How Warner Bros. has sold the latest movie about ancient evil and a creepy book
Lily Sullivan and Alyssa Sutherland star in Evil Dead Rise, in theaters this week from Warner Bros. Pictures. Sullivan plays Beth, who sets out to visit her estranged sister Ellie (Sutherland) and her family in Los Angeles. But that reunion takes a demented turn when a certain book is discovered in Ellie’s building and a host of demons is set loose causing all manner of deadly chaos.
The movie – technically the fifth in the long-running Evil Dead series – appears to be largely unconnected from the three Bruce Campbell-starring originals (as well as the “Ash Vs. Evil Dead” series) and 2013’s Evil Dead, itself a new take on the concept. But Campbell as well as series creator Sam Raimi are still attached as executive producers while Lee Cronin wrote and directed this movie.
So don’t worry too much about what you know or don’t about what’s come before and let’s take a look at how this one’s been sold.
announcements and casting
Plans for another Evil Dead movie have been in various stages of development for years now, with some being scrapped entirely while others have been repurposed for the “Ash Vs. Evil Dead” show or for the 2013 film.
Things seemed to be finally moving forward in mid-2020 when Campbell revealed this project – then titled Evil Dead Now – was moving forward with Cronin directing after being selected by Raimi to take the reins.
The current name was announced when New Line acquired the movie in May 2021 with a release direct to HBO Max planned. Most of the main cast was added to the project in the months following New Line’s acquisition.
Last August plans were changed and a theatrical release date set, one of a number of shifts in strategy adopted by WB’s new management as it opted to not use HBO Max as much.
the marketing campaign
A soft start to the campaign came in October of last year when a first still was released. It didn’t offer much, of course, but was enough to get the ball rolling and reassure everyone the movie was really happening.
Cronin talked about the project and what audiences could expect in an interview in December 2022 that also had a handful of additional photos.
Things really got going in January when the first trailer (1.4m YouTube plays) came out. We don’t get a lot of setup regarding the characters before getting straight to the demonic possession, which seems to impact Ellie the most as she begins acting very strangely and hunting the rest of her family. Eventually it’s just Beth and her niece Kassie that remain unaffected fighting – and in at least one case chainsawing – their way out of what’s become a very haunted house.
A poster showing an already-possessed Ellie hugging her three kids to her came out at the same time, promising that the movie comes “From the visionary producers of the original classic.” though it doesn’t name-drop Raimi or Campbell.
Shortly after the trailer came out WB released a video capturing some of the social media reactions to that trailer, especially some of the more outrageous scenes it contained.
Later in January SXSW announced the movie had been added to the film festival’s lineup, appropriate given it tends to draw genre movie fans of all kinds.
The movie was featured on the cover of Fangoria’s February issue
At the end of February news came the movie would close the Overlook Film Festival at the end of March.
The SXSW premiere in mid-March brought very positive reviews and good word of mouth. During the festival Cronin was interviewed about how he got the directing gig and how he wanted the story to be unique and not just a new version of what’s come before in the series.
The next trailer (13.8m YouTube plays), released toward the end of March, opens with Beth talking to her sister, who she’s surprised to learn isn’t as dead as she believed. Flashback a bit to what at first is a pleasant family reunion before Ellie is possessed by a demon released after Beth and one of the kids discovers the Book of the Dead. Things only get worse for everyone from there.
In early April Sutherland posted a nice photo of her hanging out by a bus bench ad for the movie with not only her costar Sutherland but also Jane Levy, who starred in the 2013 movie.
While he doesn’t technically appear in the movie Campbell still helped promote it, including by appearing on an Evil Dead-inspired episode of “Impractical Jokers”.
At about the same time Cronin was attending the European premiere of the movie.
Fandango got an exclusive clip that offers an extended look at Beth and the kids encountering the now-possessed Ellie making eggs before she pleads with Beth to protect those kids. Another clip given to IGN shows Ellie attacking her daughter Bridget.
Sullivan was interviewed about the physical toll of shooting the movie but also how excited she was to finally get to wield the chainsaw. Cronin and Raimi also talked a bit about how the new movie pays tribute to the classics in a couple ways but how more homages were cut so as not to overwhelm what was being created here.
Special mention has to be made of something the marketing team came back to occasionally during the campaign. Specifically, they made up a bunch of faux motivational posters that take photos from the movie and add inspirational quotes that are just disturbing.
It’s a fun idea that’s well executed and certainly plays to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the series’ humor.
The only problem with those motivational posters is that their sense of humor – as well as the more fun attitude seen in a few of the TV spots and other videos – isn’t found in the core campaign elements more consistently.
That’s fine, it doesn’t need to be a straight up comedy like Army of Darkness. And perhaps the marketing was intentionally avoiding being too funny to avoid confusion with the marketing of Renfield, which just came out last week. But for the most part it then winds up looking like any of a dozen other horror movies that have come out in the last several years, not like a new chapter in one of the genre’s most beloved series. It then relies on the audience’s affection for that series to generate interest, with long-range tracking predicting an opening weekend of around $25 million.
picking up the spare
A frequent topic of additional interviews with Cronin was how much fake blood he used, as opposed to creating it digitally. Dolby released a featurette on the movie’s sound design.