NC-17. I mean, are you going to argue against an NC-17? Probably not. The Evil Dead used to be the most upsetting movie that I owned. It's pretty graphic. There's the most upsetting gore, shy of Dead Alive. It also has nudity coupled with tasteless glorified supernatural rape. It's an exercise in brutality. None of this is meant to be a necessary judgment on my part (well, except for the rape stuff), but there is no denying that The Evil Dead has earned its NC-17 rating.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
Why do I procrastinate? Now I'm all stressed out to write a blog about a movie that I have a lot to say about. (Also, I'm rushing, so I'm inverting letters. I apologize in advance if this comes out borderline unreadable.) Watching The Evil Dead in high school made me feel like such a rebel. I mean, I hadn't discovered Dario Argento or any of the truly horrible stuff that would later contextualize The Evil Dead. Instead, I would just watch this on repeat. Heck, the version I have is the Necronomion version, that comes in a fleshy textured DVD case. My kids were wondering what it was and all I could say, "Um...The Evil Dead?" Father. Of. The. Year.
I'm trying to come to grips with my thoughts on the movie now. After all, it was an old favorite. Heck, my love for this movie inspired me to watch all three seasons of Ash vs Evil Dead, which is a genuine joy. But my takeaway from this movie was the characterization of Ash as a protagonist. There are a few franchises where the continuity is so screwy that I have to make theories on how I should be viewing the movie. I kind of lump The Evil Dead and its sequels in the same attitude I view Highlander and its sequels. My big theory about The Evil Dead though is that this is not the same Ash that we'll get in the subsequent movies.
My friend Pat, upon reading my Army of Darkness blog entry, stressed that Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is a functional sequel to this movie. Again, I don't have much of a leg to stand on. While I recently watched The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, it's been years since I've watched what many consider to be the quintessential entry in the franchise, Dead by Dawn. I have to rely on insanely old memory that doesn't work as well as it used to due to children waking me up from sleep on the reg. (This is also probably part of the reason that I don't watch remarkably graphic movies on the regular. I had to turn the audio up in the basement because old Anchor Bay DVDs didn't believe in subtitles.) But my thing is that the beginning of Evil Dead 2 changes how many people go to the cabin. There's some recasting of Ash's girlfriend Linda, but then it kind of goes right into Night 2 of the house when the first film ends with the camera entity crashing into Ash. Now, part of me is aware that Raimi and company are probably simplifying the plot for the sake of the recasting of Linda while providing the needed backstory for the masses who hadn't seen this midnight cult cinema staple. Okay.
But I really think that Ash is a wholly different character. The Ash that horror fans know and love is a dim-witted, cocky misogynist. He's cool in the face of horrific violence. I posit that this Ash is from a different cinematic universe. This Ash is polite and a gentleman. He cares about people's feelings and is willing to do selfless things because he's the protagonist / hero of the film. When he's alone with Linda, he gives her this ugly magnifying glass necklace (which I'll admit, he also does in Dead by Dawn.) But there is no sex hound in Ash. This is a place of comfort. He listens to his sister (kind of). He is annoyed when Scotty keeps playing Professor Knoby's reel-to-reel. If anything, Scott is more like Ash. Scott takes things too far. He's obsessed with sex and is remarkably overconfident. We also have to think about how each character reacts when the deadites finally arrive. Ash, coupled with his signature shotgun, stands petrified at the notion that he might have to chop up one of his friends. But Scotty is right in the fray. He's there, hacking away at people with axes. For a while, he's actually pretty successful, until he's ripped apart off camera.
Now, a lot of this can be chalked up character development. Part of me really wants to lean into the idea that the events of this night made Ash depend a lot more on his reptile brain. Against my point, Ash does seem to be a burgeoning action hero by the end of this film. The third act has Ash fighting all kinds of deadite nonsense. He's ripped apart and has gotten over his phobia of violence. We could imagine that by the time that he has gotten to the events of Army of Darkness, what inhibitions he had have been permanently stripped by this situation of crisis. If anything, Evil Dead 2 might actually support that theory. But Ash is genuinely no good at fighting anything part one. A lot of his survival is based on luck and timing. Heck, even the magnifying glass necklace catches onto a book, despite the absurdity of that entire scenario. Ash only survives the first day because of dumb luck. (I will also re-discuss what the rules of Evil Dead are if I have time and the foresight to do so.)
In Evil Dead 2, Ash almost starts as this champion against evil. Yeah, he takes his licks. That's part of the charm of these movies. Ash will always take a beating. But there's this confidence to him coupled with a skill when it comes to fighting these monsters. Remember, the movie ends with him getting wrecked by camera monster. The second film starts with him flying through trees and being unconscious for twelve hours. I see him fighting worse after that experience, not better. I really mentally think of Evil Dead 2 as the beginning of a streamlined universe. In that world, Scott and Cheryl didn't come along to the cabin. Instead, it was a couples trip with Ash and Linda. Ash was always kind of a cocky jock rather than a wallflower who blossomed into a demon killing machine. Yeah, it's lamer characterization, but it does allow me to wrap my head around the story.
Considering that The Evil Dead was the progenitor of the subgenre of cabin based horror movies, I should probably cut it some slack. But I want to talk about the ickiest scene in the movie, the rape of Cheryl by the forest. Now, this is an era where the most exploitative horror movie won the race. We were / are icky people who probably should get our acts together. But the torture of Cheryl is a little bothersome to me in the grand scheme of things. Scotty is the one who plays the Knowby tape, despite everyone's protestations. Heck, Cheryl is the most vocal about Scotty's behavior and is left genuinely shook by his behavior. Cheryl is also the one who doesn't fit the sexual archetype established by ancestor The Cabin in the Woods. Cheryl is both philosophically and sexually innocent. Yet she is the first victim. She's the one who is tortured the most by the Other (whatever the camera demon is) to the point where she becomes the most hideous of the deadites. Now, part of me thought that, because she was injured by the trees, that's what brought her possession on. Maybe gross demonic injury makes one more susceptible to demonic influence. After all, she stabs Linda in the ankle, leading her to be the odd cackling girlfriend in the doorway. But what contaminated Shelly? She was damage free when she turned into a deadite.
Which all circles back to the question, "Didn't Ash really win by luck?" I mean, in Evil Dead 2, his hand turns bad and he lops it off before he can be completely possessed. That at least is consistent with the Other's motifs. But why can't the other just possess Ash? The Necronomicon (a book unnamed in this movie) is burned up by Ash, clearly upsetting the Other. Why not simply possess Ash? That seems like the easiest way to torture him. After all, it's what it does. As much as I love these movies, I never quite understood why Ash got a free pass from possession.
Anyway, I enjoyed it still. Yeah, I wish the rape stuff wasn't in there. It feels really backwards and gross. I know it's also odd that I'm very cool with over-the-top gore and violence, but that's kind of what we sign up for when we watch horror movies like these. It's still fun, but it might be my least favorite of the three.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.