Evil Dead Rise: Behind the blood and gore

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s the latest installment in the Evil Dead franchise and Rise immediately chills viewers within minutes of its opening scenes. It also deviates from its usual male lead with story centering around a single mother and her sister played by a predominantly Australian cast.

Alyssa Sutherland who plays Ellie swerves from devoted mother to demonic mommy dearest after a particularly brutal possession. Being relatively new to doing stunts, she and the cast took part in family boot camps in the prep weeks leading up to filiming to get them “into the zone” and ready to fight demons… or become one. “They had us crawling under army nets and doing little obstacle courses,” recalls Sutherland. “I love being physical and whenever I could squeeze in an extra half-hour in our prep weeks, I snuck off to stunts and boxed with them, because I figured I was going to need some stamina to get through this shoot. Ultimately, I found out that being able to concentrate on the accuracy of the choreography and act at the same time is a little like patting your head and rubbing your tummy.”

Lily Sullivan who plays Ellie’s sister, Beth agrees, “The physicality of this shoot—insane. I went into it not expecting it to be this intense. Sometimes you leave in a kind of shell-shocked state, and others, with giant bruises!”

Fortunately, “Stuart Thorp is an amazing stunt coordinator, and he teaches you all the techniques… like how to relax the body, how to not go into that true ‘fight or flight.’ But classic actors, you hear ‘Action,’ and then you’re like, ‘Everything’s real, I believe it!’ And one scene—as I fall straight on my arm, roll under a gate that’s actually closing—made me realize I am not a stunt person,” laughs Sullivan.

Morgan Davies attended the Sydney preview screening at Event Cinemas in George Street telling the audience before the curtain went up that more than 6500 litres of fake blood was used throughout the film!  To put that into perspective, the human body holds just five litres of blood. Davies’ character, Danny undergoes some unfortunate alterations after he becomes a Deadite, and the actor was subjected to hours of prosthetic makeup and ensuing “blood tests.” 

He remembers, “I hadn’t done any prosthetics work before. I had to sit in a chair for about five hours; it’s not the hardest thing in the world. The prosthetic team was amazing. The difficult part was the blood—how f**king sticky it is and how it gets everywhere. And unless you’re careful, whatever hair it touches, on your head or your body, it’s going to rip out. What I found super interesting, actually, we have arms and heads, skin and guts all over the set, and it becomes the most normal part of life. I was already kind of desensitized, because I’m a horror fan, but it does become different when you’re holding a dismembered arm. Even then it was, like, totally normal. And I bugged everybody, because I really wanted to keep my prosthetic arm.”

“Blood” fell under the purview of special effects supervisor Brendan Durey (and, if self-generated, makeup FX and prosthetics designer Luke Polti). Durey’s company has worked on Tapert productions dating back to the 1990’s, and that’s a lot of blood.

Durey explains, “The blood recipes have evolved quite a lot. We’ve done a bunch of jobs where we’ve had all sorts of different types, including vampire blood. Over the years we’ve crystallised it down to quite a good formula, which makes a strong, rich dark color, but we also have a mix for a brighter color, for something supercharged and very visceral. Going into ‘Evil Dead Rise,’ we found that our formula didn’t quite meet up to the demands of the film, so we had a research and development session and came up with a new dedicated recipe.”

When that blood is the result of, say, severed limbs, a whole new set of challenges arises. 

Per Durey: “To nail down some of the key factors when you’re squirting blood around, you’ve got to tune it to the right viscosity by using accumulators, pressure pots and tubes to force the blood out of different nozzles. So, it’s about trying to assess how it works, and then get the tests in front of Lee to establish what’s in his head and what he wants it to look like. It can be very hit-and-miss on the day—once you start squirting actors with it, it can be a bit of a time sink, cleaning them up afterwards. We test as much as possible before shoot day.”

While he was developing the script and its characters, Director, Lee Cronin says he looked to his own family for inspiration (well, maybe not so much the limb throwing). He based the children in the film loosely on his nieces and nephews, when “they shared little ideas with me that became nuggets of personalities during the writing process.”

For sisters Beth and Ellie, the two leads took shape with Cronin delving into the characters’ psychology and the impact that selection plays in life: “I thought it was really interesting to explore the different choices that people can make. And the story just felt naturally correct to tell it through the eyes of these two female protagonists.”

“Ellie is going through a major rupture in her family,” explains Alyssa Sutherland, who plays the tattoo artist and mother. “She has separated from her husband and she’s dealing with having to leave the family home and find somewhere else to live for her and her three kids… which is realistically extremely difficult in LA.”

As Ellie tries to keep it together, her younger sister, guitar technician-slash-roadie Beth, played by Lily Sullivan, shows up at her door unexpectedly, adding another layer of worry.

“I needed Beth to come back into the family,” supplies Cronin, “and that family to be in flux. I didn’t want to just take the obvious family unit; I wanted there to be that reality of existing cracks and fissures, which I thought made it easier to then dig fingers into and poke around, with some of the horror springing from that.”

On playing sisters, Sullivan comments, “Alyssa and I both met, we went deep. Lee, Alyssa and I wanted to really anchor our characters before chucking them in the blender. We explored and we gave backstory that is sort of private to us. Both Beth and Ellie are total battlers—there’s this real survivor streak to them. They’re this rough, not needy, kind of fiercely independent duo.”

Part of the conflict lies in the fact that Beth craves the family and the shelter that Ellie has created. And while Ellie’s family is her whole world, on some level, she longs for some of the freedom Beth has held on to.

“Ellie has always been in a position where she is the leader within the family, as the older sister to Beth, but also as a mother who had her kids relatively young,” says Cronin. “The world that he built has always been around family, and she is someone whom Beth has always looked up to or sought advice from.”

“Working with Alyssa was easy from day one,” observes Sullivan. “One night I had my mother visiting from Australia, and we all went out to dinner, and the waiter was like, ‘Are you two sisters? Is this your mother?’ So, it’s interesting that we had this natural affinity and had created a depth. I fell in love working with her, because I think we laughed for hours straight. It was so much of sisterhood.”

Sutherland concurs, “Working with Lily was the best! We developed a dynamic between us really quickly. Ellie and Beth’s relationship is sweet. Lee, Lily and I talked at length about it in prep and I think they’re as close as sisters can get while being physically distanced. We talked about the fact that Ellie had stepped in and taken care of Beth when their mother was unable to. So, I think there’s a maternal aspect there as well.”

Cronin was no stranger to Sutherland, having met her a decade earlier on the set of “Vikings,” which was shot in Ireland. “I remember having a conversation with her, and she just had this really lovely personality, so when her name cropped up and was on the list to play Ellie, I was really intrigued to see what she could do,” says Cronin. “And she did this incredible tape, and instantly showed the necessary range that was required to play her character.”

Sullivan was “a really easy choice to make,” says Cronin. “Like all of our cast, Lily did a tape for this movie and leaned into the dramatic side of things. So, I got on a call with her and absolutely adored her personality. I’m not a director that spends forever debating—if I see somebody that I think is right, then I bring them forward. Lily has a natural fortitude and also a really great sense of humor, and I wanted there to be a little bit of levity through this movie… I didn’t want it to be midnight black.”

Ellie’s three children have fallen in step with their beloved mother and aunt—all are independent, forthright, interesting and creative.

Her eldest, Danny, is big into music, clever, inquisitive to a fault and a bit scrappy; he is played by Morgan Davies. “I think Danny is an interesting character who really wants to be there for his family,” says Davies. “He genuinely loves them, but he has a ‘do first, think second’ mentality. 

He’s super curious and his actions set off these events, and also send him on an interesting journey throughout the story. Being the person who’s put his family in danger, while trying to prevent that 

and right his own wrongs… that’s a fascinating head space and a trip to jump into.”

Next in line is Bridget, played by Gabrielle Echols, who is quick to point out, “Bridget has a lot of Ellie’s traits—she’s very caring and has a strong sense of protectiveness, especially with her ounger sister, Kassie. That was one of her characteristics that really resonated with me, her caring nature. I mean, that might not come out in how she talks, but definitely in her actions in the moment, particularly when things start to get disturbing. She’s also logical. She’s a realist. She’s practical. 

Like, we were working on Bridget’s wardrobe, and the question came up that if it was raining, would she wear a raincoat? She’s the reasonable one. She would be the one with a raincoat. We wound up with a sturdy one that I think she probably thrifted—thinking sustainability.”

Nell Fisher—cast as the youngest, Kassie—was not familiar with the “Evil Dead” universe, but acknowledges, “Well, my dad saw them all.”

Pivoting to her own character, Fisher explains, “Kassie’s got a big imagination. She’s very brave and playful, but she’s also kind of… weird. I think she’s a lot like me in some ways. Particularly when it comes to imagination. So, working on this kind of film was great, but I think it was more emotionally difficult than physically, because I do gymnastics. And since Alyssa and Lily are just so nice, it was pretty easy to form that family bond with them. I mean, it would have been harder if 

While it may not reinvent the horror filmscape, it delivers an entertaining, well-crafted experience that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

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