‘Evil Dead’: Bruce Campbell, Fede Alvarez talk up ‘very scary’ remake

April 04, 2013 | 6:15 a.m.

"Evil Dead" director Fede Alvarez, right, and producer Bruce Campbell, who was the star of the original film series. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Lou Taylor Pucci, left, Jessica Lucas, Shiloh Fernandez, Jane Levy and Elizabeth Blackmore in a scene from "Evil Dead." (TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures)

Shiloh Fernandez, left, Jessica Lucas and Lou Taylor Pucci in a scene from "Evil Dead." (TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures)

Shiloh Fernandez and Jessica Lucas in a scene from "Evil Dead." (TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures)

Jane Levy in a scene from "Evil Dead." (Kirsty Griffin / TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures)

Shiloh Fernandez, left, and director Fede Alvarez on the set of "Evil Dead." (Kirsty Griffin / TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures)

Director Fede Alvarez, left, on the set of "Evil Dead." (TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures)

Director Fede Alvarez, left, producer Rob Tapert and writer Rodo Sayagues on the set of "Evil Dead." (Kirsty Griffin / TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures)

Director Fede Alvarez, right, with Shiloh Fernandez on the set of "Evil Dead." (TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures)

"Evil Dead" producer Bruce Campbell arrives at the 2013 SXSW screening of the film in March in Austin, Texas. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images)

"Evil Dead" director Fede Alvarez at the film's 2013 SXSW screening in March in Austin, Texas. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images)

Fede Alvarez still remembers the first time he watched “The Evil Dead.”

Inside a darkened Santa Monica editing bay where he was putting the finishing touches on his remake of the 1981 horror film, the Uruguay native recalled when he was 12, and he and a friend had ventured into a video store two blocks from his home in Montevideo, urging the clerk to recommend something really scary.

“We were done with all the ‘Nightmares on Elm Street’ and ‘Friday the 13th,’” said Alvarez, whose “Evil Dead” opens in theaters Friday. “We asked the guy, ‘We’ve seen it all, give us something real.’ I remember him looking around, and he was like, ‘Here, take this, kid, and run.’”

"Evil Dead" director Fede Alvarez at the film's 2013 SXSW screening in March in Austin, Texas. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images)

“Evil Dead” director Fede Alvarez. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images)

More than 30 years after its initial release, there remains something delightfully transgressive about “The Evil Dead,” the ultra-low-budget horror flick that launched one of horror cinema’s most oddball franchises and the directing career of an enterprising kid from Michigan named Sam Raimi.

The movie centers on what happens when a group of friends in a remote cabin discovers an ancient book that contains demon resurrection passages — once someone reads from the Necronomicon, hell breaks loose in the woods, and before long, limbs are flying, buckets of viscous fluids are spewing and Bruce Campbell, playing the beleaguered hero Ash, is taking the beating of a lifetime.

With their manic, antic energy, off-the-wall story detours and no-holds-barred gore — eyeballs fly, desk lamps laugh, reflections talk, Ash is sucked backward in time — Raimi’s trilogy (1981’s “The Evil Dead,” 1987’s “Evil Dead II” and 1992’s “Army of Darkness”) has inspired the same kind of fervent devotion typically on display at “Star Trek” conventions.

Fans have snapped up “The Evil Dead” video games, toys and collectibles and countless iterations of the films on DVD and Blu-ray. There’s even a long-running “Evil Dead” stage musical that’s played across the U.S. and Canada, in addition to South Korean and Japan.

Still, the idea of an “Evil Dead” movie without Raimi directing or Campbell in the starring role left the fan base more than a little anxious. And that’s where Campbell, who produced the new “Evil Dead,” with Raimi and their longtime collaborator Rob Tapert, comes in. His job is to preach to the members of Raimi’s choir of acolytes in hope of claiming some converts to the cause.

Bruce Campbell in "Evil Dead." (Egyptian Theatre)

Bruce Campbell in “Evil Dead.” (Anchor Bay)

“First, there’s the ‘Noooooos,’” said Campbell, seated beside Alvarez, of the reaction that greeted the project on Twitter. “Lots of O’s, lots of exclamation points. But I’m like, ‘Hey, man, don’t complain until it’s time to complain. See it and decide for yourself.’”

The reality is that many of the people who buy tickets for the new “Evil Dead” won’t know that anything came before. Understanding that fact, Alvarez started from scratch, hoping that a new creative approach to the same central story would retain some of the fear-inspiring qualities from the original without seeming like a shot-for-shot rehash.

He chose to invest the premise with real-world drama: four friends (Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore) head to a remote cabin to help one of their own (Jane Levy) kick her addiction to heroin. Things aren’t going well even before the book is discovered and the incantations are read; by the time the group realizes that Levy’s withdrawal-addled Mia is right in her insistence to flee, there’s little hope of escape.

Jane Levy in a scene from "Evil Dead." (TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures)

Jane Levy in a scene from “Evil Dead.” (TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures)

“We were trying to make a very, very scary movie,” Alvarez said. “Even the premise of the movie — without bringing in the supernatural aspect — is already quite scary. There’s a girl, she’s a heroin addict. She wants to kick the habit, she’s ready to lock herself up in this cabin and go cold turkey, which they say is the most effective way to quit heroin. Your body will drive you crazy for three days. They say it’s the biggest nightmare you can go through.”

Alvarez, 34, had directed music videos and short films in Uruguay before he arrived in Hollywood for a series of meetings with executives in 2009, one week after posting his short “Panic Attack!,” about an invading force of giant robots, online.

The five-minute movie caught the attention of Raimi, who began talking to Alvarez about working on a project together. It was the veteran filmmaker who suggested the newcomer revisit his debut.

“I instantly sensed that he was a great storyteller, really sharp, funny, sincere, wanted to really entertain the audience in a new way,” Raimi told The Times earlier this year. “I never saw so clearly in my life the right guy for the job when I met him.”

Alvarez wrote the “Evil Dead” screenplay with his longtime friend Rodo Sayagues, with Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning “Juno” scribe, fine-tuning the dialogue for the pair for whom Spanish is their first language. He shot the movie outside of Auckland, New Zealand, over the course of about 70 days, opting for practical makeup effects over CGI and timelessness over modern references.

“You can’t place what time they are,” Alvarez said. “There’s no cellphones. People know there’s no signal in the woods, so why bother? Even the cars are quite classic.” (A certain 1973 Oldsmobile will be especially familiar to some viewers.)

And none of the actors is playing Ash.

“We’re actually glad that Fede took the approach that there’s no Ash character,” Campbell said. “There’s none of the original characters. We want this movie to be its own version. I wouldn’t want to do that to some fellow actor, ‘Come reprise this role I did 30 years ago.’”

"Evil Dead" producer Bruce Campbell arrives at the 2013 SXSW screening of the film in March in Austin, Texas. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images)

“Evil Dead” producer Bruce Campbell. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images)

By now, the actor has accepted that, despite a lengthy filmography, in some circles he will forever be associated with that character, a frightened regular guy who evolves into a swaggering “Dirty Harry”-type who dispatches the possessed with one-liners and a 12-gauge, double-barrel shotgun.

Campbell doubts he’ll pick up his “boomstick” to play Ash one more time — though he won’t entirely rule out a return — but his enduring popularity has uniquely positioned him to advocate for the new “Evil Dead.”

The actor has spent plenty of time on the road, making public appearances at conventions and festivals to function as a sort of salesman-in-chief. Among the horror crowd, Alvarez, who’s already looking ahead to more “Evil Dead” movies, couldn’t ask for a better spokesman.

“It’s time to start a whole new deal,” Campbell told the sold-out crowd at Austin, Texas’ Paramount Theatre, where the movie premiered as part of the South by Southwest Film Festival last month. “I hope one day you can go to a movie theater and watch the first three and then the second three and enjoy them all.

“I think people are so concerned, like we’re burning the negative of the first original ‘Evil Dead,’” Campbell continued. “It’ll still be there on your shelf .… This is new.”

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

Mark Olsen contributed to this report.

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