‘Evil Dead’ director Fede Alvarez talks childhood trauma, movie violence, crossover sequels, and video game movies

Wide Screen

It’s been a pretty unlikely road to Hollywood for Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez.

The 35-year-old director of the forthcoming horror remake “Evil Dead” – an ultra gory reimagining of Sam Raimi’s cult 1981 movie of the same name – came to the attention of the major studios after his short film “Panic Attack” went viral on YouTube. The short, which was made on a budget of just $300, depicts Alvarez’s hometown of Montevideo being utterly destroyed by giant robots.

“Panic Attack” was exactly the sort of do-it-yourself project that Hollywood could really get behind, but the micro-budget short couldn’t be further away from Alvarez’s feature film debut. In classic horror tradition and much like the original film, “Evil Dead” follows a group of twenty-somethings who retire to a creepy cabin in the woods for the weekend. But instead of the conventional college-age pursuits of sex, drugs, and alcohol, the group is actually holing up at the cottage to help their drug-addicted friend Mia ("Suburgatory" star Jane Levy) get clean once and for all. Unfortunately for the group, Mia’s sobriety is the least of their problems after the friends unwittingly summon a demonic force by reading from a book they find in the cabin. Go figure!

Yahoo! Movies Canada spoke to “Evil Dead” director Alvarez about horror movie-induced childhood trauma, remaking a cult classic, violence on film, the potential for “Evil Dead” crossover sequels, video game movies he’d like to make, and more.

After the viral success of “Panic Attack” (the short currently has over 7 million views), Alvarez fielded and subsequently turned down a number of directing opportunities from the major studios.

“Most of my friends were saying I was crazy back then, like how could I say no to a Hollywood movie?” Alvarez recalled. “But for me it would have been pointless to make a bad film.”

Then director/producer Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man,” “Oz the Great and Powerful”) came along, and convinced Alvarez to helm the “Evil Dead” reboot that was in the works.

“I chose [“Evil Dead”] and ended up working with Sam because I knew he was a filmmaker before he was a producer.” Alvarez said, adding that he knew Raimi’s background as a director would help foster an atmosphere of “respect” and “freedom” while making the movie.

The director’s relationship to Raimi’s original “Evil Dead” movie may have also played some part in him taking on the franchise reboot. Alvarez called his first exposure to the 1981 version starring Bruce Campbell “really traumatic.”

“I watched the original ‘Evil Dead’ when I was twelve,” Alvarez said. “I was really looking for the hardest horror movie I could find... ...but I was way too young to watch that film.”

The director remembered his frustration at how comedic some horror movies were becoming in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“’Nightmare on Elm St.' and even the 'Friday the 13th' series' were incorporating too much humour in them, so for me they weren’t scary anymore.”

“The Evil Dead,” on the other hand, did not disappoint the young Alvarez.

“I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the film; at first I hated it because of how much it scared me.”

Alvarez said that his love of the original movie made adapting the film for modern audiences a real challenge.

“It would have been a mistake just to remake the movie and tell the same story again – I don’t think have worked for a new audience,” Alvarez declared, referring to the clichéd “cabin in the woods” horror trope. “It just felt like we’d seen that movie so many times that it wasn’t going to work, so we had to come up with a new story and setup.”

“We have a lot of elements from the original, but here they’re used here in a completely new way,” the director said. “Part of the process was to really challenge the ideas from the original film, to really put them to the test of time to see if they were still relevant or not.”

Sure, Alvarez’s film has iconic “Evil Dead” paraphernalia like the chainsaw, the shotgun, and the icky human skin-covered book of the dead, but the director cited the audio cassette recordings from the original as something that simply wouldn’t fly with modern audiences.

“There’s this whole thing in the first movie about the tape with the incantations, and we got rid of that,” Alvarez said. “I thought it would be better if the actors were the ones reading the incantations from the book because they’re the ones who pay for it later.”

With small touches of the new and old, Alvarez said he hopes his “Evil Dead” will appeal to both newcomers and long time fans of the series.

Despite the recent success of so-called meta-horror movies like “The Cabin in the Woods” (a film that owes a great deal to Raimi’s original “Evil Dead”), Alvarez said making a film where the characters knew about horror movies would “ruin the experience.” Slasher films don’t exist in the world that the writer/director has created for “Evil Dead,” and Alvarez believes the characters in the movie act and react the same way real people would if put in a similar situation.

“If I told you there’s a real book out there that if you read from it you’d unleash demons, you’d laugh at me.” Alvarez said, chuckling. “And if you write realistic characters they would laugh at you too. They don’t really count on the supernatural, they don’t believe it... ... they have a hundred theories before they think this is a demon possessing them!”

Just as Alvarez wanted his characters to be as real as possible, he also wanted the violence and gore in the movie to be as shocking and as realistic as possible.

“We’re not showing you a watered-down version.” Alvarez said. “Every time someone gets hurt, we tried to be as graphic as we could.”

Although much of the violence in “Evil Dead” is extremely gory, Alvarez said he has legitimate issues with the way many Hollywood films glorify murder and mayhem on film.

“The problem is when you show violence in a sexy way or kind of a playful way, and you don’t show the real consequences," he said. "In this one we show the violence and we really show the consequences of it.”

Many fans and critics are already calling “Evil Dead” one of the goriest movies ever to receive an R-rating (one viewing of the film’s red-band trailer will probably convince you of that), but Alvarez revealed that there really isn’t much difference between the original NC-17 cut of the film they submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the version audiences will see this weekend.

“We had to trim down some of the more graphic moments in the movie a little bit, like the tongue being cut in half and the hand and the arm being chopped off,” Alvarez said with a laugh. “It was maybe 10 or 15 frames for those things, it was really nothing.”

Contrary to what most filmmakers might say, Alvarez called the MPAA “helpful” in getting the movie an R-rating.

“The MPAA can really drive you crazy sometimes by not telling you why your movie is getting the rating you don’t want,” the director said, adding that many filmmakers are forced to “butcher” their own films in order to get a certain rating from the MPAA.

“We worked very closely with them. They helped us get right on the border of the line of an R rated film – we’re right on the limit!”

Alvarez sees a bright future for the long-running horror franchise after the reboot is released - one that might even include a crossover movie with an appearance by original “Evil Dead” protagonist Ashley J. Williams (Bruce Campbell).

“When we made this film we made sure we weren’t overwriting anything, particularly the mythology of the originals,” Alvarez said.

While Alvarez is already tinkering with ideas for an “Evil Dead” sequel, producer Raimi and his partner Rob Tapert have also been talking up a sequel to 1992’s “Army of Darkness.” Alvarez said he believes there is enough room for two parallel “Evil Dead” franchises.

“I think they can live together, and who knows maybe we’ll unite them in a single film at the end. If Sam makes ‘Army of Darkness 2’ and I make ‘Evil Dead 2’ then maybe we can connect them in the following film.”

Alvarez has no concrete plans post-“Evil Dead” quite yet, but the avowed gamer admitted that there’s one famous video game franchise that he’d love to try to make into a movie.

“I really want to make a ‘Half-Life’ movie at some point – but I’d heard it was impossible because Spielberg wanted to make it. That’s definitely one that I’ve always dreamed of making into a movie though.”

Just a few months before “Panic Attack” went viral, Alvarez actually created a level for another Valve game, the co-op zombie first person shooter “Left 4 Dead,” which was a virtual replica of the production company he was working for at the time. Hey, if the movies don't work out for Alvarez, he's always got video games to fall back on!

"Evil Dead" slashes and screams its way into theatres on April 5.