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Interview: The Meteoric Rise of “Evil Dead” Director Fede Alvarez

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All it takes is mere seconds of time spent with writer/director Fede

Fede and Shiloh... two, totally common names.

Director Fede Alvarez aks Shiloh Fernandez to go tell that bear to get out of the shot…please.

Alvarez for anyone in the immediate vicinity to realize – wow, this guy is a fan… just like me. Just like all of us.

The director recently visited Philadelphia for a seemingly exhausting, media-filled day promoting his first feature film, “Evil Dead.” This whole experience is new to Alvarez and it’s written all over his face. See, since it is his first feature film within the Hollywood machine, he seems excited and far from jaded – fervently explaining every, single detail regarding the film’s story and subtext. He looks relaxed. Decked out in a t-shirt, with some kind of robotic-looking face adorning, with an unbuttoned, plain plaid shirt draped over top of it – it’s hard to tell him apart from the group of us that are asking him questions. As the first question is fired his way, he takes a final sip from his bottled water and puts it down.

As of now, this 35-year-old filmmaker from Montevideo, Uruguay - with the week-old stubble and underwhelming ensemble- has officially waved bye-bye to “relaxed.”

Fede Alvarez has now gone into that rare animated state that is usually reserved for a “proud parent.” And in this particular case, he has given birth to one of the most adrenaline-filled, unforgettable, explosions of cinematic hellfire (check out my review of the film here) that an audience can ever experience – and he knows it.

“Every time I sit down and I get to show [“Evil Dead”] to somebody else,” Alvarez said with a beaming, ear-to-ear smile and a thick South American accent, “I always envy them, like these fuckers, they haven’t seen it and they’re gonna be having this big blast that I’m not gonna be having, because I’ve [already] seen it a hundred times.”

Another film that Alvarez had apparently seen a hundred times (actually, probably OVER a hundred) is the 1981, original, Sam Raimi-directed version of “The Evil Dead.” Most directors and/or screenwriters - when they initially burst forth into the motion picture industry – get to start with a small, indie film with a modest budget and, most importantly, very few expectations.

Not this guy.

Alvarez gets to begin his film career by remaking one of the most cherished, cult classic, horror flicks of all-time – and horror fans are not the most forgiving people on the planet. In fact, if any of us were under the kind of pressure that Alvarez is under – with the task of remaking this film on his plate – well, I – for one – wouldn’t look so damn cool and relaxed.

You would think that he has no idea about the pressure that this endeavor holds, but – he does. He is VERY aware about all of the rabid fans that know every line of dialogue and can point out every subtle detail that Raimi puts into the original “Evil Dead” trilogy. Alvarez is aware that these lovers of all things deadite exist, because Alvarez is, in fact, one of them himself.

“I’m a big fan of Sam Raimi’s films since I was a kid.” he said, “And if you don’t know that universe, maybe it’s different, but knowing that universe, I really enjoy [Raimi’s] films.”

Alvarez described his surreal and meteoric rise, as he went from a TV commercial director to an ambitious, yet unknown, director of 2009′s “Ataque de Panico!” (or “Panic Attack!” to you and me) – a five-minute, self-made, robot invasion film with a $300 budget that had an extremely high number of views on YouTube, as well as positive reviews from celebrities like Kanye West, all the way up to the director of one of the most anticipated movies of 2013 – strike that – one of the most anticipated horror films of the last few years.

In fact, Raimi, and his production company Ghost House Pictures, originally approached with a “blind deal” for Alvarez to direct (according to Alvarez, himself) a feature-length version of “Panic Attack!” – an idea that Alvarez is still exploring , possibly for his next movie.

“It was going to be a super, hard R [rated], violent alien invasion movie,” he said, “ because I always thought that these movies have been done in a friendly, PG-13 way and I wanted the real one , the brutal one that’s never been done before.”

It’s not as if Alvarez was mad that he had to put his “E.T.-from-hell” film on hold for the moment, as he was given the chance – by Raimi, himself – to share with the world his personal vision of what five friends experiencing demonic possession at an isolated cabin the woods should be like. In the end, Alvarez said that he Raimi gave ultimately gave him the opportunity to write (which he did, along with help from frequent collaborator Rodo Sayagues and “Jennifer’s Body” scribe Diablo Cody) AND direct “Evil Dead” due to the fact that they hit it off during script-writing sessions and production meetings for the initial, alien invasion film.

“[Raimi] said to me why don’t you make “Evil Dead” and you have to write, too – he told me.” Alvarez said, “That’s what “Evil Dead” is. It’s a guy in the woods, with a camera, going bananas – that’s the spirit of the thing.”

That’s one thing that Alvarez’s rendition has, a lot of spirit – evil spirits, that is. The film is full of blood-soaked moments. Eviscerations, lacerations, sobering up from too-much medication –it’s all in there.

“Evil Dead” tells the story of Mia (played by the spunky, tough-as-nails-from-a-nail gun Jane Levy) – a lonely, disturbed, heroin addict who uses the drugs to mask the pain of watching her mother slowly wither away and die in a mental asylum after her brother David (in a surprisingly deep performance by Shiloh Fernandez) bailed on her and the family to fix cars in the Windy City. Her twenty-something pair of good friends: Eric (literally nailed, with a subtle command, by Lou Taylor Pucci) – a high school teacher who eventually starts messing with things beyond his comprehension (there’s always one, isn’t there?) and Olivia (played by the stunningly beautiful Jessica Lucas) – a registered nurse with a weak bladder that is there for pharmaceutical relief as well as moral support, decide to accompany her to her family’s off-the-beaten-path cabin, somewhere in the woods of Michigan – I assume from Mia’s “Michigan State” sweater.

Also along to help Mia “play cold turkey,” as she so aptly puts it, is bro David – who surprisingly shows up, bringing a peace offering in the form of a lucky, spiritual necklace and his  girlfriend Natalie (a scenery-carving – again…  literally – Elizabeth Blackmore).

However, the whole thing doesn’t go too well.

Eric and David finally discover the trapdoor leading to a basement that’s full of hanging dead cats and a crazy-looking book that’s wrapped up in plastic and barbed-wire. Guess what Eric does. He reads a passage from the book and… VOILA! Instant demon – just add souls.

Shit starts to happen.

Scary… disturbing… nightmare-causing and therapy-inducing SHIT starts to happen.

The film also has a fair amount of violence in it. Alvarez

FWill the real Fede Alvarez put your hands up?

Alright MPAA… I give up. You win. I’ll take out 45 minutes of footage from the movie.

confirmed that the film was in danger of receiving the dreaded NC-17 rating, but the MPAA let it pass after he  left a couple of the more violent images on the cutting room floor.

“We took out a second here, a second there,” Alvarez explained, “Ultimately, though, we didn’t leave out much.”

When asked if these missing “seconds” will find their way back to the film for the “Unrated” Blu-Ray release, he just smiled. I have a feeling there’s gonna be a fair amount of good stuff in the “Director’s Cut.”

According to Alvarez, the cast had a tough time with the demanding and rigorous shooting during the film. So much so, that he literally “felt bad” for all of the actors involved. However, it must have been worth it, as he admitted that “every young actor in Hollywood read for” and “wanted to be in [this movie].” Alvarez seems more than happy with the young talent that eventually wound up playing the doomed interventionists, though.

“In the end it was about finding the right actor,” he said, “and finding the people who had the balls to do it.”

Alvarez has certainly displayed a pretty impressive pair himself, by stepping into the shoes of one of the most successful and critically-acclaimed directors in the last few decades. Not to mention, the whole “remaking-a-cult-classic” thing. However, when asked – for those that care about this sort of thing – he did say that the film was more of a sequel to the 1981 original than a reboot or remake. Just in case there are a few hardcore fans reading this, I won’t spoil too much, but I will say this – keep your eyes peeled for a number of hints and clues as to what did or didn’t happen at this cabin before this group of demon-fodder got there.

I’d bet my soul (sorry Henrietta, it’s not for swallowing) that if Alvarez wasn’t the director of the “Evil Dead,” he would be one of those hardcore fanatics – searching for Easter Eggs and analyzing every single frame of the film. In fact, that’s how he treated the film as he was making it – as a fan.

“When you know his movies, and you’re just looking for [a cameo from his brother] Ted Raimi in every movie and you’re looking for the car and you, kind of, know his entourage of actors – you enjoy his movies in a different way.” Alvarez explained, “And working on [one of his movies] and becoming a part of that family, has been great.”

After this weekend, when the box office dust finally settles, I predict (R-rating and all) that Fede Alvarez will be known as the director of the number-one movie in America. In addition, I’ll make a second prediction… but first, one more, quick anecdote - involving the original Ash – from Alvarez.

“Somehow I end up at Bruce Campbell’s house in Miami and I’m staying with him for a week – we’re at the pool and he’s telling me “Evil Dead” stories. Like, it’s just insane – and I’m like, wow… how did I get here?”

This proves one thing – Alvarez will always be a fan first and a filmmaker second. That being said, somehow – as evident from his brilliant retelling and reworking of the “Evil Dead” tale – he has found a way to traverse the delicate space between the two.

Which brings me to prediction number two…

I guarantee that we have not heard the last from Fede Alvarez.

 

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