[Interview] Lee Cronin for EVIL DEAD RISE

[Interview] Lee Cronin for EVIL DEAD RISE

In EVIL DEAD RISE, the action moves out of the woods and into the city, and tells a twisted tale of two estranged sisters, played by Lily Sullivan and Alyssa Sutherland, whose reunion is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons, thrusting them into a primal battle for survival as they face the most nightmarish version of family imaginable.

For the physical release of EVIL DEAD RISE, Shannon spoke with writer/director Lee Cronin. During their interview, they discussed everything from the practical aspects of crafting the bloody elevator scene, re-imagining the infamous tree branch scene, and Cronin’s personal connection to Staffenie.


To start things off, there has been significant discussion surrounding the decline of physical media and how studios are increasingly opting not to release films in physical formats. That being said, how exciting has it been to see EVIL DEAD RISE get a physical release?

Lee Cronin: A big part of my education as a filmmaker was being able to own something and watch it over and over and over again. In fact, it’s one of my weaknesses in being a physical media owner. Sometimes I don’t watch new things and I go back and watch the things that I love most. But yeah, I’m really happy. I think it’s great that we have an old-school journey for this film where we’ve scared the pants off people in dark rooms all around the world. I watch things in many, many different ways. I’ll watch the funny cat videos online. I’ll watch things on streaming platforms. For me, there’s something about taking something out of a sleeve and putting it into a machine that absolutely makes me put my phone down. It doesn’t feel maybe as disposable and it exists forever. The deep-rooted nerd in me will enjoy putting a copy of my own movie alongside the rest of the Evil Dead ones on the shelf.

I want to talk a bit about casting, specifically with Alyssa Sutherland. I was blown away to learn she did a lot of her own stunts. How did you collaborate with her to develop and refine her character’s physicality and mannerisms? 

Lee Cronin: It’s all in the prep. It really starts out as someone understanding who the character is. The first thing that Alyssa really understood, specifically we’re talking about the deadite aspect here, she got it really early on from her casting tape that the character was a maniac. Then it was about that balancing act of what this thing would do to her body and how it would behave. Between her and my stunt coordinator and the movement experts that we brought in, we just started to work on what she felt comfortable with in terms of the presentation of something broken and damaged and what would be happening to her body internally, whilst also maintaining this kind of physical power. A lot of times it’s a discussion and it’s giving opinions and then she goes off and does the hard yards with those experts and I’m off solving other problems. Then I come back at the end of the day or I get sent videos and we kind of discuss what it is. She’s a tall, elegant woman. She’s powerful and she’s dominant, and she was able to capture all of that stuff and subvert it. She’s a looming presence in the film.

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Drawing parallels between the elevator scene in your film and the iconic sequence from The Shining is inevitable. I imagine it must have been a demanding task to do on a practical level. Can you give us some insight into the challenges you faced in bringing that scene to life? 

Lee Cronin: From a story point of view, [that scene] came from getting to play with nightmare logic. I’m a huge fan of The Shining, but the starting point wasn’t oh, I want to do this because of The Shining. The starting point was I need to get the characters from the top floor to the bottom floor. I want them to crash. I want them to feel claustrophobic. I need something to break the fall. And I’m like, oh, what if I fill [the elevator] with blood? That was where the idea came from, which seems easy on the page.

The really hard part is how do you shoot inside a box that’s filling with liquid, but the liquid can’t escape but you need to be able to access it to put a camera in. We had to actually build a number of different kinds of elevators. An easy way of describing it is once it gets past the midpoint in the journey where it’s really filling with blood, we had a special…. we could take the elevator apart and just have the lid of the elevator going into a tank, for example. By doing that, the blood level actually never moved. The elevator goes down into the blood so that meant blood couldn’t spill away. We could shoot from the outside of the elevator with the right lenses while we were lowering this object up and down into something but it gives the impression that the blood is rising.

There were a lot of movie tricks that we had to use. It was not easy. You never have enough time on set. That scene particularly always felt like one that just needed more and more time. It’s challenging as well. That blood is the same blood they’re getting hosed within the rest of the movie. It’s sticky. It’s crazy. It’s all over them. We also had to warm it up because it would’ve been freezing for the cast. They never wanted to get out of it cause getting out they’d get cold. So, they just stayed in this giant pool of blood the entire time [Laughs].

In the original Evil Dead as well as the 2013 reimagining, one of the most infamous scenes involves the female protagonist experiencing sexual assault by tree branches. However, in your adaptation, you took a different approach. Could you elaborate on your decision and the changes you made in that regard? 

Lee Cronin: Times have changed. There’s no doubt about it. The starting point with everything is from a story point of view and [that’s] been done, it’s been done on more than one occasion. It was really important to me not just in that scene but throughout the movie that I wasn’t just trying to ape what happened before, but I still wanted to tip the cap.

I remember when I was working on [the script] and thinking about the vines and the forest, [and how it] could be the cabling inside this building. Had I had an endless budget, more cables, and objects, and things would come to life within that world. But from that point of view, to me, there was a lot more story to tell as well. I didn’t necessarily want to labor on that moment. She still goes through a lot of physical pain but I didn’t need to put a hat on a hat at that point in time.

By getting away from that moment rather than understanding everything, at that point time, you’re left wondering where is she? It actually creates a little bit of mystery and I’m a filmmaker that enjoys the power of mystery as well. Cause then we go away and Kassie and Beth are like, where’s mom? And we’re all going, something really bad just happened out there. We’re not a hundred percent sure what it is. Then we cut to her point of view moving down the corridor and we know that something is coming. For me, by actually showing restraint, it allowed me to create tension and mystery, which are tools that are as equally powerful as being super visceral.

Amongst all the killings depicted in EVIL DEAD RISE, which specific death stands out as your personal favorite?

Lee Cronin: This is good cause I hadn’t thought about it and I got asked this question earlier today, but not in this context. It’s the Staffanie kill. When Kassie put Staffanie through Bridget’s head…that section of the movie is possibly my favorite part. That middle part where Ellie’s wiped out the neighbors. They don’t know what they’re gonna do and they’re certainly trapped. Beth is starting to investigate and trying to find a pathway to understanding what’s going on.

The evil thing is initially outside but when the evil thing is inside, we get that great kitchen scene which is a high point for me. It’s very psychological, but it’s also creepy. Then it’s super visceral and the cheese grater and those kinds of moments. And then it just goes again right away, it just goes at you. And we’ve established Staffanie earlier on in the film. It’s subtle. She gets broken. We’re not necessarily thinking about it. I love a plant and a payoff. There’s a lot of weapons planted and paid off in this movie. But this one particularly, I always just kind of loved the fact that even in a couple of scenes where it’s super emotional she says, Staffanie will protect us, right? And everybody finds that as kind of a sweet and funny moment, but nobody realizes what’s going to happen in five minutes’ time off the back of that line. It’s sudden. It’s kind of spectacular. It’s gross. It’s playful. It’s terrifying.

Then also on a personal level, Staffanie as an icon or a totem in the movie is something that my little niece… I went to visit her one day at my sister’s place and she loves horror movies. I walked in and she said, I’ve got to show you something I’ve made. And she’s like, this is Staffanie. I’ve got photographs of her in an Evil Dead T-shirt with the OG Staffanie and I said, I’m going to put that in a movie someday. She didn’t give it to me as a weapon. It was more like, this is my friend. The conversation that Beth has with Kassie about Staffanie, I had that with my niece, Georgia, in the real world. It’s the one outside of a cheese grater or scissors or whatever other things might happen, that was the one that was kind of personal and unique to me, so that makes it my favorite kill.

EVIL DEAD RISE arrives on 4K UHD Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and DVD June 27. For more on the film, check out our review.

Shannon McGrew
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