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. Be sure to read PART ONE of our set visit FIRST and then head inside for PART TWO…
EFFECTS AND PROPS
Like I said earlier in the week, we were given a huge amount of access to props, storyboards, concept art and photos from scenes that had been previously shot. Pages and pages of stuff, from storyboards depicting blood raining from the sky to almost frame-by-frame shots of the sequence where Elizabeth Blackmore’s character Natalie cuts off her arm with an electric kitchen knife. It’s a truly gruesome sequence, not just the fact that she cuts her arm off (even though that’s pretty intense) – but the fact that the arm is so infected and awful looking you agree with her decision to remove it sans anesthesia.
We spoke with Roger Murray (the Prosthetics Designer) and Jane O’Kane (Make-up and Hair Design) about creating the effect. Roger backed up what we’d been hearing all along, that director Fede Alvarez was insistent that the effects be done as practically as possible. “ In one of our first meetings with Fede, one of the things that he said he wanted to do was to do as much in-camera make-up effects as possible. We also wanted everything to look as realistic as possible so the effects had to have a sense of realism to them. We wanted the gags to be…you know, not full-on gags. We have one of the scenes with one of the girls where her hand gets infected and her arm starts rotting off and she decides to cut it off with a kitchen knife.”
Jane adds, “ There comes a point where if you go too far with the make-up it becomes funny and that’s not what we were going for at all. Sometimes less is more.”
Roger picks up the arm that’s been lopped off, “When we designed this, what we had to keep in mind that we wanted to keep in all the breaks and keep the blood pumps in there so just made a shorter version of the full arm for one of our leads- Natalie- to wear onset. We also had a stunt double in there at the moments where the arm comes full off, with her arm tucked through. ”
We look at some concept art and finished photographs of something that’s being referred to as the “Evil Mia Abomination.” I don’t want to spoil it for you exactly, but I’ll just say that the look of the deadites in the trailer – as cool as it is – isn’t the only way demons appear in the film. Sure it’s the way they look most of the time, which is fine by me. But if you think you’ve seen everything, again, you haven’t. There are some much more elaborate incarnations that should please fans of the first two films (particularly Evil Dead 2 – though I’ll be clear that I’m referring to design, not tone).
Not only are there designs that haven’t been spoiled by the trailer, the tip of the iceberg hasn’t even been scratched in regard to the indignities, mutilation, and blood shed by our poor cast members. More missing limbs, more objects (like nails) being shoved into their faces, more of just about anything you can imagine. And all of these gags had been orchestrated well ahead of time. There wasn’t much “on the day” improve. Per Roger, “ Fede was very clear about the make-ups having an old-school feel to them, the way we went about them and how we were going to shoot certain effects. He had everything worked out before he arrived on set which has been great for us.”
Let’s circle back a bit and talk about props and the set for a second. I know in my prior set report I went in depth into how the Necronomicon is now called the “Naturan Demanto” and that the design has been changed quite a bit (to which I’ll now add that each page was hand detailed). But that’s not the only prop onset.
Take the chainsaws for instance. You probably already knew the film features some heavy chainsaw action, but did you know that five different ones were forged for its production? And that one of them blows blue smoke for some reason? Nor did I.
But the biggest prop of all is actually the set, the cabin itself. In fact the reason that they built a version of it on the soundstage, as opposed to just shooting everything at the cabin in the forest, was so they could have more room to play around but still keep the contained aesthetic. The ceiling is rigged to move up and down and each room can be pulled inwards and outwards. For the basement scenes, the entire remainder of the cabin was raised up in order to allow for more longitudinal movement. After discussing the nature of the construction with production designer Robert Gillies, we’re shown an impressive animatic depicting how the set can fall apart on command.
Back on the soundstage we witness a climactic scene being filmed. I was initially going to go into the blow-by-blow on this, but I’ve decided to pull back a bit in my description to avoid spoiling it for you. If you read Part One of the report you already know that it features a Deadite, Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci. It also features Jane Levy… for a second. But I can’t reveal who – or what – has the upper hand in the scene or what the end result is.
I can say that the still of Pucci on the floor looking terrified is from this sequence. I can also say that there’s a lot of real fire on display and that Alvarez and his team did multiple, exacting takes to make sure that those famous low-roving camera angles were nailed (in addition to the performances of course). And that there was quite a bit of real fire, it almost engulfed the room.
One thing that got me really excited about this sequence was seeing the Deadite make-up in action. It’s truly scary. And wet. These Deadites speak with mouthfuls of blood and act with malevolent deliberation – the whole approach is pleasantly stomach churning. I know a lot of you might have some reservations about the changes in creature design, but the fact is that the Deadites from the original series would stick out like a sore thumb here. This film is much darker and it’s designed to scare people who have been watching horror movies for the past 30 years. The revamped approach to the makeup matches that aesthetic. The pronounced jaw and ocular cavities are gone, allowing for a more haunting visage for whomever is unlucky enough to be possessed.
Seeing the way Alvarez and his crew handled this sequence shoot only reinforced everything I’d witnessed on the trip thus far. This is a team that’s really dedicated to making a 100% satisfying experience for horror fans. They may have more money to work with than Raimi, Campbell and Tapert had over 30 years ago – but they’re still far outside the Hollywood machinery. Of course the chain of authorship on the material is what really allows this, but shooting half a world away from Los Angeles can’t hurt either.
THE CHAT: PART 2
Further conversational adventures with Fede Alvarez, producer Rob Tapert and executive producer J.R. Young and cast members Jane Levy, Elizabeth Blackmore, Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci. In Part One of my post I focussed more on stuff relating to gore and the rating. Now I’m going to open it up and share some stuff that covers Alvarez’s history with the material, the experiences of the actors onset and some general production questions.
Alvarez talks about remaking his memory of the original film, as opposed to the film itself. “I was trying to make the movie I saw when I was 12. I watched ‘Evil Dead’ when I was 12 years old. I went to the video store and I asked for the scariest movie they could give me. The guy looked around and said, “here, take this.” And he gave me ‘The Evil Dead’. And I was like, “what? It looks like a porn movie.” It wasn’t a very fancy edition of the movie… I don’t remember the cover, but I remember the back cover. When you went to the video store as a kid, you had to read the back cover otherwise you had no idea what the movie was about. There wasn’t so much press about the movie. You have to get it [in your hand], go, “what the f*ck is this?” And you have to turn it around and read it. And I remember it was Shelley in the basement. And it was something that seemed horrific. And it still is… Basically what we pitched to Raimi was doing a movie in the same tone, with the same horror that I personally experienced when I watched it for the first time. So, of course when you’re 12 [it's scary]. Today you can watch ‘The Evil Dead’ and go, “oh it’s campy!” But then I didn’t laugh at any moment. It was traumatic. I was 12 and it was something I shouldn’t have done. I should have been way older. So basically what we pitched to Sam then was the story and that same tone. So we thought it was violent, it was horrific and it was pretty cool at the same time because you’re watching something you’re not supposed to watch.”
There’s been a lot of talk about Diablo Cody’s involvement. What exactly was her role in the script? Young answers, “Fede kind of turned in the script and said, “it would be good to have another writer take a look at it and give some comments, maybe they could take it further.” So, someone had known that Diablo is a fan of the EVIL DEAD franchise, so they sent her Fede’s script and she really responded to it, she was actually like, “I actually think it’s really working, but I have some ideas.” And she did a polish pass on it. Structurally, it’s the exact same script. It was a lot of character ideas or dialogue ideas, and a lot of that stuff has lived through to here, and some things have gone back to where they were. ”
Lou Taylor Pucci said he didn’t even have to read the script to know he wanted the role. “ I think I personally went to that first audition, I didn’t even read the whole thing because, I mean, I knew ‘Evil Dead.’ It’s one of my favorite movies. So I was a little freaked out about remaking that. But part of it also had to do with finding out that they were trying to do it practically. Like, doing it with prosthetics. I thought that was the coolest idea in the entire world. And so that brought me to the next part of it, where really, I went to that second audition and I was like, ‘oh my god, even if I don’t get this, which I’m not really planning on, I get to meet Bruce Campbell!’ ”
Elizabeth Blackmore is glad they weren’t using green screen even thought it made things much more difficult. “I mean, this is like nothing, nothing I’ve ever done. In my life, ever. And it’s been insane. And I think it’s…we’re really lucky that it’s not CGI, that it is on this prosthetic stuff. I mean I wouldn’t have said that two weeks ago. I kind of was hating life. But getting to cut my arm off, it’s amazing. And it can only help your performance. Rather than cutting a green…you know, miming something. Like I cut my arm off, and it was amazing. There was blood everywhere, and…yeah…I mean, when do you get to do that, you know?
One of the journalists brings up just how different the new Deadites look in the film. Alvarez jumps in, “ We didn’t want makeup to pop up. The story is very…for a supernatural story, it’s very grounded. There’s no people floating. There’s nothing that you can witness that you go like, ‘woah, ok, this is supernatural.’ They are dealing with violence and things that happen, everything that they witness is from the real world. You know what I mean? Like it’s hard to explain, but if somebody floats and flies, it’s supernatural right? If somebody beats you up with a crowbar, it’s not supernatural. It’s just somebody who’s very pissed off. The reason why he’s doing it may be supernatural, but what they witness is real. So if somebody just is looking out the window, and somebody turns and they have makeup on their face, you’ll go ‘ok, fuck, how did that happen?’ So we didn’t wanna do that. So basically, we designed them in a way that every time they get possessed, like the first stage is like some kind of self-mutilation – particularly the face. So they do something to themselves, and they’re in some state of hysteria…they’ll look fucked up. And they’ll look very scary. But it’s something that happened naturally because of the wounds they inflict on themselves.”
Jane Levy on her character Mia, who at the beginning of the film is trying to kick a severe drug addiction. Things don’t exactly get easier during the course of the movie. “ I could name ten of the most horrible things that could ever happen to you in your whole life, and all of those ten things happen to this character. It’s, like, a horror of all horror films. It is extreme, and that’s a lot of the reason I took this project on. I thought why not do the most extreme movie possible?” What’s the hardest thing for her to pull off as an actress? “ Not only am I emotionally going through withdrawls, heroin withdrawl, which is really intense, I’m also being attacked by evil spirits. And I think the hardest was actually just the dramatic stuff. Which was emotional. And then physically, you know, I’m in prosthetics for six hours, and I have blood dripped all over my head, in my underwear. I’m literally wearing my underwear in the freezing cold rain and barfing on people and…you know, lots of stuff. I don’t wanna give anything away…”
And that’s it for PART TWO! But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of Evil Dead coming your way (from the set and otherwise) in the near future.