Feminist Criticism

HAIL TO THE QUEEN, BABY: Evil Dead’s new horror heroine

evildeadfemcrit

 

Collage by Chloe

 

The 2013 remake/reboot/re-imagining of Evil Dead was not intended to copy the humor of the original revered trilogy. Instead it was to be a re-imagining of the first 1981 The Evil Dead as the pure horror that it intended to be. As a horror film, 2013 Evil Dead is excellent, filled with brutal terror and heart jumping scares. Horror isn’t often the best genre for representing women, but the film manages (for the most part) to defy and play on typical horror conventions that are typically misogynistic.

The original trilogy is NOTHING without Bruce Campbell as Ash, a beloved character that provides humor with his famous one-liners and change from a nerdy scaredy-cat to a stud with bad-ass bravado. There was no way any remake could use another male lead without the inevitable comparison to Ash, whether or not it was meant to be a serious remake. So, the makers of the film decided to change the lead to a female. (This a gender flip of a gender flip, for Ash in the original Evil Dead was a male Final Girl) Probably less for the sake of actually wanted a female-led horror film and more to avoid the Bruce Campbell comparisons.

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Jane Levy plays Mia, rather than a ‘Girl Ash’ she is more of a Cheryl-turned Ash. (and probably a homage to Deadite Ash)  She is the one who gets possessed first and is trapped under the cellar door, but then becomes the Final Girl by being the lone survivor at the end. Some may chalk it up to misogynistic writing that our heroine spends most of the time as a demon in the basement. And yes, we do end up following her brother for a good chunk of the film. But it is most likely that the writers did this because they didn’t want to do an exact copy of the Evil Dead plot. We’ve all seen a Final Girl before in countless horror films, but a villain-turned-Final-Girl? That’s rare and refreshing.

This Evil Dead also plays on the Final Girl trope by not making her a virgin, a naïve babysitter, or the straight-A student waiting to be corrupted. (1981 The Evil Dead’s Cheryl) Mia has a back-story; she is a troubled young woman dealing with a drug addiction. She is full of inner rage, because her brother abandoned her when their mother was dying in the hospital. She has had demons of her own long before any demon possesses her. She’s not reduced to the bland goody-girl of horror’s past, but a flawed and fully realized woman.

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It is Mia’s drug addiction that serves the new story. Instead of the cabin in the woods teen party we’ve seen before, the characters are there to help Mia withdrawal from her drug addiction. This gives them a reason to stay in the cabin and a reason to blame the odd events and Mia’s terror on the fact that she’s “losing it” or withdrawal symptoms.

One member of the group is David, Mia’s brother who she has a complicated relationship with. David gives Mia a necklace, signifying that they are the relationship stand-ins for Ash and Linda in the original. This is a relationship in horror films that is rarely touched upon, and it is refreshing to see it.

The other female characters in the group are fairly developed. One is a registered nurse. Natalie, David’s girlfriend, has no back-story at all and rarely has much dialogue or anything important to say, but she isn’t portrayed so much as ditzy as more mild-mannered.

Although there David and Natalie are a couple, there are no sex scenes between them or anyone else in this film. (David also ends up having to kill Natalie…much like in the Linda/Ash relationship) So there are no female characters that have sex and because of their sexual liberation get hacked to death…that we’ve seen so many times before. There is not even that much nudity, except for a naked demon at the end, but it is not sexualized or fully seen. The only moment of sexuality is a girl-on-girl kiss between possessed Mia and her brother’s girlfriend, Natalie.

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At first, it seems like the remake will stick to the old convention of having the female characters being the only one possessed. (See Chloe’s article here for a more in depth looks at that trope) The male characters discuss the plan of action while the crazy female Deadites wreak havoc. But Eric does get possessed at the end. He doesn’t go through what the crazy demon girls do, mutilating themselves in extreme fervour, such as cutting their tongue in half, burning themselves with boiling water, slitting their face open… but he’s possessed nonetheless. And Eric suffers enough pre-demon, like getting a needle in his eye and nails shot in his leg.

But some this mutilation is more out of resilience and a willingness to fight rather than possession. Natalie hacks her arm off to prevent from becoming possessed after the kiss with demon Mia. No girl attempts to do this in the original Evil Dead. Both the male and female characters fight back against the demons. And at least it is not only the male characters here to save the day. They both help each other trying to fight off the horrors.

The one part where the new Evil Dead film fails is with the infamous tree rape scene. Sam Raimi has said that he regrets that scene in the original, “I think it was unnecessarily gratuitous and a little too brutal. And finally because people were offended in a way that I didn’t…my goal is not to offend people. It is to entertain, thrill, scare…make them laugh but not to offend them.” He chalks it up to being a kid when he made the film, and in his youth he misjudged. Technically speaking, the original tree rape scene has great practical special effects. But, that doesn’t make up for how disturbing and unnecessary the scene is.

In the original, the trees gain a human like quality, laying Cheryl down, pulling her arms back and ripping off her top to reveal her breasts, and then spread her legs open to penetrate her. And Cheryl almost starts to enjoy it; she has a brief orgasm as if rape (and rape with foreign objects) is something that secretly turns women on.

The tree rape was not in the original script for the remake. Producers asked director Fede Alvarez to keep the scene in the film (or a version of it) “for the fans”. Not wanting to disappoint but also not wanting to offend, the film-makers attempt to de-sexualize it. (at least, from a male-oriented perspective) The tree scene is also served as Mia’s way of getting possessed (like Cheryl) But the tree itself doesn’t rip off her clothes or penetrate her, instead it holds her up as a female Deadite’s tongue/worm thing penetrates her instead. So instead of male rape we have this lesbian element of possession (including that girl on girl kiss)

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Perhaps the film-makers felt that if it’s less male-oriented it is less offensive? But at least Mia responds with pure terror and not sexual gratification.  Overall, this shouldn’t have been included because there are such negative connotations with the original (despite how ‘beloved’ the scene may be in fan-boys’ hearts) that any homage feels mean spirited.

The film builds up to a great ending, especially for our ‘female Ash’ Mia. Eric and David discover that Mia has to be buried alive to get rid of the demon. Some gripe about the fact that her brother- a male character- is the one that saves Mia by doing this and then bringing her back to life. Without her brother’s help, she would’ve still been a Deadite. But it is less about another man saving a woman, and more about family love and sacrifice. David goes into the cabin to fight the possessed Eric; he blows up the cabin killing himself and demon Eric.

Her saving wasn’t misogynistic, but more to throw us off. We think it’s over, Mia is alive and everything’s good. We realize that David didn’t save the day. It’s up to Mia to save the day, because she’s still got one more Deadite to fight in the most AWESOME ending. Mia fights the demon, but she gets pinned beneath a car and then frees herself by ripping her own hand off (à la Ash) and slices the demon in half with that famous chainsaw. And she’s actually wearing clothes while doing it!

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Thanks to a loving sibling relationship and a heroine with strength and resourcefulness we are able to have a well-crafted heroine with a bad-ass ending that she deserves. The Evil Dead remake has its positives and negatives, but overall makes a step forward and breathes new life into an often-misogynistic genre.

By Caroline

 

 

 

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One thought on “HAIL TO THE QUEEN, BABY: Evil Dead’s new horror heroine

  1. Actually, Alvarez is on record that he wanted to make the rape scene in the remake “even more horrible” than in the original movie, which is why it’s both lingered on and amplified the suffering the Mia character endures during the act. The inclusion of the act was a move by Rob Tapert, whose idea the scene was in the original movie.

    Really? Cheryl seems to “have an orgasm” during the act? While the original tree rape scene is obviously more sexualized than , I’ve seen the scene myself and I mostly see revulsion, loss of dignity and then hysteria.

    ((Natalie hacks her arm off to prevent from becoming possessed after the kiss with demon Mia. No girl attempts to do this in the original Evil Dead.))

    That’s because the entire sequence is a reference to Evil Dead 2, where Ash hacks off his possessed hand.

    It’s also not very likely that Alvarez was trying to make a feminist statement with his film, because in the original ending (and the one that was filmed and almost used, until he pressured Campbell into making a cameo), Mia turns into a Deadite again. This was originally supposed to be a scene where Campbell’s Ash killed her,but he refused to do it. He seems to care about his character as much as he cares about his hangnails, judging from what he’s said in the press.

    How do you feel about the obvious humiliation Olivia and Natalie go through before their deaths (Olivia peeing on herself, Natalie being forcibly kissed by Mia), versus the comparatively noble deaths of Eric and David? In that respect the movie’s even more misogynist than the source material.

    Also, the main argument re Mia’s burial – the better argument is – is there anything Mia does in the movie that she’d not literally forced into doing by David, beyond the initial detox? Does she even get to successfully rid herself of her own addiction? Nope and nope. Is there a moment where she actually manages to feel like a menacing threat that could spring from the basement at any moment, like Ellen Sandweiss’ Cheryl? No, because characters shouldn’t literally have to walk into the basement to become infected thralls of the dead, yet this happens in the movie repeatedly. And the sibling love in the movie is so hilariously overplayed it almost borders on incestuous.

    If you wanna see an actual, progressive heroine in an Evil Dead movie, check out Annie in Evil Dead 2.

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