As the first Evil Dead film in 10 years, Evil Dead Rise has no problem reinventing Sam Raimi’s iconically gonzo horror franchise. Lee Cronin’s new standalone take on the storied franchise is a smart, snappy blend of the original films’ over-the-top mayhem and the 2013 remake’s relentless horror, but it’s also a personal film for the Irish horror auteur.
Ahead of Evil Dead Rise’s premiere, Cronin spoke to Polygon about the inspirations for his radically different yet extremely faithful take on Raimi’s Evil Dead films, and his own very wholesome relationship with his family — which inspired him to create some truly messed-up fictional families.
Polygon: You’re only the third person to make an official Evil Dead movie. What’s Evil Dead to you?
Lee Cronin: Evil Dead is part of my childhood, and part of my culture and understanding of horror movies, from when I was very young and started to really enjoy the genre. But Evil Dead is also a kind of pure, unfiltered energy through both the gruesome aspects and the terror, but also the pure, exciting filmcraft of it all. It’s something that carries this really exciting, independent streak that always motivated me when I was younger. Like, Hey, I can make movies too. So it’s also been a little bit of a guidebook to me in terms of how to go about making a movie, and how to be motivated to keep on pushing and make something happen.
There are a lot of parallels between Evil Dead Rise and your debut, The Hole in the Ground. You’ve talked in the past about how you’re attracted to telling stories about family — why do you think that is, and what makes Evil Dead good for that?
I think it’s the ultimate universal theme. Recently, [I thought] about the things I’m working on, and all of them lean back to a version of family, like clinging onto that thing. And I was terrified, going, Oh my God, can I tell a story about anything other than family?!
But actually, I think all stories, in a way, come back to family. Even if it’s a war story, and it’s about a band of brothers grouped together. It’s that camaraderie, there’s a sense of family there. And so you watch a mafia movie, it’s about family, whatever it might be. So I think what specifically I’m drawn to is, it’s in my head, it’s what I call the family wound, and everybody has one. There’s no perfect family, there’s no perfect format for family.
So it’s a really, really interesting place as a horror filmmaker, and as a storyteller that likes tension, dread, and atmosphere to actually poke your fingers into that space and take a look around.
So this appeals to you as a storyteller, not just a horror filmmaker?
I’m kind of a child of Amblin and that world, and I’m a big, big Spielberg fan. When you look into those movies, it’s often families in parallel, and families at crossroads. You look at E.T., you look at Chief Brody [in Jaws], who goes on the water to protect his family. So I think it’s the things that influenced me. And then my experiences with family growing up, and the observation of the highs, lows, ups, downs, the breaks, the victories — all of that stuff is just a really, really fertile place.
You’ve also focused on motherhood in both these films — what makes that dynamic potent to you?
I’m extremely close to my mother, and to my sister, who’s the next in age. My sister’s a mother with three kids. I kind of crafted this little family unit on her family in Evil Dead Rise. When I was 10 years old, every other person in my family was an adult at that point in time. So my sister was 18. And then beyond that, my brothers were older, and then my parents, so I had to find my voice very, very young.
But also, being at a young age and then seeing the power and strength of the female maternal figures in my family who I was really, really close to — it’s just a theme I’ve been really interested in, because it’s a beautiful thing. But it also comes with very specific challenges when you are a mother. It just strikes me as a place that’s interesting to analyze and tell stories about, in a really universal thematic way.
This works out in Evil Dead Rise, where a lot of the fear comes from moments where characters don’t recognize a family member, or characters voicing extremely negative thoughts about their loved ones.
Yeah, it’s pretty dark. I’m really close to my extended family, and love spending time with them. We’re good friends. I think that gives me the confidence to go and screw around with the structure of family and put it in a really, really dark place.
I think there is something very powerful about losing identity with someone that’s very, very close to you, and struggling to hold onto that identity. It’s why in Evil Dead Rise, there’s that scene in the middle of the movie where little Cassie is talking to her mom through the peephole. Although it’s got some humor, and it’s played in that way, it’s also kind of dreadful, because she’s a 9-year-old kid that’s completely conflicted and confused by what she’s experiencing in that moment.
I think one of the most terrifying things in the world is the first moment you see someone in your life in a different light you’ve never seen before. So let’s say you’re in a new relationship, you’ve been dating for a year, all is brilliant, you have your first argument, and you hear that person’s voice pitch in a way you’ve never heard of before. Or you see a look in their eyes you’ve never seen, and you go Oh my god, I don’t recognize this person. And that is really to me quite primally terrifying.
You incorporate children into your horror a lot. Do you think children are naturally scary?
Scary little bastards? Yeah. [Laughs]
Look, it’s a twofold thing for me. It’s the films I watched when I was younger — quite often family and children are in peril. I looked at things like E.T., I looked at the TV movie of IT for example, I looked at The Goonies — those type of movies were the sort of things I watched a lot. And then in turn, I’m not a parent, but I’ve got three siblings. Between them all, I’ve got nine nieces and nephews. So I have a lot of interactivity with young people in my life as well.
They’re very interesting eyes into terrifying worlds, whether they be the object of terror or the person that is terrified — it’s a recurring theme, I guess, or a recurring type of character. I think it just comes from influence and observation.
Evil Dead Rise is now playing in theaters.