Alex Casey talks to the local crew on Evil Dead Rise about filming the most blood-soaked elevator ride in horror history in a dusty warehouse near Sylvia Park.
The following story contains spoilers for Evil Dead Rise.
Elevators have always been a reliable source of horror, from the decapitation-by-door in Final Destination 2 to the inverse-jack-in-the-box of Silence of the Lambs. But in the locally-made Evil Dead Rise, the newest instalment of the decades-spanning cult horror franchise, there’s a trip to the ground floor that has to be seen to be believed. After the night from literal hell battling possessed family members cooing “death by dawn” in a grotty high rise apartment, Beth and her niece Kassie attempt to escape using the elevator.
As the doors close, there is a moment of calm, then the oozing begins.
With blood pooling around their feet, seeping through the lift buttons and dribbling from the roof, it becomes abundantly clear that this is a repair job that goes beyond the building manager. Ruby red goo rises around their shoulders as the survivors cling to each other. The only escape route is a hatch in the ceiling, rudely occupied by a demonic rat king of all their beloved undead. With the blood lapping over their heads and the maximum weight limit truly exceeded, the lift cable snaps and plummets them to the floor, arriving in the lobby in bloody, familiar style.
Given that Evil Dead Rise has already raked in $48 million at the international box office, this scene in particular has captured the attention of horror fans around the world. Some outlets have claimed that it has outdone the iconic scene from The Shining, and even master of horror Stephen King has heaped specific praise on the elevator vomiting blood. Given that the entire thing was shot in a dusty old warehouse in Mount Wellington by a largely local crew, it should come as no surprise that the elaborate splatterfest required more than a little Kiwi ingenuity.
Production designer Nick Bassett had just 12 weeks to get the entire set designed and built, which included a shakeable bathroom on hydraulics, a dusty cursed bank vault and a to-scale recreation of an underground parking garage. “Most people probably think we just went out and shot the parking lot on location,” he says. “But think about every parking building in Auckland – each car park costs around $100 a week to rent, plus we’d need to find an empty one that we could flood with blood. Very quickly we realised we just needed to create it ourselves.”
But there was, of course, one set piece which was even more integral to Evil Dead Rise: the elevator. “I would say the elevator got used probably from the second day of filming to the very final scene,” Bassett says. Built in a steel frame that allowed it to easily be lifted, rattled and dropped, the elevator’s timber panels were fully removable and replaceable in the event of damage. Crucially, they were also treated so they couldn’t be stained by the gallons of blood that awaited – Bassett says it became a familiar sight to see the elevator getting a “hot wash” outside the studio.
The approximately 6,500 litres of fake blood created for Evil Dead Rise – 6,000 of which was for the final elevator scene alone – was thanks to Brendon Durey, special effects supervisor. With decades in practical effects in the local screen industry, he’s faked everything from rain and snow to fire and firearms. But what he knows better than anyone is blood, supplying the red stuff to gory local productions including Spartacus and Evil Dead spin-off series Ash vs Evil Dead. “We’ve been doing it for years, so we’ve got a fairly cost-effective formula,” he says.
There are no Hollywood secrets here: Durey’s perfect fake blood recipe is simply a selection of food-based dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and water. But to make it on the scale required for Evil Dead Rise was “a difficult affair” he says. Production enlisted a commercial food manufacturer to cook up the quantity of blood needed, which was then pumped into giant bulk containers, usually used for shipping fluid and grain internationally. Thanks to some Covid-19 delays, the blood even had some time to chill in a rented, refrigerated container.
With tonnes of blood tucked away across Tāmaki Makaurau, production also needed to figure out the logistics of filling an entire elevator with the stuff. “You can never really fully waterproof a set like that,” explains Bassett. “So we decided to have the whole elevator suspended over a big tank of blood and slowly lower it in instead of flooding it.” Durey also says the tank method meant that they would not “agitate” the look of the blood by having to pump it in at pace. “It was a much more controlled manner to just have a lift, with a mesh floor, in the blood.”
However, there was another problem to solve: the blood was now freezing cold. Durey went to a pump company in Auckland for advice, and came up with yet another number eight wire solution. “We got a huge amount of two inch alkathene pipe, and we made a big coil which we then filled with hot water with a recirculating heater,” he explains. “We then pumped the cold blood through this heated coil, and then back into the tank again.” The blood pumped around in this circuit for about a week before shooting, raising the temperature to a balmy mid-20 degrees.
“Not quite a jacuzzi,” laughs Durey, “but tolerable.”
The “bloodvator” scenes were shot over two days, lowering both the elevator and the actors into the 6000 litre tank of blood with a forklift. Then, there was just one more big bloody, Shining-inspired lobby scene to get in the can. “It almost looks like we used a model for that, but it’s not,” says Bassett. “When you’re putting people in it, you kind of have to go full size.” A mockup of the lobby and the elevator doors was made out of plywood, with two large “dump tanks” attached to a giant ramp for the tanks of liquid to crash down at speed.
The special effects team did a few dry-runs outside, so to speak, using stunt performers and water, and then moved the entire setpiece into the studio. “Then it was basically ‘one, two, three’ and someone hit the button,” laughs Durey. Despite two tonnes of blood being released into the studio in an instant, Durey says they only needed to run through it twice (once for close ups of the actors) and says that most of the crew got out relatively clean. ‘It was pretty messy on screen,” says Durey. “But we are pretty good at only getting blood where we want it by now.”
Now that Evil Dead Rise has been in cinemas for over a week, both Bassett and Durey are delighted by the response from horror fans around the world. “It was great to see Stephen King himself do a big shout out on Twitter,” laughs Durey. “That’s pretty high praise from a master of horror.”
The film also joins M3GAN, X and Pearl in the pantheon of recent cult horror hits made entirely in New Zealand. Could it be that horror is fast becoming our most successful cinematic export? “I do think that New Zealand’s particularly good with horror,” says Bassett. “We are very hands-on here, and the horror process is very down and dirty.” Whether we continue on this path to horror heaven (or hell, depending who you talk to) remains to be seen – Evil Dead Rise director Lee Cronin has described the movie as a “universe opener” for the franchise and is already teasing “multiple ideas” for a sequel.
“Let’s hope,” says Durey. “There’s always scope for more people’s relatives getting infected by a demon and then mutilating themselves and other people, right? Nobody will ever get sick of that.”
They should probably take the stairs next time, though.