By Valerie Guyant.
The following is an excerpt from The Many Lives of The Evil Dead: Essays on the Cult Film Franchise, © 2019, Edited by Ron Riekki and Jeffrey A. Sartain by permission of McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640. www.mcfarlandbooks.com.
Evil Dead has been adapted for different media, including video games, comic books, a theatrical musical production, a board game, and a television series. It has also been adapted for different audiences: two Simpsons Treehouse of Horror Halloween episodes (1992 and 2016), the Evil Dead (2013) reboot, Bhayaanak Mahal (1988) and Bach ke Zara (2008) which are both Bollywood films, one a loose adaptation and the other following most of the plot from the original, Bhayam (2007), a nearly shot for shot replica of The Evil Dead filmed in India, “Done in 60 Seconds” (2010), a Claymation version, Evil Head (2012) which is a porn horror parody, and Evil Dead Inbred Rednecks (2012). … [I]t is the break from horror tropes, the upending of them, and the infusion of humor that creates a compelling story in The Evil Dead and leaves the creators with so many opportunities to tell additional stories without wearying the audience.
… [I]mportant to its longevity was the choice to feature Ash rather than a woman in the survivor role. Prior to The Evil Dead, the protagonist of most horror films, the survivor, was female and known as the Final Girl, an archetype of the horror genre (Rasmussen 45). The image of the Final Girl is:
… the one who encounters the mutilated bodies of her friends and perceives the full extent of the preceding horror and of her own peril; who is chased, cornered, wounded; whom we see scream, stagger, fall, rise, and scream again. She is abject terror personified. (Clover 35)
However, Raimi decided to invert the expectation of a Final Girl and instead offer a Final Guy, but not a heroic, brave, or capable Final Guy. Final Girls, in horror films of the 1970s and 1980s “had to be terrorized” (Campbell 69) but they were also “avenging hero[es]” (Clover 35). When Sam Raimi decided to problematize that archetype, he did so because he “felt that [changing the protagonist from female to male] could make it even more horrifying; if you could reduce a man to scrambling and screaming and yelling and being tormented, it would be even more horrifying than a woman doing that.”
While the novelty of a male protagonist surviving a horror film certainly attracted some interest, what it did far more was gave a larger percentage of audience members someone with whom to identify. Yes, Ash is terrorized by the demons possessing his friends and he makes any number of horrible mistakes while battling them, but he is also the quintessential “everyman.” While the character’s likeability may arguably be due primarily to Campbell’s charismatic portrayal, it is his everyman status that allows audience members to identify with him so profoundly that they want more story about him. Ash begins the franchise as a college student, breaking relatively minor laws [trespassing] and hoping for a fun weekend with his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker). He works at a menial job that most of the audience will recognize [S-Mart is an easily recognizable substitute for Wal-Mart, K-Mart or similar franchised establishments]. He is far from heroic, disfiguring himself, failing to save his friends, making mistakes along his journey that constantly make his fight harder. Yet, audiences want to see him succeed because they recognize aspects of themselves in his behavior, despite the fanciful nature of demon possession.
This identification is furthered throughout numerous adaptations. Ash is the Final Guy in The Evil Dead; he is the Final Guy in Evil Dead 2 (1987). While others may be left behind when he comes back to the present, Ash is, in essence, the Final Guy in Army of Darkness (1992). However, beyond these more obvious ways that the audience is encouraged to identify with Ash, he is also the only consistent character in the video games that have been spawned throughout the past thirty years and the protagonist in a wealth of comic books that further Ash’s story rather than only recounting what is known from the films. … It is also important to note that many of the comic books allow audiences to learn more about Ash, including part of his story before he went to the cabin. Additionally, the comics allow a certain level of wish fulfillment for readers who are used to inhabiting Ash’s persona as he battles Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger and saves President Obama.
… It is Raimi’s inventive willingness to create a new version of his initial story, rather than a sequel, that helped cement the adaptability of the franchise. Sequels to horror films have a notorious reputation for being repetitive, derivative, stale, and often cynical. If Raimi had attempted an ordinary sequel, it risked being saddled with similar labels. Instead, what Raimi and his team created defies easy labeling, for it is not really a sequel. There is no clear demarcation between the first film and the second in its story-telling. While one reason for this disjointedness is an issue with retaining rights to the films and a desire to “recap” aspects of the first film, what occurs is a form of re-visioning that tells a tonally different story. Since the second film includes Linda (now played by Denise Bixler) and Ash reciting from the book and unleashing the evil but in a different fashion, Campbell has suggested referring to Evil Dead 2 as “a requel! It’s whatever you wanna call it!” (Cocchini).
… The continued narrative disjunctions caused (however inadvertently) by issues obtaining film rights from different production companies not only “provide a conditional revision of what came before, further dislocating ordinary reality in a playful, ad hoc manner” (Royer 46) but inspire a desire to seek out additional conditional revisions.
 Bruce Campbell quoted in Warren, The Evil Dead Companion, 36 – 37.
 While the term “Everyman” derives from a 15th century English morality play where the character imparted a moral message, a contemporary everyman is constructed so that the audience can imagine themselves as the character.
Army of Darkness. Directed by Sam Raimi. Universal Pictures, 1992.
Bach ke Zara. Directed by Salim Raza. Jaya Films, 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bI0DRMPw0w.
Bhayaanak Mahal. Directed by Devichand H. Votavat, Devi Films, 1988, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Izy3H63ZsYg.
Bhayam. Directed by D. Ranga Rao, Ayyappa Arts, 2007, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWLBjuGUSBQ.
Campbell, Bruce. If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. St. Martin’s, 2002.
Clover, Carol. Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. BFI, 1992
Cocchini, Mike. “Evil Dead Timeline Explained by Bruce Campbell.” Den of the Geek, 31 Oct. 2016, www.denofgeek.com/us/movies/evil-dead/220045/evil-dead-timeline-explained-by-bruce-campbell.
Evil Dead, The. Directed by Sam Raimi. Renaissance Pictures, 1981.
Evil Dead Inbred Rednecks. Directed by Chris Seaver. Bosoms ‘Til Tuesday Productions, 2012.
Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn. Directed by Sam Raimi. De Laurentis Entertainment, 1987.
Evil Head. Directed by Doug Sakmann. Voyeur Media and Burning Angel Entertainment, 2012.
Rasmussen, Randy. Children of the Night: The Six Archetypal Characters of Classic Horror Films. McFarland Press, 1998.
Warren, Bill. The Evil Dead Companion. St. Martin’s, 2000.
Valerie Guyant is an Assistant Professor of English at Montana State University-Northern where she also is the Chair of the College of Arts, Sciences, & Education. Her research interests encompass most areas of film, popular culture, and speculative fiction.