The Evil Dead franchise is one of the most iconic horror movie series out there, not only because of their inventive practical effects and comedy-driven approach to horror with Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness but also through its iconic sound effects. Who doesn’t remember the first time they heard “Kandar” vibrating your speakers or when the camera moves along with the wind in the woods, signaling that a demonic presence is closing in? That feeling is once again evoked in Evil Dead Rise, which was initially slated to release on HBO Max before it got bumped for a theatrical-exclusive release after a positive reception in test screenings.
Because of this, audiences could see Evil Dead Rise in the environment it was meant to be seen and, most importantly, heard. Speaking to supervising sound editor and sound designer Peter Albrechtsen on Zoom, we briefly discussed the iconic sounds of the Evil Dead franchise and creating a new soundscape for a movie that is set in a completely different environment than previous Evil Dead movies.
Read the full conversation below:
The Evil Dead franchise has some particularly iconic sounds, and the movie takes a drastic departure from the usual setting of an Evil Dead film. How did you want to not only pay homage to the film’s iconic soundscapes while also giving a new flavor that the Evil Dead franchise did not previously have?
When I got the job, I received a hard drive with digitized versions of the old Evil Dead sounds from the first two Evil Dead movies. I didn’t just have the sound mixes but the actual sound recordings of all these sound effects. Bruce Campbell, who is one of the executive producers, and the star of the first three Evil Dead movies, is very passionate about sound. When he came to Ireland, where we did part of the post-production process, he came to my studio, where we went through all these old sounds. We also picked about ten classic Evil Dead sounds that Bruce thought should be in the new film. There are a bunch of sounds in the new film, which are sounds from the very two first films. The first sound you hear in Evil Dead Rise is also the very first sound you hear in the first Evil Dead movie. When you’re in the vault, there is a wind effect, which is the same wind you hear when you’re with Bruce Campbell in the cabin in Evil Dead 2. This was a wind that director Sam Raimi recorded.
Director Lee Cronin is incredibly passionate about sound. He wrote a script that’s very much based on sound. Sound is such an important storyteller in this film. There is lots of storytelling happening through our ears, and Lee wanted the sound to be powerful, modern, riveting, and enveloping. That is also why the mixing in Dolby Atmos was important. We wanted audiences to feel the physical impact of the enveloping, visceral feeling of being in the middle of chaos, or on this hell on earth. It was important that the new film had references to the old films, but it also had a modern impact on a modern cinema audience.
Is it challenging to design the sounds of the fifth film in a franchise that has already established itself as a sound-heavy franchise?
I’ve been an Evil Dead fan since I was a teenager. I’ve watched Evil Dead 2 on VHS so much that the tape crumbled at some point. For me, Evil Dead, in itself, is such an iconic franchise. Of course, in the beginning, I was like, “Ok, so how do we build on this?” However, the way that Lee had written the story and directed the film was so inspiring. His take on Evil Dead immediately inspired you to do your very best and deliver some special sounds for these extraordinary images and scenes they had created. When I signed on, being a part of a franchise I’ve always loved is very angst-inducing. However, at some point, it became clear that we would be able to do something special and take the franchise to the next level.
Can you expand upon your collaboration with director Lee Cronin on the movie? Did he have a specific vision for how he wanted the film to sound?
I became a part of this project before they started shooting. Just by reading the script, it was clear we needed many different sounds. When Lee and the picture editor started editing the film, I also created sounds for them to work with. We collaborated from the beginning because there were so many scenes built around sound that they needed to edit the film. We had such a great collaboration, sending ideas back and forth and trying different things. One of the first scenes I did was the elevator scene at the film’s beginning, where Ellie [Alyssa Sutherland] gets possessed. Alyssa is phenomenal in the film, and especially in this scene. It’s really about her and the sounds that envelop the scene. The sound was so important for this scene. After I had done the first sketch for that scene and Lee liked what I had done from the very beginning, it was also a way of finding out what kind of style are we aiming for and what we were looking for.
How did working with Dolby Atmos helped create a more elaborate sound mix for this movie?
The great thing about Dolby Atmos is that it envelops you in sound. You can have sound all around the audience. Most of the film takes place in a small apartment with few characters and a simple story. However, Lee wanted the sound to be epic and powerful. The sound had to create that feeling of being there with them and making everything big and bold. When you mix in Dolby Atmos, it opens up and creates a powerful and enveloping soundscape. At the same time, it was also important for me that it wasn’t just a wall of noise. Lee has this approach to sound where every moment has to have its signature sound. Instead of having a thousand sounds playing all the time, we have selected sounds to create a punctuated, dynamic, clear, extremely powerful, and visceral approach. Oftentimes, it gets very loud and almost physical with the strong impact of the sound. At the same time, it’s very dynamic, which was important to us all.
In this movie, you have a character who is an aspiring DJ. That allows the film to play around with the speakers, headphones, and the intensity of the sound. Can you talk about how you designed the sounds for those specific moments?
That was an adventure in sound. It is amazing that this was integrated into the story because these sequences were about sound. We have this wonderful voice recording of this priest, which we then manipulated in different ways so that it felt like it came from an old vinyl, with the pitch going up and down. We stretched the sound so that it doesn’t just come from one speaker but all around you, and the priest’s voice surrounds you. At the same time, I did a bunch of recordings of old vinyl records of different noises and other weird sounds, like old vinyl records, distortions and stuff like that. We built all of this together to create a really intense sonic experience.
In terms of creating a specific atmosphere throughout the movie, did you have a specific approach in trying to create a sense of tension that’s present as soon as it starts to hook the audience in?
From the beginning, Lee talked about The Exorcist as a reference for the demonic voice. In The Exorcist, when Regan MacNeil [Linda Blair] gets possessed, she doesn’t get a weird synthetic voice. She has the voice of an old actress with a very creepy voice. That was a lesson I learned about using organic sounds, which we did a lot in this film. We recorded tons of different sounds and then manipulated them. For example, when Ellie moves around, it’s a combination of celery for the bones that are cracking, where we convey the feeling of her bones falling apart and a bone we got from a butcher with some meat on it that we were moving around get this crunchy and disgusting sound. We also did a reverse version of the same sounds to get a natural and supernatural side of her movements. We do that a lot in this movie. We take very organic sound but then manipulate it in a way so it gets a dark twist. There was a lot of experimentation with different sounds by pitching and reversing them and using all kinds of organic sounds in very weird ways.
This movie is extremely violent and isn’t afraid of directly showing audiences how violent it gets. For the theatrical experience of the film, how do you elevate its violence to make it feel extremely visceral for the audience to vividly and strongly react to what’s on-screen? Is there a particular approach to that?
There are a lot of old tricks that you use in horror films celery sounds to create bones being broken. You can squash a tomato to create a blood sound, but we also found that you can use mandarins to get a different kind of bloody sound. One evening, my daughter was eating spaghetti bolognese and knew that I was working on the new Evil Dead. While eating it, she said to me that it had a rather disgusting sound, and I was like, “Yeah, it kind of does” [laughs]. So we also recorded some spaghetti bolognese. You use all these things that feel like some of the most normal, everyday things. But when you record them up close with a microphone, you get all of these weird and upfront sounds that get very disgusting, which can elevate the horrendous and horrifying atmosphere we’re going for.
Do you have a particular scene in the movie that was your favorite to design or to work on?
So many scenes in this film have incredible sound design, and I think we did something quite extraordinary. One of my favorite scenes is Ellie’s scream in the bathtub, which is a large scream that makes the water boil, glass fall apart, and rattles the building. I love that moment, but there are so many moments in the film where I think the sound and the visuals go together in a really special way.
Thank you very much for chatting with me, and congratulations on the movie. I’m so happy it got a theatrical release because it was supposed to release on HBO Max initially. The sound design of the film is excellent. It was my first Evil Dead film in a theater, and it did not disappoint.
Yeah, we are also very happy about this. This film needs to be experienced in the theater, and we were excited when we got the news that it would play there. We are so happy that people are experiencing it how it was meant to be seen, it’s amazing.
Evil Dead Rise is now playing in theatres.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]