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Bruce “The Chin” Campbell graced the packed theater with his formidable presence Saturday afternoon at New York Comic Con, turning what was promised as a first look at the highly anticipated – and, among hardcore fans, much-maligned — Evil Dead remake into “The Bruce Hour.” From the moment he was greeted with a standing ovation and shouts of “Bruuuuuce!” as he stepped on stage in a flashy red suit jacket and black pants, he commanded the audience’s attention with his quick jokes and trademark sarcasm. As for the world-premiere footage, think awesomely gory, tonally dead serious and, yes, tree rape.
Campbell, who’s producing The Evil Dead with the original trilogy’s Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, was joined by director/co-writer Fede Alvarez and the film’s young protagonist – the new Ash, if you will – Jane Levy.
The audience was first treated to a movie still of Levy in demonic form (above, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly) before Campbell tackled the question most fans asked the day the remake was announced: Why touch the original? Why not just make The Evil Dead 4?
“As middle-aged filmmakers now, we realized that maybe it’s just too late to strap on that chainsaw one more time,” he lamented to boos from audience members who clearly felt otherwise. “It’s time to give these people what they want: a new experience done with handsome, young, hot thespians being covered with new buckets of blood! You will be the judge of it, but we did not screw you over doing this movie. Your shit will be just as freaked with this movie as with the original!”
First-time feature director Alvarez, who caught Raimi’s eye with his 2009 short Panic Attack!, admitted he was offered the opportunity out of the blue, via Skype. “When Sam Raimi asks you that, you don’t go, ‘No, thank you, I don’t believe in remakes!’” he exclaimed, “You go, ‘Fuck yeah!’”
Alvarez recalled the scarring experience of watching the 1981 original when he was 12 years old, and admitted to using that experience as fuel for the modern version. “I wanted to make that thing that stayed with me,” he said, “the horrible fear, the violence, the gore, the craziness.”
Levy’s involvement came less by happenstance, and included some hardcore warnings from Campbell. “I went after this project myself,” she said. “And Bruce was the one in the audition room trying to scare me away, or just making sure I was up for the job. Bruce was like, ‘Do you know what it feels like to be buried alive? Do you know what it feels like to have tubes stuck down your throat so you can vomit on people?’ And I was like, ‘I’m ready, I’m really excited!”
“Now she wants to fucking kill me,” Campbell said, chuckling. “Yeah,” Levy deadpanned.
The lights dimmed to hoots and cheers from the audience, and they were treated to a decidedly modern aesthetic take on the original Evil Dead elements – almost something of a Cabin in the Woods vibe, with an even more tonally serious bent. The story follows Mia (Levy) and her friends David, Olivia, Eric and Natalie as they enter an old cabin – creepy from the start, with dead animals hanging from the ceiling in the basement and dusty, dangerous relics everywhere. As with the original, they discover a Book of the Dead, which puts into motion intensely crazy events (by way of Raimi-style point-of-view zooms toward the cabin through the dense forest). As Levy is inhabited by a demon, we see glimpses of some of the scariest and most ridiculous gore you can imagine: her slicing a knife through her cheek, a person writing while engulfed in flames, a tree trapping its victim with thorny limbs (looks like the tree-rape scene is a go), an infected hand being offed with a knife, the infamous chainsaw (oh, the chainsaw – so much blood spatter), and to cap off the mayhem, demonic Mia slicing her own tongue in half with a sharp object while menacingly crouching inches from one of her friends.
The deafening roar and screams of, “Yes!!!!” from the crowd stated the obvious: they absolutely loved it. Levy hadn’t seen the footage yet, and chirped, “I swear to God, I am so scared right now – I’m not kidding, that just freaked the shit out of me!”
By the Q&A session, the audience was sufficiently riled, and Campbell pulled out all the comedic stops. He dubbed a girl in Ash cosplay “Ashina” and said, “Female Ashes are kinda hot, actually.” He then denied a request to recite a quote from the film, joking, “If I was your little monkey I could.”
When asked why Diablo Cody was brought on for a script polish, Campbell simply said, “As middle-aged men, we don’t really know how young people talk. And she won a fucking Academy Award.” Alvarez replied that Cody was hired to bring in her trademark cool dialogue and write a bit more to the female protagonist.
The best Campbell fan moment came when a girl lamented that he doesn’t get enough credit for his role as Sam Axe on USA Network’s Burn Notice: Campbell rose from his seat, pulled five dollars out of his pocket, walked up to the fan and dramatically palmed the money in her hand. The crowd went nuts.
When asked why her character’s name is Mia and not Ash, Levy divulged what could be considered a bit of a spoiler, saying, “I asked Fede one day how he named the characters … there’s a play on words – maybe if you listen to all the character’s names, it might spell something out.”
Campbell ended the presentation on a hopeful note for those wishing for at least one more Raimi-Campbell pairing. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “Sam Raimi is threatening from his deathbed he’s going to make another one of these movies!”
The Evil Dead opens April 12, 2013.