Fede Alvarez, John Murdy and Michael Aeillio Talk Bringing EVIL DEAD to Life for Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights

     July 16, 2013

evil dead remake

With the Blu-ray fresh on shelves, the folks behind Evil Dead have another trick up their sleeve – the film is being turned into a maze for Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights in both Hollywood and Orlando.  And from the sound of things, the team behind creating the mazes isn’t pulling any punches.  Fans can look forward to walking through a live, interactive version of the film that brings to life all the favorite scares and promises never to hold back on the gore.

I recently got on the phone with a few other journalists to chat with Fede Alvarez, director of Evil DeadJohn Murdy, creative director of Halloween Horror Nights for the Hollywood park, and Michael Aeillio who handles Entertainment for the Orlando park.  They talked about the challenges of bringing Evil Dead to life, what makes a property perfect for a maze, the difficulty of translating a film for a live audience, what makes the Evil Dead maze unique, and a lot more.  Hit the jump for a breakdown of what to expect from the maze and what creative team had to say.

So what can fans look forward to from the maze?

  • The maze will act like a chronological retelling of 2013’s Evil Dead.  Fans will walk through the events as they happen facing an onslaught of sights, sounds, and even smells (dead cats, anybody?) to put them in the action of the film.
  • Director Fede Alvarez is onboard to review plans for the mazes and give them his stamp of approval.
  • The mazes on either coast, Hollywood or Orlando, will differ slightly from each other so fans can have a unique experience at either park.
  • Creative directors John Murdy and Michael Aeillo have put a lot of thought into the best way to bring to life key moments like the tongue-splitting and arm amputation.  The biggest challenge being that they have to recreate these moments every several seconds for a new audience.
  • They also promise to bring a wealth of gore in tribute to the aesthetics of the film, saying that on a scale from one to ten, this maze is an eleven.
  • There will not be any nods to the original Evil Dead trilogy that do not exist in Alvarez’s 2013 version film.  However, Alvarez says his entire film is “a big Easter egg” and there are plenty of references to choose from.

In addition to giving details on the  Evil Dead maze the creative team had a lot of interesting things to say about the ins and outs of designing haunted mazes for a horror theme park.  Check out highlights from the full interview below.

universal-studios-halloween-horror-nights-evil-deadMurdy and Aeillio kicked things off by describing their approach to the Evil Dead maze.

JOHN MURDY: We’re very excited today to announce that we will be bringing Evil Dead to Halloween Horror Nights in both Hollywood and Orlando.  If you’re familiar with what we do at Halloween Horror Nights, we create living horror movies.  So we want to make our guest feel like they got up from their movie seats, walked through the screen, and now they have to live in the world of Evil Dead.  We’re bringing it to life with movie quality sets, costumes, and props so it’s like living this movie experience for real.

MICHAEL AEILLIO: And we’re attacking both these mazes on both coasts as fans of the movie.  Taking that movie, taking elements of that film, kind of a chronological retelling of that film live for our guests.  It always comes from a place of total fandom for the properties that we use.  In this case Evil Dead being an amazing horror film and remake of the classic Evil Dead film series.

MURDY: One of the things Mike and I talked about from the beginning was that one of the things that really excited us about the new Evil Dead film is that it used a lot of practical effects.  In the world of horror movies sometimes you see a lot of digital effects, and as creators of a live haunted attraction that’s really exciting for us.  And the challenge is we have to do that over and over again a thousand times a night.  So it’s going to be a very visceral experience that features a lot of effects.

Before opening up the floor for questions, Alvarez noted his excitement for seeing the film turned into a theme park attraction.

FEDE ALVAREZ: For me it’s just a dream come true.  Actually about two or three weeks ago I was just showing the city around to some friends and my co-writer Rodo Sayagues – we were taking the tour [of Universal Studios], you know you go and get tours of other movies, and we were looking at the tours of other movies going “Someday buddy, someday there will be a tour of our movie.”  And we had no idea about this until two days after that until we got the call and found out that they’re making this ride.  I had the chance to read the whole treatment you built, and I have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen during the tour, and it’s mind-blowing.  It’s really like walking into the movie and having a chance to witness every crazy, gory moment of the movie firsthand.

fede-alvarez-evil-deadQuestion: What’s one of the hardest things about taking a movie and transforming it into a quality haunted maze?

MURDY: When you’re shooting a scene in the movie you only have to get it right once for the camera, and once you’ve gotten it right it lives forever.  In our world, what mike and I create, we always think of it as a new show every 10 seconds, when you think about people walking through a haunted attraction.  So if we’re doing a scene where Natalie is cutting off her arm, we have to be doing that every ten seconds.  So while it involves a lot of the same disciplines of making a movie there’s a lot of things that we make that are unique to what we create for horror nights.  That’s one of the challenges for Evil Dead, to deliver these crazy, incredibly gory practical effects, but doing them in a repeatable way.

AEILLIO: The other challenge too is that in a film, any film, you’re focus is fixed.  The camera lets you see what it wants you to see, and in John and I’s realm we have these crazy experiences in complete 360.  Where we’re completely immersing you into those elements, into those rooms and environments so that no matter where you look you’re seeing the property and how it’s represented.  We’re not fixed.  All of our guests are able to look anywhere they want to look with the hope that we’re able to focus them in on specific elements, but also surrounding them in that element as well…Even something like the hatch, having a part of it within a basement.  We have to build our mazes differently to accommodate something like that given that the guests are probably walking up and down stairs to get there.  So yeah, there’s all of these unique challenges.  Also on both coasts and in both realms it’s incredibly exciting to be able to translate things like this to a live experience.

Fede, what is it like to have the opportunity to re-translate your work for another medium?

evil-dead-shiloh-fernandez-jessica-lucasALVAREZ: On this everything is in their hands, and for me it was very important to know exactly what was going to happen and what it was going to be all about.  My job here is basically just to sign off on everything and make sure that it is faithful to the script of the film.  And it definitely is.  Like I was saying, very little step of the way is inspired by one scene or one moment of the film.  And that’s rare because even on other mazes or rides sometimes it’s kind of inspired by the film in general and you come up with different things that are not in the film.  But this one is really made by people who know the film exactly scene by scene.  Every moment, every time you walk in to one place it’s a bit by bit recreation of the film.  Like they were saying, the challenge there is how to recreate something that took us an entire day to shoot and they have to do it in ten seconds and then reset and do it again.  So my job here is just to make sure that this is completely 100% faithful to the film and that it captures the same vibe that we were tyring to go for when we made the film.

Last year I had the opportunity to visit both the Hollywood and Orlando locations and it was interesting to see how the Walking Dead maze was very different in each part.  Can you talk about that, and will there be place that the two locations go on interesting tangents from each other?

MURDY: I think that’s one if the really interesting things about Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando and Hollywood, they’re not carbon copies of each other or the exact same attraction in each park.  Obviously there’s a whole lot of similarities when you’re dealing with a single film like Evil Dead, but I think it’s really cool that if you go to Orlando then you might see a different scene than you would in Hollywood.  And one thing we know about our fans, particularly horror fans, they’re a very rabid fan base and a lot of people do travel and go to both parks.  I’ve always thought it’s extremely cool that they might see slightly different things depending on which park their in.

evil-dead-jane-levy-bloody-rainALVAREZ: When we write a movie and when we think about movies me and my co-writer we really think that if it’s going to work it works just like a good rock album.  Good albums usually start with a great track, there’s a hit on the first track, and there’s some great song in the middle, and then sometimes the ending track is going to be an amazing song.  That will make for a hit album.  You need those three or four hits on the album and that was something we were always thinking when we were doing the movie like, “Which of these scenes is going to be the hit?  The one that people remember.”  Sometimes you never know.  While I was reading the treatment for the whole maze we started to realize how you managed to capture exactly which ones were the hit songs in the movie, those particular moments that people remember.  It’s great.  It’s going to be like going to see the live concert version of the movie.

MURDY: And its paced out like an album.  That’s a really good analogy that Fede uses, because that’s the way we think about it when we create those things.  This one goes to 11, you know?  You have to pace it.  You have to start out where there’s some mystery, then build the suspense and hit them over the head.  It basically goes exactly like he’s describing so that you build to a crescendo.  And that’s true of any great theatrical experience.

AEILLIO: There’s something else we get to do that the film doesn’t get to do, we get to physically affect you, which is a hell of a lot of fun.  So when you go into the basement with all those horrible dead cats hanging from the ceiling you get to smell it.

Each of these mazes usually has its own hook.  What’s the hook that’s going to make the Evil Dead maze stand out amongst the other mazes that people have experienced?

evil-dead-jane-levy-screamMURDY: Demonic possession.  That’s a totally different flavor.  As Mike mentioned before, we come at this as huge fans of the Evil Dead franchise.  And I’ll tell you, when you’re remaking a beloved horror classic that’s a very difficult thing to do, and what Fede did extremely well is create a new version of Evil Dead that resonated with the fans.  That is no easy accomplishment.  And when Mike and I saw it for the first time on the Sony lot before the film came out, and I came out of there and went, “Yes, we can do this.  This is awesome.”  I think what Evil Dead has always had is this “Don’t open the book! Don’t read from the book!” And that will be set up before you even get into the attraction.  And it’s all about letting the demons of the forest loose and watching as these characters become possessed, and that’s a very different flavor from things we’ve done in the past.

AEILLIO: And what John said earlier about trying to find those album moments, those greatest hit moments of the film.  The book, being such a character in that story, as much as Mia is, how can we illustrate Eric reading the book and seeing the forest at the same time?  We figured that out.  When you walk into the cabin you’re going to see Eric doing that very thing and in a split second you’re in the cabin, then you’re in the forest with the trees flying by you.  We figured out tricks and movie special effects to achieve these looks that are in the movie, but again, right there in front of you as you’re walking through the mazes.

MURDY: Yeah, this is a good example of how sometimes there are slight variations from coast to coast.  We’re obviously doing the scene right now where Eric is reading the book, too.  I actually just came from an audio session where I was putting that all together with the original audio from the movie and when he reads that final word and all hell breaks loose, it’s really an interesting technical challenge how to do that ten second scene so everybody sees it.  And what controls we give our actors, because a lot of times with our scareactors we’ll give them the tools to trigger their own scares.  Not only their physical performance, but audio and lighting as well.  And that particular scene is extremely complicated.

evil-dead-shiloh-fernandez-jessica-lucas-lou-taylor-pucciHalloween Horror Nights has been around for two decades now and in that time we’ve seen amazing advances in techonology, and its advancing at a more rapid pace every year.  How has changing technology changed the way you make mazes?

AEILLIO: The technology is a tool.  The intention is whatever story we’re trying to tell.  Be it a licensed property like Evil Dead or an original maze like here in Orlando, like La Llorona a couple years ago in Hollywood, it’s all about the story first and the technical aspects become the tools from which you can pull from in order to help tell that story when it’s necessary.  Tech is always a tool but never the intention going into any thematic.

MURDY: As people who grew up doing this in our parent’s household as kids, there’s a whole different set of tools at our disposal some of them are incredibly sophisticated.  Like what I just described.  You’re pushing a button that triggers a whole series of lighting cues and audio cues, it’s all being run by a computer it’s incredibly sophisticated.  It’s like a ride.  Other times literally we’re using effects that maybe we did when we were kids in a very, very simple way.  It’s just choosing the right tool for the right scene and, like Mike says, to serve the story.  I always think what we do in a lot of ways is like what William Castle did in the 1950s, where he came up with seat buzzers under movie seats, or smell-o-rama, or things like that.  I’m sure he had no idea what people like Mike and myself would do with that years from now and make it very sophisticated.  But it’s the same idea – physically affecting our guests.  This is not a passive experience.  This is a visceral experience and we have to physically affect our guests and break down that fourth wall.  That’s how we use technology and special effects.  We have to make you feel like blood is being sprayed all over you, make you feel like the sky is raining blood, make you smell things when you walk into environments, and basically prey on all our guests senses to scare the living fill-in-the-blank out of them.  This is hardcore horror and that’s what horror movie fans want.  I’m sure Fede can relate to this – horror movie fans, no matter how extreme you make something, the next time around they just want it more extreme and it’s an insatiable appetite to take it to the next level so we just constantly have to push ourselves.

AEILLIO: The gore factor of these mazes in relation to other mazes we’ve done is definitely at an 11.

evil-dead-posterFede, I’m curious how much blood did you go through to make the movie?

ALVAREZ: The number they gave us – at some point we had a truck outside, it was 50,000 gallon in the whole production, but particularly at the end when it’s raining blood.  We have that blood raining all the time and it’s just an insane amount of blood.

Evil Dead is a franchise with a lot of history, will we see nods to the previous Evil Dead films as well?

MURDY: Only if it’s nodded to in Fede’s film.  When Mike and I sat down to do this it was very much focused on the 2013 film, and there are nods to the Evil Dead franchise in that film and of course that’s where we pick up on it.

ALVAREZ: Yeah my film itself is a big Easter egg.  It’s just completely filmed with references so it’s impossible not to have references on the ride.  The first part when you get to the cabin, the cabin looks almost just like the original.  So definitely for fans of the original, for fans that maybe haven’t seen the new one I think they’re going to have a blast going through the maze.  Just because they’re going to have a chance to step into the Evil Dead cabin and the rooms, to see the book.

What is it for you guys that makes a movie a good fit for turning into a maze?

AEILLIO: It’s very specific.  My personal criteria are three things.  The first is kind of obvious, it’s awareness.  We want to create positive traction based on movies that people know and love and want to come see.  The second is environment.  We put a heck of a lot of effort into creating these movie quality environments so we really look for that when we’re watching a movie…we always pay a lot of attention to these environments.  That’s a big rule for us.  The third is great iconic characters that we can bring to life with live actors.  And one of the things I really love about the new Evil Dead film is the hero is the woman – you have Natalie, you have Olivia, great roles for women.  And I’ve always felt that scaring people is not a boys club, it’s not exclusive to men.  Sometimes you get that cliché in this industry.  “Oh just hire big, scary guys.”  But over the years one thing I’ve certainly learned is that a lot of our female scareactors are amazing at what they do.  Years ago I had a girl come up to me and go, “I don’t want to just be, ‘help me, help me’ I want to scare people,” and that really resonated with me.  Now they’re getting the opportunity more than they probably ever have before.

MURDY: If there was a fourth category it would be “it would be really cool to do that.”  [laughs] The personal fantasy does come in Mike and I obviously grew up huge horror fans and we grew up loving the Evil Dead films. 

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