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Quint visits the set of Evil Dead and holds the book of the dead, sees a ton of gore and even spots a classic cameo!

Published at: Jan. 7, 2013, 11 a.m. CST by quint

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. It was probably around the time the makeup effects people were running us through how they pulled off a scene featuring a young woman cutting off her own arm in one shot without using CGI that I began to think this Evil Dead reboot was in good hands.

As you can imagine, I was a bit skeptical as I hopped on a plane to Auckland to visit the production (and frankly I was more excited about the prospect of hanging out in New Zealand some more). Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films hold a special place in my heart, just as I’m sure they do in yours if you’ve bothered to click through and read this piece.

I got burned really badly by The Thing remake and I hope the same doesn’t happen here because I’m optimistic about how Evil Dead is going to turn out. When I visited the set of The Thing they were swearing up and down that they were going to be 80% practical effects with CG augmentation here or there. The footage they showed me looked cool, Joel Edgerton and Mary Elizabeth Winstead were doing a good job and Amalgamated Dynamics’ Thing animatronics looked awesome.

Then the movie came out, all the sweet practical was painted over with awful CG and the film just didn’t come together. It hurt a bit to drop my cynical shell, show some optimism and then get walloped by the flaccid reboot/prequel that hit cinema screens.

I wasn’t going to be hurt again! No, sir! But then my cynical shell started to crack as soon as we entered the Woodhill Forest area outside of Auckland (near Muriwai Beach) to visit the actual cabin in the woods. First off, pine trees aren’t very common in New Zealand, so it was a surprise that the trees looked… well, American. The air was fresh and crisp and distinctly New Zealandy, but my eyes were successfully deceived.

You’ve seen the trailer by now, so you know the cabin is pretty accurately reproduced. It’s quite something to see that familiar cabin exterior in the actual woods, let me tell you. You could almost hear the deadite force swooping around out in the trees somewhere.

The first place we toured was the tool shed (naturally). The first thing I noticed was a torn up wooden dog house next to the tool shed. Animal bones littered the ground and the name “Grumpy” was scrawled creepily on the remaining blood-splattered wood shards. The publicist indicated Grumpy played a part in the movie, but don’t quote me on that.

The tool shed was what you’d imagine. Blood was everywhere. There was a bloody shovel, old rotten and dusty shelving, the works. No Freddy glove over the door, by the way (I looked).

Walking into the cabin, of course my attention went straight to the floor. I’ve seen Evil Dead movies, I know I need to find the cellar door first and keep a good distance from it! It wasn’t hard to spot. Immediately to my left I saw the large rectangle in the floor, fairly close to the front door. Also in the living room area was a stand up piano, a worn out couch and some framed photographs of Mia (Jane Levy) and David (Shiloh Fernandez), who are brother and sister. Obviously they spent childhoods in this cabin… we later toured around a room with small bunk beds that have their names carved into the wood in a child’s scrawl.

The living room was connected to the kitchen via a diner-style chef’s window. You know what I’m talking about, right? That loooooong rectangular opening where you food always gets cold because your waitress is off filing her nails or something?

We were told that the interior of the cabin was recreated on the soundstage we would soon be visiting, but before we left the location we had to take a tour of the grounds around the cabin. That’s where I saw me some rape vines, a stone well that “plays a big part” of the film and a big, big cameo.

The cabin looking right cracked my cynical shell, but seeing a rusted out Oldsmobile covered with many years worth of rotting leaves busted that shell right the hell off. The Classic is not only in the movie, but its placement and the state it’s in opens up a big question: Is this a remake/reboot or is it a sneaky sequel? I got a little one on one time with director Fede Alvarez and I posed that exact question to him… But I’m going to be a huge tease and make you wait to read his response until the end of the report because I haven’t even met him yet at this point in the set visit, so have a little patience, will ya’?

The rotted out classic wasn’t the only car in these woods. There was a blue station wagony Ford half in a man made swamp, attached to a pulley system via a thick chain. This was built so that the car could be put in and pulled out of what will be a large amount of water in the film, but was simply a mud pit covered with plastic bags when we saw it. I believe they had already shot that scene, so they drained the water.

Next on the tour was the place where all the rape vines were. You Evil Dead fans know bad shit happens here (I suppose even non-fans could figure out a place I’m describing as having “rape vines” isn’t one you’d have a fun time at…). The prop/greenery work here was really subtle because I would have just passed this area thinking it was another overgrown part of the woods, but many of the thicker vines had painful large thorns which were all glued onto the actual vines.

We were allowed to get photos in the rape vines and as the group took their turns being molested by foliage, I found out a bit more about the construction of the cabin. Nothing major, but just fun little factoids like these same woods were used a lot on Hercules and Xena (also produced by Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi) as well as Bridge to Terebithia and that the production decided to build the cabin a good three months before production started so that nature would help the art department. Spider webs, pine needles, natural weathering… all production value added by mother nature for no extra charge!

Soon thereafter it was time to get back on the bus and head over the studio space, but we had to wait for Collider’s Steve Weintraub to take a piss. Instead of using the conveniently placed port-a-potty, Steve decided he was going to urinate in the woods behind the cabin. I took note of this. He pissed at the Evil Dead cabin at exactly 2:44pm NZ time, June 11, 2012.

While he was pissing, I took an iPhone picture of the woods (it wasn’t of the set, so the publicist said it was okay… gotta say that before I get dogpiled by my online reporter friends). Here’s the picture, which shows you how sweet these woods were and also that there was a nice little portable toilet Steve could have used just 10 feet away:

 

 

A nice, twisty-turny 45 minute drive later, we arrived at the studio, which had taken over an old Amway office space (there were still giant Amway posters and logos all over the space used for the production offices), and were introduced to a lovely fellow by the name of Robert Gillies who was the production designer on the film.

We didn’t have much time to gather our wits about ourselves before we were shown the new Book of the Dead. Due to rights issues they can’t call it the Necronomicon or use the famous skin-face cover, so in order to avoid legal troubles they redesigned the book.

Now the jacket looks more Frankenstein’s Monster-y, with different chunks of skin of different age, hue and size sewn together. I got to hold the book, which was surprisingly heavy and super creepy to touch. Not only did the silicone skin feel real, they also punched odd hairs growing out of the skin.

Opening the book, I saw that the skin was nailed into the front cover with tiny, but crude little nails, the skin bulging up around the heads of the nails as if stretched taught.

Flipping through the book, I found that each page was actually filled out. It’s not simply inked in red, but the history of the book as it passed from hand to hand is evident on each page. It’s not as if the book of the dead was written by one person, but started with all the incantations and creepy illustrations and as it has been discovered by more and more hapless future deadite hosts the crazier the writing gets. There are warnings that give way to possessed vulgarities and demented trance scribbles. You can see a bit of this in the more recent red band trailer.

The amount of detail in these pages, many of which will never see more than a split second as the pages are flipped, was astounding. Gillies said that many of the illustrations, annotations, etc hinted at what was to come, but that it was all for this film. They weren’t sneaking little hints at future flicks in there.

Here’s a particular passage that stuck out to me: “To escape His hold seek purification of the possessed soul by fire.”

One interesting thing about the actual incantation is that it’s not obvious in the book. If the idea is that the book of the dead is filled with warnings and has been in the possession of other victims then naturally the first thing they’d try to remove is the secret incantation so this hell isn’t brought around again. The words are scratched out, inked over, but of course curiosity compels one of the characters to Jackie Treehorn it. I took a few screenshots from the red band trailer and show some detail from the book and just how the passage is uncovered.

 







 

After reluctantly letting go of the gorgeous prop (how come I couldn’t keep it? I mean, they had 3 complete copies on hand, so really it’s unreasonable for them not to let me keep it) we were led to the makeup effects area.

I’ll spare you most of the specifics, since what was on display here was every character death and deadite transformation, but it was rad as hell. This is where I first heard that Fede Alvarez was adamant that no CG gore was to be used. In fact, at this point of production, with a month left to film, they had already gone through 40 liters of blood, which was half of what they had on hand. And this was before they filmed a sequence that takes place during a literal rainstorm of blood, by the way.

The shelves were lined with body parts mutilated in the most painful ways possible, including an appliance that has a nail driven through someone’s lower lip and into the gums, fucking up the teeth. The split tongue from the trailer was there as were an array of severed limbs.

Prosthetic designer Roger Murray talked about one of these limbs, a woman’s arm severed above the elbow, and told us how the scene it belongs to is a prime example of using practical effects over CGI.

This is the shot I mentioned in the intro, where a girl uses an electric knife to cut off an infected arm while sitting in the kitchen. The way they got this shot was by having the real actress sit with her back against a cabinet, which hid a stunt woman. The stunt woman put her arm through and they arranged it so it looked like the actress’ arm.

Now, keep in mind, they didn’t fake the cut. It was a real electric knife cutting into a silicone prosthetic section that connected the actress’ body to the stunt woman’s arm. It wasn’t a large section for her to hit and her face was covered in blood. Too far up and she’d cut into herself, too far down and she’d cut into the stunt woman.

So, now when you see this moment in the movie you’ll be able to look all smart to your non-AICN reading friends when they’re all like “How did they do that!?!” and you’re all like, “Let me tell you how they did that, my good man, for I am a carrier of great knowledge!”

In the makeup section I ran into a familiar face. The prosthetics supervisor is a guy named Patrick Baxter, who I met a good 10 years ago when I snuck my way into being one of Romero’s walking dead. Patrick was helping KNB on Land of the Dead and he made me up for my cold, cold night in Toronto. I’ve since run into him on various set visits all over the world.

He seemed in good spirits and was genuinely excited that Alvarez was such a practical effects hound. He convinced me that this wasn’t going to turn into another The Thing and all his hard work wouldn’t be painted over by last minute CG.

One final bit from this part of the visit that I found really interesting. The set up for the movie is that a character, Mia, is kicking heroin, which is why the supportive group of friends takes her to this isolated cabin. Interesting concept for any horror movie and a good in for this revisit to the Evil Dead world. As you’ve seen in the red band trailer, Mia is directly tied to the main threat.

Consider it her version of Evil Ash. It’s Evil Mia that gets more and more fucked up as the movie goes along. I saw many different stages of this character up to what was being called “The Abomination,” which I’m not 100% sure is Evil Mia. It could be another deadite manifestation, but the whole point of this creature is that it’s supposed to be Mia’s negative Id. They cast a super skinny guy to wear the prosthetics. She’s kicking heroin, so this thing is heroin skinny. Get it? Good. I thought that was pretty sweet myself and I look forward to seeing how it’s executed in the finished film.

Now it was time to actually head out of the production offices and into the studio to meet Fede and watch some filming.

Sound stages have an alarm and spinning light at the door. The alarm sounds whenever a shot has begun and sounds again when the shot is over, the light spinning inbetween, as a way to let the outside world know not to open the door and mess up the sound or throw light onto the set or otherwise interrupt filming.

We just missed the door, the alarm sounding and light spinning right when we get to the door. While waiting on the other side for the shot to finish up the sound of screaming met our ears. It was muffled by the sound-dampening insulation, but it was a whole lot of a lady screaming for a long time.

After a few minutes of muffled screaming, the sound cut off and the alarm buzzed loudly above us. The door was pushed open from the other side as a crew member stuck her head out and, with a smile, said, “Welcome.”

My favorite part of set visits is watching filming because that’s always my favorite part to write up. I love going into detail about the scene and the changes from take to take as the director and actors interact. But you’re not going to see much of that on this report, I’m afraid. We saw a lot of filming, actually, but it’s literally all from the last 10 minutes of the movie and surrounds a sacrifice, a deadite warning and a simulated explosion that takes out between one and many main characters.

I’d be more upset about this if the latest red band trailer didn’t give you such a good idea of how they’re pulling off the deadites, but since you know the tone Fede is setting up that lessens the blow a bit.

The trailer isn’t misleading. The tone is pretty deadly serious. They’re going for “shit your pants right now, fuck you” not a playful comedic tone. The first Evil Dead film was more that way, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can pull it off in this new film without making the audience miss the more campy fun of the deadites.

It’s also hard for me to get a gauge on the performances since what I saw filming was mostly panicked yelling, screaming and the word “No” repeated over and over again.

I will say that the character who was in full on deadite mode did a few different variations on his/her line. It was pretty clear Fede liked the mournful creepy version more than the more excited/playful readings of “He is coming…” Between takes the deadite actor did slip into some vintage Raimi “swallow your soul!” joking around, though, so at least I got a little bit of that, even if none of it will make the film.

It is worth noting that the words “join us” were uttered by a deadite while I was there. Figured you guys might like to know that.

During the next break in filming, word came down that Fede Alvarez was headed over to walk us through some of the sets. I instantly liked this guy. He’s a young director, obviously still over the moon about what he’s getting to do, and his excitement was infectious. I see how he inspired Raimi and Tapert to hand the reins of their beloved franchise over to this first time feature filmmaker.

The first place we went was the cabin interior, which was built in full on the sound stage, and the first thing Alvarez did was rush over to the old standup piano and ask us if we recognized the tune he was playing. It was Ash’s love song he played at the beginning of Evil Dead 2. That’s the kind of geek he is. He also curses as much as Guillermo del Toro, so that was a bonus.

On our tour, we saw the fucked up bloody bathroom with broken mirror, a room Fede called “mother’s room” that had a shotgun on the bed and looked like it came straight out of an episode of hoarders, and Fede made sure to point out the clock on the wall in the hallway that led between the living room and the back rooms. It was the original prop from the first two films, the clock that freezes in time and gets a few dozen dutch angle zoom ins/zoom outs over the course of both films.

The cellar door opened up on this set, but the steps only went down about 4 feet before hitting bottom. The cellar set was built somewhere else on the soundstage, but they designed this main set so that someone could walk down and duck under or be thrown into the cellar and still make it work for the shot.

At this point I went up to Fede and asked him a really important question. Having not been in the cellar yet, I asked if he had a movie poster down there and if so, what was it?

A mischievous grin spread across his face. “That is an excellent question,” he said. In Raimi’s Evil Dead, he put a torn up poster of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, which began a back and forth in-joke trade between the directors which resulted Nancy watching The Evil Dead on TV in A Nightmare on Elm Street and then Freddy’s Glove being in the Tool Shed in Evil Dead 2.

Fede told me he chickened out and didn’t put a poster in the cellar in his movie because the whole point of Raimi doing that was to go “you think this movie is scary? I’ll show you scary!” and Fede didn’t have the chutzpah to do that. He almost did, but backed off… if he had done it, he said the poster he would have picked would have been 28 Days Later.

Oh, one really cool thing about this Fede-led tour: he had them shut off most of the lights on the soundstage. We were each given a small LED flashlight to walk around the sets, adding a huge level of atmosphere to the walk. I half expected him to have set up deadites to spring at us from the darkness. He didn’t, but I was still walking around with clenched buttcheeks.

On the dark walk between the cabin interior set and the cellar set, Fede asked the group “Who is Quint?” My natural instinct when that question is asked on a set visit is to think I’m in trouble, but I still (reluctantly) raised my hand and Fede revealed that he’s been a long-time AICN reader and said he loves the Behind the Scenes Pic of the Day article and that he always tries to guess the picture by the headline. Well, that was a relief to say the least.

Now this cellar set was built up a couple of flights of stairs. The reason behind this was, of course, to give the feeling of depth when walking down the cellar steps on the set. I got the honors of opening up the cellar door on this set and heading down the stairs first. This is where I for sure thought they had some people hidden away to jump out and make me crap my pants/fall down the stairs/both at the same time, but nope.

From the outside the set looked like the backside of any other set… wood, 2x4s and scaffolding. From the inside it was rickety wooden stairs leading into an earthen cellar. Movie magic, folks.

The stairs lead to a long hallway, which led to what I referred to in my notes as “the dead cat room.” Dirt floor, melted candles all over the place and dozens of (fake) dead cats hanging by crude wire nooses around the room. There were so many dead cats you couldn’t walk around the room without brushing past some. Remember, they turned the studio lights off and whatever ambient light we had walking around was completely gone in this enclosed set, so everything I saw was via the dim light from my mini-flashlight. Spooooooky.

There was a sort of altar in this room, surrounded by melted candles and this, I’m told, is where our group finds the book of the dead. Fede took great pleasure in pointing out pieces of brain splattered across the room.

In regards to CGI, I know there’s been some quotes going around recently about there being no CGI in the film. That’s not 100% true, but it’s not far off. Here’s what Fede told us:

”I’d say it’s 95% practical. We’re not doing any CGI… we do in post, but it’s not the same. You’ll see some fire today, but (when we film) there will be no fire. We will shoot real fire in the same place and put it on afterwards. We won’t kill the actors! Everything is an element. We don’t do CG blood, everything is real and practical. Sometimes a post effect just means you put two real things together.”

He said that the Sam had his back on his desire to do the effects practically and he never had to fight a studio trying to impose CG.

After this we all gathered in a conference room and had a big, long roundtable interview with all the cast (who were still there), Fede and producer Rob Tapert. Here are the bullet points from the big roundtable interview:

-Rob Tapert said that from a business point of view, it was a no brainer to go with a straight horror movie. As much as he and Sam love Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, they never “worked for a larger audience.” He said that even in terms of DVD and downloads, Evil Dead 1 still outpaces both Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.

-Fede didn’t want to ape Raimi’s style, which is more the horror/comedy stuff. He also wanted to recapture that feeling of dread and horror he felt when he was 12 and watched The Evil Dead for the first time.

-Fede said early on he wasn’t even going to touch Ash, he’s too big of a fan to even try to use that character. Tapert threw in “Yeah, we needed somebody who was a good actor!”

-Regarding Diablo Cody’s involvement: the producers stressed it was Fede’s script. Cody was a big fan of Evil Dead, so they asked her to take a look at the script. She gave a few character and dialogue notes, did a polish and they used some of it and went back to Fede’s previous draft for a lot, too. They seemed to downplay her involvement.

-After the big blood vomit scene, Jane Levy cried. “I felt like I was really drowning my friend Jessica (Lucas, who plays Olivia). It felt so bad!”

-Apparently Bruce Campbell was at the auditions and was warning potential cast members of the toils of making an Evil Dead movie. “He was like, ‘Do you know what it feels like to be buried alive? Do you know what it feels like when you’re in the pouring rain and you’re freezing?’” – Jane Levy.

-Lou Taylor Pucci revealed that he was a huge Evil Dead fan going into the audition and didn’t sweat it at all because as far as he was concerned he already won by getting to meet Bruce Campbell.

-Bruce was resistant to remaking Evil Dead and didn’t come on board until Fede pitched doing a movie without Ash.

-Sam as a producer, how hands-on is he? “Sam actually defers to directors, perhaps almost more than he should. By and large, once the movie’s out of the gate he’s quite hands off. He watches dailies, but there’s nothing you can do. The ship is sailing and it’s either going to hit rocks or not.” – Rob Tapert.

-Tapert also expressed reservations about whether or not the MPAA was going to hit the film with an NC-17. He said the woman who guided The Grudge through and got it the PG-13 says they’re good at R, but he’s nervous because The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 went out unrated and he fears the MPAA will remember that and punish this one for the producers going around the board back then.

With that, we went downstairs and watched another hour or so of filming from the very end of the movie that I can’t talk about and went back to the hotel.

But something about The Classic being in the movie stuck with me and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense that this film felt more like a reboot/sequel than a reboot/remake. It might seem like a small distinction, but it’s a rather important one because if it’s more of a reboot/sequel that frankly changes the dynamic for the fans. It means that fans can more easily separate this movie from the one they love so much.

So, I reached out to Fede this past weekend to get his thoughts on this and he graciously responded. So here’s Fede:

 

”Good but tricky question with no easy answer... because Evil Dead is a tricky trilogy.

Short (not entirely right) answer: It's a remake.

Complex no-answer:

The Evil Dead has been rebooted already. It was Evil Dead 2.

TED Its about 5 kids going to a cabin, finding a book, unleashing a curse, and they all die at the end. Even Ash. All that’s left is the cabin, the car, and the last time we saw the book it was resting on the fire, screaming and showing its tongue in crazy manners. But not consumed…

Now, ED2 is a different story. Ash goes only with his girlfriend to the cabin, (no 5 kids this time) and the events occurred in a completely different way. I would say that ED2 and Army Of Darkness are definitely a single film split in two, but a total reboot of TED.

Now, the way I personally like to see Evil Dead (2013), it's as a story that takes place 30 years after TED ended. The car is there. the cabin is there (a family bought it and did some work on it more than 20 years ago) and the book has found its way back to the cabin... New kids will encounter it and suffer its wrath.

Is ED a sequel then? Maybe.

But the problem with the sequel theory would be that there's too many coincidences between the events on TED and the ones on ED to have happen on a continuous story line. On both films, 5 friends go to a cabin, find a book, unleash a curse, young sister gets rape by the forest, nobody believes her, older brother tries to get her back to the city, bridge is gone, back to the cabin, she tries to kill them, ends up in the cellar, and one by one, they all follow her fate...

But if you believe the Naturom Demonto can force this things to happen... then it could be a sequel... And I do believe in coincidences.”

 

So, a complicated answer that really feels to me like he’s leaning more towards a fresh start at the universe as a direct sequel to The Evil Dead than a straight up remake.

At the end of the day, whether it’s a remake or a sequel or a reboot, what’s going to matter is if Fede and his team put together a good movie. The marketing has been fantastic so far, with two very striking trailers released and from what I’ve been hearing out of some test screenings, it sounds like they’ve got a good film on their hands.

I know I’m champing at the bit to watch the film and I’ve run that red band trailer over and over a few dozen times. If they pulled this off, then we’re in for a truly scary fucking movie come April 12th.

 

 

Thanks for taking the time to read through this massive story. Hope you guys enjoyed it!

-Eric Vespe
”Quint”
quint@aintitcool.com
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