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Q&A: The Cast of “EVIL DEAD”

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Unlike the characters in the original THE EVIL DEAD, the five post-teens populating its remake (premiering tonight at SXSW) haven’t assembled in the cabin in the woods for a hedonistic good time. Instead, they’ve gathered to preserve the health of one of their own, who has fallen into a cycle of substance abuse.

David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his new girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) meet up with David’s sister Mia (Jane Levy), along with Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), at that isolated shack in the hope that they can exorcise Mia’s real-life demons. That David had abandoned Mia several years before creates tension on top of an already unstable situation, which is set to explode when they finally meet up again—and the resident evil spirits come out of hiding.

On a sunny morning after a series of night shoots, and with the last day of filming in sight, the stars of EVIL DEAD (which opens theatrically April 5 from TriStar) sat down during Fango’s exclusive set visit to talking about working with the director/co-writer Fede Alvarez, and his insistence that all its gruesome FX be created old-school, with makeup and prosthetics.

FANGORIA: Has working on EVIL DEAD been very physical?

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ELIZABETH BLACKMORE: Yes, it has been, with bits of my body flying around everywhere. We’ve been very lucky that we have people like Roger [Murray] and the whole makeup effects team here. It’s amazing what they do, and that we get the real thing; it’s not fake, it’s not CGI and it’s not like miming or acting to nothing. To me, that makes it so much cooler. My character goes from being really quiet to very forthright, and eventually is possessed. There’s self-mutilation involved that required a stuntperson doubling a body part while I hid that part of me away but continued acting in the same shot. I spent that whole day soaked in blood and water, and you know, you’re just kind of miserable. Yet you’ve still got to get up and perform, so in that way, it helps. You’re really cold, you’re really covered in water, you’re really trembling, you’re really miserable and you really want to go home—you don’t want to do it but you have to, and that’s exactly how the character is feeling.

FANG: What other challenges have there been?

BLACKMORE: There are so many different types. There are emotional, dramatic scenes, and then there are also the physical challenges. One of them would be working with prosthetics and makeup. You get picked up at 4 in the morning and you go to the makeup chair—people pulling you and poking you and touching you for 7 hours! It’s a long time. And then you have maybe 20 minutes to yourself and then you’re covered in water and fake blood and you stick to yourself, the blood sticks to your hair and in your mouth and just gets everywhere. You have to do these scenes where you’re getting abused and terrorized, so it affects you emotionally, and physically your body is hating you. I developed an allergy to my prosthetics as well, so at the end of the day, my face would be swollen when I’d go home, but I still had to get up at 4 in the morning again and start all over.

LOU TAYLOR PUCCI: I had to spend up to four hours a day in the makeup chair just to prepare when my character is at his worst—but anytime I began to feel fed up with my situation, I just had to think about Jane [Levy], who endured twice as much as anyone else on set. I’d look at her and tell myself to stop being such a pussy and get on with it. By the same token, Eric does endure a lot of damage.

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BLACKMORE: It certainly helps make you feel different, but what we’re trying to achieve with this is that when they we’re possessed, it’s not like a zombie film. We’re not brainless, mindless things. We talked about that a lot with Fede and amongst ourselves. It’s scarier if a person is still somewhat himself or herself, and is still human and someone you still love and care for, and yet they’re acting this way and doing this awful stuff. We’re trying to find that balance between keeping it a little human but being humans you can’t reason with, and that’s scary. Especially when they’re hurting you—not just mentally, but physically as well.

What we’re basically trying to do, and what I think Fede has done so well in the writing and the making of it, is to ground it in reality. That, hopefully, makes it different from a lot of horror films. You care about these characters and their relationships, and that will give it a bigger payoff in the end when it comes to this stuff that’s happening to them. Because you actually really care, which is different from movies where it’s just like, “Kill her now!”

SHILOH FERNANDEZ: When we sat down to talk about the movie, we talked about the relationships, like how I connected to the family-and-friend aspect of it, not so much about the gory murders. That was what drew me to this, rather than the horror. It’s more about the fact that David goes through the arc of not knowing how to apologize, or to acknowledge the course of his life and how he has strayed from his friends and his family, how he draws all this horror that happens and how he comes to terms with accepting his place and eventually, how he grows and changes for the better.

FANG: How has it been working with Alvarez?

FERNANDEZ: It’s cool. Fede wrote the script, so he knows it backwards and forwards. Even talking to him about the casting, he wanted to make sure everyone was right for the roles so he could trust them to do what he hired them to do. For me, honestly, as an actor, it’s been hard to balance the technical side with the creative side, and he has done a great job of keeping that balance, knowing that it’s hard for actors to have to hit marks. If there’s a scene where, for a scare, a guy has to come up behind you with a spear, there are lots of technicalities that Fede understands completely, and that’s beneficial.

It’s also his first film, so he has a lot of passion for it, which is great to be around. I just trust him implicitly—which has to be the case on this movie, because I’m so out of my element. I don’t know anything about horror or how you make things scary, so he is very specific in his direction. At first, that can be a little bit overwhelming, or it feels like you’re being compelled into a place where you don’t have the freedom of creative expression. But at the same time, it’s necessary for this film. It has been a real learning curve for me.

FANG: What do you think the finished film will be like?

FERNANDEZ: It’s going to be really, really scary. There’s a great balance between realistic drama and horror. It’s not just horror; there’s a setup where relationships are forming and then being ignored, and that all plays into the horror. It’s not just things that are happening to friends; there’s a brother and sister and a girlfriend and boyfriend and I’m going to meet an old friend, so there are all these connections you get to know. When the horror starts, you’re aware of all that, so you know who is going to help whom, and who is on whose side and what people believe about certain things, and that’s unique.

What I also like is some of the situations where people turn to self-mutilation, which are horrifying but funny at the same time. I mean, someone cuts off their arm with a meat slicer and then shoots nails into their head, and that’s something that is so scary, you have to laugh or you go f**king crazy. That mix of psychological drama and crazy, bloody horror is what attracted me to this, and I hope it finds a wide audience that can be frightened by the blood, but can also understand what the characters are going through, because each one does have a journey.

PUCCI: What’s really weird is that never before have I gotten to do a movie that I’d like to watch. I’m the type of person who really enjoys acting drama, but I love watching spectacle and horror, so I’m just happy to be a part of something that’s different from what I normally do. Still, the serious approach to this film is the way to go, because the only way you can really go wrong with something like this is if it’s average. If it’s bad, then it’ll be funny, and if it’s good it will be really good. I don’t think this will be a neutral horror movie, because Fede is taking a very different approach to things. It’s cool, because he doesn’t worry too much about pissing people off, and that’s a good thing.

FANG: What other elements do you think will lift EVIL DEAD above average?

PUCCI: Just the prosthetic thing. I remember thinking after the audition that I wished I’d had the balls to say that I was not going to do it if they used CGI. I knew that would be a major pitfall if they went that way, because it would have no texture to it, and no reality. It’s not f**king gross, it’s just fantasy and it’s not cool. So when they said they were going to make this as practical as possible, I thought, “Wow, you are really trying to do this right.”

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