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–Arts and Letters for the Modern Age–

Was the “Evil Dead Rise” viral heckler video a marketing stunt?

by | Mar 21, 2023

One of the most shared stories to come out of the 2023 SXSW Film Festival was the heckler at the world premiere of  Evil Dead Rise on March 15.

A man sitting in the balcony yelled out “This movie fucking sucks” during the post-premiere Q&A with the film’s stars and creators, which took place at Austin’s stately Paramount Theatre.

Bruce Campbell, one of the film’s executive producers, replied “What are you doing here? Get the fuck out of here!”

Something appears amiss about the whole incident. Was the guy just a disgruntled interrupter or was the whole hullabaloo part of a greater plan?

I’ve personally seen over 100 films at the Paramount over decades, yet I’ve never sat where the heckler was seated, in one of two VIP box seats that are situated on either side of the stage. Typically, VIP box seats are reserved for special guests involved with the film.

In the video below, you can see that his bird’s-eye view seat is closer to the stage than most of the other seats in the vintage theater that seats 1200 people.

I’ve been going to the Paramount for quite some time, attending SXSW and many other film festivals held in Austin. And despite sitting in just about every possible position ranging from floor seats to balcony seats, from the front to the very top row, I’ve never had access to the box seat section.

One red flag was the fact that the heckler was seated as close to the stage as anybody in the auditorium. A trusted industry source relayed on conditions of anonymity: “He was invited by the studio to watch the film because he has run viral campaigns in the past. Now, whether his stunt was a viral campaign or if he was just an asshole is still up for debate.”

The Youtube video has certain characteristics that other images from the event don’t cover:

  • A perfect angle that takes in all the layers of the insult. 
  • A continuous shot that depicts the distance between the choice box seat and the stage.
  • Medium shots of the participants (one moderator, six actors and filmmakers) onstage.
  • Wide shots of the panoramic chaos.
  • Most importantly, smooth panning and zoom shots that are not typical of amateur cellphone-captured video.

Other videos online are from the floor level and have the tall boxy aspect ratio of most spontaneous cell phone vids. The video that went viral was shot with the coincidental corollary of a conspiracy film.

The person who heretofore was referred to as “heckler” looks a lot like the social media would-be influencer Aaron or @arinatan2. Aaron confirmed on his own twitter account that he is the person in the video.

While Aaron’s Twitter feed shows only a couple of dozen followers, his TikTok profile has over 7900 followers and a handful of videos, which are obviously viral promotion for last year’s Paramount release, Smile, with several million views each. These TikTok videos show people at a Yankees game turning to the camera to reveal them smiling in the demonic manner of the film’s marketing.

Aaron is seen flipping the bird at the stage when Campbell makes his remark followed by writer/director Lee Cronin and producer Rob Tapert who respectively remark “Keep Austin weird,” and “There was no alcohol involved in that whatsoever.”

The incident got superficial coverage in respected periodicals like Variety, NME, Insider, and ET among others. Yet none of the articles wanted to discover any true meaning beneath the sensational need to drive traffic to their superficial reportage.

Joe Leydon’s Variety review puts things in perspective: “Kinda-sorta sequel, it offers incontrovertible evidence that predatory and possessive bogeymen are just as frightful when their hunting ground shifts from a cabin in a dark corner of the woods to a gone-to-seed apartment building in downtown Los Angeles.”

Of all the things great and small that came out of this year’s SXSW Film Festival the viral appeal of Aaron’s antics may be the  capstone on the pyramid of overall mediocrity that defines this year’s SXSW offerings.

The Paramount Theatre is over a century old and due south on Congress Avenue from the Texas capitol. It used to have a blade marquee that extended vertically to the top of the tall building that was damaged and removed in 1963. A replacement was installed and operational in 2015. Yet the entire three-plus-decades that I’ve been going there I would swear the marquee was there the entire time.

Evil Dead Rise, a Warner Brothers release, hits theaters April 21.

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