By Brian Truitt
AsEvil Deadfranchise alums old and new, Bruce Campbell and Jane Levy have a few things in common: They've been covered in fake blood, brandished a chainsaw and been terrorized by evil forces in a cabin in the woods.
Campbell came to prominence in the originalThe Evil Dead, director Sam Raimi's 1981 cult classic. But Levy is the face of the newEvil Dead, Fede Alvarez's remake that unleashes theBook of the Deadand all sorts of unholy terror for a new generation of horror nuts.
In theaters Friday, the redo is both homage to and departure from the first film, which spawned 1987'sEvil Dead 2(itself a slight remake of the original) as well as 1992'sArmy of Darknessstarring Campbell as charismatic hero Ash Williams.
A few details are the same - there's a girl wearing a Michigan State sweatshirt and somebody gets seemingly sexually violated by a tree. But where Raimi's original sent five college kids to a rural cabin for a party gone demonically wrong, the newEvil Deadhas Levy as Mia, a troubled heroin addict whose brother and confidantes take her away for an intervention. She gets possessed when one of the company unwittingly reads from an evil tome.
"We tried to justify every idea of the original and deconstruct the myths of the original and update them to something relevant for today," says Alvarez, who watched Raimi's original as a 12-year-old growing up in Uruguay.
"A teenager couldn't care less about any classic from the '80s. When I watched (David) Cronenberg'sThe Fly, I couldn't care less about the '50s movies. It was something way in the past for me."
Raimi had talked with some of the originalEvil Deadteam - including Campbell (now a series regular on USA'sBurn Notice)and producer Rob Tapert - about doing a remake, though Tapert wasn't initially on board.
"It seemed risky because there was a fan base," Tapert says. But he saw the business reason for doing it, and accepted Raimi's rationale: "He said nobody saw the original movie in a theater. Everyone saw it on VHS, and they should have seen it in the theater."
As one of the original's filmmakers, the 54-year-old Campbell found a remake just too tempting to pass up.
"We're like, 'Man, what if we actually did this movie with a thing called a budget? What would it be like?' " he says. As opposed to the on-the-cheap original filmed in rural Tennessee in 1979, "when you watch this movie, it looks like a normal movie - everything's in focus and you can't see the garden hoses spewing the fake blood."
Alvarez became known in Hollywood circles when his 2009 giant-robot short filmPanic Attack!went viral on YouTube. Being a Raimi fan himself, Alvarez befriended the director, who offered himEvil Deadmainly because he wasn't just another Hollywood filmmaker.
"He thought that was going to be the best way to connect with the fan base: Get somebody from the audience to make the movie," Alvarez says.
Levy, 23, had never even seen the originalEvil Dead- she saw it after she was cast - but wanted a role that was polar opposite from her witty teen on the ABC sitcomSuburgatory. She found it in Mia, who goes through various character stages, from normal girl to a vulgar, disfigured demon who terrifies her trapped pals in the cabin.
"Everything terrible that could happen to a person happens to Mia. Like, everything," Levy says. "I remember thinking before I went to the audition, I'm just going to let myself be as psycho as I can."
Her toughness earned her the Bruce Campbell seal of approval.
"Evil Deadmovies are not for whiners," he explains. "You ask them, 'Hey, have you ever been covered in blood? You ever have a full head mold where you can't breathe for 20 minutes?' Most modern-day actors, they don't have to go through any of that. Now they put them in front of a green screen and,voila, you're in Fantasyland.
"We scared some of them off, I'm sure, but Jane looked at us straight in the eye and went, 'Yeah, that sounds really cool.' "
Looking back on it now, Levy has mixed emotions. She got to keep her chainsaw - splattered with red paint, it's now sitting on her living-room floor. But to earn that she had to crawl through mud, be drenched in a rainstorm of fake blood and endure regular sprayings of glycerol to look extra demonic.
"My day in makeup consisted of blood, pus and K-Y Jelly (lubricant)," the actress says.
Alvarez wanted his first feature to be free of computer-generated effects. So instead, like the original, he used mainly old-school techniques, prosthetics and ingenuity for some of the most terrifying sequences, including one shower scene involving a knife and a character's face that even creeped out Campbell.
Some fans, though, would rather chop off their own arm than have their belovedEvil Deadremade.
"OurEvil Deadfans are very passionate," Campbell says. "At first they were like, 'Are you kidding me?! If there's no Ash in that, there's no movie!' ''
When the remake was officially announced two years ago,Evil Deadlovers broke out the pitchforks at the thought of it.
"The biggest fear the fans had was this is a movie that is going to be compromised,'' with the MPAA perhaps watering down the gore via edits, says Steve Barton of the horror siteDreadCentral.com. (The movie did receive an NC-17 rating when first submitted to the board, but Alvarez said via Twitter in January that he "cut stuff out'' to achieve an R rating.)
"But luckily, being that Sam Raimi was behind it and producing it, it had at least some cred, whereas a lot of remakes have absolutely nothing to do with the person who made the original.''
Instead, Barton sees the newEvil Dead asbeing on par with classic remakes like Cronenberg'sThe Flyand John Carpenter'sThe Thing.
"It's shockingly good," he says. "The movie's very much a throwback. You don't have to shake a camera like a lunatic nowadays to convey tension.Evil Deadshows you that you can stick a camera right in somebody's face and get all the terror you need out of it."
Levy has seen the fans coming around, too. She says someone showed her on Twitter a fan's tattoo of her face in full-on evil mode from the film, "which was so bizarre and crazy."
Alvarez is already writing anEvil Deadsequel, but those who live and die by the original movies have something to look forward to as well: Campbell is game to reprise his role as Ash, and he says Raimi claims to be writing anArmy of Darkness 2screenplay with his brother Ivan.
"Burn Noticeis coming to an end," the actor says, "and maybe I'll put my walker down and strap on a chainsaw one more time."