In 1982, The Evil Dead was one of the countless low-budget, no-star horror pictures that are screened at the Cannes Film Festival, hoping to land distribution.
Directed by a 20-year-old unknown named Sam Raimi, with a cast and crew made up primarily of his friends, The Evil Dead might have gone unnoticed in the flood of festival films.
Except that Stephen King happened to catch a screening and later, in a review in Twilight Zone magazine, famously called it “the most ferociously original horror film of the year.” A movie with a low asking price, adorned by a priceless blurb from one of America’s most popular writers, suddenly became a hot commodity. New Line Cinema snagged the U.S. distribution rights; other companies distributed the movie around the world. Released in 1983 in an unrated (now NC-17) version, the film grossed $2.4 million worldwide and millions more when released on video. In 2010, a limited edition two-disc Blu-ray special edition sold out almost immediately.
“King’s quote did two things,” says Robert G. Tapert, who produced both the original and the remake. “It drew the attention of fans, and it made distributors think, ‘Well if we can use that quote in the ad, we can sell the movie.’ ... It was a ready-made piece of advertising material that you could put on a poster or TV spot. It literally changed the destiny of the film.”
Like so many other horror classics from the last few decades ( The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.), The Evil Dead had enough popularity to be ripe for the remake treatment. But the new Evil Dead, which opens Friday, isn’t just an attempt to cash in on a dusty classic by adding more gore and better-looking actors. This outrageously bloody, violent picture really is one from the heart — a spiked, thorny, bleeding heart.
The feature debut of Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez, Evil Dead follows the original’s template of stranding five young people in a cabin deep in some haunted woods, where one of them finds a creepy book wrapped in barbed wire that, not surprisngly, unleashes demons that possess the characters and turn them against each other.
There are minor deviations: Instead of Ash (Bruce Campbell), the star of the original Evil Dead and its two sequels, the central character this time is Mia (Jane Levy), a young woman with a drug habit who asks her brother (Shiloh Fernandez) and several other friends to accompany her to the remote family cabin and help her detox. But the movie, which runs a lean 91 minutes (only six minutes longer than the original), doesn’t waste much time in getting to the gruesome stuff.
“We knew that fans were going to be very concerned about a remake, because most of them turn out so bad,” says Campbell, who is currently shooting the sixth season of Burn Notice in Miami. “But I want them to know that we, the original filmmakers, were even more concerned. This was the movie that got me into this business, so I didn’t take it lightly. This isn’t a case of producers exploiting their rights to a film. We’ve been vouching this entire production from the start to make sure people get what they paying for, especially Evil Dead fans. This is for them.” Alvarez, 35, landed the job of director by accident. Originally, he had been been meeting with Raimi’s production company about turning his five-minute short thriller Panic Attack, about an invasion by robots, into a feature film.