Filmmaker Fede Alvarez: 'Evil Dead' remake is all about shocks


PHILADELPHIA -- Fede Alvarez is wired.

He's had too much coffee for sure.

But mostly, the Uruguayan filmmaker is riding the buzz surrounding his debut feature, a stunning, in-your-face remake of Sam Raimi's beloved 1981 cult picture, the gory, joyfully hyperbolic demonic possession yarn "Evil Dead," that has horror fans in a tizzy.

Everyone wants to know Alvarez' story.

A TV commercial director and special-effects whiz based in his hometown, Montevideo, Alvarez, 35, wasn't even a blip on the Hollywood radar until four years ago, when he posted a five-minute sci-fi film on YouTube called "Panic Attack!" ("Ataque de Panico!").

"It's about a massive alien invasion (of Montevideo)," Alvarez said on a recent afternoon in Philadelphia. "We shot it for $300, in one day."

Coproduced by Alvarez' longtime creative partner, Rodo Sayagues, "Panic Attack!" is a remarkable, explosive short, souped up with stock special-effects footage the filmmakers bought online. The short went viral.

"The next morning there was a hundred e-mails from Hollywood," said Alvarez. "I mean it was crazy," he said. "And 10 days later I was in L.A. signing a deal with Sam Raimi to expand it into a feature."

Alvarez relocated to L.A. and began developing the picture. One day Raimi approached him and asked if he'd like to take a break and remake "Evil Dead" as his first picture.

Raimi's original "The Evil Dead," which spawned two sequels ("Evil Dead II" in 1987 and "Army of Darkness" in 1992), is one of those pictures fans adore with passion -- and guard jealously.

Raimi has wanted to remake it for years. His decision to take a backseat as producer and anoint Alvarez the director caused a flash-fire in the blogosphere.

"Blasphemy! charged some.

"Oh, yeah, of course!" Alvarez said. "Me too. I would have thought the same thing."

"Evil Dead" has a simple setup: Five twentysomething friends decide to spend a weekend in a cabin in the woods, where they find a mysterious book. Titled "Naturom Demonto" (it's also referred to as "Book of the Dead"), it's bound in human skin and wrapped in barbed wire.

That ought be enough to stop anyone from investigating further. Not so our foolish youngsters, one of whom reads aloud a strange incantation.

It brings back to life a demon who proceeds to possess the hapless victims, causing all sorts of bloody, gooey, bone-crunching mayhem.

"Our biggest challenge was to take the same story and make it fresh again," said Alvarez, who cowrote the film with Sayagues, and with help from Raimi and "Juno" writer Diablo Cody.

Alvarez added a back story. The friends -- played by Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore -- are at the cabin to help Mia (Jane Levy) face her (symbolic) demons and kick her drug addiction, only to face real demons.

While some fanatical critics continue to resist, Alvarez has proved himself an "Evil Dead" purist every step of the way, including his decision to honor the original film's do-it-yourself ethos by insisting that virtually every special effect shot be done with cameras and physical props, and not computer-generated imagery.

Digital effects would rob the scenes of their shock effect, said Alvarez, a lifelong magic-trick fan who devised some remarkable effects shots. "Everything you see and every texture is real," he said.

"I went off to make the scariest most violent, most obscene movie that would really shock the audience."

To allow for the arduous makeup and effects process, the $15 million picture took 70 days to shoot.

He avoided quick MTV-style edits, instead "letting the actors do their thing," he said.

"I wanted to be more honest with the camera, be more explicit with what you see," said Alvarez.


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