Invoking the Original ‘Evil Dead’

In anticipation of the upcoming remake of the original Evil Dead  (April 5th, 2013), it seemed only fitting that I write one of my feminist, analytical essays of the original version by Sam Raimi (1981). It’ll be interesting to compare the old version with the new. If you haven’t seen the original, however, stop reading here and go to Netflix to catch yourself up on some essential horror education.

As a feminist writer, one of the first things that came to my attention was the main character the narrative focused on, Ashley Williams. If you’re reading this without actually seeing the film it would be understandable for you to make the assumption that Ashley is a female protagonist. However, in this case Ashley is a man (Bruce Campbell). And while I’ll be the first to admit that the main character does NOT have to be female for the film to have a feminist theme, it is, however, what the film chooses to do with its female supporting character that makes or breaks the feminist genre.

original evil dead characters
(Renaissance Pictures)

The original Evil Dead could have easily gone either way when dealing with its characters. When the film opens we are introduced to our hero, Ash Williams, along with his sister Cheryl Williams (Ellen Sandweiss), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), friend Shelly (Theresa Tilly) and Scott (Richard DeManincor). Now, already you can tell the female characters outweigh the male, but this film still chooses to focus on the strength of the men rather then the power of the women.

The main antagonist of this film is an evil, demonic entity that exists within the woods that is unknowingly summoned when the group of friends play an incantation that was recorded on tape in the past.

Cheryl is the first of the group to be possessed by the evil and is shown to be brutally raped by the woods brought to life by the demonic entity. Not only is she displayed as the weaker of the group, she has to be shown being raped by an inanimate being to further prove how weak she is.

When she is able to make it back to the cabin no one from the group seems shocked at her state and they simply try to silence her and her claims of torture. She is viewed as simply a hysterical woman who is trying to be the center of attention rather than the victim that she actually is.

When Cheryl finally turns into a demon, the possession quickly spreads to Shelly and finally to Linda. It is clear that the three female character have no real strength in this film. None of them are able to fight off the demonic parasite that takes over the lot of them, each quickly turning as each is infected.

However, when Scott is beaten and battered he is able to hold on to his humanity seemingly longer than any of the female characters before ultimately turning over to the dark side. This seems to suggest that as a man he is stronger and able to hang on to control easier and better than the female characters in this film. It’s taken for granted that as a man he is in more control.

The original Evil Dead, as an 80s horror film, seems to want to prove that female characters are welcome within its narrative. But while two romantic connections exist within the film, neither allows its female counterpart to survive the film’s anti-feminist plot. It is quickly shown that the women in the narrative are the weaker of the sexes and that the men are there to serve as the protectors and the warriors while the women fall and succumb to the evil temptations of the demonic entities.

However, the upcoming Evil Dead remake, directed by Fede Alvarez, might take the film in a new direction, as it stars a female lead this time rather than a male. Jane Leve takes on the role of the “final girl” in this film and if done right this remake could give the women of the film a fighting chance.

dangerous-women
The female cast of the original ‘Evil Dead’ in the TV series ‘Dangerous Women’ (© Strike TV)

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About Anthony Comella

Anthony Comella
Welding feminist theory with horror film criticism, Anthony seeks to help empower women's voices... all the better to scream louder with!