Evil Dead Set Visit Report Part One: Production Design, Special Effects, Incorporating Iconic Moments and the Book of the Dead
Growing up the trailer park kid of a single mother in the suburbs of Chicago, I never imagined that I'd have the kinds of opportunities that my career in horror journalism has afforded me over the last five years.
I've been lucky enough to interview many of my heroes and visit some incredible sets and locations, all while being able to support the very genre I've loved dearly ever since I was a little kid. Getting to call what I do a "job" isn't something I've fully wrapped my mind around either, and I've been at it for a while now.
But there really was nothing that could quite prepare me for a call I received in June 2012- I was going to be heading to Auckland, New Zealand, to visit the set of the new Evil Dead along with a group of fellow journalists.
Pardon my French, but that's really the only way to sum that moment up. The first two Evil Dead flicks were a huge part of my teenage years (Army of Darkness came later and had a different meaning to me), and those two films created a life-long Sam Raimi devotee out of this horror fan. Plus, I've never had the chance to travel outside of North America in my life so to be asked to hop a plane and head clear across the world for work, well…that's just incredible no matter how you look at it.
But I will be totally honest, too, that like many of you out there, when I first heard the news of an Evil Dead remake in the works last year, I did my usual, "Oh, now what are they remaking?" groan and just wrote it off as another studio cashing in on a popular property name in order to make a few extra bucks.
Don't get me wrong; while I'm one of the few who will actually defend remakes (they've been happening for well over 50 years now- get over it, people!), I just couldn't imagine what on Earth anyone could possibly bring to the table that could be worthy of picking up the mantle from Sam Raimi or live up to the iconic name Evil Dead. So I packed a bag, all my anxieties and boarded my 13-hour flight to New Zealand just to find out what TriStar Pictures, filmmaker Fede Alvarez and everyone involved with this new spin on Raimi's cult classic were up to in New Zealand.
After a rather easy flight (all things considered- Air New Zealand's awesome Richard Simmons safety video certainly helped spice things up), we arrived in Auckland at 6 am (and lost an entire day in the process) on a brisk and sunny Monday morning. And just a few hours after landing, our group was rounded up into a production van to head out for the first day of our extensive two-day set visit which took us to Woodhill Forest, where we were greeted by a breathtakingly immense forest and, of course, the cabin where everything goes to Hell (and back) in the new Evil Dead.
As those familiar with the original Evil Dead flicks know, the cabin became an essential character in those films, and it looks like the same rules will apply in the new one as well. During our walk-through tour, it became very evident that the production team behind Evil Dead really threw their hearts and souls into creating the location because the attention to detail was rather incredible. There are a few things incorporated into the look of the cabin that were clear homages to the original films, including the iconic clock and a few other surprises we'll leave for you to discover for yourself in April, but as a whole fans will be pleased.
After we exited the cabin, we then headed off into the forest to be greeted by a few other set pieces including a car trapped in a ravine (How does it get there? Those involved with production played coy on answering that) and none other than a certain rundown 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 last driven (in this series anyway) by Bruce Campbell that looked like it had been rotting in those woods for decades. And while no one from production would divulge why Ash's car just happens to be hanging around in the new Evil Dead, it was still incredible for this car geek to get up close and personal with "The Classic" even if it was for just a few brief moments and its meaning shrouded in secrecy.
During the tour we also ran across a rather strange looking group of trees and thorny vines twisting about that we were able to confirm are the new "rape vines" in this Evil Dead (this writer was goofy enough to even stop for a photo op because…well, why the hell not?).
After we finished up our tour of the woods, we headed over to the studio that houses the production offices and sound stage for Evil Dead, where the very same cabin we'd visited at Woodhill was painstakingly recreated in order to both make the location work as a character and allow Alvarez and cinematographer Aaron Morton more flexibly inside their shooting location (more on that soon). While at the studio, we meet with several key people who were integral to the production on Evil Dead, including production designer Robert Gillies, prosthetic designer Roger Murray and makeup artist Jane O'Kane, who spoke with us about all the gory details in bringing this new Evil Dead to life.
During our tour of the production offices, we had the opportunity to take a peek at the brand new Book of the Dead (not called the Necronomicon at all this time) and peruse its flesh-bound pages. As someone who geeks out over all the details that go into filmmaking (props, effects, costumes, etc.), holding something as iconic as the Book of the Dead in your hands and being able to look at it extensively while flipping through each detailed page was a rather kick-ass experience (and something I wish we could have brought pictures back of, but alas, no pics were allowed).
And since we know you guys are most likely curious about all the details for the new Book of the Dead, here are some facts we learned while chatting with Gillies:
They made three different copies of the Book of the Dead for production; each has a silicone flesh-like cover with bits of hair stitched in throughout the cover. Each page is hand-detailed and according to Gillies, because of the man-hours it took to create each book, they were still working on completing the books at the time of production.
This Book of the Dead will not bear the iconic face from the original books used in Raimi's films. According to Gillies, "The thing with the original book is that the cover has the face on it, and that's a copyright issue. So because of that, we're just comfortable with the idea of having a skin cover to ours and it being something original. We stayed as far away from that original iconic face, while still being faithful to the spirit of the book, as we possibly could."
Gillies and Alvarez designed the book together and then had to get approvals from Raimi and Rob Tapert on the design.
This Book of the Dead only foreshadows events in this film; nothing in its pages hints at future movies so there's no Easter Eggs to be found in there for fans.
Gilles on this Book of the Dead's legacy: "Our idea is that the book has been around since maybe the 15th century, and as the centuries go on, the book would be passed around so there's notes in all different kinds of languages. And as we approached the 20th century, you can see that perhaps the writing got a bit more disrespectful because of the people whose hands it fell into. Of course, there are repercussions when you do something like that to the Book of the Dead (laughs)."
Gilles also chatted with us on various other aspects of production design on Evil Dead, and we learned that:
For this film they made five different chainsaws and one blows blue smoke, which Gillies said is "really, really cool." The chainsaw will absolutely play a pretty big part in the movie.
The mantra on Evil Dead was always "Go R or Go Home." According to Gillies, PG-13 was NEVER a consideration, saying, "I was always told this was going to be a hard R so we never had to make any sort of 'B Plans'; the special effects were always planned to be as extreme and done as practically as they could be, too, since they look better when done in-camera."
This Evil Dead will have plenty of moments for fans of Raimi's original films. According to Gillies, "Yes, there are classic re-creations of those key moments from the original Evil Dead, but they won't be exactly like you'd be expecting them." Gillies also mentioned that there will be plenty of those signature low-angle shots in this Evil Dead, too.
The sound stage Evil Dead cabin was ALIVE! According to Gillies, the recreated cabin built also had the capabilities to move up and down and also featured a ceiling that moved up and down, with each room also able to move back and forth to accommodate Alvarez's preferred shooting style. Gillies described the process of creating the moving cabin, saying "The most challenging effect - or aspect - on Evil Dead for me has been creating the cabin and creating what we needed in order to make it work shooting inside of it and doing all of it practically. But once we cracked this idea of the ceiling going up and down and all the stuff with the basement and the rooms moving, that really allowed us to accomplish everything we've wanted to on this production."
After we wrapped up with Gillies, we met with two of the key players behind the incredible special effects on Evil Dead, Roger Murray and Jane O'Kane, who are just two of the forces behind what looks to be one of the more insane and effects-heavy horror films of modern times. During our time with Murray and O'Kane, we learned that the practical effects mandate was firmly set in place by director Alvarez, which presented a lot of unique challenges for the duo but also sparked a new creativity since they weren't relying on technology to complete their work at all on this.
Here's what we learned about some of the special effects gags and the various looks used in the new Evil Dead:
Murray on keeping everything real in Evil Dead: "In one of our first meetings with Fede, one of the things that he said he wanted to do was to do as much in-camera make-up effects as possible. We also wanted everything to look as realistic as possible so the effects had to have a sense of realism to them. We wanted the gags to be…you know, not full-on hilarious gags. They had to be rooted in reality. We have one of the scenes with one of the girls where her hand gets infected and her arm starts rotting off and she decides to cut it off with a kitchen knife. We do that entire sequence practically; it's incredible."
To that O'Kane added,"There comes a point where if you go too far with the make-up in one direction, it becomes funny, and that's not what we were going for at all. Sometimes less is more."
O'Kane on the challenges of creating the look of each character: "Mia's look took the longest to design; in the first script we were off on another tangent with our approach to her and then things changed. All of the characters have a demonic look that reflects their injuries and has morphed into their demon states. Originally in an opening sequence Mia gets attacked and that's what initially starts all her injuries, but then that changed to her getting burned so we had gone through this whole cycle of changing her so she has a different look to her now."
Murray discusses Alvarez going old school for Evil Dead: "Fede was very clear about the make-ups having an old school feel to them, the way we went about creating them and how we were going to shoot out certain effects, too. But thankfully Fede had everything worked out before he arrived on set, which has been great for us to work with."
According to Murray and O'Kane, there is something in Evil Dead called "The Abomination," and it was the longest full effect to design.
Fans can look forward to several "special" chainsaw scenes that all required really intricate special effects. The blood will definitely be flowing on Evil Dead according to Murray.
Now here's a look at the Evil Dead special effects "By the Numbers":
3- that's the number of hours the more complicated make-ups required. Every main cast member in Evil Dead has their own Deadite look. The design is an updated spin on the iconic look from the Deadites from Raimi's original films and does not go with the over-pronounced eye look that fans are used to. "Remember- realism," explained O'Kane.
10- the number of weeks Murray and his team had to prep and get ready for the ambitious all practical effects gig for the Evil Dead.
18- the special effects team on Evil Dead was once up to 18 on-set artists during some of the more ambitious effects sequences, which was more than double the number of artists regularly on-set.
2- the number of people (at least) that hack off a limb in order to survive in Evil Dead. Both Murray and O'Kane promise a lot of self-mutilation, including one character that drives nails into his/her own face so that number could actually be larger. Neither would confirm just how many unfortunate souls in this movie part with their...well, parts.
A LOT!- that's the number of dead cats Murray and his team had to create for the Evil Dead. Apparently they have an underlying theme we will see once the film is released.
Our chat with Murray and O'Kane wrapped up the first day of our Evil Dead set visit, and as you can tell, we had a lot thrown at us before we were even brought up-to-speed on the story and met with the filmmakers and the cast (which all went down on Day Two).
And since I know there are a lot of people out there who are curious as all hell about this new Evil Dead, you can expect two more installments in this Set Visit Report series later this week that will cover all of that (and much more) extensively right here at Dread Central.
In the meantime you can check out the gallery of some of the pictures I brought back from Auckland, including yours truly entangled within the "rape vines" (not my proudest moment, but whatever) at Woodhill Forest, a group still we took with director Alvarez in front of the sound stage cabin from Evil Dead as well as some of the other New Zealand sights I was fortunate enough to take in before returning back to the States.
Ghost House Pictures is producing the much anticipated remake of The Evil Dead, the film that effectively launched the careers of Sam Raimi (Spider-Man franchise, Darkman, Drag Me to Hell), Rob Tapert (30 Days of Night), and Bruce Campbell, who played the Ash character and was co-producer of the original. They are now back to produce an Evil Dead for today's audience that's high on the horror, gore, plot twists, and more from a screenplay written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues with Diablo Cody. Executive producers are J.R. Young, Nathan Kahane, Joseph Drake, and Peter Schlessel.
Related Story: Everything About the Evil Dead Remake
A core cast of young, fresh talent includes Jane Levy ("Suburgatory") as Mia; Shiloh Fernandez (Deadgirl, Red Riding Hood) as David; Lou Taylor Pucci (Carriers) as Eric; Jessica Lucas (Cloverfield) as Olivia; and Elizabeth Blackmore (Legend of the Seeker) as Natalie.
Look for the film in theatres on April 12th.
In the much anticipated remake of the 1981 cult-hit horror film, five twenty-something friends become holed up in a remote cabin. When they discover a Book of the Dead, they unwittingly summon up dormant demons living in the nearby woods, which possess the youngsters in succession until only one is left intact to fight for survival.
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