. "The scene between the two of them sums up the whole premise of the movie in a way."
Shiloh Fernandez plays David, a role he almost declined to audition for -- but not because he didn't want it. "I was scheduled to audition when my agent forwarded me these emails between Fede and his agent," says the actor. "They said we want to hire Shiloh Fernandez, but I hadn't yet auditioned. And I said, I'm not going to go to this audition. There's nothing I could do except blow my chances."
But Fernandez' agent convinced him to keep his appointment and he was quickly cast as David, the survivor of a difficult childhood. "Their mom was mentally ill," says Fernandez. "He protected his little sister as best he could until he turned 18 and then he left. He couldn't be part of it any longer."
The relationship between David and his sister and their friends is part of what drew Fernandez into the script. "There was a lot to explore," he says. "I'd never done a film like this before, but I enjoyed finding the truth within the horror."
While still in Los Angeles, the actor spent time with Alvarez ironing out some of the finer points of his character. "Because he is the writer as well, Fede was able to explain exactly what he wanted," says Fernandez. "He is a filmmaker with a real cinematic eye. It was really neat to watch his vision unfold. On the set, he paid complete attention to what each of us was doing and came back with direction for us all."
The experience of making Evil Dead revealed a new side of filming for Fernandez. "The focus has been on making the best movie possible," says Fernandez. "Rob and Sam have been very supportive of Fede and his original vision. They also want to honor the fans and please them -- and I'm glad none of that is up to me."
All hell breaks loose in the cabin in the woods as a result of a bizarre text found in the cellar by Eric, a schoolteacher and longtime friend of Mia and David. When Eric, played by Lou Taylor Pucci, reads aloud from his discovery, he is unwittingly calling a demon out of its netherworld lair to unleash chaos on the world.
"Eric is gripped by a strange, perhaps otherworldly attraction to the book," says Young. "It's something that's never explicitly laid out in the story, but through Lou's performance and Fede's direction, we get a sense that there's something stronger going on than just a natural curiosity."
For Pucci, a fan of the original movie, the idea of participating in a new chapter of a classic franchise was simply irresistible. "I'm going to be in Evil Dead!" he enthuses. "It is the sickest, scariest film I've ever seen! I was beyond excited."
But he had to get through an awkward audition first. "I went to the casting and I felt terrible afterwards," he recalls. "For the audition scene, I was supposed to be behind a door, going crazy. Doing it with no real prep or rehearsal, I felt like an idiot, yelling and screaming at nothing. I was shocked when I got a callback a week later. When they told me Bruce Campbell was going to be there, I was excited to meet him, but I still didn't hold out much hope of getting the part."
After seeing the original at least 15 times himself, Pucci hopes others will appreciate the care and creativity that has gone into updating the story. "This movie is even scarier," he says. "I think it's because Fede makes you care about the characters. They can't get away and even nature is against them. For the people seeing it for the first time, it's going to be really cool to get into that part and then be grossed out. The fans will expect all the nastiness, but they'll get drawn in all over again by the characters."
Raimi and Tapert knew Jessica Lucas, who plays Olivia, because they had worked together on the 2009 supernatural thriller, Drag Me to Hell. "We just love her," says Tapert. "She brings a great gravitas to her part. She was a real trooper about the enormous amount of action and the make-up and appliances she had to go through."
Olivia grew up in Flint, Michigan, and was close to Mia, David and Eric, until David left. "Olivia is the catalyst for this trip," explains Lucas. "She's a nurse and she's determined to get her friend get through this horrible experience. She is the most skeptical about the supernatural."
When Lucas heard that Raimi was interested in making a new Evil Dead movie, she was immediately interested. "The franchise has such a cult following," she says. "When I read the script, it was really scary and wild. When you are doing a horror film that has supernatural elements, everything is a bit heightened and that's fun to play. There are no boundaries for what you can do."
To help the actors conceptualize the possession scenes, Alvarez brought in a choreographer to explore the physicality. "We were trying to come up with small simple movements that caught the eye because they are unusual," says Alvarez. "Even something like a little twitch reads powerfully on camera."
"It was really helpful." Lucas says. "We all wanted to maintain some individual flair, but still make it consistent. We were doing crazy stuff -- acting like we had poison in our bodies, vibrating or pretending the floor was uneven. It was a really cool process."
The time spent rehearsing together also helped the actors build a real bond that reflects the history between their characters, she says. "It created a really safe environment to make the best movie possible, because we could all lean on each other for support."
Lucas believes The Evil Dead fans will embrace this new incarnation. "I hope they appreciate that we are trying to do something different. With a movie like this, I think people want to be scared as much as possible. Evil Dead is very in your face. Once the action starts, it just keeps coming and coming. If you're a horror fan, there's no way you can't enjoy that. It's intense, scary, horrifying and fun. Basically, it's everything you'd ever want in a horror film."
Elizabeth Blackmore, who plays Natalie, was the first to audition for the role. "We thought, she's great, let's just keep a pin in her," says Tapert. "But the more people we saw, the more we came back to Elizabeth. She was pushed to her limits, but she never lost sight of the character or the story. She committed to the physical pain that this kind of movie forces on the actors with full make-up and complicated appliances and very meticulous, technical acting while covered in goo, unable to see properly."
Natalie is David's girlfriend and new to the group. "She's open and eager to impress," says Blackmore. "Natalie's like the audience. She's an outsider just meeting these people."
Blackmore's first reading of the script was at home alone. "It was getting dark outside and I was getting really worked up," she remembers. "I had to go and turn on all the lights and sit there for a moment before finishing it, because it scared me so. I knew immediately it was something I really wanted to do."
The strong roots in real life add to the tension, she believes. "Fede came up with a clever, smart and reality-based idea. There are a lot of character relationships that are easy to feel connected to it. I had never done horror before, so it was really interesting to try and figure out how it worked. It's kind of like being on a ride. You don't know what's coming next, which takes you somewhere bigger than just your life. The supernatural elements take you out of mundane dramas of the day-to-day."
Keeping the tenuous but critical connection to real life helped the actors maintain their individuality after they had become "Deadites," as the filmmakers call the possessed. "The Deadite characters are not like zombies," Blackmore says. "It's very different. You have to balance the humanity of the character with a demonic thing, but you're still playing the person trapped inside. They're fully aware of what they're doing, but they can't help themselves. It's so scary to watch someone who's completely out of control but still alive in there."
An added challenge was the great degree to which the filmmakers depended on practical special effects, rather than CGI, she says. "It could be incredibly technical dealing with rigs and prosthetics when you're trying to be this demonically possessed, spontaneous creature. We were warned that it would be hard and that we would want to rip off the prosthetics and cry. It was true; I felt an enormous sense of achievement in the end."
The difficulties only added to the supportive atmosphere on the set, from J. R. Young's point of view. "This is a very exciting, young, fresh cast," he says. "They all came wanting to do something outrageous and cool that will give the audience something that they don't expect. To see them together, you'd think they'd known each other forever. This was a grueling shoot. They spent a lot of nights covered in blood out in the cold and the rain. I often saw an actor on set doing a really difficult sequence, and the others, who could have been home in bed, were standing by cheering and rooting. To have that support from the cast was invaluable."
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