"The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience," promises the teaser poster for the upcoming remake of Sam Raimi's 1981 horror classic "The Evil Dead." Talk about setting the bar high.
Then again, the marketing team is merely following precedent. One of the most controversial movies of the 1980s, Raimi's film, about five college students who unleash demonic forces after playing a recording of incantations from an ancient Book of the Dead, proved a sleeper success in part because of all the moral outrage that surrounded its initial release. So selling the remake as a truly extreme entry in the horror genre isn't exactly a bad way to go.
There's also that blood-soaked red-band trailer released to the interwebs late last week, which depicts, among other things: a beautiful young blonde woman slicing off her demonically-possessed arm with an electric knife; another character mutilating her face with a shard of glass; and lead actress Jane Levy vomiting a river of blood into another woman’s mouth. Truly, the Sony marketing team is going for the jugular here.
So can the film live up to the harrowing, ultra-gory promise of its advertising campaign? And will that even matter once it opens to $20 million at the box office? After all, the promise of lucrative first-weekend grosses is the dangling carrot that makes a studio even want to revive a high-value horror title like "The Evil Dead" in the first place.
Oddly enough, the remake was shot all the way out in Hobbit country (f.k.a. New Zealand), which is why I found myself in Auckland over the summer (errr...winter) to visit the set of the Ghost House production. Always skeptical of such obvious cash-in endeavors, I was curious (though not exactly optimistic) of the remake's potential to put an actual inspired spin on a tried-and-true title. Or at the very least, not be afraid to soak the screen in crimson.
"One day I was at a place and I get a call saying, 'Hey, it seems like Sam [Raimi] wants you to remake 'Evil Dead' for him," says Fede Alvarez, the young Uruguayan director who won the job of helming the new version, as he simultaneously slaps a hand down on the table in front of him. "And we pitched something to him, right? It wasn't exactly the story [we have now] but the tone was there. I was trying to make the movie I saw when I was 12. I watched 'Evil Dead' when I was 12 years old. I went to the video store and I asked for the scariest movie they could give me. The guy looked around and said, 'Here, take this.' And he gave me 'The Evil Dead.' And I was like, 'What? It looks like a porn movie.'"
Allow me to back up a little. Prior to speaking with Alvarez, we were taken on a tour of the film's sets - our first stop being the rustic outdoor cabin constructed in the forests just outside of Auckland. Surrounded by tall, non-native pine trees that give the setting a distinctly "North American" flair, the austere structure seems an almost exact replica of the backwoods shanty featured in the original film.
Inside, a collection of faux-family photos featuring cast members Jane Levy and Shiloh Ferandez - who play rehabbing heroin addict/main heroine Mia and her brother David - adorn the walls. In the film they've come to this remote place to help aid in Mia's recovery. Along for the ride are three companions: Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), David's girlfriend. If you ask me it's a pretty dreary location to tackle your demons. With a dusty, broken-down piano tossed against one wall and a rusted out car sitting out back, it seems more like a place someone might come to die.
In the shed a few paces away, blood splatter adorns the musty walls, telling tales of savagery and chaos. A chainsaw sits idle on a rotting shelf, sharing space with rusty paint cans and a small animal cage.
We move outside. Walking among the pines - the tops of which sway eerily in the wind as if a wild, unhinged spirit is moving through them - we come across a Ford station wagon that has crashed off the main road, its front wheels resting beside a pool of stagnant water. In the distance, waves crash like low, rolling thunder.
It is then that a contortion of branches catch our collective eye - long wooden fingers tangled into an unnatural mass on the ground, as if they had come to sentient life of their own accord. They appeared to have been sent forth from the belly of a nearby tree, wretched and gnarled and...watching me.