Evil Dead Rise Director Explains the New Movie’s Army of Darkness Connection

Eric Goldman
Movies Horror
Movies Horror

The Evil Dead are back and things are about to get very messy for the residents of a Los Angeles apartment. The fifth movie in the series, Evil Dead Rise takes the franchise into a modern urban setting for the first time, as Beth (Lily Sullivan) goes to visit her sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), and Ellie’s kids, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies) and Kassie (Nell Fisher), only for Deadite hell to be unleashed when Danny finds a creepy looking book buried beneath their apartment building. Soon, Beth is looking, sounding, and acting decidedly unwell and everyone nearby is in very grave danger.

Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) writes and directs this time, in a film that is telling a standalone story away from the adventures of Ash Williams or Mia Allen, yet also somewhat ties the entire franchise together in a subtle yet notable way. How so? By simply looking into the past…


Morgan Davies as Danny and Lily Sullivan as Beth in Evil Dead Rise

In previous interviews, Lee Cronin had revealed that part of his pitch to Sam Raimi (who acts as a producer here, alongside his longtime Evil Dead collaborators Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell) was to note Evil Dead Rise would be about what happens to people finding one of the three Necronomicons – the book that has always been the cause of the chaos in Evil Dead. As for where Cronin came up with the idea that there even were three books though, not just one, that’s easy – it was from Sam Raimi’s own Army of Darkness, the third film in the series, in which a time traveling Ash, tasked with retrieving the Necronomicon, is baffled to find three books laid out to choose from.

Army of Darkness of course is Evil Dead at its most purposely wacky and comedic, and in the scene with the three books, Ash discovers the other books are the wrong ones when one opens a vortex, sucking him inside (and briefly distorting the shape of his face), while the other book bites his hand and then takes flight and attacks him. Cronin’s approach was that all these books were just as much a Necronomicon as the others, but only one was the one that had sent Ash back in time and that he needed to retrieve. Cronin elaborated that one of the other books was the one that ended up in Fede Alvarez’s  2013 Evil Dead film and the third is the one in Evil Dead Rise, with the film itself stating plainly that there are three equally nasty books to worry about.

That being the case, I asked Cronin which of the “wrong” books from Army of Darkness was the one in Evil Dead Rise, and he quickly answered, “It’s the bitey fly-ey one, definitely. And that’s why I gave it the mouth [on the side] in the movie and the fact it kind of absorbs blood. It’s got a little bit of a life force to it. It was definitely that book, although grounded for this movie, if you know what I mean. But yeah, it was Bitey McFly, definitely, [not] the vortex one.”

How "Bitey McFly" appears in the year 1300 (in Army of Darkness) vs. the year 2023 (in Evil Dead Rise)

In Army of Darkness, all three books appear to have the exact same cover, while the books in Evil Dead 2013 and Evil Dead Rise look different both from each other and from the one first Ash encountered. But not only are there a few centuries (and supernatural elements) to potentially cover for that, but as any Evil Dead fan can tell you, from the moment Evil Dead II spent its first few minutes re-telling the first film’s story — yet now somehow with only two characters, not five — this was not a series troubled with keeping its continuity airtight.

Said Cronin, with a chuckle, “Yeah, look, let’s call a spade a spade here. This franchise, of any franchise, has the shonkiest rules and connective tissue of all, which is actually a joy as a filmmaker. You can serve to your needs, but don’t need to over serve at all. I think you’ve just kind of got to run with that. From my point of view, and I’m making this up on behalf of Fede, but I would say the book in his movie is one of those three books as well, and Sam’s book was one of those three books. So yeah, they look a little bit different. Time goes by but the spirit of the idea remains.”


Lee Cronin and Alyssa Sutherland on the set of Evil Dead Rise

Cronin has long been a huge Evil Dead fan, recalling seeing the first two films when he was only eight years old. Asked if there were times during the process it felt a bit surreal or intimidating to now actually be making an Evil Dead movie, he replied, “I think when you cross the line, when you’re making something, you just have to have confidence in yourself. It’s terrifying anyway! Whether it’s Evil Dead or another movie, you’re just like, ‘Oh s**t, I’m putting it all on the line here and I’m kind of letting it all hang out.’ The most terrifying part of the process was when Sam specifically was like, ‘Please, take a really serious look at this. We really want you to look at this and figure it out.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I have the opportunity to make an Evil Dead movie if A, I don’t screw it up and B, find a story I’m interested in telling.'”

The director added, “Had I not found a story I was interested in telling I would have passed. I would have said ‘Thank you for the opportunity.’ I’ve passed on other things that I love or I’m interested by or excited by. That one would have burned. That was the scariest part of the entire part of making this movie was the fact that I might have said no or they might have said no to my approach. Once we got over that line, I didn’t really second guess it at all. I just went for it.”

The night before I spoke to Cronin, we’d both been in attendance at a Los Angeles screening of Evil Dead Rise held by Beyond Fest at the Aero Theater, where it had received a tremendously positive response, including a ton of applause for its delightfully macabre set pieces, much as it has at other screenings. However, when the movie was going into production, it was going to be a streaming-only film, debuting on HBO Max, before the decision was made for it instead to debut exclusively in theaters.

Regarding getting to see how well it plays to a packed crowd now, especially in light of its history, Cronin remarked, “It’s super humbling and super exciting. You know, my intent when I made this movie was that it would always be a theatrical endeavor. And that’s where it started. It was COVID that interrupted that process and pointed towards the streaming world. But the interesting thing is the way you know the way stories are picked up, it’s like we never even had a streaming release date. It was just that’s what’s going to happen because of COVID, that’s where we’re heading. And then the test screenings at the completion of the movie led to another course correction, where we went and hunted down this theatrical slot that hopefully people will embrace this coming opening weekend.”


Lily Sullivan as Beth in Evil Dead Rise

Even without its original protagonist, Bruce Campbell’s Ash, there are elements of Evil Dead that feel very core to the series on the visual side, from the inclusion of a chainsaw and a shotgun, to Raimi’s classic use of a POV shot of an evil force hurtling forward. When it came to including those elements, but choosing when they’d fit in best, Cronin said, “Look, I’m a fan of the movies, but I’m a filmmaker in my own right. So first of all, I just hunted down the story and then I went and looked at the staples, the pillars of the franchise. But I was never afraid or scared about using those because I was like, ‘I am making an Evil Dead film. There needs to be these things. There needs to be a chainsaw, there needs to be the point of view…’ Evil Dead 2013, the racing force shot is quite stylized and kind of truncated. Whereas in this, I wanted to bring it back to that more old school approach that it felt like in the original. And I was just excited by getting my opportunity to do those things my way, because I was trying to do them when I was a teenager. I was trying to directly rip them off when I was a teenager. But then I built up enough experience making this movie to realize that I could reinterpret and remix those ideas in my own vision.”

The film also has a couple of lines of dialogue echoed from previous installments, though Cronin noted, “The two lines that I love most in the film are ‘Mommy’s with the maggots now’ and then when [Beth] calls her kids ‘Titty-sucking parasites.’ They came first and early. In the moment, I was like, ‘I need a line.’ And I just went for i and they never changed. But there was definitely other pieces that required more refinements and were kind of chopped and changed. But it was really fun to get to write that type of dialogue and to put those words in Alyssa’s mouth and the character of Ellie’s mouth. You don’t [often] get to write that. It’s actually really fun getting to write what could be deemed cheesy dialogue, but it working, if that makes sense. One of my favorite interactions in the movie is Kassie at the door when she’s talking to Ellie through the through the peephole. ‘You don’t look so good, Mom.’ It’s like, ‘You don’t say!’ That sort of stuff was really fun to write.”


Alyssa Sutherland as Ellie in Evil Dead Rise

Though in retrospect, you can see seeds for where they would take things, 1981’s original The Evil Dead was a fairly straightforward horror film before Raimi and company veered into much more outwardly comedic territory in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. Both the 2013 film and Evil Dead Rise forgo the slapstick and often outright purposely silly vibe of those installments, instead leaning into visceral, bloody thrills and some notably vicious moments.

Cronin said Raimi, Tapert and Campbell had no specific requests for what tone was preferable, recalling, “I put it on the page and then we talked about it. The spirit of the film was very much on the page. It doesn’t have jokes but it has opportunities to laugh. It has levity in the movie. You were at the screening last night so I’m sure you got that sense of the audience participation. The outrageousness of some of the things that happen definitely lead to laughter, but we wanted to make a scary movie. That was really the top line that we discussed. And then after that, what will be will be, in terms of the tone. But my approach was that I definitely wanted to have a lightness of touch in some places within the darkness. And when producers started to see rushes, they started to see how that’s working and they understood it even more, and they continued to support that approach.”

As for the apartment building setting, Cronin said it was an early idea, explaining, “It was kind of my first thought after I met with Sam Raimi. After our meeting, I was immediately going on a 10 hour flight back to Dublin from LA. And by the end of that flight, I was like, ‘family on an apartment block.”

Cromin noted this didn’t just visually help the film stand out from the others in the franchise but also plays differently for the characters at the center. “In the previous chapters in this franchise, people, or a person – if they’re traveling back in time – go to an unusual place. They’re a fish out of water. People go, ‘Hey, let’s go to a cabin for the weekend!’ It’s an unfamiliar space. Whereas this movie is about the familiar space and then the evil coming to that place. And that felt really powerful to me and it felt distinct enough to motivate me to actually double down and go and make the movie.”

(L-R) Morgan Davies as Danny, Gabrielle Echols as Bridget and Nell Fisher as Kassie in Evil Dead Rise

Like Bruce Campbell and Jane Levy before them, the leads in Evil Dead Rise had quite a daunting and exhausting experience making the film, given all the physicality involved as the mayhem level rises. And what stands out here is there are kids involved for the first time in the franchise – both two teenagers, and, with newcomer Nell Fisher, someone who was only 9 when she made the movie, and yet ends up just as drenched in blood as Ash typically is.

When it came to preparing both Fisher and her parents for what this job would entail, Cronin remarked, “Thankfully, they understood. They were like ‘We’ve read the script and we know we’re getting ourselves into.’ Nell’s dad is an Evil Dead fan, which helped. He’s not your typical Evil Dead fan. To be fair, there’s Evil Dead fans from all walks of life, but I wouldn’t have pinned him as an Evil Dead fan when we first met. He’s this super kind of refined and defined environmental lawyer. And her mother is a high end politician; works in that world. But they were like, ‘Yeah, we’ll totally let our kid go into this kind of crazy bloodbath.’”

Added Cromin, “We had the UK premiere of the movie last week. Nell’s in New Zealand shooting a movie right now but her mother was there.” Cromin said he went up to Fisher’s mother after the movie and said, “’I’m sorry for all I did to your daughter! I will pay the therapy bills down the line.’ But yeah, it was amazing. Nell’s a super intelligent young lady, and was able to have fun and then separate that fun and give the emotional heft that was required for a young person being caught up in the circumstances of this story.”

Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.