When presented with the chance to rejuvenate the Evil Dead series, Sam Raimi’s cabin-set horror classic starring Bruce Campbell, director Lee Cronin dropped both Campbell and the cabin. It’s a confident move for a franchise that has, more or less, stuck to a formula throughout its previous four films.
But Cronin was “not enormously worried” about ploughing his own gory furrow with Evil Dead Rise. After all, the Dublin-born director was handpicked by Raimi to lead the franchise into a new era after the horror titan saw his promising debut, The Hole in the Ground, a moody chiller about a mother and son in rural Ireland.
And Cronin is evidently a student of Raimi’s original film. Evil Dead Rise retains The Evil Dead’s limber, bloody spirit, only now the cabin has been replaced by an LA apartment; the surrounding woods by hallways; the getaway car by a lift. It’s a nasty, compact little horror that rinses all the grim potential out of its new setting and protagonists: a family reeling from the recent departure of their father. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for shit to hit the fan when one of the kids cracks open the newly-resurfaced Necronomicon.
With so many other horror franchises – Scream, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre – relying heavily on their legacies, Cronin’s bold decision to start from scratch pays off in spades. Having garnered a euphoric reception for the film at its SXSW premiere in March and with a slew of projects in the pipeline, Cronin has easily cemented his place as a horror filmmaker to watch. Frankly, Evil Dead Rise absolutely slaps.
Hey Lee, congratulations on the film. To start off, how would you define your relationship to the original Evil Dead films both as a horror fan and as a director?
In my house I was the youngest. When I was growing up, my siblings were teenagers. So when I was really young, I was watching horror movies that I should not have seen. But, interestingly, it was my dad that showed me The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 back to back on VHS when I was about eight or nine. From a fan point of view, I remember thinking, I’ve never seen anything quite like this. And from a filmmaker’s point of view, the thing that would always draw me back was the screen craft, the energy and the independent spirit that’s riding through it.
Once you’d been given the job for Evil Dead Rise, how did you intend to capture that “independent spirit” while doing your own thing, and still keeping that through-line that’s been integral to the franchise?
Obviously, this is a bigger studio movie with a larger budget and more resources than Sam would have had back in the day. Nonetheless, I think the ambition in the screenplay actually was larger than the budget would ever allow. To me, the independent spirit is figuring out how to do things when they’re not possible. There’s a number of sequences and scenes in this film that easily could have fallen by the wayside if I didn’t dive in and discover ways to do it. That [spoiler for the finale] sequence, when fully budgeted to be done as written, was not possible to achieve, but I achieved exactly what I wrote by finding other film craft ways to figure it out. That independent spirit, to me, is using your knowledge as a filmmaker to say, “There’s a way I can forge a pathway to keep the vision alive without blowing up the budget completely.” It was all in clever camera techniques and not visual effects. This movie is super practical.
It’s an overdone topic, but with Hollywood’s over-reliance on green screens and the fact there’s no real sets in blockbuster films anymore, when you see a horror movie like Evil Dead Rise that’s so visceral and real, it’s just so effective. It shouldn’t be surprising but it is.
I wanted to bring that practicality to everything. I never stopped, even when we were doing sound design. This came naturally from my sound designer Peter [Albrechtsen], who I hired because we have the same attitude towards filmmaking and soundscape. We didn’t just dive into a computer and dig out sound effects. We recorded so many unique and original things. Like not just recording the pages of a book turning – Peter went and found books that were well over 100 years old in case that paper had a slightly different personality to it.
Did you get any direction from Sam on making an Evil Dead film?
It was fairly open, to be honest. I met with Sam and his team for lunch and we talked about lots of different things because he’s a producer so he had other projects. It was only towards the end of the meeting where I raised Evil Dead and said, did they want to do more? He said, “Well, absolutely, why? Are you interested?” Only then did I reveal that I was a big fan of the movies and he was surprised because my previous movie, The Hole in the Ground, didn’t necessarily signpost to being a filmmaker that wants to make an Evil Dead film.
I’m interested in how you found this specific story. I know you wanted it to be an urban setting but why this tower block? Why this family?
I came at it with an empty pot of thoughts, there was nothing in there. Straight after that meeting with Sam, I jumped on a flight back to Ireland. I’d just met everybody in LA, three weeks after the debut of The Hole in the Ground, so I was quite rinsed out. On the flight, I remember being annoyed that I’d met with Sam but didn’t have a specific thought about what I’d do with an Evil Dead movie. I harboured ambitions to make one, but on that flight I thought about what story I wanted to tell. I’m always drawn back to the horror of the domestic and families in peril. It’s fertile ground for telling a horror story. Then I thought: wouldn’t it be cool if the evil wasn’t in the cabin anymore?
I find it really hard to write if I don’t have some sort of metaphor on the table. I liked the idea of [protagonist] Beth as a character because she’s at a crossroads about whether she should stay on the road or settle down. There’s a little bit of me in that because I’m like a travelling salesman in my job. I don’t have kids and it’s just a little bit of my own fears at play. She comes home to seek advice and comfort from, in her mind, the perfect family, and when she gets there, they’re a little bit damaged. Then it all gets worse and she has to face the worst version of family imaginable.