Director Lee Cronin’s “Evil Dead Rise,” the latest in the cult classic “Evil Dead” horror franchise, doesn’t waste any time. From it’s jump right into the story of sisters Ellie and Beth (Alyssa Sutherland and Lily Sullivan, respectively) to the sheer amount of gore and brutality that ensues, “Evil Dead Rise” is relentless in its pursuit of fear, and that’s by design. “I wanted you to fall in love with the characters in the movie and then I just wanted to kick the shit out of them and the audience,” Cronin told TheWrap.
The love for the franchise goes back to Cronin’s childhood, when he watched the 1981 original film and its 1987 sequel back-to-back at the age of nine. “No idea what I was watching, I just knew I’d never seen anything like it before,” Cronin said. “It dug its claws in and it held on.” Cronin appreciated the film series’ independent spirit, and while he harbored the dream of making an “Evil Dead” film one day, “I just never knew if the stars could align,” he said. And yet they did, as “Evil Dead” director Sam Raimi saw Cronin’s first feature, the 2019 horror film “The Hole in the Ground” and arranged a meeting.
“We talked about everything other than the ‘Evil Dead’ until the last five minutes when I couldn’t resist going, ‘So what’s up with Evil Dead?’ And he’s like, ‘Why?’ I’m like, ‘Well, I’m a big fan.’ He’s like, ‘Would you like to make one?’” From there it was up to Cronin to find his own story. He knew he wanted to tell a story about a family, about maternal fears, and the pressures both individuals and families have on each other. “Once I thought I had confidence, then I could start swinging the chainsaw around and drawing blood,” he said.
Cronin went on to discuss the challenges of putting kids in peril and how one studio felt putting a mother as the main antagonist in this story might be a bridge too far.
This interview has been cut and condensed for clarity.
You don’t waste any time with this movie. How did you break down the structure for this?
Lee Cronin: I don’t think anyone can ever emulate “Evil Dead” from the point of view of how that really gets at it right away. You talk about three-act structures, I actually didn’t really worry about the obvious narrative structure. What I knew I wanted was three things: One, I wanted to give people a taste of the horror to come in an expanded prologue. Two, I wanted you to fall in love with the characters in the movie. And then I just wants to kick the shit out of them and the audience.
I like a lean movie; I’m very editorially focused. So it was like, set it up, scare people, show off this lovely family and these people we’re going to fall for, and then rip that world apart. That was it. As I wrote it I was like “How quickly can I get to the madness?” There is a patience early on in the movie as you get to know the characters, but because you’ve experienced the opening everybody’s got that creeping suspicion and an understanding that things are gonna go bad. And when are they going to go bad?
The rule of thumb in horror is children and animals are taboo to kill. With kids at the center of this and the current world was there a fear of going too far?
I never worried about it because once I crossed the line I had to back it. Once we’d all bought into the idea that we were making an “Evil Dead” movie with kids there was no doubt that those kids were going to have to get possessed and bad things are gonna happen. Could you imagine I made the version where none of that happened? I’m so happy I made the film with New Line Cinema, it was the perfect home. But on the journey to that happening you speak to different studios, and I won’t name the studio, but I remember one were like, “Can we make it a babysitter instead of the mom?” And I was like, “What, and destroy exactly what the movie is?”
There’s a lot of deliberate emphasis on noise. Why focus on that?
I take sound extremely seriously and I’m glad that people are connecting with the soundtrack, the soundscape of the movie, from the music to the sound design. It’s a full noise film. The opening lines in the screenplay are sound before we even see picture. I wish I could remember the line, but it explains that there’s this sound that sounds like the chanting of 1000 maniacs. It says, “It’s in your head now” and then we cut to this image. So it’s very, very important.
I knew I wanted the film to be brazen and bold, and have big visuals. Therefore the soundtrack had to step up and challenge in a way. This was never going to be a quiet movie. You would always have to be super gutsy. [I] engaged with my sound designer and my composer early and I was like, “Let’s go big or go home.” So we went big.
There’s a lot of inventive kills in this, weirdly enough employing household objects. How do you see horror moments when you’re writing them?
It’s character, context, story, metaphor first. I’m not thinking about horror. If I talk to a producer or a writing partner, once I start talking about an idea I know it’s ready to write because I try and keep it in the pressure cooker in my head and take a lot of notes. I wrote the screenplay sitting on my bed during the first wave of COVID.
I started writing in February 2020/March 2020 into April, so I was stuck in my apartment with literally an evil force outside my door because none of us knew what this was. You remember those early days where people [were] like “Literally, if you walk out your front door you’re gonna catch COVID. It’s coming through your door.” I was kind of trapped indoors by this evil force with just my apartment to look at and that’s when you start looking at wine glasses, and cheese graters, and eggs and the bathtub, and you start thinking about how you can create cool domestic horror out of those objects.
This was initially planned for an HBO Max release before going to theatrical. Can you talk about that initial plan and the changes to bring it to theaters?
The missing part of the story here is that the movie was slated to be HBO Max long after we’d started. It wasn’t like I signed up and it’s like, “Hey, go make this movie for HBO Max.” We were making a theatrical movie and then the COVID landscape, understandably, put studios under pressure because people weren’t going to theaters. They started to pivot movies. A big movies like “Dune” was day-and-date and it was a surprise to me, that HBO Max thing came as a surprise, but I never gave up hope and the brilliant people I worked with over at New Line didn’t give up hope either. They were like, “Don’t let this distract you. Go make the movie you want to make.”
Whether I make a movie for a streamer, or an iPhone or the big screen I’m always thinking in the most epic terms I can. That was one of the mad things about this movie. It’s so contained, but I also wanted it to feel quite epic — even though we’re inside an apartment — and feel like a super widescreen movie. Then the movie went through the usual testing and by the time we did a final test screening it scored at a very, very high level for such a hardcore R-rated horror movie. Thankfully, important decision makers were in the room to experience that with an audience and sometimes that’s all it comes down to with movie making.
You hear the phrase, “It plays in a room,” therefore, let’s put it in a room. This movie does play in a room and I’m very excited that people will get to sit in a cinema together and spill their popcorn and God knows what else. We had our first puker at the European premiere of the movie, so I’m hoping more of that happens.