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AUSTIN - Normally, when we're at festivals the news from the outside world gets turned down to background noise, and we focus on the films we're seeing here. In the case of this year's SXSW film festival, it's hard to tune out rumblings about what might happen with the future of the "Evil Dead" franchise, particularly since there are so many different reports of what's supposedly going to happen. In order to help sort out the rumors, I am going to discuss some spoilers for the new film, so be warned.
The simple truth is that there are no official firm plans in place yet for either project, but there are conversations going on that could end up in a number of different permutations of films depending on how things come together. Sorting out fact from fantasy isn't easy especially considering some of the sources of the confusion, but it's sort of maddening to see fandom get worked up when it sounds like the things that they're discussing aren't worth getting upset about… or at least not yet.
When Fede Alvarez did the Q&A after the "Evil Dead" premiere on Friday night, he revealed that there is already work being done on a script for "Evil Dead 2," and that it's not going to be using the 1987 "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn" as inspiration. Makes sense. Despite some confusion during production, I think it's clearly inaccurate to call this new movie a remake in any way.
Rodo Sayagues was the co-writer who broke the story for the new film with Alvarez, and they're working on the sequel together, but I think it's safe to assume that Alvarez will not direct the new one. That's smart. Alvarez is a guy I'd like to see explore a number of different genres, and directing a sequel to his reboot would cement him as a horror guy. Alvarez and Sayagues have set things up in a very different way than Raimi set things up at the end of the first "Evil Dead." There's no direct equivalent to Ash, the iconic character played by Bruce Campbell in the three previous movies, and that seems to be by design. Much of the new film plays off of the way the earlier films unfold and seems to be written specifically to play against expectations.
Here's where things get sort of spoilery. I was careful in my review not to say who the final survivor of the film is, even though I suspect it will be common knowledge before the film's release. For most of the movie, it's being set up that one character will become the hero, the one who ends up walking away intact at the end, but in the last fifteen minutes or so, fates are reversed, and Jane Levy emerges as the film's real survivor, facing off against a bizarre risen demon creature. Levy, best known prior to this for her work on "Suburgatory," is abused relentlessly in her role as Mia, and she's certainly not standing around firing off one-liners at the end of the movie. I've heard what they're planning for the sequel, and without giving it away, I'll say that it's something we've never seen in an "Evil Dead" movie, a logical next step in terms of narrative, but it's a story thread that Raimi never explored at all. I'm excited because it sounds like a very different way of doing an "Evil Dead" film, and ambitious.
The idea must have Sony excited, because as they're talking to filmmakers, it is apparent that they are looking to do two sequels back to back if they can. It's one of those economic short cuts that could make the difference for the studio in terms of whether they greenlight a follow-up or not. Obviously this first film has to do well, and no one is making the automatic assumption that it will be a hit. I think they're confident that, no matter what, they made the film they wanted to make, though, and for that reason, they seem happy to have the creative conversations now about what comes next. Rob Tapert, Bruce Campbell, and Sam Raimi would continue to be the producers of this new "Evil Dead 2" and "Evil Dead 3," and these new films would follow Mia's story to someplace utterly unlike where things eventually ended up in "Army Of Darkness."
Now… I'm going to get even more spoilery. Again… be warned. I was very careful not to spell out anything about the end-of-the-credits sting in my review, and I still won't say exactly what it is, but I will say that it should make fans of the first three films very, very happy. It could be taken simply as a wink to make them shout, or it could be taken as a wee bit of a promise. Sure, Mia's the survivor of this film, but that doesn't mean that those earlier films didn't happen. In fact, there are a few touches in this new film that make me think that the first three films really did happen, and that somewhere out there, we can assume that Ash is still bouncing around the continuity, just waiting for his story to collide with Mia's story.
When Sam Raimi talks about writing "Evil Dead 4" with his brother this summer and Rob Tapert corrects Raimi in another interview, saying that film is more accurately called "Army Of Darkness 2," I think they're both talking about something that has been a longtime question mark for all involved. I believe they may have an idea now for that film, but that there would be little point in them writing that script this summer. They're going to need to wait instead, and maybe, if things go very well for Mia, we'll get to something that could make old and new fans alike go berserk.
Would I bet on it? Nope.
Would I bet that all involved would like to make it happen? Absolutely.
What is most apparent to me in all of this is that Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert are well aware of just how much commercial value there is in the name "Evil Dead," and they are happy to make choices that allow new voices to be in the mix, and that they want to see this series continue in a variety of ways. They know what fans already love, and they're gambling that fans will have room in their horror-lovin' hearts for something new, a version that feels different in many ways.
We'll see when Sony opens "Evil Dead" in theaters everywhere April 5, 2013.
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