Being a character in an Evil Dead movie has never looked like a walk in the park (or, the phantasmically-fogged woods). Either you’re getting possessed by spirits and returning as a bile-spewing Deadite, or you’re being taunted by your murdered loved ones and driven insane across the course of a seemingly-endless night. And yet, even by the standards of Sam Raimi’s legendary original trilogy and Fede Álvarez’s deep-red 2013 remake, Evil Dead Rise looks set to conjure a particularly painful encounter with the Necronomicon. Writer-director Lee Cronin presents a fresh take on the terrifying tome, taking the series out of the woods and relocating it to an LA apartment where evil forces wreak havoc on a family already facing metaphorical demons.
As its properly gnarly, chainsaw-revving, cheese-grater-wielding, glass-swallowing trailer makes clear, Cronin’s film is not holding back – and neither does the director as he breaks down the trailer’s delights in a brand new Empire interview. “The trailer is really indicative of what the experience of the movie is like,” he promises. “I can say that with quite a bit of confidence. As a movie, it shakes you up – it does what the trailer does for an hour, and doesn’t really let you go.” Let the carnage commence!
For all the trailer’s gory imagery, one of its most oddly upsetting shots is a chaotic pan of cracked eggs – yolk, shells, and blood bubbling away. “It’s a subversion of domestic normality,” says Cronin. “When you make a horror film in a context that everybody can identify with, through either character or circumstance, you get under people’s skin more quickly.” Right from the beginning, it teases a tale of a family unit under strain. “It’s that idea of, ‘Hey, it's breakfast time!’ Except, it's not – it's nighttime, and mom's not in a good place, and she's not making the sort of omelette that you would typically expect,” explains the director. “The world has become perverted in some way.” And it’s about to get a whole lot worse.
Previous Evil Dead films, with their teens-in-the-woods set-up, have delivered varying versions of friendship groups and romantic relationships – but in Rise, we get a knotty familial tangle. “It is about two sisters,” says Cronin, of Lily Sullivan’s Beth and Alyssa Sutherland’s Ellie. “What the trailer has now revealed is that one of those sisters, Ellie, is possessed, and the other one is going to have to fight against that.” Further complicating things, Ellie has three children who are forced to contend with their mother’s demonic demise. “They're all quite sparkling personalities,” Cronin teases of the kids. “There's been recent changes in familial circumstances, so it's actually about them both individually struggling with those changes and dad not being around, but also collectively as well.”
In the trailer, the entire family is framed in a glorious split diopter shot that establishes the division between Deadite-Ellie and the rest of the group (Cronin promises “a lot of split diopter” and “camera trickery galore throughout”) – and that focus on character is intended to amp up the stakes when the Kandarian khaos erupts. “I wanted to make sure that all the characters breathe really real,” says Cronin. “That makes the horror all the more powerful when you start to put them through the meat-grinder of an Evil Dead story.”
Back to the woods
While the Evil Dead Rise trailer largely inhabits Ellie’s apartment, one arresting shot reveals a triangular rural residence more in keeping with the series’ typical milieu. “I don’t want to say too much about that,” says the director. “What I can say about the aspect back out in the woods is, it’s all part of the exploration of a bigger universe. And how the evil force can never really be destroyed and can continue to travel and pass.” For Cronin, the move to the city was less a way to intentionally refresh the franchise, more a necessity for the story he wanted to tell. “To me it felt very natural to make that move. It wasn't forced in some way of like, 'We need Evil Dead in the city!' It was, 'I want a family, and I want it to be urban'.” Expect that classic _Evil Dead_feeling to remain, though. “I still treated it very much the same way,” he explains. “I view the apartment as the cabin, and the hallways and the other aspects of the building as the forest.”
The first sign that this’ll be an especially brutal Evil Dead outing? A lakeside scalping, complete with super-squelchy sound-effects. “The scalp-rip is definitely one of my favourites,” laughs Cronin. It is, Empire tells him, impressively horrible. “It is!” he agrees. “It burns into the eyes a little bit. It’s a taster. There’s a lot more to come – the moments people are responding to, you’re really only getting 10% of the experience.” We don’t know if we’re ready for the other 90%.
Collector’s edition hardback
Every Evil Dead film has its own Necronomicon – and Rise is no different. This one boasts veins, teeth, and a fresh batch of fucked-up illustrations. “It's sitting on my shelf right here!” says Cronin, clearly delighted. “It's wrapped up in cellophane waiting for a glass box to keep it in.” As soon as pre-production kicked off, work began on building the book that begets the bloodshed. “We probably worked on it for three months,” the director reveals. “It's all completely hand-made, hand-drawn. It's got a different visual style to what you've seen before internally. I even brought in little hints of Celtic influences and different things to give it a hell of a lot of personality. It's the bastard cousin of the other books, and they're the bastard cousin of this.”
While Raimi’s films never had a neat sense of continuity, the new Necronomicon does raise the question of where exactly Evil Dead Rise is set – is it in the same world as the original film, or the 2013 remake, or a different timeline altogether? “There are connections to the past, lines are drawn,” teases a tight-lipped Cronin. “In one of the early meetings I had with Sam Raimi, I said, ‘You know the way in Army Of Darkness, there's three [Necronomicons]? You had one, Fede had one, I'm going to take the other one.’ It gave me that platform to nudge things forward, and also to showcase that we live in a world where there is more than one copy of the Necronomicon. Those books may all have slightly different personalities – it's not exactly the same book, necessarily, that Ash had in the cabin. But it's very, very firmly related. It could even be more dangerous…”
Eye of the needle
The final stretch of the trailer unleashes a barrage of brutality – beginning with the possessed Ellie brandishing a buzzing tattoo needle at a wide-open eye. “Ellie’s character is a tattoo artist in the story, which brings the tattoo gun into play,” reveals Cronin – who has a bit of ink himself. “I’ve actually got one tattoo on my arm right now that’s a dreadful stick drawing of one of the kill moments in Evil Dead Rise – but I can’t show it yet because we haven’t spoiled that actual moment.” Any chance of a cover-up that says ‘SPOILER WARNING’ on it?
Possibly the trailer’s biggest ‘Oof!’ is elicited by the wielding of a cheese grater – swiftly shredded down some poor unfortunate soul’s leg. “It’s what I like to call the leg-guine’ scene,” laughs Cronin. “They always terrify me for cooking, because it feels so easy that you could lose some knuckles. When I was creating the movie, I was just thinking about something… not to say it hasn’t been used before, but I haven’t seen it personally.” There are, he says, plenty more kitchen nightmares to come in the film itself. “That’s just a taste of the grind!”
It wouldn’t be an Evil Dead movie without a bloodied-up badass ready for a chainsaw battle – and Rise is no different. “Someone has to pick up that chainsaw and take the pressure of being a hero on their shoulders,” Cronin asserts. “It was always going to be the case. There was no way I was going to make this movie and not include those major pillars that make Evil Dead what it is. So yeah, there's a chainsaw and it's put to pretty ferocious use.” Groovy!
Bucketloads of blood
As if there wasn’t already enough red stuff splashing about, Cronin unleashes a torrent of blood from a lift in a twisted Shining riff. “We used a hell of a lot of it,” he says. “There's lots of ways of putting blood on screen – red water with a bit of food colouring, digital blood, whatever it might be. We used the old-school, sticky-icky [blood] which led to people just caked and coated...” That included Cronin himself, deluged by his cast in a get-your-own-back move that Dave Benson Phillips would approve of. “I got covered in litres and litres of blood when we wrapped by Lily Sullivan, who plays Beth. She wanted her revenge for how bloody she'd been got.”
Even the sets took a crimson kicking. “We shot the movie pretty chronologically, so we watched our world just disintegrate around us as we went, the sets just getting bloodier and messier and pukier.” Pukier? “Yeah, there's puke!” laughs the director. “There's no puke in the trailer, but there's plenty of puke as well.”
For all the ghouls and gore, it’s a choice line of dialogue that brings the trailer’s biggest chill in its final moments: “Mommy’s with the maggots now,” grins Deadite-Ellie, taunting her terrified kids. “I was really mindful of giving great voices to the Deadites – not just in terms of how they sound, but what they say,” explains Cronin. “My favourite thing about the Evil Dead movies is how the Deadites like to get under your skin. They can kill you in a heartbeat, but actually they want to toy with you – it’s psychological warfare. Instead of just wiping out her family, she's like, ‘I'm gonna fuck with them!’ That adds a little touch of gallows humour.” The next chapter in the Necronomicon is about to unfold…
Evil Dead Rise comes to UK cinemas from 21 April