Coming off the heels of a 10-year break, Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise has reignited the public’s interest in this franchise to a whole new level. The standalone sequel was loudly embraced with open arms by audiences during its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. In the weeks following its wide theatrical release in April, the love for Evil Dead Rise would prove to be extremely palpable with a final gross of $146.3 million at the global box office against a budget of between $15 million and $19 million. Now standing as the highest-grossing entry in the series, the success of Evil Dead Rise is only the latest example of how horror has continued to thrive in theaters, which is ironic considering that this film was originally meant to release as a streaming exclusive on HBO Max (now simply known as Max).
Set in a condemned downtown Los Angeles apartment complex, Evil Dead Rise is the first film in the series to not take place in a classic cabin in the woods setting. Irish writer-director Lee Cronin, most known for his supernatural Sundance Film Festival breakout The Hole in the Ground, was hand chosen by original creators Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tappert to take the franchise in a totally fresh direction with his distinct voice front and center. As Cronin himself has now said in the press many times before, the big three Evil Dead maestros gave him nothing but the tools and support needed to craft proper deadite mayhem and bloody terror. The final result is a new favorite for modern fans of the genre and makes the case for Evil Dead arguably being one of the most consistent horror franchises in top quality across the board.
Whereas Fede Álvarez‘s 2013 Evil Dead remake brought out a new beloved horror icon in Jane Levy’s Mia, Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise makes a name for both Lily Sullivan and Alyssa Sutherland. Sullivan plays Beth, a guitar tech who finally takes a break from living on the road to visit her somewhat estranged sister Ellie (Sutherland) and her kids at their LA apartment. When the three children – big sister Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), brother Danny (Morgan Davies), and little sister Kassie (Nell Fisher) – discover the ancient Book of the Dead and a collection of old vinyl church recordings under their building’s parking garage after a freakish earthquake, this family reunion is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons. Evil Dead fans know that this version of the Necronomicon hasn’t been seen in past films. In fact, it’s one that summons an entirely different breed of deadite.
To celebrate Evil Dead Rise now being available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD (as well as streaming on Max), we sat down with writer and director Lee Cronin to talk about the importance of physical media and which words of wisdom from original creator Sam Raimi he’s going to remember the most for the rest of his career. Evil Dead Rise is a twisted tale that pits a demonic mom against her own family in a primal battle, opening the franchise’s doors to a new set of possible thrills going forward. We currently don’t know what the next Evil Dead film can be or who will wield the chainsaw and shotgun next, but luckily, we got Lee Cronin’s thoughts on what direction the next chapter should take.
Exclusive Interview with Director Lee Cronin for Evil Dead Rise
First of all, given the great box office success of Evil Dead Rise, it’s easy to forget how the film was originally meant for an exclusive streaming release on HBO Max. It’s kind of a miracle to see it blessed with a physical release now, which is something that cannot be said for every movie nowadays. Just look at Barbarian, another recent financial horror hit that hasn’t been released on 4K or Blu-ray yet. Having said that, can you speak on how important this physical release is for you?
Lee Cronin: Personally, the work that I write, direct, and create is theatrically focused, and Evil Dead Rise was always in my mind meant for the big screen. So I was really, really pleased when it went to theaters. Also, from my point of view, I’m still a physical media guy. So knowing that people can buy, own, and hopefully love the movie and set it on the shelf and get excited in X amount of years as they scroll along and go, “Oh, I haven’t watched Evil Dead Rise in a long time” – I think that’s a really cool thing.
It also means that no matter what happens, the movie will always exist. It will never end up in a vault. There’s always the tricky thing with piracy, which for me is not a good thing because it doesn’t help the industry. But from the point of view of someone really owning something versus a ripped version from a streamer that vanishes off a stream or whatever it might be, I think that it’s great that it will still exist.
When I was younger, the majority of movies I actually watched, especially horror movies, were at home because I couldn’t get into the theaters to see the things I really wanted to see. That kind of ownership and that excitement is something I was speaking to somebody the other day about relating to the movie Audition. I remember when I was over on a little break in London, I was probably like 16 or 17, I saw a copy of Audition, this crazy expensive import. I hadn’t even seen it yet, I just heard how great the movie was. But, as a collector and as someone who wants to own something, I loved that aspect of even finding it in person. What’s really cool about physical media, you can feel it’s like what’s been happening with vinyl over the last decade.
A lot of people have been making that comparison too.
Lee Cronin: We’re starting to see it happen with physical media again. Even HMV, which is a really famous movie and record store chain in the UK and Ireland that pretty much shut down, is actually reopening stores again and that’s super exciting! So you’re hitting something I’m very passionate about here. As a fan of movies, for Evil Dead Rise to exist in a theater and then also be something that you can go into a store, buy, take home, and happily sit on your shelf, makes me very, very proud.
So this series has been around for decades, but there are only 5 Evil Dead films and a TV show. And yet, the franchise’s brand of dread and tension still resonates so strongly with audiences and the demand is clearly still high just by looking at the popularity of Evil Dead Rise. Why do you think Evil Dead has managed to stand the test of time?
Lee Cronin: I think it’s the entertainment factor; the fact that it’s scary and entertaining, that trumps everything else. It’s a combination that’s very powerful. Also, there are five successful movies now but each one of them is very much its own thing. You’ll often find with horror franchises, where people have their [ranking] lists, a lot of times there can be quite a lot of commonality. “This is my favorite,” and so forth. And I’ve seen lists now with Evil Dead Rise out there. Some people might say it’s their fifth favorite while others might say it’s their top favorite.
But the thing is, the dividing lines are very small because the Evil Dead movies are all actually different experiences, they’re a little harder to compare. So I think it’s each film’s crazy and unique personality that makes the franchise so exciting. That’s why it was really important for me in making Evil Dead Rise that it had my own voice and my own identity and vision behind it because had it been, you know, in any way a “fan film” or just a photocopy of what came before then that wouldn’t have worked at all.
I would be remiss not to ask about the cheese grater since it’s become such an iconic image from Evil Dead Rise. How does someone come up with that kind of specific visual? Or, how long have you had this fucked up idea of using a cheese grater like this in a horror film?
Lee Cronin: It wasn’t an old idea in the locker like, “I need to put a cheese grater somewhere!” It wasn’t unlike, for example, Staffanie, which was something I had in mind and wanted to put in this film when I started to write the script. That was Kassie’s little totem that ends up skewering Bridget to the head. So with the cheese grater, it was that scene between Beth and Bridget in the kitchen. That little domestic fight that takes place inside the kitchen was something that I was working on. It was a scene that I kept going back to because I felt like something was missing.
There were various different attacks and different actions in the fight, but when I was locked down in my apartment working on the script during the first wave of COVID, I walked into the kitchen and saw a cheese grater sitting there. I was like, “You know what? I don’t think I’ve really seen one of these used before… I’m going to change that and use it in this movie.” I’m not going to make that sandwich I was going to make right now. Instead, I’m going to go back in and put that cheese grater in the script. So whatever way my life and my career goes, there will probably be a cheese grater on my headstone (laughs).
You got to work with your heroes, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Rob Tapert, on this movie and you’ve already talked publicly about how supportive they were of your vision. But is there any specific note or piece of advice that you got from Sam, in particular, that you think you’re going to remember for the rest of your career?
Lee Cronin: Very early on, Sam gave me kind of one note wrapped together. It was such a simple note in a way because the guys wanted me to do something original and fresh. That was why they looked to me, that was part of why they hired me, that was part of why they gifted me the control to go and use my imagination with the great stuff that they created from the past. So, Sam just said to me, “Make sure you have the book, and make sure the deadites are scary,” which in a way I was always going to do. But hearing Sam say that to me reminded me of how important strong pillars are in the things that really work. You need to go and really own them, and I think that’s actually quite a valuable thing to take forward.
It’s such a simple but also quite a clever thing to say to somebody. Because in development and in writing, you could start to find yourself going down pathways where like, the book is getting in the way. But you’ve got to remind yourself of what some of those core things are. In anything that you work on, even if you have an original idea, you’ve sometimes got to go back and look at that first thing that truly worked after you’ve written a number of drafts. Sometimes you go back and look at that first thing that worked and go “Wow, this was better.” So knowing that the book needed to be worked into the story and making those deadites really scary – never losing sight of their importance – I think that was a really interesting note and also really useful.
Going from Army of Darkness to Ash vs Evil Dead to now Evil Dead Rise, we’re reminded that this franchise doesn’t always have to be limited to a cabin in the woods. Of course, it’s not publicly known what the next Evil Dead movie could be, but the door is now open to all kinds of new possibilities. I want to close off by asking, what untapped potential do you see with the franchise? Do you think Evil Dead can go to more unknown or unexpected places after taking place in the city?
Lee Cronin: I think it’s possible. There are a lot of possibilities. Then there are also the things that you might think are right. I think Evil Dead, ultimately, has to take place in an isolated place. And we had to work very hard to craft that isolation in the city. One of the things that are core to the Evil Dead movies is really about taking, you know, five people to one place and cutting them up and going crazy.
I remember early on when I was working on the script, because this is a little thing really early on in the story, there’s a Labor Day parade the next day. And I did actually have a scene in the very first outline that I wrote where we see Beth and Kassie leave the building and actually walk out into the middle of the Labor Day parade, and we realize that something evil has actually followed them and then there are some changes going into that bigger world. But the deadites aren’t zombies! It’s much more personal than that. So wherever you take Evil Dead, I think it’s got to be, in a way, a contained story about a group of people.
Now, I would love for someone to prove me wrong. Some filmmaker might come along in the future and make an Evil Dead story in a very different way. And that’s cool too because, again, the movies have all been a little bit different along the way. But for me, that’s a very important thing. It’s like, yeah, sure, can you do it? Could you do it on a space station? I don’t know if it’s that’s the right tone for an Evil Dead story, but you could because it’s contained and you’ve got five people there. But with the building in this film, I felt like it was able to capture a similar atmosphere to the cabin. Even just having the rain outside, the way the cables behave in the elevator, the darkness, all of those things, I think are important ingredients.