Evil Dead Rise Stars Were 'Pushed To The Absolute Edge' But Still Had A Bloody Good Time [Exclusive Interview]

"Evil Dead" has proven to be surprisingly enduring as a horror franchise. But in 40 years, the franchise has never really achieved "blockbuster"-level success. Yet, here we are in the year 2023 with "Evil Dead Rise" earning glowing reviews out of SXSW (read our review here) just as it gets ready to hit the big screen next month, despite the fact that it was originally produced for HBO Max. It's a big moment, and a particularly big one for the stars at the center of it all: Alyssa Sutherland and Lily Sullivan.

Sutherland and Sullivan play Ellie and Beth, respectively, the sisters at the center of the fifth film in the franchise, which is directed by Lee Cronin ("The Hole in the Ground"). The film has the unique distinction of taking the action away from the woods (almost entirely) and moving it to the big city. It focuses on these two estranged siblings, whose drama-filled reunion is cut short when flesh-possessing demons come into the picture, threatening them and the three young children who also make up their family. Naturally, things get very bloody from there.

I had the very good fortune of speaking with both Sutherland and Sullivan following the film's raucous premiere at SXSW. We talked about having fun while filming something so brutal, how thrilled they are that the movie is going to theaters, the actual injuries they sustained during production, and much more.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'How do you go to sleep after that?'

I've been fortunate enough to have been at several pretty cool premieres in that particular theater, but that was one of the most outrageous. So you're in that room last night. You're at this raucous premiere for the new "Evil Dead" movie. How are you feeling?

Sullivan: Well, I think we were staring at the ceiling last night before bed.

Sutherland: I've been on adrenaline over the last few days, and I was in bed last night, and it's like, how do you go to sleep after that?

Sullivan: Watching it, you have obviously the explosion on the screen that everyone is taking in, but for us, I'm just being completely ricocheted by the audience's symphony. For me, I was almost alt listening to that. I was so affected by that. It was really such a special experience. We've both only seen it with like four people in the cinema.

Sutherland: We had screenings for us to prepare for press. So we're watching the film from a different perspective. When you're screening it like that, I'm hyper-focused on my work and I tend to be a little too critical as well. Watching it in that setting with your agent sitting behind you, you're just like, "Oh dear God, I hope I'm good in this." That's the only thing going through your head. So last night was the first time I watched it and I was able to be relaxed watching it. I was actually just a viewer. And having the crowd respond to all of it was so good. It was so good. It's why I do what I do. To hear them go on the ride with us.

'There's moments where you're pushed to the absolute edge'

I'm a big "Evil Dead" guy. I've listened to all the commentary tracks. One of the things Bruce Campbell's talked about a lot is, he loves the final product. He's talked about how it's mostly hell to shoot these movies. Are you able to actually have fun when you have that much blood all over you?

Sullivan: Absolutely, you can have fun. You're going to work.

Sutherland: That's the only option there. If we don't have fun, then it's miserable.

Sullivan: Yeah. Then it does become a torture chamber. There's moments where you're pushed to the absolute edge, but at the end of the day, you're coming to work, and it's an absolute feast, and a playground. You're living out the most alt realities that not many get to even entertain. It's ridiculous. I feel like Alyssa and I being such awesome teammates in this, nothing was too weird, almost egging each other on, which was just such a delight. But yeah, there's moments where you wish you could leave your body, but it kind of made it worth it.

Sutherland: And it's so cool. What we do is awesome. Watching all of the departments do their thing. We had an incredible stunt team, hair, makeup, prosthetics. My prosthetics guys were unbelievable. Production design, everything. When you're a part of that collaboration and you're seeing everyone on top of their field doing their thing, it's so cool to be a part of it.

One thing that struck me seeing it with an audience last night, and I know a premiere audience is a bit different, but it feels like a crowd movie. It feels like a movie to be seen with people. This was made for HBO Max and then Warner Bros. is like, "Let's go ahead and release it in theaters."

Sullivan: Test screenings.

Sutherland: I'm going to push back. Lee Cronin made it for cinemas. We just had an HBO Max streaming deal. Lee, the whole time, he was optimistic and hopeful.

No kidding?

Sutherland: Yeah!

That's awesome.

Sutherland: I think he wanted it the whole time.

Sullivan: He was seeing that monitor every and the dailies. It was all happening. But until you finish the final piece of the puzzle and hand-deliver it, and then you get an audience in there and the reaction is what you want — it's so amazing that it found its place.

Sutherland: Yeah, Lee did an incredible job. Really, credit to him.

He did this thing that a lot of people say they want to do, particularly in the era of franchise filmmaking, where it's like, "I want to make a movie that honors what came before, but it's good for new people, too." It's so easy to say that.

Sullivan: So easy to say that.

But then to do it, and he really did it. Which is so much easier said than done.

Sullivan: Totally!

How do you feel that it is going to theaters, then?

Sullivan: It's like a dream, feels like a dream as well. You're just like, "What?!"

Sutherland: Never in my wildest dreams. I've always wanted to be an actress. I've always wanted to be on the big screen and have people listen, be entertained, and to move people, touch people, make them think about something differently. It's just a total "pinch me" moment.

Sullivan: I feel the same way. Yeah. I think as well, horror being trailblazing right now with getting great money at the box office, just the camaraderie and the energy that you get from a horror film on a big screen as an actor ... it's not heavy, dialogue-driven, it's just so physical, and such an awesome time, and an endorphin release.

I think particularly after Covid, for people that were seeking out communal experiences, horror is about as good for that as it gets.

'The way we shot it was in chronological order'

Alyssa, for you, I don't want to spoil anything for people, but there's a brutal physicality to what you were doing. How much of that was aided by digital effects and post-production? Or how much of that was you just suffering for the art?

Sutherland: I don't think there were really digital effects.

It seemed very minimal to me.

Sullivan: So minimal.

Sullivan: Even the crawling on the wall from behind...

Sutherland: That was all real.

Sullivan: That was all real.

Sutherland: It wasn't me. That was an incredible stunt double. They wouldn't let me [do it]. I wanted to try to do that. But I think they were basically like, "We don't have the time for you to learn this." I really wanted to give it a go. The producers were like, "No, your stunt double's going to do this one because..."

Sullivan: She's trained her whole life for it.

Sutherland: "We don't have the time. She's already got this one nailed." Okay, fine. There's no digital. The only digital thing I can think of is they slightly altered my eyes so that I didn't have to wear contact lenses throughout filming. But everything else is practical. So there's a mix of stunt doubles, but the Deadite movement, I worked really hard on. All that twitchy weirdness. Lee was really funny — before takes, he'd yell out, "Twitchy, twitchy, twitchy! Action!"

The Deadite thing is a little specific. It's not quite a zombie.

Sutherland: I didn't want to go zombie. You want to make it your own, so it's an organic-feeling thing. The twitching thing kind of happened. I had a few different references as some dance stuff. Then you have to let all of that go and just let it flow.

This is more or less, for both of you, your first time in a movie franchise. How does that feel, particularly because it's been away for 10 years as a movie entity? They had "Ash vs Evil Dead" in there, but is there a pressure that comes along with that? Are you just excited about it?

Sullivan: You read Lee Cronin's script. Sam and Bruce just kind of letting him go and letting him rip, and trusting him, I think led to us approaching the script. The way we shot it was in chronological order. It was something about it where you just could free-form with this film and it was like there wasn't enough time to analyze.

Sutherland: Speak for yourself. I overanalyze everything.

Sullivan: Oh, true. I mean, while shooting, though, I feel like it was just such an intense washing machine.

Sutherland: We have different experiences, I think, of the mental and emotional stuff.

Sullivan: Very true. I'm fight or flight, you're full sadistic.

Sutherland: I oscillated between, "This is amazing, this is so cool, oh my God, how much fun is this?" to I kept saying, "A horror movie is only as good as its monster. A horror movie is only as good as its monster..." [laughs]. Then I would put this huge weight on my shoulders.

Sullivan: Pressure, of course. But also, again, like we said, it's just absolute, absolute joy to be a part of it.

Sutherland: I also think I never once doubted Lee. I put full trust in him because he knows the franchise so well. It was magical from reading his script. I watched his first film "The Hole in the Ground" before I chatted with him about doing "Evil Dead." I loved the performances. I was like, "This is a horror film, but these performances are so grounded," which is the work that I like to do. I was like, "Oh, this guy's amazing. I want to work with him. I want to do this." And I never questioned him or his taste again.

'It's all elbows, all knees, it's grazes, it's scrappy'

Did you sustain any actual injuries during filming? Anything like that?

Sutherland: I headbutted a camera and got an egg on the forehead.

Sullivan: I had the shotgun rolling under the door. I had the shotgun go straight into my shin.

Sutherland: Oh, you had that other one! [laughs]

Sullivan: What was the other one? [remembers] Oh my God. [laughs]

Okay. I have to hear this. What was it?

Sullivan: I was going to stab you in the neck, and then I fell back, and then I landed on a stool right between my legs, jabbed myself, and everyone on set, went "Ooh!" Then I fell to the ground, and I had to have an ice pack right there. Oh my God.

It's really nice that your friend is laughing so hard at your misery.

Sutherland: [laughs] I'm sorry I'm laughing, because I didn't think about it before I said it. I'm like, "Oh s***."

Sullivan: [laughs] It's fine. But it's all elbows, all knees, it's grazes, it's scrappy. Also, I think when I had to be whiplashed back and forth before being [REDACTED]. It was four grown men holding me while I had a harness strapped on. They were ripping me back and forth. So the monster looked like it was throwing me, then flipped me over onto my back and it's just gravel. I'm just on gravel. So all the grazes up my arms.

Sutherland: Horrible. And by that point, we were filming after we'd had a Covid lockdown. We're back on set, and now, all of a sudden, we can't be on set together.

Sullivan: Now we're isolated.

Sutherland: We can't be in a scene together. So they have to shoot my coverage without Lily on the other side.

Sullivan: And I had that stick...

Sutherland: I remember, I've got a picture of it. But they did Lily's coverage without me there. So we had no idea what the film was going to look like at the end, because we were only shooting our own stuff. Then in ADR, I got to see the end of the film. I was like, "Oh my God. Lee pulled it off." But also I texted Lily straight after. I was like, "You're a f***ing rockstar. You rocked it," because I didn't get to see it on set! I didn't know what was happening. When I saw it, I was like, "You're a freaking hero, man."

"Evil Dead Rise" hits theaters on April 21, 2023.