‘Evil Dead Rise’ Director on Why He Couldn’t Tell a Story with Ash in the Cabin

Mar 31, 2023

I had the pleasure of catching Lee Cronin’s directorial debut, The Hole in the Ground, when it first premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It was immediately apparent that Cronin was a must-watch genre director on the rise, but had you asked me if he’d be a good fit for the Evil Dead franchise, admittedly, I don’t know if my response would have been a resounding yes at the time. The Hole in the Ground is an expertly crafted chiller, but it exists in an entirely different realm of horror than any of the Evil Dead films. Thankfully Sam Raimi had confidence in Cronin right out the gate because, it turns out, Cronin’s genre range is boundless, and his work in Evil Dead Rise is downright exceptional.

The events of the new Evil Dead film don’t unfold in a cabin in the woods, but rather, in an apartment building. When Lily Sullivan’s Beth finally finds the time to visit her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her three children, their much-needed reunion turns into an utter nightmare when a Necronomicon surfaces and unleashes maximum blood, gore, and murderous mayhem on the high-rise.

With Evil Dead Rise’s April 21st theatrical release coming up fast, I got the chance to chat with Cronin while in Austin for the film’s world premiere screening at SXSW 2023. We split the 30-minute conversation into two halves — the non-spoiler portion you’re getting right now, and also a spoiler conversation that we’ll release as soon as the movie is in theaters.

Image via Warner Bros.

We kicked off the non-spoiler half of the interview by revisiting Cronin’s road to Evil Dead Rise, which actually began immediately after The Hole in the Ground’s world premiere back in January 2019.

“I think it was a great journey, The Hole in the Ground premiering at Sundance in 2019, and whilst I was there, Sam Raimi had seen The Hole in the Ground at a press screening in LA at the same time. So before I’d left Park City, there had been reaching out to actually meet up and talk, and then that meeting started this journey that has us kind of sitting in the room today. I think with The Hole in the Ground, it surprised a lot of people. It came out of Ireland, but it had this particular feel and tone that maybe people hadn’t seen. And yeah, there was lots of wonderful conversations that were had with different people, but when Evil Dead Rise poked its gnarly head up over the parapet, that was one that I was gonna find very hard to not get involved with.”

Directing an Evil Dead film must be a dream gig for any horror director, but the opportunity also comes with significant pressure courtesy of the series’ diehard fan base, the fact that it would only mark Cronin’s second feature film, and it’d be a second feature that was drastically different from his first. But still, Cronin knew it was the right fit. He explained:

“I remember looking back, my final short film I made, I think it came out like 10 years ago, at the same time as Evil Dead 2013, and I remember just being a little bit jealous at the time. And I actually think, funny story, that short ended up, the person doesn’t work for Ghost House anymore, but they saw the short and they were like, ‘Nah,’ and they moved along. And I was like, ‘Damn, I really want to make an Evil Dead movie someday,’ and then I got that opportunity. But I didn’t actually ever find it overwhelming. I was kind of excited, but I also knew what I wanted and what the guys wanted was to do something that was a little bit of departure, a little bit of a new direction. That actually brought a certain freedom. It was kind of liberating. Had I been telling a story in the cabin in the woods with Ash, I would have been absolutely terrified. But when I had the creative freedom to tell a story that I was interested in, I was at peace. It’s my favorite script I’ve ever written, my favorite screenplay. It was so much fun to write. Every day was a joy whereas usually I’m just haggard and annoyed when I’m writing.”

Image via Warner Bros.

Digging into the writing process further, I asked for Cronin’s “break story moment,” the thing he came up with that confirmed he had crafted a standout Evil Dead tale. Here’s what he said:

“I think it was a multitude of things. I think when I found the heart of the characters and the family, and within that the metaphor that drives the story, I think that is always the moment for me because that inspires the choices that you then go on and make. And even when the monstrous things happen and the behavior and some of the dialogue with those deadites, it comes out of that kind of deeper idea, that deeper fear of motherhood, how family can fall apart, looking at some of those thematic things. And also, when I felt comfortable with that, I felt like then I could just go and have a party with the horror at that point. So that was the turning point in the writing. Once I knew the characters, then it was like, let’s get the tools out and have some fun.”

Yes, Evil Dead films do have a consistent mythology, but one of the most exciting things about that mythology is that is calls for filmmakers to swing for the fences. Cronin was well aware of that and made a point to embrace it.

“The thing that I wanted to hold up was the relentless entertaining terror, basically, that combination. So when I was working on the screenplay, I had a Post-it note that was just like, ‘Make it entertaining.’ And what I knew entertaining meant, I meant like a thrill ride, a blood train, call it what you want. That was really important because I looked to Evil Dead II as so entertaining. In fact, Evil Dead II just starts, you know what I mean? There’s not a lot of build. But I always liked that relentlessness. So that relentless horror entertainment was really important. I knew I wanted the book, I knew I wanted the shotgun, I knew I had to have the chainsaw. Those things needed to be there.”

Image via Warner Bros.

Cronin made a point to embrace very familiar Evil Dead items like the book, shotgun, and chainsaw, but he also had a new element to maximize via deadite chaos — the apartment building itself.

“One of the fun things about taking on the Evil Dead is that you don’t necessarily need to have perfect rules because there’s a certain kind of nightmare logic at play in that world. So maybe in another horror movie, you’d have to explain how an elevator can fill with blood. In an Evil Dead movie, you don’t need to explain that because the force itself that’s released is so insidious in nature it’s infecting — I remember thinking at one point how much I could infect the building, the actual fabric of the building itself, and had a lot of thoughts about kind of crazy stuff I could do, but it got in the way of telling the story at that point. But I kept little bits of it with the way the elevator particularly behaves as a kind of character in its own right in the story.”

The elevator moment and every other blood-drenched scene of Evil Dead Rise are exceptionally well photographed and will undoubtedly look fantastic on any screen, but when you hear “elevator filled with blood,” you want to see that on the biggest screen possible, right? That’s exactly what Cronin had in mind while writing the screenplay, but then the COVID-19 pandemic upended distribution models for a period of time, inspiring Warner Bros. to give the film an HBO Max release instead. How’d that news hit Cronin? Here’s what he said:

“I was a little bit disappointed at that point in time because I was writing the screenplay as a theatrical experience. But I also understood where we were in the world at the time, and I respect why those decisions have to be made with certain projects in relation to home viewing and making sure that the people — and for me at that point, I was like, as long as people can get eyeballs on this story, I’ll be happy. But I never lost sight that I thought it could be a theatrical endeavor. And I believed with COVID and all of that stuff that people would go back to the cinema, and if people went back to the cinema, they’re gonna want to watch something fun, maybe less existential and just more entertaining. So I always had hope in my heart that those things would line up, and thankfully they did with the right support from New Line and the people at Warners. They gave me the opportunity to test the movie and to see how an audience would respond, and then they realized this is an audience participation, dark room, big screen spectacle.”

Evil Dead Rise is yet another phenomenal new installment of one of horror’s most consistent franchises and it’ll be a fantastic watch anytime, anywhere, on any sized screen, but it’s also an ideal communal experience, one that had the Paramount Theatre crowd in Austin buzzing big time from start to finish. I highly recommend getting a taste of that yourself by catching Evil Dead Rise in theaters when it gets its nationwide release on April 21st.

In the meantime, if you’d like to hear more from Cronin on the making of the movie, be sure to watch the full non-spoiler portion of our interview in the video at the top of this article. And stay tuned, we’ll have the spoiler half of the conversation for you in a few weeks.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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