Fede Alvarez is a name you most likely didn’t know before he was announced as the director of EVIL DEAD. He’s made short films in his home country of Uruguay for longer than he can remember, and his 2009 short, PANIC ATTACK, sent him on a trip to Hollywood the very same week it was uploaded to YouTube. Within days, he was signed with an agency and developing a project with Sam Raimi. I caught up with him at New York Comic Con y to talk about what it means to remake a classic, how being an alumnus of YouTube has helped him, and just how he’s worked to make a new version of EVIL DEAD his own. Enjoy.
Mascott - The first thing I want to ask is... Well I want to address the elephant in the room.
Fede Alvarez - Go ahead.
Mascott - A lot of people are wondering, “Why remake EVIL DEAD?” I’m sure there’s a ton of things...
Fede Alvarez - Yeah, but you’re asking the wrong person, you’d have to ask that question to Sam Raimi.
Mascott - Oh, it was his decision?
Fede Alvarez - Of course. Sam was the one going, “Fede, we have to remake this movie, will you do it for me?” And of course I’m not going to say, “Well no, I think it’s a very bad idea.” You go, “Of course! Let’s do it!” In the beginning I felt just like you and everybody. I’m a fan of the movies since I was a kid. I watched the first one when I was twelve, so you imagine... To have the movie in your head for a long time, when you’re twelve. You’re not supposed to watch that shit. It’s like too... you know what I mean.
Mascott - I watched CLERKS when I was twelve, so...
Fede Alvarez - [Laughs] So, that’s why I’m saying that you’re asking the wrong person. That comes from them, and it is their movie, so they’re the ones deciding if it’s worthy or not. I think that Sam wanted to do it because he understood that the original was made at such a low budget the he always wanted to see that story told with the proper ways to make a film, whatever that is. Like a good camera with a good budget and all that.
Mascott - More modern.
Fede Alvarez - Yeah! And he knows that everybody loves them because they’re flawed, because it is what it is, right? You watch it today, the first one, and it’s funny because it’s so campy... that it’s funny. But the reason I think we’re remaking it... Sam and I both connect on the same level of thinking that the original for me was the scariest movie ever when I watched it. For me and a lot of people when it came out. It was so violent, so brutal, so gross.
Mascott - It was like nothing that came before.
Fede Alvarez - Yeah, exactly. And when he asked me to do that, he was like, “Okay, if we’re gonna do it, we have to remake that idea. That concept for a movie, about trying to be violent, trying to be... whatever we can do to shock the audience, and also to give them a great story. And that’s why we did it because... I mean, come on. There’s room to improve on that.
Mascott - Well there’s probably room to improve pretty much everything. So, are you...
Fede Alvarez - Of course. But this is not a... another thing about improving... It’s about bringing it to a new audience. It’s not about replacing the other movie, the other movie is always going to be there. And I react the same way, I cannot blame the audience. Now I’m that... Like, two years ago, I was just like anybody else. This is my first movie. I was like, back home, thinking about selling my car and for some reason, I did this short and suddenly I’m talking with Raimi, and I’m making it. Suddenly I’m on the other side, where I was bitching about all those things before. So that was kind of the fun thing, too, “Okay, now it’s your turn, because you know so much, and you bitch so much, now you show me how you’d do it.” And I’m just like, “Oh, fuck!” It’s a scary feeling but at the same time it was an amazing process, so it was great.
Mascott - You said, and we all know that fans of EVIL DEAD are vehement in their love of EVIL DEAD, EVIL DEAD 2 and ARMY OF DARKNESS and everything. So, would you call this more of a reimagining of the story? Like a whole new story? How do you plan to placate that audience that is so attached to it?
Fede Alvarez - We call it a remake or a reboot, whatever you want to call it. It is a different story. The setup is different. But they go to the same place, and the thing that unleashes the evil is the same. It’s the same mythology of the original. It’s a different group of characters, different names, different stories... And the hints to the original are all over the place. But it’s a different movie. And my mind is more... Yeah. Reimagining, I don’t know what that means. I know it’s just... They used to call them sequels. [laughs] I don’t know what happened today, but it’s just... I think it’s just a new story with a lot of elements taken from EVIL DEAD 1 and reshaped in a different way. And I think it’s really what I’m most proud of in this movie, that we make a very different remake, and I’m not just saying this. It’s just that it is. When you watch the FRIDAY THE 13TH... and all that batch of remakes they did of horror movies from the 80s, they’re all properties owned by a studio. So a studio made a decision, hired a director to make it. This is completely different. This is Sam, Bruce Campbell, and Rob Tapert. They own that movie, and they were saying, “Let’s do this. Let’s do this movie.” And it’s something about them. It was them and myself that created the thing, with my co-writer, one of my best buddies from back home and we wrote the movie together. So it was really a process that’s completely different from your everyday remake. We had a lot of creative freedom to do whatever we wanted and it was up to them to say, “Let’s try that,” or, “Let’s not do this.” Basically it was all about freedom. “Go crazy, go bananas, go to the cabin... Shoot a movie.”
Mascott - You said that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert were very involved with this from the genesis of the film. How was their involvement in the actual writing and the conception of it? What did they have to say?
Fede Alvarez - Sam... He’s a director above all things. As a producer, his job is to protect the director. Basically it was... Because we wrote the movie from scratch. Really, like the first talk with Sam was, “You want me to remake EVIL DEAD?” And he was like, “Yes!” And I was like, “Yay!” And we started talking about it, and I go, “Well what do you want to do, do you have an idea?” “No! You tell me!” And I was like, “Oh, great!" [laughs] And that was ground zero of the project and it was... It was like, I ran into the room with my co-writer... He’s somewhere around... And we start thinking about... I call him my co-writer right now, but he’s my friend I’ve been writing shorts with since we were 15. So basically we said, “What do we do? What would be relevant in a remake today? What’s worth remaking about the original film? What ideas still make sense for a new audience?” And all those kinds of things that you have to think of to bring it to a new audience. So we came up with some ideas, we came up with a rough storyline of just kinda...what we do. Particularly the tone. Is it going to be funny? Is it going to have a little bit of comedy? Because EVIL DEAD is so many different things for so many different people.
Mascott - Especially the second and third films. There’s skeletons dancing!
Fede Alvarez - Yeah, of course. The third one is crazy. And the second one has all the slapstick...
Mascott - The scene with the hand! [mimes scene with hand]
Fede Alvarez - Yeah! We have some hand in this one, too.
Mascott - Oh, so this one is funny?
Fede Alvarez - I wouldn’t call it funny. But I guess you’ll be the judge of that.
Mascott - It’s got a couple of humorous elements, as a nod?
Fede Alvarez - This one? Our movie? No. Well, I don’t know. Like I said, you’ll be the judge of that. Like I said, I asked Sam, when we sat down to talk about the original, I asked him, and he was offended... “You weren’t trying to be funny when you made the first one?” And he was like, “I’m offended, sir!” And I was like, “I’m sorry!” Of course, because you watch it today, and it has Bruce slapping the girl [mimes slapping the girl] and it’s so outrageous, and you go, “Okay, that cannot be serious!” And the amount of blood that goes onto his face... Everything is so insane at some point, in some moments, that you go like that... But no, they were trying to be shocking. And they were 18, too, which made them go and do whatever they wanted. Rape the girl... they do all kinds of things. Whatever they wanted to do, they went and did it. So that’s why I think they... And I think the campiness and the over the top element makes it funny today. But it wasn't intentional. Here we did the same thing. We went for it and we hit it with everything we can. It’s a movie that’s a 90-minute movie, but it’s really non-stop. Once it goes, it goes. And things happen and happen and happen. Somebody walks into a room and something happens there and they go back. That’s just the beauty of EVIL DEAD, all these people going crazy and killing each other in this very sweet cabin. So it’s really... That’s what I pitched to him, that’s really the movie I want to make. I want to recapture that spirit. And that’s what my co-writer and I, when we sat down together we were like... When we put our names down on it, this has to be the scariest movie ever, because that’s how it was for me, when I watched it. So we’re trying to do that again. And that’s what we’re really trying to do, like to make it as raw as possible.
Mascott - I’m almost out of time, but I want to ask you one more thing. You were one of those first... One of the early YouTube success stories. Setting up your own production and post-production company. I think I actually saw the film you made, PANIC ATTACK, a couple of years ago on the internet. Then you got signed and everything happened. Is it different for you? Because I guess YouTube today is the equivalent of someone getting picked up at Sundance in the early 90s. Are things different for you being from that background as opposed...
Fede Alvarez - Different how?
Mascott - As opposed to someone who maybe spent years building up connections and at film schools and in Hollywood already.
Fede Alvarez - Yeah. You know what? That made it easier for us on a lot of levels because we didn’t have anything to lose. It was a Thursday. I was back home. I uploaded the short because I was sick of it... I didn’t want to go to festivals, and I didn’t want to see it anymore. Because it was so involved! I spent so much time on it, it was just me and my friend doing it, the whole thing. And during the last year I think it was just myself on the computer putting it together. So once it was over, I was like, “Done.” And the week before, two weeks before, I realized YouTube had a new High-Definition format. I put it online, and it went up. And this is Thursday... You have to understand, ten days later, I’m in Hollywood signing this deal to make this movie with Sam Raimi. So... And my friend comes with me to L.A., and we start figuring out what we’re going to do... Out of that, EVIL DEAD comes up, and we had nothing to lose. We’re two guys that... Okay, worst case scenario, we go back home, because we never did anything to try to get to that industry. I never did that short to try to get to Hollywood. You’d get committed if you say that. If you said, “Yeah, I’m gonna make a short, then go to Hollywood.” I guess it never happened in the last hundred years, so nobody would believe that it’s possible. So nobody does it with that purpose. You don’t do shorts to try to get to the Hollywood industry, you do shorts because you enjoy the process of making it, finish it, and when it’s done? Fuck it, let’s do another one. It wasn’t really... You don’t do it for the glory of the... or for any business, because there’s no industry in Uruguay in the filmmaking business. So you don’t do it for the purpose of, “Well someday I’ll make money with this shit.” Like, no way. So when we went there, we’re like, “Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work, we go back home.” And that’s what I think worked. Because we went in there, we pitched the craziest shit. Sick stuff that you can’t even imagine, and that’s the place where everyone tries to be safe. “Oh no, if I go to a studio and pitch that idea, they’re going to think I’m crazy, and I’m going to be out of a job, my God!” No, we didn’t have that fear, because I was like, “What the fuck. Worst case scenario, we’re given a ride back home.” So that’s why I think it worked, and that gave us that big chance, because it’s... It’s exactly like you put it. When people are like, climbing and climbing and they finally get to that moment where a Hollywood producer is like, “Okay, what do you have to say? You have five minutes.” “I...ahhh... I don’t know!” And they try to go safe most of the time. They want to make sure they say the right things so they can make the movie because they’ve been fighting... For us, we’re doing shorts since I can remember, and stuff like that, and we always do it out of fun, and that happened, and we’re like, “Let’s take advantage of that, and do the best that we can,” and it ended up working great because of that.
Mascott - Well, I’m glad it did work out! Well, thank you very much, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the film.
Fede Alvarez - Thanks, man.
EVIL DEAD opens in theatres on April 13th, 2013.