The contentment that accompanies the reunion of family members who are determined to reconnect are often cut short by unpredictable harrowing situations in horror movies. That’s certainly the case for the two sisters who serve as the protagonists of the highly anticipated fifth entry in the Evil Dead franchise, ‘Evil Dead Rise.’
Their reunion is cut short by the rise of the series’ iconic flesh-possessing demons, the Deadites. The rise of the Deadites thrust the sisters into a primal battle for survival as they face the most nightmarish version of family imaginable.
‘Evil Dead Rise’ was written and directed by franchise newcomer, Lee Cronin. The Irish filmmaker is best known for scribing and helming the 2014 Méliès d’Argent award-winning short, ‘Ghost Train,’ and the acclaimed 2019 horror feature, ‘The Hole in the Ground.’
‘Evil Dead Rise’ was executive produced in part by two of the series’ most important filmmakers: Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. Raimi penned and directed the first three installments of the supernatural horror franchise – 1981’s ‘The Evil Dead,’ 1987’s ‘Evil Dead II’ and 1992’s ‘Army of Darkness.’ He also served as a producer on the series’ fourth entry, the 2013 reimagining, ‘Evil Dead.’
Campbell played the franchise’s iconic protagonist of Ash Williams in, and also served as a producer on, the series’ first three feature films, as well as the 1978 short, Within the Woods. He also appeared in an uncredited post-credits scene in, and served as a producer on, ‘Evil Dead Rise’s immediate predecessor.
‘Evil Dead Rise’ follows sisters Ellie and Beth (Alyssa Sutherland and Lily Sullivan), whose relationship is estranged at times due to Ellie’s childcare duties and Beth’s tour schedules. Beth, who’s the younger sister, is a guitar technician for bands, a job which her older sister doesn’t take seriously. Ellie, meanwhile, is a tattoo artist living in Los Angeles with her three children.
The sisters’ relationship has a loving foundation, but is faltering because of their lack of communication. On the road, Beth is consumed by her job, and tends to miss calls from her sister, who’s going through an unexpected divorce. Ellie is typically the more responsible sister, and her younger sibling is always seeking advice from her when they do have the chance to connect.
Ellie’s three children — Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and Kassie (Nell Fisher) — are also usually independent and driven in their own interests, due to their mother’s trusting parenting style. Danny’s a DJ who spins records in his room; his sister Bridget is dedicated to attending protests for causes she believes in; and Kassie, their younger sister, is introduced while decapitating a doll.
The entire family’s world instantly changes on the night Beth shows up on her sister’s doorstep, in need of advice and support once again. After Ellie sends her children to pick up pizza for the family’s dinner, an earthquake nits their neighborhood.
The children arrive back home in the parking garage of their building right with the pizza before the earthquake hits. In the rubble of the aftermath, Danny finds the iconic ‘Necronomicon’ and accompanying records buried in the walls. Against Bridget’s protests, he takes a few records and the flesh-bound book, which leads to chaos that none of them could have expected.
‘Evil Dead Rise’ had its World Premieres on Wednesday, March 15 in the Headliners Screening Section at the SXSW Film & TV Festival. The premiere was held at the Paramount Theatre in Austin Following the film’s Wold Premiere at the Texas-based festival, Warner Bros. Pictures is set to release ‘Evil Dead Rise’ in theaters on April 21.
Raimi, Campbell, Cronin, Sullivan and Sutherland generously took the time to talk about producing, writing, directing and starring in ‘Evil Dead Rise’ during a Q&A following its premiere. The panel was moderated by SXSW Film and TV programmer Peter Hall .
Q: Lee, what was your reaction when you found out that you were asked to pitch on this [film]? How did you even begin to prepare?
LS: My reaction was one of excitement overall. I try to approach work as excited as I can, and then slowly become depressed. [Audience laughs.] So at the start, I was pretty excited.
Then my first encounter on the franchise was with this gentleman, Sam Raimi, who say my first film, ‘The Hole in the Ground,’ in 2019. [Audience applauds.] We went out for sushi, and I hate raw fish. [Audience laughs.] So I was out with Sam and I couldn’t eat anything.
But then he had cooked food brought out, and I think it was eel; I only eat things that spell my name backwards! [Audience laughs.]
While we were eating, neither of us was talking bout ‘Evil Dead.’ It was weird; neither of us mentioned it at all. I thought, I want to talk about ‘Evil Dead’ because I’m here with Sam, but we were talking about every other project under the sun.
Eventually, I asked about ‘Evil Dead,’ and we started to talk about it. I was super excited about it.
As we later started getting into [production,] Sam and Bruce really supported my vision, which gave me a lot of confidence as a filmmaker.
Q: For the OG ‘Evil Dead’ crew, when you were looking for people to bring on board, how did you vet Lee? What were those initial meetings behind the scenes like, and what were you thinking about him after you met?
SR: It was intuition!
LS: When I met the guys, I said my story idea was set in a building and there are Deadites. Then my agent said, “You got ‘Evil Dead!'” I was like, “That’s how easy this was?” [Audience laughs.] They were super supportive from the start.
I know I answered their question!
Q: For the incredible leads, were you properly prepared for how much intense physical activity there was going to be in this movie?
BC: F*ck no! [Audience laughs.]
AS: I was – I read the script! [Audience laughs.]
I saw that there were 20 pages of the script – which ended up being a month of shooting – where I’d be covered in blood, the most sticky-icky, disgusting, six-month-old [substance]. It was (shot during) COVID and we ran out of blood in New Zealand because they couldn’t import it. So that batch that you saw (in an intense elevator scene) was six months old. They’d be like, “Lil, this’ll do, yeah?” So I had old, stanky brew, but it wasn’t like a fine wine.
SR: You recycle that sh*t – it’s expensive!
AS: Well, I come from the world of fashion, where they do even more f*cked up shit to you. (Audience laughs.) We have a union as actors! I get to clock out! (Audience laughs and claps.)
Q: Was there anything in the script that made you think, surely this is going to be rewritten? They can’t pull this off, so we’re not going to do this?
LC: There’s one (explicit) line in the movie (that Sutherland says to her character’s children after Danny takes the ‘Necronomicon’) that we talked about, and I said, “Just do it.” They trusted me, and I appreciate that.
One of the great things working with the guys is their wealth of experience making horror movies. If anything, they were always pushing for me; there was never a sense of scaling things back.
I think whenever you’re making a horror movie, you have to be in full gear. So there wasn’t anything that we really cut out here.
Q: In terms of the camerawork, the thing that blows my mind is the camera work; the cinematography is so layered. How did you set up the choreography for the camera, and is there one that you were forward to the most?
LC: The movie was heavily planned and storyboarded. Our storyboard artist, Stephen Boylan, is here from Ireland. (Audience applauds.)
Throughout the film, the set pieces were really fun. There also wasn’t just one fix for anything, which is the really crazy thing when you do these practical effects. We needed six different rigs to actually get all the different shots and angles.
All the camera setups had different setups. As you watch the movie and get to know the characters and things go crazy, that’s where our experience in making it was.
We shot the movie in chronological order, which helped us become a family and build these experiences. Things then got really hard core, and we were focused on the details all the time. We planned it really heavily. We had a long prep, because we couldn’t have made this movie without it.
BC: We also suddenly had nine weeks of lockdown (after the start of COVID) to figure out how we were going to do everything at the end. Ideally, everyone had to maintain six feet of distance, but everyone had to have their make-up done.
So it turned into a whole other exercise of figuring out how to shoot a movie when in theory, no one can touch each other. So it certainly complicated the shooting, but the lockdown gave us some time to figure some things out. But overall, it was unfortunate for all involved that we got shut down due to COVID.
Q: For the actors, did you have any rituals at the end of the day to decompress and reset, after spending 12 hours shooting?
AS: We had a lot of Friday beers. I couldn’t do that every day, because I had all of this sh*t that had to be taken off of my face. But they were having beers while I was in my trailer, getting the blood and make-up taken off. We also listened to music while I was getting my prosthetics done in the morning and taken off at night.
LS: We also had a ritual of laughing after every take, even if we didn’t find it funny, with nine-year-old Nell. It was almost like a palette cleanse when we started hysterically laughing. It definitely helped slice the nervous energy. Your body doesn’t know the difference between fight and flight, even when the situation isn’t real and just for a movie.
LC: It was quite nice for people to smile on set, even when the situations were tough. I wouldn’t say we goofed around, but we did try to keep things light and take the pressure off.
Q: What do you think a new generation is going to take away from ‘Evil Dead Rise,’ as they have never seen anything quite like this? They can go back and watch the original films in the series, but are you all now realizing the legacy that you’re a part of?
LC: That’s an amazing question, and I’m not sure I can answer it. I’m very honored to be able to add to what the guys created in the past. But to also forge a new pathway is also amazing.
As I’ve said many times, I’m a fan and I want the fans to be happy, I want them to feel the DNA of an Evil Dead movie, but I also want there to be people that feel like I did when I was nine years old. I think getting to add to that legacy and hopefully bring through a new generation will allow for this type of story to continue being made.
(L-R): Writer-director Lee Cronin, actresses Lily Sullivan and Alyssa Sutherland, producer Robert Tapert and executive producers Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell attend the World Premiere of ‘Evil Dead Rise’ at Austin’s Paramount Theatre during SXSW 2023.