AUSTIN, Texas - Plans to remake the 1981 cult horror film "Evil Dead" may have brought some initial skepticism, but with the original filmmakers behind the scenes and a fresh-faced director and cast to inject youthful enthusiasm, the South by Southwest festival crowd welcomed the reboot with open arms.
Sam Raimi, who directed the original, and Bruce Campbell, who starred in it, produced the new "Evil Dead." Fede Alvarez, a Uruguayan directing his first feature-length film, oversaw a small cast with Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci and Elizabeth Blackmore.
The film reimagines the plot of the first Evil Dead but replaced the original five college students on vacation with five high school friends reuniting to help one of them kick a drug addiction. When they find the "Book of the Dead" in their cabin, a demon emerges to possess the students one by one until only one remains.
Gone is the iconic hero Ash, played by Campbell, with Alvarez taking a more ensemble approach that gives Levy and Fernandez equal time.
The mix of fire hose blood spray, psychological terror and black humour, though remain true to the campy original that boiled the horror movie genre down to its essence. Robert Tapert, who produced the original and the remake, said Evil Dead was intended for drive-in movies and crowded theatres, but most fans only discovered it on VHS or DVD years later.
"You need to see this with other people, where you can yell and scream. There needs to be a party atmosphere," he said, in explaining his desire to update it. Festival-goers at South by Southwest played right along, cheering, screaming and laughing in all of the right places.
Alvarez said Campbell recruited him to take on the project after years or rumours that he, Raimi and Tapert were planning to remake the low-budget, indie masterpiece t that launched their careers. Alvarez insisted on making the film without computer generated images, instead taking 70 nights to film it using many of the old-school special effects that Raimi used 30 years ago.
"A good movie is about showing real stuff, if you see something fake you wake up from the movie dream," he said. "The other reason was to make the movie timeless. Today's CGI looks great, but five years from now, you say, 'God, what was I thinking?'"
Levy, who stars in the television series "Suburgatory," called the weeks spent in special prosthetics and covered in slimy fluids "torture."
"It was a really long shoot and it felt like it went on forever," she said.
Raimi screened his low-budget 1981 film at the Cannes Film Festival and eventually signed a distribution deal, however the extreme violence and gore initially earned the film an X rating and it still carries an NC-17. The $375,000 movie grossed $2.4 million at the box office, but launched Raimi's career. He made two sequels with Campbell playing Ash, "The Evil Dead II" and "Army of Darkness." The film also spun off a video game, comic book and musical.
Raimi later directed Hollywood blockbusters including the first three "Spider Man" films, "The Gift" and the recently released "Oz The Great and Powerful."