Last summer I spent two days in Auckland, New Zealand to check out the set of TriStar and FilmDistrict’s upcoming Evil Dead remake. I’m not going to mince words here, I have never walked away from a set this confident and hopeful that a movie will turn out well. With a lot of these visits you get the feeling that people are just fort of putting on their best face to meet you, and you’re not entirely convinced of their commitment to making a great movie.
Not here. Fede Alvarez is not f*cking around. Neither is producer Rob Tapert. Nor are Robert Gillies (the production designer) or Roger Murray (the prosthetics and props maker). The film’s DP, Aaron Morton, isn’t f*cking around either when it comes to getting those crazy roving tree shots we love so much. And the cast? Enduring all of the prosthetics, pain and hundreds of gallons of blood? Not f*cking around.
I’m not talking about a bunch of disinterested dilettantes talking about “how much they love the project.” I’m talking about seeing the bloody proof of it firsthand. I’m not just talking about the scenes we witnessed, but the messy aftermath of everything they’d been shooting up until that point. You just can’t fake a production like this for two days while press is around.
Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Elizabeth Blackmore, Lou Taylor Pucci and Jessica Lucas star in the much anticipated remake of the 1981 cult-hit horror film. It hits theaters on April 12th, 2013 but you can read PART ONE of our set visit right now…
“Everything you see in the frame, it’s real, there’s no CGI. We all watched ‘The Thing’ remake!” ~ Fede Alvarez, laughing.
June 13th, 2012…
Over the past two days I have been to the Evil Dead Cabin, which means a real one in the woods and its identical twin on a soundstage. I have held the Necronomicon and, with director Fede Alvarez prodding me on, I have traced from its pages. I have played in the “rape vines.” I have seen a Deadite in grisly, oozing makeup (no CGI), rise from a fire (no CGI). I have wondered just a little bit if those cats hanging in the basement are real or fake. I have seen storyboards and images of sequences Alvarez has already shot that have me wondering how the hell this thing isn’t getting an NC-17.
And, traveling to the present day for just a moment, I can confirm that the trailer hasn’t spoiled everything. It hasn’t showed “all the good stuff.” There’s still plenty of carnage, ooze and assaults you haven’t seen. You can feel safe entering the theater knowing that there are still heretofore unseen manifestations of Deadites. There are unspoiled kills. If our conversation with Jane Levy is any indication, there are some legitimately insane stunts. And, judging by the script, there’s an orgasmically triumphant symphony of chaos and blood in the final 20 minutes of the film that should leave you skidding out of the theater on a true high note (if not a little depressed that no other big horror films have these kind of balls anymore).
And now, I’m going to share everything with you. Starting today, and over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to break down my set visit into multiple installments. Because this is the one you’ve been waiting for. While I have yet to see the actual film, I have never left a set feeling as good about a film as I did Evil Dead. Even if, for some wild reason I can’t imagine, the film turns out to be only “ok” – I can confirm without a hint of reservation that the hearts of Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Bruce Campbell and Fede Alvarez are in the right place. No punches are pulled. They have literally set out to make the film they tried to make back in 1981 with the original Evil Dead but lacked the means to ultimately pull off. A brutally gory thrill ride reliant almost entirely on practical effects.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
The film’s two primary sets are located in Auckland, New Zealand. The real cabin, where they did about 2 weeks of shooting, is located in the Woodhill Forest area about an hour outside of town. It echoes the original in many ways, right down to that swing on the front porch (I’m not a reference junkie, but I am hoping for a little bit of dutch-angle homage with that one).
Inside it’s humid and musty, perhaps from the recent rainfall. It looks fairly standard, fairly tranquil. Childhood pictures of certain cast members adorn the wall, after all this is a family retreat. There’s some blood here and there, but the actual structure seems mostly intact since most of the slaughter is taking place in the soundstage replica. Once I step outside, I see traces of another battle. There’s a doghouse assigned to a dog named “Grumpy.” Blood is spattered on the kennel and the rocks below. Sorry, Grumpy.
A few feet away from the cabin sits a dilapidated recreation of “The Classic” – Sam Raimi’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. It’s rusty, covered in pine needles* and moss. I know Raimi includes this in every film, but I can’t help but wonder if this doesn’t tie the remake to the original in a more significant way. Perhaps these poor kids aren’t the first to be bent over backwards by the Necronomicon here, maybe Bruce Campbell’s battle is canon from 30 years ago? A few yards further and I happen upon another wreck. A blue station wagon has plummeted headfirst down a steep incline and landed in a ditch. Perhaps from an aborted escape attempt?
I circle back towards the cabin and enter the Tool Shed. Again, it’s musty. But the blood quota has been upped. The (now dried) red stuff is everywhere. On the shelves, mason jars, all over everything. As it should be.
THE CABIN ON THE SOUNDSTAGE
Later in the afternoon we head to the film’s production offices which are located in the same structure that houses the soundstage where the bulk of shooting is taking place. The offices are open and colorful – a cheery workspace that stands in stark contrast to the harsh world they’ve been working to create next door.
Here we are shown animatics, storyboards, photos of completed sequences, concept art, wardrobe and more. In short, we are given a stunning amount of access to the creative and aesthetic choices that give the film it’s darker, bloodier heft. Production designer Robert Gillies was more than accommodating to those of us who needed some hands-on interaction with the Evil Dead universe. I plan on going into a lot more detail regarding all of this in Part Two of my set visit, but it would be unfair not to talk about the Book Of The Dead….
I pick up a copy of the Necronomicon – which is actually no longer called ‘The Necronomicon.” It’s called the “Naturan Demanto” – which is how it is referred to in the recording they listen to in the original film. Three of the books have been made for the production. Due to copyright issues with the original artist, the book has been significantly redesigned. Instead of a dried face, the binding is now assembled with large chunks of stitched-together flesh. Blood, red and seemingly new, almost appears to ooze from the suture perforations. Is the Book Of The Dead recently made in this story? Perhaps.
We head inside the soundstage. It’s pitch black. Literally, I can barely see anything. We are led to the entrance of the cabin that has been recreated on the set. There, Fede Alvarez greets us. It’s a little startling since he emerges from pitch black darkness, holding a flashlight under his chin to illuminate his grin. It’s easy to quickly move past this initial shock since Alvarez is so high energy, so enthusiastic and so in love with the fact that he’s making this movie that it’s hard for the mood not to be positive. Even if you’re freezing and there’s blood everywhere.
Alvarez takes us on a tour through the cabin. I know I just mentioned that there was blood everywhere, but it’s hard to state just how abundant it is. We head to the kitchen where we see a pool of the dark, red stuff with an electric kitchen knife in the middle of it (if you’ve seen the trailer you have a pretty good idea of what happened here). Alvarez mentions that, because the violence in the film is so messy and hard to clean up, they’re shooting most of the carnage sequentially. It only makes sense that the bodily fluids of the humans and deadites remain where they fell, all the characters are too busy battling for their souls to pay much regard to cleaning it up. Fede smiles, “in every room someone dies“. And we continue the tour. I see a shotgun lying on a bed. The original clock from Evil Dead 2. A blood soaked bathroom.
In my excitement I realize that I’ve moved to the front of the pack of my fellow journalists, eager to see everything. My positioning grants Alvraez, who needs a test subject, easy access to me. He taps my shoulder and instructs me to sit at a desk. On its surface is another copy of the Necronomicon, although I suppose I should start calling it the “Naturan Demanto.” He instructs me to open the book, I flip through it until I happen on a page he deems suitable. Then he hands me a pencil and a piece of paper and tells me I must trace the page. In the dark, in the cold, playing with the Book Of The Dead feels a lot different than holding a copy in the warm production office. Scratch, scratch, scratch… I trace until the word “Kunda” appears. That’s enough. Alvarez allows me to stand back up and I stuff the piece of paper back in my pocket as a souvenir.
We head down into the cabin’s basement – a feature which doesn’t exist on the set in the woods. It’s actually pretty big and around a dozen dead cats hang from the ceiling. While they seem ultra-real, and I momentarily wonder about New Zealand’s animal safety laws, of course they’re fake (I hope). As is the case with every other room in the cabin, blood is everywhere. And there’s an even higher concentration of blood on a table near the end of the room, atop of which rests a chainsaw.
Upon leaving the cabin I realize that it’s not just the structure itself that is housed on the stage, but also a fairly sprawling recreation of the woods in front of it. There’s plenty of room “outside” for bad things to happen in the night as well.
THE CHAT: PART 1
We abscond from the soundstage and head back into the warm production offices for a chat with Alvarez, cinematographer Aaron Morton, producer Rob Tapert and cast members Jane Levy, Elizabeth Blackmore, Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci. The conversation stretches out for more than an hour, not to mention the fact that we get another 45 minute interview with Alvarez later in the day, so I’m going to break it up into different sections. What you don’t see here today will be spread out among future installments of this set report.
Yes, this film uses those famous low angle shots. Per Aaron Morton, “In the original there’s a lot of stuff where things are careening in and careening out of control. And we wanted to get to that point. So I wanted to start to infer that with our camera movements so there’s a lot of rolling. And there’s a lot of really fast movement through trees. ”
Jane Levy, who isn’t shooting that day but has come to hang out, chimes in. “ The coolest thing I’ve ever done in my career so far is this one thing where Aaron was on a zip line and I’m hands down in the mud and the camera is flying towards me and I have to outrun the camera. It was so f*cking cool. And then I watched a little bit of the playback and it looks awesome.”
Levy admits that not everything feels amazing in the moment though. Some of the practical effects take their toll. “ At one point I vomit all over somebody. A lot of vomit. Like, a sh*t-ton of fluid. I had a tube practically down my throat, and I’m on top of this girl and vomiting all over her. When you actually do something like that – I don’t think I can actually describe the sensation – but I actually went to the corner and cried. I’m really sensitive. But I felt like I was really drowning my friend Jessica, it felt so bad. I was shaking.” Not that they weren’t warned by the Chin himself. Alvarez concedes, “ Bruce [Campbell] was trying to scare everybody. ‘Have you ever done this kind of make-up, you’re going to be miserable.’”
Fede Alvarez doesn’t go by the number of gallons of blood used in the film, he goes by the amount used on the day. “ I know we ordered a truck the other day that was…50,000 gallons? Just for one scene!” He’s also trying to draw a firm line. In order for the violence to be over the top, you can’t be actively going for laughs. “There’s a lot of things. The violence is over the top. The showdown, that’s right there behind the wall [referring to the storyboards] you can see there is raining blood. So you can imagine that it’s gonna get to quite an outrageous, over the top, chainsaw action, raining blood…it just goes crazy, right. The thing is that for me the realistic aspect is the characters, that they deal with it as if it happened in real life. They’re not doing funny one-liners and stuff like that. That would, for me as the audience, take me out of it. It would be like ‘How come he’s joking about it?’ I mean, I would be scared to death.”
Someone asks Alvarez about the key to doing a remake the right way. “ Most of those remakes like ‘The Thing’, or even ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’, I’m not judging on if you like them or not. It’s just that those properties are not owned by a man, right. Wes Craven doesn’t own ‘Nightmare’; he didn’t even own the original… It was owned by the studios. All those big franchises are owned by studios, so the remake is created by a studio. This is a totally different ballgame because this is one of those rare big names in horror movies that are just owned by these guys. It’s just Rob Tapert, Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi… This is all about Bruce, Sam, Rob and myself and my co-writer in the beginning really creating what we’re gonna do. Sam, being who he is, has a lot of power because people trust him. He’s a great artist. So the studios, they hand everything to him and he has the power to say “This is the way it’s gonna be.” And everything on this movie has been basically down to his word. And Sony has been supportive 100% in everything. So in a way it ended up being very indie.”
With the amount of gore we’ve seen, is anyone concerned about the rating? Yes, as a matter of fact. Tapert is preparing for the ultimate showdown with the MPAA. “ Yes…I have always been exceedingly concerned about [getting an NC-17]. The woman who guided ‘The Grudge’ through to get a PG-13 assured us that ‘oh no, nothing in this is gonna get you an NC-17.’ I keep bumping up against that self-mutilation thing. And because they swing so much as to what they decide on a weekly basis is an NC-17 or an R or a PG-13, I just don’t know. But FilmDistrict, who bought this…they all said, ‘we want this the hardest R you guys can give us…’”
And that’s it for today! Check back next time for more on the storyboards, grisly makeup and a rundown of the “Evil Mia Abomination”! We’ve also got a chat with Roger Murray, the main prosthetics maker. Not enough for you? How about more interviews with the cast and crew? Still not enough for you? Okay, how about a blow-by-blow rundown of a climactic Deadite infused fight scene near the end of the film with Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci? I’ll even throw in some extra blood and up the stakes with some fire (like everything else – that fire in the trailer isn’t fake). Sound good? To be continued in PART TWO…
*Pine trees aren’t indigenous to New Zealand. The forest, which is used for lumber and locations for the country’s burgeoning film industry, is artificially populated with wild pine.