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Remaking old movies is Hollywood’s favoured pastime. But it’s a risky business, particularly when the revisited movie is a cult, fanatically adored horror film like The Evil Dead. So how do you retool it for a new audience?

By getting the original star and director on board with a hotshot new filmmaker, and an Oscar-winning scriptwriter, that’s how. 

This was the approach favoured for the new version of Evil Dead: original star Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi are back as producers, Uruguayan Fede Alvarez is the man behind the lens, and Golden Baldie-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody polished the script.

As Campbell explains when we catch up with him ahead of the film’s release: “Academy awards don’t hurt – and Cody allowed us middle-aged men to have a voice for younger people and to make these characters believable."

Campbell has been synonymous with the franchise since, as a 21-year old, he and friend Raimi made what was then – and still is – one of the most notorious horror debuts ever.

Two films followed, and a million questions since third franchise outing, 1992’s Army Of Darkness, as to when they’d make another.

“They’ll never stop asking about when you’re making another Evil Dead movie,” Campbell reckons.

The time for a new entry is now, however, with this retooling favouring a sequel approach rather than merely redoing the original.

 “None of us wanted a remake,” Campbell says of this new, ultra-horrific addition’s birth.

“Sam was busy making Hollywood movies [Oz The Great And Powerful, most recently], I’d been busy making [TV show] Burn Notice for the last seven years and that’s how decades slip away. 

“Then Fede Alvarez came to Sam’s attention with his short Panic Attack, a clever effects-filled story. He was the one who started to put ideas into Sam’s head, and Sam then shared them with me and [producer] Rob Tapert.

"We started to get interested, floating ideas about, and it all fell into place.

”The ideas pitched to the group were reshaping the film with a new story, a new group of characters and recasting the central role – Campbell’s Ash 30 years ago – as a female.

“There were bits we wanted to keep – the creepy cabin, the evil book, and this group of youngsters trapped all night,” he adds.

“These are the hallmarks of the Evil Dead movies.” 

Jane Levy (TV’s Suburgatory) was cast as lead Mia, a smacked-out twentysomething who goes out to a cabin she and her brother (Shiloh Fernandez) went to as kids to shake loose the demons that have plagued her, with the help of a couple of friends (Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore and Lou Taylor Pucci).

Only, one of their number finds a human-skin-bound book amid the animal sacrifices in a basement that would make Leatherface shit himself, decides to read aloud its occult passages (obviously never seen a horror movie) and inadvertently unleashes a monstrous abomination that puts paid to their plans for a weekend escape in the woods. Times have changed since 1982.

Horror moved through that decade’s slasher cycle, then onto Nineties post-modern spins like Scream and the Noughties fascination with drilling holes in kneecaps à la Eli Roth-fuelled torture porn. 

“Movies have certainly gotten more extreme,” Campbell somewhat surprisingly proclaims of the genre with which he is so readily associated.

“Torture porn’s part of that, and I hope it ends swiftly. It dragged horror down to where people think it should be. There is room for all kinds of horror but it’s had an impact on how extreme some gore has been.”

Campbell is clearly not a fan of the indefensible, but before we think he’s gone all soft on us in his middle-age, he adds: “But The Evil Dead was always ultra-gory for its day and this new one is ultra-gory for its day too.

"We are making an Evil Dead movie here folks – it’s not a documentary!”

So while the original is famous for boundary-pushing scenes – a tree encounter unlike that usually found on a rambling excursion for one – this new episode hardly shies away from what you’d expect from the series. 

“In the casting sessions we asked everyone, ‘Have you ever had this done to you? Have you ever been buried alive?’ We wanted to know if they could handle this stuff.”

The ‘stuff’ they had to handle was pretty full on, even for this franchise.

“They were all great,” Campbell says of his young wards who went to hell and pretty much stayed there for the duration of the film’s New Zealand shoot.

“Especially Pucci, who’s pretty much the punchbag for the movie,” Campbell recalls, with either pride or malicious satisfaction at seeing someone else endure this time round.

“He had more things done to him than any of the others: crowbars, nail guns, you name it. And Jessica Lucas has a great scene in the bathroom where she cuts off half her face, and Elizabeth Blackmore has a scene without one of her arms (it’ll make you look at kitchen appliances in a new light, we’ll tell you that much).

"They were all pushed to the limit and we appreciate the fact that they are still all talking to us.

”Director Alvarez was the one who brought up the nail gun as a weapon of choice.

“You need tools to torment people and nail guns are pretty nasty if you’ve ever played around with one,” Campbell says, perhaps overestimating our familiarity with both power tools and demon-fighting paraphernalia.

We haven’t played around with a nail gun, and are disinclined to do so at any point in the near future. Alvarez, who runs a special effects company in his native Uruguay, was responsible for keeping the pedal pressed to the bloody, entrails-covered floor, keeping much of the gore ‘in camera’.

CGI may be ever-flashier these days, but it’s still too easily differentiated from reality by the human eye.

Our optical lenses know what’s real and what’s not.

“He wanted the film to have an old-school look,” Campbell explains.

“It was a good call, because to the guy who saw this movie back in ‘82, it will look better than back then, but still has an old-fashioned feel.” 

As you can gather, it’s not for the faint-hearted, or for those of a nervous disposition, or anyone who has an easily affected upchuck reflex.

But where it makes good on Dead fans’ long-held desires for a truly demonic new movie, it hasn’t given in to the clamouring for a Campbell cameo, a role he has frequently filled in recent Raimi movies (Spider-Man; Oz). 

“I didn’t want to throw people out of the movie,” he says of what is understandable but surely likely to disappoint some Dead-heads out there.

“We wanted the movie to stand on its own; we didn’t want people to think that we were trying to be cute or clever.”

Campbell needn’t worry. ‘Cute’ is not the word you would associate with a film in which a chainsaw makes a particularly close encounter with someone’s face, for an extended, claret-splattering period of time. You have been warned. 

Evil Dead is out April 18 through StudioCanal


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'It's ultra-gory for its day': Horror legend Bruce Campbell on the new Evil Dead
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