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Evil Dead Rise director Lee Cronin is, admittedly, very bad at drawing

We spoke to the director of the new horror movie, Evil Dead Rise, about cabins in the woods, peepholes, and his pretty impressive body art.

Lee Cronin has a tattoo of a cheese grater. When you see his new movie, Evil Dead Rise, you’ll understand why.

The Digital Fix was lucky enough, when we sat down with Cronin, to get a first-hand look at another tattoo he boasts: an endearingly crudely drawn stick figure depicting one of the film’s more graphic moments.

“It’s like looking at a screenshot,” TDF jokes. But the tattoo actually served a purpose in the creation of the horror movie  one that goes beyond acting as a neat piece of memorabilia or a funny visual gag.

“I’m really bad at drawing. I don’t have enough attention to actually sit down and draw well,” Cronin explains. “The crew, when we were working out all the different stunts, like our first ever impalement-through-the-head meeting, they just weren’t getting what I wanted. Everyone thought I wanted a stick to go through here and out the back of the head, but simply I was like, ‘No!’. So I always draw stick drawings for people to explain what I want, And then they went, ‘Oh! We get it.’”

It’s an intriguing story, but also a good indicator of just how hands-on this project became. After all, following in the steps of a beloved horror slash comedy movie franchise isn’t the simplest of quests. But Cronin has produced a wildly entertaining flick that effectively throws back to the film’s predecessors while creating something entirely fresh.

The new movie launches audiences into the frightening tale straightaway. Literally. From the whiplash-inducing first shot, it’s clear we know what we’re in for. And though the film might start out in the classic cabin-in-the-woods based setting, we’re quickly transported into the dilapidated shell of an old bank building, where the film’s main characters reside.

Evil Dead Rise interview: Evil Dead Rise

The switch-up of locale wasn’t merely a way to stand out from the rest of the Evil Dead collective as one might assume.

“I just knew I wanted to take it to another place. I like to tell stories about family and home families in peril, families in danger,” says Cronin. “So I knew I naturally had to go to a different place. I didn’t want that family to be going on a family holiday to a cabin in the woods.”

“What I wanted to do to differentiate this from previous movies was to bring the horror home. Because the earlier Evil Dead movies, it’s about people going to a strange place. But this is about a family living out their normal Friday night, and then everything changes. And there’s a truth to life, because sometimes explosive moments happen that change everything about your existence, and I wanted to make that differentiation.”

Even still, he definitely couldn’t resist that little bit of Evil Dead history.

“Equally, with the prologue in the film, there’s a part of me going, ‘I’m really glad I’m doing this and mixing it up’, but at the same time I’m missing out on the cabin in the woods. So I found a way to kind of have my cake and eat it,” he adds.

Evil Dead Rise interview: Gabrielle Echols as Bridget in Evil Dead Rise

So, Evil Dead Rise is all about family. But when horror movies have been inflicting psychological and physical torture on family units for decades, Evil Dead Rise takes the typical family unit and gives them a shake-up, most notably with a more punk-orientated aesthetic. The family operates under a rock’n’roll attitude, with the daughter planning on attending a march, the mother working on a tattoo gun, and the son rattling the walls with his DJ mixer. But how much of this punk aesthetic comes from Cronin himself?

“They’re an eclectic bunch, right?” he agrees. “The truth is this: when I write, I think about my own family and people that I know. So the three kids are loosely based on my sister’s three kids, and they are all quite interesting as an eclectic, single-minded kind of people that have their own focus. I mixed up some of their personalities and it’s different genders and ages and stuff like that with the spirit of that little trio.”

“And so to me, it was kind of normal and natural, you know. And it gives you also a great way to have a kind of early insight into them. They feel like very different people, and you get to know them quickly, which I needed to happen. You need to get to know the characters quickly in this movie, so that I can start the blood train.”

Evil Dead Rise interview: Alyssa Sutherland as Ellie

But there’s one member of this family that stands out. Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is the (wildly contorted) spine of Evil Dead Rise. With the foundation of the night of terror built from her post-possession performance, it’s a heavy task. Luckily, Sutherland’s performance brings some of the film’s most shocking and unnerving moments. The gravity and responsibility of the role were not lost on Cronin, who recalled his first time seeing Sutherland in action.

“I was pleased,” he admits. “I was relieved as well. I knew she could bring it. But you know, I was asking her to take a big leap, you know, and to really let go. But what was great was I remember with Alyssa’s casting tape, I saw that she understood that the possessed in an Evil Dead movie take great joy and pleasure from destroying innocence. She got that. A lot of other tapes that I was looking at with other actors were like, trying to be scary without being fun, but she understood the fun nature.”

“And one of my favourite moments in the movie, the middle of the film, there’s a couple of back-to-back crazy, violent scenes. But it’s a bit in-between, where it just cuts back to her outside the door, just screaming and banging the door in pure unbridled joy. And that, to me, sums up what Alyssa was able to actually do, which was to let go. And I said to her, ‘If you get this right, you may find yourself on a list of the top-ten all-time horror movie villains. I don’t get to decide that, but I think she’s done enough to justify her place.”

Evil Dead Rise interview: Nell Fisher as Kassie

The scene to which Cronin is referring, which takes place while Ellie stands outside the apartment, viewed only through the claustrophobic angle of the peephole, takes up a large portion of the film’s mid-point. It’s a terrific sequence, craftily building tension and trapping the audience as much as the characters. It turns out, Cronin was actually inspired by one of his previous movies when it came to crafting this sequence.

“There’s a couple of different things that brought that to mind,” he says. “The first one was, in my first feature film The Hole in the Ground, I had to have a fight scene where a nine-year-old boy beats up his mother, and in a kind of supernatural way. And I was like, that will never conceivably work. You can’t really show that. It looks silly. So I ended up having this singular viewpoint through some doors into a kitchen, where you only see her getting pulled out a shot and thrown across frame and you hear everything else that takes place. And I was like, ‘I kind of want to do that again, on a budget’.”

One element that sets Evil Dead Rise apart from its recent horror movie counterparts is the unwillingness to adhere to the tempting meta-turns and self-referential tendencies that is now so often the go-to gag in the genre. When it comes to this tactic, Cronin isn’t interested in over-explaining the often questionable decisions of his characters.

Evil Dead Rise interview: Lily Sullivan as Beth in Evil Dead Rise

“I did want to trust the audience just look, go with it. Because what I’m going to give you is an experience. So let’s not worry so much about all of the mechanics of that. It’s funny, because I think people find the film has a really strong pace, and it moves and it moves. But again, one of the reasons was that if I stopped too often to let the characters discuss what they were going through, then it would all fall apart.”

“You know what I mean? Because it’s madcap. It’s madness. It’s insanity. Like, they’re just trapped in a nightmare. And I wanted to have a little bit of that nightmarish quality where it just flicks to the next moment. And to have that kind of dream-like quality where you’re getting this shuttle vision of all these different things.”

In accordance with the Evil Dead’s assumed manifesto of highlighting gore and chaos, Evil Dead Rise is overflowing with eye-watering horror imagery. But it’s that particular scene, involving a certain kitchen appliance, that is sure to be one of the most talked-about in horror this year.

“It’s going to be on my gravestone,” Cronin jokes of the soon-to-be infamous moment. So, how does he come up with such flinch-prompting visuals? “I go after the story, how the characters are interacting first. And I wrote the script during the first Covid lockdown, so I was trapped in my apartment with all of the trappings.”

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“I knew in this movie I needed various weapons and had a lot of fun planting them around the home as such. But, again, I tried to come at it fresh I didn’t pull out the list of ‘must use these things’. I just wanted them to be recognisable domestic items, and I tried to fit them in and weave them around the pressure that the characters are under.”

Cue: the tattoo. In addition to this, Cronin is indulgent enough to show us a behind the scenes video from the set, in which one of the young actors is having an intrusive prosthetic removed which, apparently, left her unable to move her jaw for hours afterwards. It’s a testament to not only the physical commitment made by the film’s cast, but also the dedication to the gripping practical effects that have not only made Evil Dead Rise fly, but the legacy of the franchise, too.

In this sense, it’s the ultimate horror homage.

It’s not long before the Evil Dead Rise release date, so why not check out our Evil Dead Rise review? Plus, check out our guide on the Evil Dead movies in order, and whether Evil Dead is based on a true story. Don’t forget to take a look at our list of the best movies of all time, too.