[This interview was originally posted as part of our South by Southwest 2013 coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Evil Dead.]
Finally, the last of my SXSW Evil Dead roundtable interviews series is finished. In this last installment, I talked to director Fede Alvarez and writer Rodo Sayagues about how they got involved with the film, their history with the original films, and the pressure behind recreating the beloved film for a new audience.
Remember, there are spoilers everywhere, so read with caution!
Coming up with a good villain for this film…
Fede Alvarez: She’s a good hero and villain, which is what I think made her [Mia] so unique. Even though she’s bad ass and people are scared of her so much, I think at the end of the day, she’s everybody’s favorite character because everybody’s with her since the beginning moment the movie opens. I feel the people kept with her because she’s doing something brave. Since day one, the moment the movie opens, you see a character that is ready to do something that is very ballsy.
We all have our vices and our bad habits and we all wish [we could say], “You know what? I’m going to stop doing this.” I think it was great the way we created that character. I think since the first minute of the movie, people admire her because she’s ready to do something like that. And of course, everybody’s patronizing to her, and everybody hates that, and she’s the one that’s right. She’s a great character, and then suddenly, she’s the worst thing that can happen to you. She’s so scary. That’s what I like about her: She’s the hero, but she’s the villain at the same time.
The pressure of remaking Evil Dead, since it’s such a beloved movie for horror fans around the world: Is there this pressure like, “I’ve got to make this the right way, but also want to do it my way. I don’t want to necessarily compromise what I see for this film, but also acknowledge that there’s definitely this expectation.”
FA: At the end of the day, Sam [Raimi] told us at the beginning, “You have to go and write and make the movie that you want to see in theaters – not [the film] that the fans want to see in the theaters, not that Sam Raimi in the theaters, but what you guys [Alvarez and Sayagues] want to see in theaters.”
Rodo Sayagues: We were fans, too.
FA: He knew we were fans and followers of his movies as kids. It was like giving two guys in the audience [like saying], “You know what? This movie’s yours. You do it.” Because we’re completely outside of Hollywood, we’re from Uruguay, we’re fans of his movies, and he gave us the chance to write and direct this movie. It’s amazing. I think that comes out of the genius of Sam Raimi to take such a risky choice.
Since you were outside of the Hollywood system, how did you get hired for this job?
FA: That short Panic Attack [Ataque de Panico] was just another short [and] a lot of things I was doing, but it ended up an overnight hit on YouTube. It was in the right moment at the right time, I guess, because Facebook was exploding and YouTube was putting up the HD format that didn’t exist before that. Suddenly, it was an HD short, and everybody had Facebook at that moment, and it was when everybody was opening their accounts, so everybody was sharing it on Facebook. Today, nobody cares what somebody posts on Facebook, because you post so much stuff. Back then, it was quite new, so it was suddenly like boom, everybody was passing that on, so it became a viral, overnight thing. It had half a million views in one day, in night together.
Through that short, just suddenly, I got a lot of attention in Hollywood, like I woke up and had 150 emails from the industry. I thought it was a joke at the beginning, but it was real. Then I went to LA, met a lot of people, and some of the people I met was Sam Raimi and his team, and we’re big fans and followers of his career, and soon I was the guy he wanted to work with. And also, he gave us… he closed the deal with us to make a movie, it was a blind deal. He said, “I want you to make the movie you want.” And out of that deal and that relationship, we ended up making Evil Dead.
I asked some of the others earlier, but there are homages and allusions to the first film. Did you feel like you had to include that to kind of keep it in the Evil Dead realm?
FA: As a fan, I want to see that. They didn’t want me to have the car in the film.
They mentioned that, yeah.
FA: Sam was like, “I wanted you to do your movie.” And I was like, “Yeah, but last time we saw the cabin, everybody died, and Bruce turned around and everybody was gone, but the car was left there. I want the car to be there.” When I walked on set the first day, I could see the car, and I felt like it was holy ground and needed to be respected, all of those elements. And I did that in kind of a religious way in so many levels that I bet you didn’t even notice in the movie.
You know, in the original movie when the first girl was going to turn, she’s like reading those poker cards out loud and saying the sequence of cards that she started repeating, and she turns around and she’s possessed… [There’s] a deck of poker cards on the table in the living room and every one of those cards are assembled in the same order that she named them in the original movie, so there’s details like that that you’ll spot them if you pause it. But like that, the house is flooded like that. I think it was a way to bless every part with things from the original, and then we did the same thing with the audio. You’ll hear the voice from the original cast in the movie. When Mia shoots David and starts screaming, she’s screaming, but in the air, you can hear the original omen, the “One by one, we will take you!” You can hear that in the air, somebody screaming that. That’s from the original movie, so there’s a lot of little details like that. Some of them, you will know it as one-liners out of context, stuff like that, but just because we like it, not because somebody asked us. I don’t think they even know that they’re there.
One of the controversial scenes from the first one, you also decided to keep, was the tree rape sequence. How did you decide to do it? Was there ever a decision to take it out?
FA: It wasn’t a decision to take it out. Actually, we didn’t write it in the original draft.
RS: It wasn’t there until the third draft.
FA: It wasn’t until production, like… Rob Tapert, who created the original movie, it was Rob’s idea when they made the original movie, came up with the idea of the tree rape. In production, I don’t know why, but suddenly, [we said] “We need that tree rape in the movie.” The reason why we didn’t write it was because we felt we were never going to get away with it with MPAA these days. That was sex and violence altogether, my god, there’s no way.
RS: We had to find a way to make it happen not as explicit as it was in the first film, the original one.
FA: I think it’s quite explicit. I think the only way it’s not is that it doesn’t seem like she’s enjoying it. In the original movie, she’s going, “Oh yeah, baby.” And that’s like… that’s wrong. In this one, we wanted to show how painful that is, something like that would not be enjoyable at all. I think Jane [Levy] did a great job portraying that pain. It also serves its story. It’s like whatever was inside that demon in the forest is now inside of her. She takes that with her in the house. That’s why she said, “There’s something with us, and I think it’s inside the room right now.” She means herself.
Your short, Panic Attack, was kind of in CGI with the robots, but the decision to use practical effects here was more like, not an homage, but more of a desire to kind of connect with the horror from the original.
FA: It’s not that I’m not a fan of CGI, it’s just I’m filmmaking. It depends on what you have to tell, and the story I wanted to tell back then was an alien invasion movie. Unfortunately, I couldn’t build those robots for real, it would have been tricky, but I thought I would do it at some point with scale models. But it worked for what it was, and you have to use the techniques you have available to tell the stories you want to tell. That’s what it’s all about. With this one, we didn’t need it. We could have used it, but we didn’t need it. Most importantly, we wanted the movie to [last] as long as possible.
We have a responsibility with the original classics. We want it to stand as long as those, and in order for a movie to last long, you don’t want CGI because CGI looks great today, but looks like shit in five years. We could have gotten away with some weird creature at the end that could have been awesome, but then you watch the movie in ten years and [say], “Wow, what were we thinking back then?” That’s the bad thing about CGI, I think. One of the great movies these days have CGI end up getting old very fast.
They were saying you want it to be as timeless as possible [with] no cell phones, no modern technology. It could be anytime, anywhere.
FA: It could be in the 80s. I think the only thing that dated it a little bit was the car. I regret that a little bit. I should have used an older car, but then the rest was… it was risky. We were worried that the audience were going to wonder why they don’t take a cell phone and call the police. They don’t, and people go with it. They didn’t really care about it, which was awesome.
Are you excited to come out here and talk to the fans?
FA: Oh my god, yes. I could stay here until I’m 50, believe me. I’m going to enjoy the festival, I know that. I want to watch movies, I want to be around people.