Evil Dead Rise director calls SXSW horror movie a 'punk rock opera dripping in blood'
Evil Dead Rise
Filmmaker Lee Cronin saw the first two Evil Dead movies on VHS at what many would regard as a terrifyingly young age.
"I was probably about 8 or 9 years old," says the Irish writer-director. "I grew up in a movie-loving household. There was not a lot of censorship in my home when it came to what you watched. My dad rented Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 and showed them to me back-to-back. I'd never seen anything like them. They made a very stark and startling impression. Yeah, they definitely have had a really strong influence on me."
Several decades on, Cronin is speaking to EW about his new movie, Evil Dead Rise, which screens at the SXSW Festival Wednesday night. Cronin's film is the fifth big-screen terror tale in the franchise about a demonic force that is unleashed whenever anyone reads the appropriate passage from an ancient tome, the Book of the Dead. The Los Angeles-set film is the first to take place in a city rather than the woods (or, in the case of 1992's Army of Darkness, the Middle Ages) and the first to focus on a family.
"It's the story of a young woman called Beth (Lily Sullivan) who's returning to visit her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland from Vikings), who's a mother to three kids," says Cronin. "At the same time, the Book of the Dead is discovered in this Los Angeles apartment complex, and that brings with it terrifying consequences for this family, and brings you on a seriously dark, twisted, and entertaining rollercoaster."
The road to that rollercoaster began in 2019 when Spider-Man and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness director Sam Raimi asked to meet Cronin after being impressed by his first film, the skilled, somber horror movie The Hole in the Ground. Raimi made the first three Evil Dead movies in cahoots with producer Robert Tapert and actor Bruce Campbell, who portrayed the initial trilogy's idiot-hero Ash. The trio has continued to steer the franchise, overseeing 2013's Fede Álvarez-directed reboot Evil Dead and three seasons of the Stars show Ash vs Evil Dead.
"We talked about everything but Evil Dead until late on," Cronin says of his initial meeting with Raimi. "I didn't want to come in and go, hey, I'm a fan, and he equally hadn't brought it up with me, thinking, having seen The Hole in the Ground, that I was a different type of filmmaker. But we started to talk about it, and from there, the relationship and the plans went from strength to strength."
Cronin was determined that his movie would not just be a retread of the films that had come before.
"I needed to tell a story on my own terms," says the Irishman, who also wrote the script for Evil Dead Rise. "As much as I loved the movies, had they just handed me a script with a cabin in the woods, I probably would have said, I can't wait to see it in the cinema, but it's not for me. But they wanted something new; they wanted something fresh. They knew it was time for a different direction. Thankfully it all kind of came together."
Back in 2021, Campbell teased to EW that the film would heavily feature the Book of the Dead, and the director certainly took pains to make his version a memorable onscreen item.
"One of the things that I wanted to bring to the book was this sense that it's alive a little bit," says Cronin. "It absorbs blood. You can see that there's a network of veins and arteries, and these teeth that actually operate. We worked on that book every day in some way, shape, or form [for] probably three, four months of development, hand drawings, failed endeavors, modeling, all of those things."
Cronin filmed the movie in New Zealand and put his cast, which also includes Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, and young actress Nell Fisher as Ellie's three children, through what the director describes as a week-long "boot camp" to prepare them for the physical demands of the shoot.
"It was kind of specialized for everybody," he says. "So, little Nell, for example, it was literally getting her to be as tough as she could be and practicing taking certain falls and hits. For Lily, there were elements around how to understand how to use a shotgun, but also then be able to pick that apart and use it in a way of unfamiliarity. We'd work a lot on techniques of getting people into heightened states for screaming and performance and all of that type of thing that was needed. There's a point in that movie where none of those characters' heart rates really ever drops below probably 180 beats a minute. [The cast] needed to be able to get to those places and embody that as much as they could."
Cronin describes the shoot as "incredible and incredibly hard. It was a given that an Evil Dead movie was going to have to be as practical as it could be. Therefore, everything was hard. For what is actually a very contained movie in a lot of ways, it was an extremely long shoot. We were over 60 days shooting this movie because there's so much action, and so many stunts, and so many practical effects. Every time someone flies across a room, every time someone gets stabbed, every time you spill blood, there was so much planning that had to go into it."
Much blood did get spilled. Around 6,500 liters, in fact.
"There was always going to be a lot of blood in this movie," says Cronin. "From very early on, I said, the blood is going to be a character in this movie, and I want it to be able to behave and flow the way I want it to move. I want it to rise a certain way; I want it to have a certain viscosity. That s--- was sticky-icky; if it got on your skin, you lost your hair. People were having to get hosed down every single day. I wanted to have the movie almost feel like a punk rock opera dripping in blood. That was what was in my mind a little bit, that it had a bit of attitude. And, you know, the blood's got to fall in an Evil Dead movie; there was no escaping that. That was one thing I could not dodge without letting the fans down."
Three people apparently not let down by the finished film are Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell.
"It's just a relief that they [said], 'Hey, we really like the movie,'" admits Cronin. "I did get to watch it at test screenings with Sam as well, which was great. I will say it's a real pleasure to see Sam watch something you do, and it makes him laugh or scream. That's a real joy."
Evil Dead Rise hits cinemas April 21. Exclusively see images from the movie above.
Want more movie news? Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free newsletter to get the latest trailers, celebrity interviews, film reviews, and more.
The beloved horror franchise continues with a blood-drenched tale set in a Los Angeles apartment building.