by Sol Harris
It’s been ten long years since the last film in the EVIL DEAD franchise was released. A fifth entry in the series is finally upon us in the form of EVIL DEAD RISE, written and directed by LEE CRONIN (The Hole in the Ground). We sat down with him to find out what we can expect when the deadites are unleashed upon cinemas once more…
STARBURST: After Sam Raimi, the director of the original Evil Dead trilogy, and Fede Álvarez, who made the 2013 instalment, you’re only the third person to ever helm an Evil Dead movie. What was it like taking on such a beloved and iconic series, and did you feel any pressure, given how it’s a series that’s managed to maintain a real quality of output?
Lee Cronin: It was a really exciting opportunity, first and foremost. I come from a place of being a fan of the franchise. It had a big influence on me in my younger years. I always thought I would love the opportunity to make one, but unlike some other franchises, you’d imagine there’s less opportunity. There hasn’t been an enormous amount of movies made underneath the title, and I think that’s what’s quite special about it.
I know speaking to Sam and Rob [Tapert] and Bruce [Campbell], they’re quite picky about wanting to do one, when they’ll do one and what it is. I had an approach and a vision for a new Evil Dead movie that got them excited – that felt fresh – like it’d move the compass. Three of the four movies before essentially took place in the cabin, and there was the continuity of Ash as a well-ingrained character at that point in Army of Darkness. I was taking on something where I was leaving not only the cabin in the woods behind but also Ash, which is the first time that has happened. I think that’s what’s quite unique about Evil Dead Rise.
I think Evil Dead fans are actually quite hungry for more. I don’t want to say they’re forgiving because they still want a great movie; there is always that percentage that are like, “No Ash? No movie”, and I can’t change what those people think. They’ll probably still watch it and can judge it in whatever terms they want. All you can do is make the movie that you want to make and the best movie that you can. And being a fan myself is one of the most challenging aspects, separating your fandom from it so you can create a story. I had a lot of fun when I was creating this movie, especially in the writing, at finding particular touchstones and references and certain things that I would play a new way. So I think there’s a huge amount there for the fans.
The development and writing of this movie were one of the smoothest processes I’ve ever had. They liked what I had to say from the start. You’d say, “I had them at ‘Hello'”. They liked the approach. They liked what I was trying to do. Once I pitched them an in-depth storyline, they were all on board. There are always opinions, but they were very, very trusting and, a lot of times, added and made suggestions that built on the things I was trying to do.
It was supportive and understanding, and I never felt like anybody was breathing down my shoulder. I just felt like people were there to give me a pat on the shoulder when I needed it. Sam Raimi is a filmmaker who would have inspired me had I made an Evil Dead movie or not, so in a weird way, it was already in my DNA. I didn’t have to think too hard. They showed me a lot of trust because I think they knew instinctively that there was no point in making another Evil Dead movie that in any way felt like a retread.
Evil Dead Rise swaps out the series’ iconic cabin in the woods for a high-rise apartment, the home of a small family. While it’s incredibly common to see children in horror films, they tend to be tamer and more psychological in nature. It’s still extremely rare to watch a film and see children put in such visceral, potentially violent danger as seems to be the case with Evil Dead Rise. What drew you to include children in the story?
The last three things that I’ve made all had children in the story. I think a lot of times when I think of ideas; I think of childhood. I also take influence from my own family — I don’t have children, but I have a lot of nieces and nephews. They love horror movies, and we talk about horror movies, and I tell them what I’m working on and tell them scary ideas, whatever they might be. There was no doubt in my mind that putting kids in the firing line [of] deadites [was] pretty hardcore, but I wanted it to be something new, and Evil Dead movies push the envelope. They test the limits. Certain things in the older movies test the limits, and this is testing a different limit.
The core idea was I wanted to bring the deadites into the home. I wanted to bring the deadites into somewhere familiar and around people that you’re familiar with, which pointed towards an urban environment and an apartment. It pointed towards family. It pointed towards children, so it was almost a natural step for me as a place to take it. It definitely raises the bar, and I think that makes this movie stand out in a particular way. This is certainly going to be up there in terms of the volume of blood versus children in a movie, you know what I mean?
Amazingly given how simple the original film was, the world of Evil Dead has developed a deep, interesting lore. This film is set within the same continuity as the other four movies in the franchise, so how exactly do the pieces all fit together?
It’s a funny world we live in; there’s ‘soft reboot’, ‘hard reboot’, ‘remake’, ‘requel’, and whatever you want to call it. To me, this is just a fresh direction inside the universe, and I always felt like more stories could be told in that world. I think one of the things that Sam really vibed with when I said it to him was: “In Army of Darkness, there are three books. You had one, Fede [Alvarez] had one, I’m going to take that third one and do something else“. So that connectivity is there. It’s in the world where those three books exist, and we’re with this book in this story. There’s a direct line and a sequence within the movie that reflects on the existence of the book and of books. So where I see it, it’s happening in the here and now. It’s fresh; it’s contemporary; it’s of its moment. The timeline says The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II were when they were made, and similar to Fede’s movie, this is happening in the now.
Fans can probably repeat watch this movie and, each time they do, notice deeper references and deeper things that are in place that connect Evil Dead Rise to the canon. The Delta is not in the movie. There’s a new car. We made this movie during a challenging time of COVID, and getting our hands on a Delta was not always going to be straightforward. Again, they want to move the story forward, but there is a stylistic similarity. For example, the chainsaw is exactly the same shade of yellow as the Oldsmobile Delta. Evil Dead’s DNA permeates throughout the movie.
Of course, there’s more to making this a ‘real’ Evil Dead movie than just the surface-level trappings. The series is also famous for its distinctive and unique aesthetic. What was your approach to making sure Rise fit within the franchise from that perspective, and what can we expect to see tonally?
We shot the movie in New Zealand, and Ash vs Evil Dead and Evil Dead (2013) were also shot in New Zealand, so it was of great benefit. It was really additive to bring people who had worked as crew on past Evil Dead productions into that world. I was able to reflect with those people, especially when it came to some practical effects and physical effects and blood work and things like that. But I think what got the crew really excited in the early reads and prep was they saw we were making something that had my own unique vision and my unique tastes, and the choices I wanted to make.
I think the word ‘balance’ is the most important thing of all. Throughout the process of making a movie, you’re testing it with audiences and different people are seeing it. Some of these people are obviously fans, and one consistent thing people have said is, “Oh my god. It’s absolutely an Evil Dead movie“. There’s no escaping the fact. It rings true and holds true to what makes Evil Dead unique, which I think is the relentlessness when the horror kicks in. With Evil Dead, you know you have to cross the line; when you cross that line, you keep hammering and hammering and hammering. I would have looked to Evil Dead II, not in tonal ways, but just in terms of that relentless, refreshing entertainment where something happens and, just as you’re catching your breath, the next thing happens. There’s a familiarity to the experience for sure, but the context is different, and the characters are different. You’ve got the book, you’ve got insane deadites; you’ve got those deadites probably waging greater psychological warfare than we’ve seen before in an Evil Dead movie. I’ve amped that aspect up. And I think in a lot of ways, it’s just tuning all those things. That’s the balancing act.
I don’t think it’s a comedy in the Evil Dead II sense, but it does have levity. Sometimes, when you’re working, you leave little keywords around your laptop. I had one Post-it note that just had the word ‘entertaining’. To me, whatever the tone, whether it be the first film, the second, Army of Darkness, or Fede’s movie… they’re all entertaining on their own terms. And this one does have its own specific tone. It definitely hits hard, it’s relentless, and it’s brutal, but the visual style, the kind of visual verve, and the outlandishness of some of the things that happen raises laughter. It’s definitely the type of movie that, with a packed audience in the cinema, it’s going to have a vocal crowd. So, although it’s not jokes, there’s definitely levity and release through the scale and madness of what unfurls onscreen. It’s a very dense movie. It’s packed with detail, visual style, energy, and, in basic terms, just shots galore. There’s a hell of a lot happening inside the movie, and that’s a little bit of my own taste. I love the detail, and I love refreshing imagery for audiences and never really feeling like you’re treading through the same moment at all. It’s an Evil Dead movie, but on a very different canvas.
After laying somewhat dormant for a long, long time, the Evil Dead franchise really feels like it’s having a moment right now thanks to last year’s release of Evil Dead: The Game, Evil Dead Rise, and word from Bruce Campbell that a new animated TV series is in development. Are there plans to continue the series with further movies after Rise?
Someone very wise who I worked with said, “The audience decides“. I’ve left two or three doors open. Specific doors that are open in terms of places that we could go. There’s connectivity within this story where you could go 100 years in the past if you wanted to. You could also go forward 10 minutes and continue that story further as well. Part of the plan in making Evil Dead Rise and moving the franchise forward, and breaking the mould ever so slightly was to create opportunities to continue to tell more stories within the Evil Dead world, which is something that I hope happens and something that I’d like to be involved with.
How does it feel knowing the film is being released soon?
At the height of COVID, this movie was going ahead, as many movies were at the time, as a release on a streaming platform. But the film tested extremely well with audiences, and it was always created to be a theatrical experience with audiences, so the movie is ready to go. We’re very, very close to the world premiere and then people will get a sense of what this movie is.
I’m really excited for people to experience these characters and then realise, “Oh shit. We’re going to have to go to Hell and back with these people“.
EVIL DEAD RISE is in cinemas on April 21st