Ten years after Fede Alvarez’s ultra-violent take on The Evil Dead terrified audiences, Lee Cronin is resurrecting the franchise with his take on the franchise Evil Dead Rise. Cronin transports the typical forest-focused series into the city, placing the deadites squarely in one doomed high-rise apartment building. Here, two estranged sisters must protect their own against a demonic onslaught.
With Evil Dead Rise, Cronin makes an incredibly female-focused film about the horrors of monstrous motherhood and pushes taboos to their limits in regard to children in horror. We spoke with Cronin over Zoom about taking on the franchise, how his relationship with his mom and sister shaped the film, shooting that peephole shot, and more.
Dread Central: Congratulations on Evil Dead Rise. How nuts does this feel to have it finally coming out to the world and having it everywhere?
Lee Cronin: Yeah, it’s pretty wild. I’ve been trying to make movies for a long time and luckily I’m somewhat succeeding in getting there. But it is quite a buzz this week to know that this film is gonna open well north of 3000 locations in the US and then in 67 countries around the world. So that’s a really big deal from my point of view. Win, lose, or draw after that, I kind of don’t care. At least I was afforded the opportunity to put it out there. I’m excited for audiences to hopefully go to the cinema and have a good time with it.
DC: When I saw it in theaters, everyone was gasping. It’s an amazing communal experience, which I feel like that’s what Evil Dead is in general. And this is absolutely no different.
LC: Yeah, I got to see it again last night with an audience at Beyond Fest in LA and that was a really spectacular experience. The thing I’m happiest with is hearing people laugh in all the right/wrong places, like laughing at things you shouldn’t laugh at, but getting that bit of catharsis from the experience of the movie.
DC: So actually I wanted to ask about that because the Evil Dead we know and love is funny in the darkest way possible, and you hit that, especially with some special lines in this movie. What was that like for you in approaching the humor of Evil Dead while also staying true to your vision of what you wanted Evil Dead Rise to look like?
LC: Yeah, the balance is tricky. I always come out from the point of view of character. I felt like if I got the characters right that the levity would follow, because real people are goofy and say weird things and make mistakes. And I’ll say, even in the darkest places, like people laugh at funerals, you know? So even though this was dark, I thought there was a chance to bring that tonality out. Once I wrote the characters and I wrote the horror, I really didn’t stress it from there. I was like, “This will be what it’s gonna be, let it roll” and I trusted my own instinct in terms of how that works.
Then when you get into the edit, there were a few lines that didn’t make the cut that changed the tonality from the right kind of laughter to maybe just a little bit silly. Just trying to get that balance, it’s like the titty-sucking parasites line
DC: It’s not really a spoiler, but there are a lot of things happening just through the peephole of a door. That’s such an incredible moment where you play with space and frame and what you’re able to see versus what you’re just hearing. So what was that like to shoot that moment and frame these really awesome moments of violence that you don’t actually see?
LC: Yeah, that was actually one of my favorite days on set. It was one of the few days where I completed my schedule on time
So it was initially envisaged as a single shot with no edits, and then Lily take back gave some great reactions, and I kind of chose that. I wanted to cut back [to her] a little bit. But we actually created the entire thing as one piece of choreography to shoot it as a single shot. So that was incredibly fun, the dance that had to be performed outside of that field of view. And I’ve got some behind-the-scenes footage of the big rubber mat getting pushed in. It’s a strange, strange choreography to actually pull something like that off. But what was really fun was it was a day where I didn’t show up on set and have the pressure of needing to roll camera within 20 or 30 minutes.
I was like, “We’ve got a 10-hour day, 11-hour day. Let’s just rehearse for six hours.” And we did, we rehearsed most of the day. We just kept rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing. And then around three o’clock in the afternoon, I’m like, “OK, let’s try shoot it.” The first one wasn’t quite there. We made a few tweaks, we rehearsed again for a little while, and then we went again. And I think maybe we did maybe three takes or something like that. As a filmmaker who likes a lot of footage and very particular, specific things that eat up time, that was quite a fun day. The eyes from above would be like, “You’re not shooting, what are you doing?” Yeah, but when I do shoot, I’m gonna go get like two minutes of the movie in one shot.
DC: I also wanted to hear about how you approached writing violence in this movie because there are obviously so many big violent set pieces. When you were writing, where did these ideas come from for you? I’m always so curious where the inspiration comes from for these moments.
LC: I kind of always wish I could remember. It’s usually not when I’m writing, it’s the in-between times. If I was to track back through the notes on my iPhone, I’d have all sorts of random things from four years ago where I’d be just like, cheese grader or whatever. So it kind of tends to not come whilst I’m actually writing the things I know about. I know that this sounds really cryptic. But it’s like I’m writing something and I know what I’m doing, and then it’ll be that evening or at the weekend where I’ll go, “Oh, wouldn’t it be really cool if…” and then I’ll go back and rewrite that into the moment.
So I get [the idea] up and walking, but then it only starts to run as I spend more time with it and come up with those ideas and, and try and push those ideas further. And then there are other things like Staff-anie for example. That was something that specifically my niece inspired me with when I was making The Hole In The Ground. She said “You’re making a horror movie. I love horror movies!” She’s like nine. “Look what I made. I made this thing called Staff-anie!” So I actually had the discussion that Beth has with Cassie in Evil Dead Rise with my niece. She came to the European premiere two weeks ago in Dublin and brought the OG Staff-anie.
Our Staff-anie is exactly the same, down to the little ruffle around the neck. The only difference is that one didn’t break and become a weapon
DC: That’s both an honor and terrifying
LC: Luckily she’s an Evil Dead fan, so my sister is very comfortable with me utilizing and killing her children.
DC: I love a good mean movie, but was there ever any kind of hesitation from you, or even pushback from others that this is perhaps too mean to the younger generation in the film?
Frighteningly, no. Evil Dead plus children equal it’s gonna be really fucking dark. But luckily when I wrote the screenplay, we had multiple expressions of interest from different studios, but all with different agendas and different price points. We found incredible partners in New Line. I’m so, so happy to make this movie with New Line Cinema because when their logo comes up from anything from Nightmare On Elm Street to the Lord of the Rings, I always get a little chill. It means something to me.
DC: There is something about the New Line Cinema logo, like you said. When it comes on screen you know that you’re about to have a good time.
LC: We should use the old-school one for a special release [of Evil Dead Rise]. But yeah, to just bring it back, the only kickback I ever remember getting, the only time I ever remember being questioned about what I was doing was by one major studio that was like, “Can you make it a babysitter and not the mom? And then we’ll go for it.” And I was like, “Well, no, because that undermines the entire metaphor of the movie.” It is a slightly strange meditation on maternal fears and the dark side of family. So if you take mom out of the equation and it’s just the babysitter that arrived, yeah, it’ll have all the same beats, but it won’t have the same meaning.
But that’s the only time I remember getting pushback. I do remember when we were shooting the tie-up scene in the elevator, and this made me laugh a lot. Rob Tapert was like, “Fuck, this is pretty brutal. This is pretty serious.” And I said, “From the producer that had a tree rape scene in their movie, you think this is serious and brutal??” I took that as a blessing.
It was actually the fact that we spent a few weeks shooting all of the character stuff with Ellie and I got to know her as a character and a person. That was the thing on set. I thought, “I can’t believe what I’m gonna do to these people and this family because I really like them. Now I’m gonna rip them apart.”
DC: I do love how femme this movie is, I mean it’s almost all women being badasses. I love Evil Dead, but it is so centered a lot of the time around male characters. So I wanted to hear at what point you thought Evil Dead Rise is going to be a very femme-focused movie and very much about women and female experiences, rather than needing to introduce a main male character.
LC: Yeah, it’s a really interesting one. I think again, it’s an influence thing. This is really abstract answer to what you’re asking, but for me, it comes from a very powerful relationship with my mother. And that my next sibling in line is my sister. There’s an eight-year age gap, and then it’s my sister. Even though my brother is my best friend in the world, I guess I probably spent more of my formative years with my mom and my sister than anybody else. Which I love because it gave me a particular viewpoint into, their perspective and their want to be mothers and carers.
And I’m consistently drawn back to that. I think it is the most beautiful but equally challenging role. Dads seem to get away with it more, you know what I mean? Dads can run away easier from it at all. But for those that bear children and bring life into the world, it’s a serious, serious job. So from that point of view, I’m consistently drawn to that and then drawn to the idea of what if you remove or disrupt the natural order of how a mother should be.
There was a time when there was a dad, but then I finally just started to focus in and was like, no, wait a minute. These two sisters are the perfect foil for the metaphor, which is, do you want to live on the road or do you wanna put down roots? What’s good and what’s bad? And how beautiful a family can be, and how it could also be suffocating in the wrong context.
DC: The whole cast is incredible, but Alyssa Sutherland’s performance, wow. What was that like working with her and getting this monster out of this person?
LC: It was super challenging, like so many aspects of the movie, like getting it right and getting it. Alyssa did an amazing [audition] tape and what she got that nobody else did who auditioned for the movie was the pleasure of the Deadites take in causing carnage. Everyone else played it so dead straight, you know, it’s like “Mommy’s with the maggots now I am evil.” Whereas she did the mommy’s with the maggots now with the joy of being in control in such a fucking dark way. So in a weird way, she had me at Hello. I was like, “She gets it. Let’s roll.”
Rhen we could just focus on the nuance. And my job was for her, and also for Lily as well, to let go and to submit to the needs of this movie to make it both authentic and unhinged at the same time. But, it was a lot of fun. My major motivation that I gave to Alyssa—talk about trying to create emotional blackmail—was if you get this right, you will find yourself on a top 10 list of all-time horror movie bad people. And I think she’s got a shot at that. It’s pretty wild what she does in the movie. So I’m very proud of her and what she did.
Evil Dead Rise is now in theaters.
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