The sacred texts handed down from Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell following their cult horror trilogy, Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness, are no more tarnished following Fede Alvarez’s 2013 update of the original film than if Mel Brooks produced a spoof titled “Get the Chainsaw, Idiots!” There are homages, oceans of blood, demonic possessions, body mutilations, and every sharp instrument your dad ever told you not to play with when you were a kid. Alvarez gets to play in the sandbox that Raimi created, but with some new toys.
The films do, however, differ greatly in one philosophical way. One wants you to think your way out, and one just wants you to fuck it. Because, much like something else your father warned you about, one of these films has a salacious intent.
It wants to fuck you, and fuck you good.
Sexual imagery is bountiful in horror, this is no secret. As many books and articles (including my own on slasher films and specifically the film Pieces) have stated, men are always trying to stick things in women. It’s Jason’s machete, Freddy’s razor glove, the Tall Man’s sphere, Leatherface’s chainsaw; anything they can find to stick in someone.
One of the more iconic and horrifying scenes from the first two Evil Dead films involves the forest outside the creepy cabin viscerally raping one of the heroines in each film, but Alvarez’s update ups the ante. Not only does the forest rape Mia, it slivers like a black tar slug up her leg into her vagina, where it remains.
Some of the other analogous sexual imagery comes in the form of a nail gun (nailed….get it?), a bite from a demon that injects its venom through the bite marks (STD?), multiple stabbings, lascivious licking of a retractable razor blade, and a finale where our hero literally saws a demon in half.
The screenplay, however, would have us assign the possession analogy to drug addiction, not sexuality. The set-up of the film sees friends gather in the hopes of helping Mia quit drugs, though we learn this isn’t her first attempt to quit and how she nearly died from an overdose. The “demon” being the urge to use and that feeling of possession when you lose control of your urges. That loss of control is terrifying.
That being said, a film with such overt sexual imagery more closely resembles a possession via sexual entity. As in Raimi’s original, the demons are faceless beings that glide swiftly through the night via first person POV. And we learn later in Alvarez’s movie that there are three ways to destroy the incantation: dismemberment, live burial, or fire. This is a significant departure from the original films, which concluded that only by reading from the Necronomicon, which unleashes them in the first place, can the demons be driven away and the host be saved.
This type of possession mythology falls more in line with the likes of William Friedkin’s masterpiece, The Exorcist. A higher power is required and only through recitation of ancient texts can the demon be drawn out. Even in Friedkin’s film, the possession has long been theorized to represent the burgeoning sexuality of the adolescent heroine, Reagan. Only faith in Jesus Christ can rid the evil and save the young girl.
Direct interpretations would say that Raimi’s version believes knowledge (through translation of ancient text) is the only way to drive out evil, while Alvarez’s film prefers ancient methods long-believed to rid the world of witches. Raimi believes in the power of knowledge. For all of Ash’s attempts to physically kill the demons, it takes the scholarly character to recite the passages from the book to eventually eradicate the malicious entity in Evil Dead II. Fede Alvarez is happy with a good ‘ol chainsaw to the head.
To wrap this up with a passage from the beginning of the newer film, the prologue shows a bloodied, exhausted woman wandering through the forest while someone stalks her. Eventually she is captured and we come to find out this woman’s own father is her captor and he intends to burn her. Only before the flame is ignited do we learn that his daughter is actually a demon, and he sets her ablaze. In Fede Alvarez’s world, the wicked must be punished, not saved.
Can’t we all just read a book?