Evil Dead is a supernatural horror/comedy movie franchise that began with the trilogy written and directed by Sam Raimi (with Evil Dead II co-written by Scott Spiegel, and Army of Darkness co-written by Ivan Raimi), produced by Robert G. Tapert, and starring Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams. I’ll be dealing with these three films, not the 2013 reboot or the TV series.
Here are some quotes:
The Evil Dead (1981)
“Oh go to hell, I’m not honking at you!” –Scotty
“I believe I have made a significant find in the Kandarian ruins, a volume of ancient Sumerian burial practices and funerary incantations. It is entitled Naturon Demonto, roughly translated: Book of the Dead. The book is bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. It deals with demons and demon resurrection and those forces which roam the forest and dark bowers of Man’s domain. The first few pages warn that these enduring creatures may lie dormant but are never truly dead. They may be recalled to active life through the incantations presented in this book. It is through the recitation of these passages that the demons are given license to possess the living.” –Voice on Recorder
[getting freaked out by the recorder] “TURN IT OFF!!!” –Cheryl
[after being raped by the trees and running back to the cabin] “No, no it was the woods themselves!” [sobbing] “They’re alive, Ashley, the trees, they’re alive!” –Cheryl
“I know now that my wife has become host to a Kandarian demon. I fear that the only way to stop those possessed by the spirits of the book is through the act of…bodily dismemberment.” –Voice on Recorder
[after becoming possessed] “Why have you disturbed our sleep; awakened us from our ancient slumber?” [shouts] “You will die! Like the others before you, one by one, we will take you.” [falls to the floor] –Cheryl
“Why does she keep making those horrible noises! Her eyes. What’s wrong with her eyes? For God’s sake, what happened to her eyes???!!” –Shelly
[her face is smoking and scarred] “I don’t know what I would have done if I had remained on those hot coals, burning my pretty flesh.” –possessed Shelly
[singing] “We’re going to get you.
We’re going to get you.
Not another peep.
Time to go to sleep.” –possessed Linda
“Join us…” –Voice of Evil Force
Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987)
[Ash’s hand gains a life of its own.] “You bastards. You dirty bastards.” [sobs] “Gimme back my hand…GIMME BACK MY HAND!” –Ash
[Ash stabs his possessed hand with a kitchen knife, pinning it to the floor.] “That’s right…who’s laughing now?” [grabs the chainsaw and revs it.] “Who’s laughing now? ARRRGHH!!!” [cuts the hand off at the wrist.] –Ash
[to his freshly sawn off possessed hand] “Here’s your new home.” [He then places a bucket and a stack of books on it to trap the hand; the top book reads “A Farewell to Arms“] –Ash
Bobby Joe: Honey…you’re holding my hand too tight.
Jake: (looks at her) Baby, I ain’t holdin’ your hand.
(Bobby Joe looks down at her hand, seeing Ash’s possessed right hand gripping it. As she screams, the lantern breaks, and she’s gone by the time another one’s lit)
[upon gaining the chain saw in place of his lost right hand] “Groovy.” –Ash
Henrietta: [her severed head wobbling on the floor] Hey! I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll– [Ash steps on Henrietta’s head]
Ash: [aims shotgun at her face] Swallow this. [shoots Henrietta’s head]
“Well, hello, Mister Fancypants. Well, I’ve got news for you, pal, you ain’t leadin’ but two things right now: Jack and shit… and Jack left town.” –Ash, to Duke Henry
“All right, you primitive screw-heads, listen up! See this? This…is my boomstick! – [continuing nonchalantly] – It’s a twelve-gauge, double-barrelled Remington. S-Mart’s top of the line. You can find this in the sporting goods department. That’s right, this sweet baby was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Retails for about $109.95. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt-blue steel, and a hair trigger. That’s right…shop smart: shop S-Mart…Ya got that?!” –Ash
“Now I swear, the next one of you primates even touches me…” [yells, shoots at the pit Deadite, then shoots again] –Ash
“Yo, she-bitch, let’s go!” –Ash, to demoness
[as he is about to kiss Sheila] “Gimme some sugar, baby.” –Ash
“Klaatu Barada NNNNNNecktie. Nectar. Nickel. Noodle. It’s an ‘N’ word, it’s definitely an ‘N’ word! Klaatu… Barada… N” [clears his throat into his hand, then pauses] “Okay… that’s it!” –Ash
“Hail to the king, baby.” –Ash, to female customer in S-MART
The Evil Dead
Evil spirits haunt a forest where there’s a cabin that Ashley, Scott (Hal Delrich), Linda (Betsy Baker), Shelly (Theresa Tilly), and Ash’s sister, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) are going to spend their vacation in. A demonic presence races over the ground, past the trees, and to a road where the five are in a car on the way to the cabin. The demon jerks the steering wheel in Scott’s hands, throwing the car onto the side of oncoming traffic…an approaching truck! Scott regains control just in time to swerve back onto his side of the road.
Scott is a rather obnoxious fellow, cursing at a couple of hitchhikers on the road just after his scary moment of having lost control of the car. Cheryl is quite high strung, and she senses the evil of the area before the others do. Their fear and trauma, symbolized by the demons, drives the five to fight with each other rather than bind together.
In a corner of the cabin, Cheryl tries doing some drawing, but a demon takes control of her hand and forces her to draw a crude rendering of the cover of the Book of the Dead (the original–and in my opinion, better–name for the movie) in jagged lines. A trap door to the basement moves, frightening her.
The point here is that the demons are already loose and preying on the five vacationers. No reading of the incantations in the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis is necessary to release the evil spirits: they’re already free and roaming about, within the woods.
When the five vacationers are sitting at the dinner table, about to eat, the trap door to the basement suddenly swings open, startling them. The basement can be seen to symbolize the unconscious, and the evil spirits can similarly be seen to represent the return of repressed bad internal objects (representations of other people in our minds), as WRD Fairbairn once discussed, and even compared to demon possession, as he does in section 5 of this paper.
The terrors that the five vacationers suffer thus represent the kind of traumas that separate us from each other, and make us want to fight with each other rather than come together in solidarity. The five of them look down into the dark shadows of the basement framed by the open trap door.
Cheryl imagines the noise was just from an animal down there (a perfectly reasonable speculation that cocky, mean Scott laughs at, saying it’s “the stupidest thing [he] ever heard of”), though her speculation is probably a denial of her inner fears that it was really a demon that made the noise.
Scott goes down into the basement, exploring the symbolic unconscious. Ash goes down later. They find, near a torn down poster of the film, The Hills Have Eyes (an interesting bit of foreshadowing), a tape recorder, a dagger with a skull carved into the handle, The Book of the Dead, and a rifle that Scott stupidly points at Ash, right after hiding in the darkness to scare him, just for the fun of being annoying.
The two men bring everything up and play the tape for all five of them, Cheryl being the most reluctant to hear. A man’s voice is heard, describing the demonic subject matter of the book. Since his words on the tape, and words in the book, have been found in the basement, a symbol of the unconscious, we can understand the words to be a representation of how Jacques Lacan said, “The unconscious is structured like a language.” The chanting of the ancient language can release the demons, symbolically the repressed bad internal objects (and the traumas associated with them), and it can send the demons back to the spirit world, as we learn in Evil Dead II.
The speaker on the tape is an older man, a researcher who has discovered the book and translated it. Since he believes in these evil spirits, I can’t believe he was stupid enough to use the incantations to release the demons. I think the chanting we hear him do on the tape is really an attempt to bind them and return them to the spirit world. He’s failed, speaking of having unwittingly “resurrected” them, and so the demons are flying wildly through the forest.
Recall that Cheryl makes her friends stop playing the tape, then Scott fast-forwards it before playing it again. We missed the part in between, where the man presumably tells his purpose in saying the incantations…I suspect an attempt to return the demons to the spirit world, not to release them.
The man speaking on the tape is apparently old enough to be the five vacationers’ father; his voice can thus be understood to represent the Name of the Father, introducing the Symbolic Order and bringing about the entrance into the world of language, culture, society, and law, the way to ensure (or at least promote) communication, connection, and amity between people; for his reciting the ancient language of the book–the language of the unconscious, or its system of symbols and signifiers–is an attempt to send the demons away from our world.
Cheryl, the odd-one-out of the five visitors, doesn’t want to hear the tape. She finds it frightening, and screams to have it shut off. Her terror symbolizes a rejection of society and community, and a rejection of the growth of Knowledge (-K) through linking with other people, what Wilfred Bion called attacks on linking, or what Lacan called foreclusion. These rejections of community and learning from experience, Lacan and Bion observed, can lead, in extreme cases, to a psychotic break with reality.
Accordingly, Cheryl is the first of the five to become traumatized by the demons (who symbolize bad internal objects, remember), and the first to be possessed. The chanting of the words on the tape is like being assailed with what Bion called beta elements, raw sensory data from the external world that Cheryl isn’t able to (and thus refuses to) internalize, process, and transform (through alpha function) into more soothing, emotionally acceptable thoughts, or what Bion called alpha elements. The beta elements are too painful, and too traumatizing, to process.
When an excess of beta elements is rejected and expelled from the mind, a beta screen is built, a wall that keeps external stimuli from entering the mind to be processed, so learning (through linking with other people) cannot happen. This beta screen is symbolized in the movie by the walls of the cabin, which keep out–to an extent, at least–the demonic forces (symbols of the traumatizing beta elements) that race about outside in the forest and try to get in the cabin. An excessively formed beta screen leads to psychosis, creating bizarre objects (hallucinatory objects that are really projections of the psychotic’s turbulent inner mental state); this lapsing into psychosis happens first to Cheryl when she goes out into the forest and gets raped by the trees.
Knowledge (Bion’s K) is normally acquired through links between people (object relations) in the form of projective identification, a projection of energy, personality traits, etc., from one person to be introjected by another; this originally happens between a mother and her baby, the latter not yet having its own thinking apparatus for processing unpleasant external stimuli (beta elements) and transforming them into pacifying thoughts (alpha elements); so the mother must do this processing (containing) for the anxious, fearful, frustrated baby through what Bion called maternal reverie.
Sometimes, though, this growth of knowledge through links between people doesn’t succeed, and the attacks on linking can, in extreme cases, lead to psychosis. That’s what’s symbolically happening to the five people in that cabin. Sometimes containment becomes negative containment (see Bion, pages 97-99), and projective identification (symbolized by demons taking possession of people in the film) is painful, instead of the soothing mother/baby relationship described in the previous paragraph. Instead of containing fears and anxieties, pacifying them, negative containment turns the bad feelings into a nameless dread: such is the fate of the five in the cabin.
Bion’s extension of Melanie Klein‘s notion of projective identification–what he called the container (using feminine, yonic symbolism) and the contained (using masculine, phallic symbolism)–involves the expelling of one’s own traits, energy, feelings, etc. (the contained), into another person (the container), symbolically as in the act of coitus. So when the trees rape Cheryl, the evil spirits are projecting all their hostility, aggression, anger, and trauma into her, forcing her to introject it all, thus possessing her.
The demons force their vicious beta elements (the contained) onto her (the container), then she–back in the cabin with the other four–tries to expel those beta elements (symbolized by the viciousness of the demons) onto Linda and the others.
Ash listens to more of the tape recording (with headphones, so as not to upset Cheryl), as Scott was more willing to hear it when she wanted it turned off. Since the man on the tape–as I explained above–is a symbolic father for all five of them, speaking the language of the unconscious (what Lacan called “the discourse of the Other“) and providing the “talking cure” that pulls us out of the narcissistic, one-on-one relationship with Mother and brings us into a healthy relationship with society, the two young men’s willingness to listen to ‘Father’ on the tape means they will last longer against the demons (symbols of traumatized, psychotic states) than the three young women will. The men’s psychotic breaks with reality will come later, Ash’s especially.
Ash hears of the researcher’s wife (she being the symbolic mother: her demonic state will be made explicit in Evil Dead II, though the implication that she’s among the demons in this first film will be enough for now) having become possessed, and that the only way to stop the possessed is through dismemberment. I believe the man’s chanting was meant to expel back to Hell demons that had already been roaming the woods, but he failed, because the demons were provoked by the chanting (as they are after the tape recording is played, and it upsets Cheryl) to fight back and possess his wife.
The man’s resurrecting of the demons already roaming the woods was, in my interpretation, really an unintended provocation of them to manifest themselves even more, to stop him from finishing; had he been allowed to finish reciting all the incantations, he might have properly expelled them back to Hell. As I said above, I don’t believe such a well-educated, erudite man would ever be stupid enough to wake demons from their slumber.
His recitation of the ancient language is so emotive, with such dramatic conviction, that he must believe in their magical powers; he isn’t just enunciating the words out of scholarly curiosity. If he believes in their power, surely he isn’t just resurrecting the demons for the sake of doing only that…he hopes eventually to send them back to Hell.
In Evil Dead II, the beginning of a recitation of the mystical words first arouses an incarnation of them, then once recited in full, they’d be expelled back to the spirit world. What’s implied in the first film is made more explicit in the second one. I believe the researcher had already encountered demons earlier in his life, driving him to hope that, with the discovery of the Book of the Dead, he could send all the world’s devils back to Hell. He knew the risks of flooding the world with demons, but he foolishly took the risk anyway, with tragic results for himself, his wife, and the five in the cabin.
Symbolically, this failed attempt to send evil spirits back to Hell represents failed attempts to cure trauma. It may lie dormant, but it’s always there, ready to be triggered and brought out into the open again.
So possessed Cheryl picks up a phallic pencil (the negative contained) and stabs Linda in the ankle with it (the resulting bloody wound symbolizing a negative container yoni). Projective identification passes ferocious demonic possession onto Linda.
Prior to the attack on Linda, we see a touching love scene between her and Ash, when he gives her a necklace. This is the one substantial moment of love and bonding between two people in the whole film; but in the framework of this film, bonding can exist between no more than just two people.
He pretends to be asleep on the couch, with the necklace in a box. She sees it, and wants to take the box out of his hand. They alternate switching between giving each other furtive glances and pretending not to look at each other. This is a kind of mirroring. Then, he puts the necklace on her, and they go to a mirror to see how it looks on her.
This seeing of themselves in the reflection is an example of how Lacan saw the psychological implications of looking at oneself in the mirror, which he saw as a narcissistic moment in the Imaginary Order. Ash and Linda see the idealized image of themselves in the mirror, as a couple totally in love; but the reality of who they are, as fragmented, awkward people fighting each other, will be revealed soon enough.
One reason peoples of all cultures have venerated the dead is historically out of a wish to keep ghosts in the realm of the dead and not to trouble us in the land of the living. This was true of the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia, including the Sumerians from the whom the Book of the Dead has come.
Another reason for ancestor worship is to strengthen the ties of kinship and community: in our modern, alienated Western society, in which Bion’s notion of “attacks on linking” is the norm, it’s easy to see why, in the film, the evil dead are running rampant in the forest, and why the researcher would want to return those spirits to the land of the dead, rather than release them on all of us in the physical world. Thus, this trilogy can be seen as an allegory about the breakdown of society, leading to the disintegration of the psyche.
After the attack on Linda, the spirits break the window to Shelly’s and Scott’s bedroom, and they take control of her. Scott investigates, and possessed Shelly attacks him, scratching deep, bloody cuts into the side of his head: more projective identification, his cuts being the negative container of her demonic rage, the negative contained. Soon enough, he’ll be possessed, too.
But for now, he must stop her, and he does it by chopping her body into pieces. This mutilation symbolizes the psychological fragmentation that introduces a psychotic breakdown. First, society breaks apart, then each individual falls to pieces, as symbolized by Shelly’s dismembered, bloody body parts lying and shaking on the floor.
Outside at night, we see a full moon in the enlarged form of a moon illusion; the symbolism of this huge moon intensifies, through its association with lunacy, the growing psychosis in the cabin and in the woods. A cloud of darkness begins to shroud the moon, symbolizing how Bion’s -K, a wish not to know, but to be in a dark cloud of ignorance instead, leads to psychosis.
Scott, traumatized from having killed his girlfriend, wants to leave. He goes out into the woods and learns just how right Cheryl was about the possessed trees when he himself is attacked by them, his face all slashed up by the branches. Again, the attacking, scratching branches are Bion’s negative contained, and Scott’s wounds are the container; this projective identification–a passing of the demons’ evil into him, all the more ensures that he is soon to be possessed.
The most heartbreaking possession of all, for Ash, is that of Linda. Her eerie giggling, like that of a naughty little girl, suggests the reliving of a childhood trauma of Ash’s, of being teased in the schoolyard during recess.
It upsets him so much that he slaps her hard several times, something he’d naturally never want to do to the woman he loves. What’s worse, deep down, he knows he has to kill her, but of course he can’t: he just freezes with that rifle pointed at her. Meanwhile, possessed Cheryl, locked up in the basement and banging on the door in hopes of breaking the lock, represents those repressed traumas in the unconscious, trying to come out. Locking her up in the basement represents failed attempts at repressing trauma, for she will come out eventually.
The psychoanalytic talking cure, something that would be symbolized in the movie by the completed chanting of the ancient Sumerian language (which I believe isn’t even fully achieved at the end of Evil Dead II), requires a long time of the patient’s continued free associations, dream analyses, etc., to bring about the eventual healing and ridding of psychopathological symptoms. At first, the bringing of traumas to the surface is painful, with lots of resistance from the patient; this resistance is symbolized by the demons attacking any reciters of the Sumerian text. If the recitation is finished, as it would seem to be by the end of Evil Dead II, the demons are finally sent back to Hell.
The demons trick Ash by making him think that Linda and Cheryl are back to normal (symbolically, a form of resistance as discussed above), but only for an ever so brief moment. They then go back to their demonic forms, with Linda singing, “We’re gonna get you,…” etc., in a nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah, nyah melody, just like childhood teasing in primary school.
Eventually, Ash has to do the heartbreaking thing and kill her, that is, after she’s stabbed him with a knife, working the negative container/contained mechanism of projective identification on him so he’ll be possessed at the end of the movie. We see him tensing, fidgeting in conflict and agitation as he holds the chainsaw over her; then we see the torment he feels digging her grave outside, and finally having to use the shovel to decapitate her when she leaps in the air in an attempt to pounce on him.
Projective identification is also symbolized by all that blood that is splattered all over his face and body. Possessed Cheryl manages to escape from the basement. Ash goes down there, into the symbolic unconscious, where he sees a surreal spectacle of blood oozing out of an electrical outlet, soaking a lightbulb with red, etc. This gore symbolizes the attempt by the mind to expel traumatizing beta elements. Then, he hears an old gramophone playing a recording of 1930s jazz; a film projector plays an old film against a wall. These two things symbolize old memories recorded and stored in the unconscious, along with all that trauma.
Finally, Ash goes back up to the ground floor, and there he has to fight off possessed Cheryl and now-possessed Scott. Ash is crawling on the floor, his leg held by Scott while Cheryl is hitting him with a poker from the fireplace.
All Ash has as anything to defend himself with are, absurdly, the Book of the Dead lying by the fireplace, and his necklace gift to Linda. He manages, after several unsuccessful attempts, to hook the necklace onto the book and drag it nearer to him.
He thinks that throwing the book into the fire–instead of completing a recitation of the ancient language–will destroy the demons. The use of a necklace (the round glass pendant of which looks like a tiny mirror), in aid of getting the book symbolizes his dubious belief that his undying love for Linda, their one-on-one, mutually reflective relationship as felt in the Imaginary Order, will save him from the psychological fragmentation, the emotional falling apart, that the demonic world represents…Lacan’s formless, undifferentiated, ineffable, chaotic, and traumatizing Real Order.
Ash’s gazing on his own reflection in the mirror prior to this final confrontation, when he touches the glass and sees it rippling like the water of Narcissus‘ pond, should be enough to inform him of the narcissistic illusion of the reflected image, the self-absorbed world of the Imaginary Order. Ash will continue to use narcissism as a defence against the threat of fragmentation, as we’ll see in our analyses of the two sequels below.
As we know, the spirits–having given him the false confidence that he’s defeated them by throwing the book into the fire, with that spectacular, splattering disintegration in front of him–race through the forest, through the cabin, and finally onto him, possessing him at the very end of the movie…leading directly into the second film…
Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn
This movie begins with an abbreviated recap of the events of the first movie, but much, if not most, of this recap actually contradicts what we saw before. We don’t see Cheryl, Shelly, or Scott at all; we’re under the impression that Ash and Linda alone went to the cabin for a romantic vacation, for we see only this couple in the car on the ride there.
What’s more, Linda is played by a different actress (Denise Bixler), and one with the shapely, curvaceous, buxom, ‘flawless’ looks of a model, rather than the wholesome, down-to-earth prettiness of Betsy Baker’s Linda. The scenery also has a more dreamlike quality (i.e., matte paintings for the forest landscape at night). Ash apparently can play the piano, and Linda can dance, twirling around with the grace of a ballerina. In other words, what we’re seeing on the screen is not so much Ash’s memory of what happened, but a fantasy, an idealizing of his one-on-one relationship with Linda, rather than his socializing with all his friends and sister.
Ash, having been taken by the demons at the end of the first movie, is now experiencing the same psychotic break with reality as the other four did. The trauma of having decapitated the woman he loves is more than enough to push him over the edge. His memory is selectively reimagining how he wants to remember what’s happened, and minimizing the painful parts to the best of his ability.
His willful forgetting of key elements from the first movie (his sister, Cheryl, being raped by the trees, then stabbing Linda in the ankle with a pencil; Shelly being chopped into pieces by Scott, who then–with Cheryl–melts into oblivion) is an example of Bion’s -K, the refusal to gain knowledge, process it and deal with it, rejecting such knowledge to the point of becoming psychotic.
When the demons enter Ash’s body, they send him flying through the forest until he hits a tree trunk, then falls, face first, into a large puddle. Now, it’s Ash’s turn to have the ugly face of the possessed; but the sun has risen, and the demons retreat until dusk. Ash is again given the false confidence that he’s safe, thanks to the sunlight; such confidence is false because we know the demons also attack in the daytime, as when they jerked Scott’s steering wheel, and when a flying “deadite” attacks Ash and the knights in AD 1300 at the end of this film.
His lying face down in the puddle reminds us of Narcissus staring down at his reflection in the pond. Indeed, over the course of this movie and the next, we’ll see Ash using narcissism as a defence against fragmentation, for he will be endlessly threatened with a psychological falling apart, the looming danger of falling into psychosis.
To follow my meaning, we must first understand how a narcissistic personality disorder functions. The grandiose self is only one half of it. The other side involves idealizing someone else, originally the infant’s primary caregiver (traditionally, its mother); then this idealization is transferred onto someone outside the family (e.g., one’s girlfriend), after the dissolution of the Oedipus complex. The idealized other reflects grandiosity back to the self, like Lacan’s mirror in the Imaginary Order.
The idealized parental imago and grandiose self are the two poles that Heinz Kohut said were necessary to give the self structure, thus making a healthy personality in which narcissism is restrained and moderate. Lacking such a structure, one uses pathological levels of narcissism to defend against falling apart, as Ash does in this and the next film. After killing his girlfriend, his idealized ‘other self,’ Ash has only his grandiose self to hang onto as a defence against psychosis…an ever-looming threat.
A few significant things should be noted about the researcher and his wife as they’re understood in this sequel. Recall that the wife was possessed in the first film as a result of his reciting of the ancient language. In Evil Dead II, we learn that his name is Dr. Raymond Knowby. He, as I’ve stated above, is the symbolic father, an internal object from the basement/unconscious, and the name of the father brings one out of the dyadic, Oedipal relationship with the mother (here symbolized by Henrietta, Knowby’s wife) and into society. Knowby thus is Bion’s K, which helps one grow in knowledge and mental health…something Knowby would do if allowed to finish reciting the incantations.
During Ash’s fantasy-memory of the events of the first movie, we see the tape recorder on the ground floor, not in the basement. The former floor is the conscious mind, the latter the unconscious; so Ash’s ‘memory’ of the previous events is a consciously constructed fantasy, a preferred version of what’s supposedly happened.
Part of that fantasy is a photo of Knowby’s daughter, Annie, whom we’ll see with her boyfriend/colleague, Ed Getley, later. The fact that we see this photo of Annie on the desk beside the tape recorder–as opposed to no photo of her, and the tape recorder found in the basement, as in the first movie–means her arrival in the cabin is at least in part an element of Ash’s fantasy. So in Evil Dead II, it’s not always easy to distinguish his fantasy from reality.
Her blonde good looks are somewhat similar to those of Linda in this sequel, too, suggesting perhaps a wish-fulfillment on Ash’s part to be reunited–if not with Linda–at least with a similar-looking woman. Since she’s Knowby’s daughter, a fantasized potential union with her could strengthen the notion of her parents as symbolic parents-in-law of Ash, thus representing an unconscious Oedipal relationship with them.
His continued resistance against the evil dead, symbols of Bion’s traumatizing, agitating, and ejected beta elements, results in the creation of bizarre objects–hallucinatory projections of his inner psychotic state. I’m referring to the scene with the laughing deer head on the wall, and the laughing books, electric light, etc. Since these are all projections from him, he of course is laughing like a madman, too.
Part of his worsening psychotic state is his alienation from himself, as we see in his reflection in the Lacanian mirror, which reminds him of his having sliced up Linda with a chainsaw. The ideal-I in the reflection is being his judgemental super-ego, dumping a guilt trip on awkward, bumbling Ash, who looks in horror at the reflection.
His self-alienation grows when a demon possesses his hand, which attacks him by breaking dishes on his head in the kitchen. Its attempt to kill him with a meat cleaver forces him to stab it with a knife, then hack it off with the chainsaw.
Separating it from his body and trapping it under a garbage pail (weighing it down with a pile of books topped with A Farewell to Arms…yuk, yuk) won’t keep him safe from it. The comic aspects of this and the following movie should be understood–from the point of view of my interpretation–to represent the absurdity of delusional thinking.
The arrival of Annie and Ed (who expect to find her parents there), along with two country bumpkin locals (Jake and his pretty girlfriend, Bobby Joe) carrying their bags results in Ash–mistaking them in his psychotic disorientation for more demons–accidentally shooting Bobby Joe, grazing her left shoulder with the bullet. To what extent are these four arrivals real, and to what extent are they a part of Ash’s deluded fantasy?
To the extent that this meeting of five people is fantasy, and to what extent real, will determine how much of the alienation felt is still in Ash’s head, and how much of it is social alienation. In any case, this sequel continues the themes of social and mental breakdown seen in the first film.
For wounding Bobby Joe, and–as Annie et al wrongly assume when seeing the bloody chainsaw–causing the deaths of Dr. Knowby and Henrietta, Ash is locked up in the basement, as his sister, Cheryl, was in the first film. The other four play the tape and learn what really happened. Possessed Henrietta is woken up in the basement.
Since I see Dr. Knowby as the symbolic father of all in the story, residing as an internal object in the unconscious (symbolized by the basement, recall, where the tape recorder was originally found in the first film), I see his wife, Henrietta, as symbolizing the internalized object of the mother, in her good aspect as the object of Oedipal desire, and in her bad aspect as symbolized in her possessed form.
Ash begs the others to let him out of the basement before Henrietta gets him, since symbolically–as Melanie Klein conceived the bad mother internal object–she causes terrible persecutory anxiety in the paranoid-schizoid position (a state of mind involving splitting Mother into absolute good and bad, and originating in the first few months of infancy, but which one can return to at any time throughout one’s life). Ash, trapped in the basement/unconscious, is experiencing archaic, primal, childhood trauma.
He’s let out, but possessed Henrietta is kept in there. Soon, we see her change back into her original, loving mother form, in an attempt to trick Annie into freeing her from the basement. This switch to original Henrietta shows the contrast between the good and bad mother that is part of splitting, the essence of the paranoid-schizoid position.
She sings “Hush, Little Baby” to Annie, reminding her of when she sang it to her when Annie was a baby. Since it’s actually the possessed Henrietta singing, we see here a kind of parody of the good mother’s soothing of her baby’s distress through maternal reverie (see above).
Because Henrietta is possessed of a demon, that means symbolically that both the good mother and the bad are united, which would be understood if one experienced the ambivalence of the depressive position; but in their traumatized state, Annie, Ash, et al can only see an archaic mother split into ‘good’ (the singing, loving Henrietta) and bad (possessed Henrietta). Hence, Annie denies she’s her mother. Annie is stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position.
Societal breakdown is once again symbolized by the continued infighting amongst the five people, especially when Ed becomes possessed. Ash runs off to find an axe, and Annie–wrongly thinking he’s just running away in fear–calls him a “fucking coward!” Ash returns and chops possessed Ed to pieces; apart from her screaming at all of Ed’s green gore, though, Annie doesn’t seem all that upset about her butchered boyfriend, which could be seen to tie in with her being a replacement Linda in Ash’s fantasies.
The ghost of Dr. Knowby appears, telling them to use Annie’s and Ed’s newly-found pages of the Book of the Dead to drive away the evil spirits, to save themselves and to save his soul (for his recklessness in having recited the ancient language). In his repentance over having unintentionally released the evil spirits, we see, in the ghost of Knowby, an integration of Klein’s notion of the good and bad father, the sadness in the ghost’s countenance a mirroring of Annie’s experience of the depressive position.
Bobby Joe screams when Ash’s possessed, disembodied hand is gripping hers; she runs out of the cabin and into the woods, to be grabbed by the trees (in a manner reminding us of what happened to Cheryl), then dragged away to her death.
Annie does the best improvised translating she can of those new pages she’d brought with Ed: they tell of a “hero from the sky” (who we later learn is Ash) landing in AD 1300, and saving the people of that time from the “deadites”; I see this as part of Ash’s narcissistic fantasy, his defence against psychotic fragmentation–it will be developed in the third film. Ash says this “hero from the sky” didn’t do a good job of defeating the demons; since I see this as all part of his grandiose fantasy, his saying the hero failed is just false modesty, his denial of his growing narcissism.
Reciting the incantations will first bring about an incarnation of the demons, then completing that recitation will open a time rift and send them back into the past. Note how Annie says nothing of sending the demons back to Hell, which I believe a better, and complete, translation would reveal (as the ghost of her father has suggested), if she were to have the time to do so. For whether they’re demons of the past or of the present, the demons are still with us, bad internal objects lingering in our trans-individual, collective unconscious.
Jake takes the rifle, points it at Ash and Annie, and demands that they go out into the woods and help him find his pretty girlfriend. As for reciting the incantations, Jake sees no value in that, so he takes the pages and tosses them into the basement with Henrietta, then forces Ash and Annie at gunpoint to go outside and look for Bobby Joe.
Jake’s refusal to allow the incantations (a symbol of the talking cure, recall) to be recited is representative yet again of Bion’s -K, a stupid, stubborn refusal to gain knowledge and link with people. He should be helping Ash and Annie; instead, he cares only about his girlfriend, who is a narcissistic mirror of his own grandiosity. He prizes his dyadic relationship with her over general community and society.
The racing demon rockets toward them and possesses Ash. Annie and Jack get back to the cabin, where he is killed and she is attacked by possessed Ash. He picks her up and throws her against a wall, knocking her unconscious.
He approaches her with intent to kill her, but fortuitously, he sees his necklace gift to Linda lying right next to Annie, whose motionless unconsciousness resembles death. Why is that necklace, by sheer chance, lying so close to Annie?
Since Ash has been having auditory and visual hallucinations (i.e., those bizarre object projections of his psychosis right before the appearance of Annie et al), it’s easy to believe that much of what ensues (as well as much of what precedes) is figments of Ash’s deluded imagination, too.
This is why I believe Annie could be a fantasy of his, a potential replacement of Linda. The sight of that necklace beside knocked-out, unmoving (i.e., seemingly dead) Annie reminds one, unconsciously, of truly dead Linda. Ash is unconsciously transferring his love of Linda onto Annie. His mourning of Linda when he picks up the necklace, combined with the unconscious hope of having Annie replace her, helps pull Ash out of his psychotic state (symbolized by the demon possession), and so he returns to normal.
Kohut’s notion of the bipolar self requires, on one end, an idealized parental imago (see above) and, on the other hand, a mirroring of one’s own grandiosity, in order to have healthy personality structure. If one end breaks down, a person relies ever so much more on the other end to compensate and maintain that structure. If both ends break down, there’s the threat of fragmentation, psychosis, and pathological levels of narcissism are thus often used as a defence against that fragmentation.
In these two films, Dr. Knowby and his wife, Henrietta, the symbolic idealized parental imagoes found in the basement/unconscious, have failed spectacularly to measure up to the parental ideal, he for releasing demons into the world instead of (as I speculate was his real intention) binding them and sending them back to Hell, and she for being the demonic bad mother.
Without the symbolic idealized parents, Ash can have recourse only to Annie as a replacement of Linda, to give him the empathic mirroring he needs in order to re-establish psychological structure and become emotionally healthy again. Her reciting of the pages, which symbolizes the talking cure that will pull Ash out of the traumatizing, formless, indescribable, chaotic Real Order and bring him back to the Symbolic Order of language, culture, custom, and society, further reinforces how important she is for helping him regain his sanity.
An interesting detail about that necklace is its round, glass pendant. Since glass gives off reflections, the pendant is like a miniature mirror. Thus, as a gift Ash gave to Linda, and now something lying next to unconscious Annie, it symbolizes that mirroring of love and empathy that helps Ash rid himself of being demonically possessed, and helps him, through narcissism, ward off the threat of fragmentation.
Annie comes to, he strenuously convinces her that he’s no longer possessed, and they work out their plan to retrieve the pages Jake threw into the basement with possessed Henrietta. They go into the toolshed, fit the chainsaw to Ash’s stump, and he uses it to saw off the rifle, which he puts in a kind of holster on his back. Fancying himself a bad-ass demon-destroyer now, he enjoys the flaring-up of his narcissism.
When he goes into the basement to find the soaking-wet papers (symbolically, the Lacanian language of the unconscious), he tosses them up far too easily to Annie (symbolically, bringing what’s unconscious up to consciousness), as if he were throwing up a softball; one would expect the pages to fly apart in the air, but with the blurring between psychotic fantasy and reality, and with his narcissistic overestimation of himself in that fantasy, anything seems possible. Part of Ash wants to be cured enough to fantasize an easy passing up of the pages.
In the final confrontation with Henrietta, symbolically the bad mother internal object from the unconscious, her neck elongates into a serpentine form. So here, she in a sense resembles Tiamat, the Mesopotamian sea-goddess who is usually described as a sea-serpent or dragon, and who as a primordial deity can be likened to the archaic mother.
Annie now sings “Hush, Little Baby” to the mother/monster, echoing the parody of Bion’s container/contained/maternal reverie that Henrietta did on her daughter. Annie’s containment of Henrietta’s demonic rage thus temporarily tames her, distracting her so Ash can hack her head and arms off with the chainsaw. This ends with a repudiating of the idealized parental imago (Ash blowing her head away with the rifle) and having only Annie to give him stability.
Ash and weeping Annie embrace, suggesting the potential of a love relationship between them. Now, Annie has only begun a reciting of the incantations from the pages, which bring the demons into the flesh. Symbolically speaking, this reciting brings the traumas out into the open, but it isn’t enough to heal them. She must be allowed to finish.
Part of Ash wants her to finish (Bion’s K), but another part of him (his disembodied, possessed hand) doesn’t (-K), for a thorough processing of all his traumas will be too painful for him to bear. So his demonic hand, holding the Kandarian dagger, stabs Annie in the back. Narcissistic Ash fancies himself a great hero, but he hasn’t saved anybody in this or the last movie.
Dying Annie struggles to continue reciting, and she manages to bring about the time rift to send the demons back into the past…but before finally succumbing to her death, has she really completed the reciting sufficiently to send the demons back to Hell? I don’t think so. If she has, surely the time rift would be closed up, at least.
All she’s accomplished is sending them…and Ash…back in time to AD 1300. Her death signals the last of his hopes for a love to replace Linda, to mirror his grandiosity. Totally lacking in what Kohut called healthy psychological structure, Ash is overwhelmed with the threat of fragmentation, a psychotic break with reality.
His only way to hang on now is to indulge in narcissistic fantasy, where as a man of the enlightened future, he can imagine himself as ‘superior’ to the “primitive screw-heads” of the year 1300. As the “hero from the sky,” he can indulge in a grandiose messianic fantasy. Narcissism is his last defence against fragmentation.
Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness
Bruce Campbell, whether he wants to be or not, is more or less synonymous with Ash, so calling this third film Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness is essentially the same as calling it Ash vs. Evil Dead, or whatever you want to call it. The story is now all about narcissistic Ash fighting his demons.
As with the second film, this one begins with an abbreviated recap, and reimagining of, the first two films. And as with Evil Dead II, this contradictory reimagining of Ash’s past is just that: a mix of fantasy and fact.
Ash introduces his place of work here–S-MART, a store that sells a variety of commodities, from hardware and housewares to rifles. In his narcissistic imagination, he portrays himself as the ideal employee: hair neatly combed back with a curl in front (a bit like Superman), and dutifully telling customers to “Shop smart: shop S-MART!”
As the ‘ideal employee,’ he’s imagining himself a better employee than many, if not most, of his co-workers. How Ash really is as a worker–be it in S-MART, or wherever he actually had a job prior to his fateful vacation in the cabin–is probably somewhere below that ideal; and given his goofy awkwardness, probably far below.
His wish to believe he’s better than most of his co-workers shows how his social alienation, and Lacanian self-alienation, now spill over into the Marxian concept of alienation; for his “Shop smart: shop S-MART” wish to gain his boss’s favour indicates at least some level of class collaboration.
His wish-fulfillment goes further: we learn that Linda also worked in S-MART; and instead of seeing either the original actress, with her natural, realistic beauty, or the one with the conventional, model-like beauty of the second film, we see Linda with the familiar face of a celebrity–Bridget Fonda, who had already established herself, as of 1992, as a major Hollywood actress in such films as Godfather Part III, Singles, and Single White Female. Thus, Ash’s narcissistic self-deceit extends to idealizing Linda even more, making her a movie star in his fantasies.
The quick recap of the horrors of the first two films is not only for the sake of pacing and getting on with beginning this third story: it’s also because, as I see it, the less detail that Ash needs to go over, the less painful it will be for him. Wilfully forgetting exactly how he acquired his traumas is, once again, Bion’s -K; knowing too much hurts too much.
In his AD 1300 fantasy (note how it isn’t, say, 1301, or 1318), Ash is in chains and being taken to a castle to be thrown into a pit of “deadites.” Narcissists like fancying themselves as victims as much as they like fancying themselves as dashing heroes.
When I describe Ash as ‘narcissistic,’ I don’t mean it in the sense of malignant narcissists who lie, manipulate, and do smear campaigns on their victims. I’m referring to Ash’s change of character as his way of coping with all the traumas he’s suffered: the deaths of his sister and girlfriend, as well as those of Scott and Shelly; also, there are the traumatic disappointments in the symbolic parents of Knowby and Henrietta.
Because of these shocks, Ash has gone from being the unassuming, nice guy of the first film, next to having a psychotic breakdown in the second film, and now, finally to cope with all of this pain, he’s become cocky and belligerent. This is the comic, amusing Ash who’s entertained us, and whom we all love, but that doesn’t change how grandiose he’s imagined himself to be. Indeed, it’s that combination of cocky and awkward that we, as an audience, identify with, and that’s why we love Ash so much…he’s human.
He looks down on the people of 1300 as “primitive screw-heads” and “primates” because seeing himself as above the average person is the only way he can hang on. Since he is, in reality, a careless, bumbling fool, the only way he can feel superior is to indulge in a fantasy world where the average person is ‘behind’ him by almost 700 years.
In the pit, when he has to fight off the possessed, and the wise man tosses down his chainsaw, note how Ash jumps up and effortlessly fits his stump into the chainsaw, all in one flawless attempt. Note how we hear the Early Modern English of writers like Shakespeare, rather than the Middle English of 1300, earlier than even Chaucer. What we’re seeing in this film is not a representation of time travel back to that year, but rather Ash’s fantasy, what he thinks it might have been like.
In this fantasy, Ash is the dashing hero who is waited on by beautiful women who serve him grapes, wine, and roasted meat. The lovely Sheila quickly switches from wanting to kill him to wanting to kiss him. He’s loving every minute of it, needless to say.
The comical absurdity of his fantasy reaches the point of looking like the cover of a Harlequin Romance when he, with his muscular chest showing and his hair blowing in the breeze, holds Sheila and says, “Gimme some sugar, baby,” and they kiss. Ash gets some ass: he’s no longer interested in finding a new love to replace Linda; he connects with women now only out of pleasure-seeking.
Note how this movie is not, essentially, a horror film like its predecessors: it’s a comedy/adventure/fantasy with the trappings of horror in the form of “deadites,” skeletons, etc., and even they are comic rather than frightening. This change in genre is due to the fact that Ash, in his bordering between narcissism and psychosis, is no longer engaging with the real world. He says he wants to go back to his world in the early 1980s…but does he really?
The people of this world cohere socially much better than we’ve seen in the first two films; there’s hostility only between Duke Henry the Red’s people and those of Lord Arthur, as well as, of course, between man and the “deadites.” But this world isn’t real–it’s all in Ash’s imagination.
The wise man tells him that, in order to return to the present time, he must find the Book of the Dead, the Necronomicon, for that book has the magical incantations and formulas to send him back. Since the words in the book symbolize talk therapy, we see again that the only way to be cured of trauma is to face it, to talk one’s way through it. The unconscious is structured like a language, it’s the discourse of the Other. One is cured through a building of knowledge…K.
The wise man tells Ash that, when he finds the book, before taking it, he must say words humorously similar to, “Klaatu, barada, nikto,” a reference to the words of Earth’s salvation in The Day the Earth Stood Still. This allusion is further proof that what Ash is experiencing is fantasy, the details of this dream-world coming from his memory and imagination rather than from the external world.
Still, while the wise man is importuning Ash to memorize the exact words through repetition, Ash displays more -K, his refusal to learn by committing the words to memory. He arrogantly assumes he’s already learned the “damn words,” but talking things through properly, using all the resources of the language of the unconscious to articulate emotion, is crucial to curing trauma and restoring mental health.
Ash rides his horse into a forest (suddenly, he knows how to ride a horse), where he finds himself chased by the racing demon of the first two films. As with Cheryl running to the cabin after being raped by the trees, and Ash rushing back to the cabin after discovering the ruined bridge in Evil Dead II, he–having fallen from his horse–is trying to run away from trauma instead of facing it.
He runs to a windmill, the farcical scene reminding us of that of another deluded, bumbling narcissist who fancies himself a great hero, Don Quixote. Ash gets inside and closes the door behind him, imagining he’ll be as safe from demonic possession as he supposedly was in the cabin of the first two films. The windmill’s walls, like those of the cabin, are a beta screen keeping out traumatizing beta elements (see above).
His being chased by a demon in the forest and using a shelter to protect himself from it suggest what’s really happening to him, as opposed to his medieval fantasy. The windmill is one of his many hallucinations; he’s really alone in the 1980s, having run through the woods and back into the cabin. No horse, no hero…just Ash.
Inside, he sees his reflection in a mirror in the darkness. Thinking it’s someone else, he runs at it and smashes it into pieces. This, once again, is Lacanian self-alienation, between oneself and the specular image. It’s Ash in the reflection…yet it isn’t Ash.
Miniature, demonic versions of Ash emerge from his reflections in the shattered pieces. These are more of what Bion called bizarre objects (see above for links), hallucinated projections of Ash into the external world. They’re a result of the excessive use of a beta screen (the windmill’s walls) to keep out traumatizing beta elements (the demons).
These mini-Ashes attack him, making him trip, bang his head, fall, burn himself, and get a pail stuck on his head. His bumbling reactions to his attackers symbolize the difference between the dashing hero, the ideal-I he saw in the unified, original mirror reflection, before he ran at and broke it, and the clumsy, uncoordinated, fragmented self that Ash really is.
He projects his fragmentation symbolically onto the pieces of broken glass, then into the mini-Ashes who have come out of them. He also projects and denies the bad parts of himself onto the mini-Ashes. Such projection and denial are part of what Kohut called the vertical split of the ego into the grandiose part of the self and the rejected part.
One can project and deny all one wants, just as one can try to repress one’s trauma (as symbolized by locking Cheryl up in the cabin basement), but those bad parts of the self are still, and always will be, part of oneself for as long as the trauma isn’t treated. Hence, one of the mini-Ashes goes down his throat and back inside him, right after they all give him the Lilliput treatment.
He runs outside with an eye having grown by his shoulder, and out there we see the giant moon illusion we’d seen in the original movie…another suggestion that the windmill and medieval world are all just delusions and hallucinations of his. That moon is again, a moon of lunacy, symbolizing his still-psychotic state.
A second head grows out of the spot where the eye was, and soon a second body grows beside Ash’s original; then the two come apart. A good Ash, and a bad one: he has projected his undesirable half again, in a narcissistic attempt to be only the hero.
That the bad Ash and the mini-Ashes are all comical in nature shows how good Ash, in his narcissistic imagination, deflates the worth of the bad Ashes, big and small; just as the army of skeletons, soon to be seen, are also made to look ridiculous. Ash is projecting his bumbling foolishness, as well as his bad side, onto all of them.
After beating bad Ash (by disfiguring his face with a gunshot) and burying him, good Ash finds the Necronomicon…three books! The consequences of his -K are apparent when he forgets the exact wording of the three-word formula to take the correct book and leave the area safely. Symbolically, his failure is a restatement of the theme presented throughout this trilogy: the talking cure, which brings us out of the trauma of the Real and back into the culturally shared signifiers of the Symbolic, must be followed–to the letter, as it were–to its completion, not left halfway.
Once again, narcissistic Ash thinks he’s projecting his foolishness onto others, but the foolishness is always his own. His stealing of the book, while faking the enunciation of the three words, causes the raising of the dead, who are now headed for him and the castle to retrieve it.
Ash is now despised by Arthur, the wise man, and all the people in the castle. Arthur calls him a “braggart,” and a “coward.” But since this is Ash’s fantasy, this negative feeling towards him cannot last long; so he proves his mettle in not only leading the men to protect the book and the castle, but also to train the men in wielding spears (another skill he’s suddenly endowed with), and to have Duke Henry the Red’s men help.
Sheila is captured by a flying deadite, taken to the risen bad Ash, and possessed of a demon. The two will lead an army of comical skeletons to attack the castle. In the ensuing battle, Ash proves his bravery with a sword (yet another suddenly acquired skill…more narcissistic fantasy), and his ingenuity with modern science (quickly gleaned from textbooks conveniently found in the trunk of his car…even more narcissistic fantasy).
With the defeat of bad Ash and the skeletons, Sheila is restored to her original beauty, and–thanks to the help, however belated, of Duke Henry the Red’s men in the fight–the two groups of people become friends. Since this trilogy has mainly been about the breakdown of society through shared trauma, this anomalous amity between people is just more of Ash’s wish-fulfilling fantasy.
When Ash is about to be returned to his own time, he is given precise instructions on how to prepare for his travel ahead through time. But once again, he fails to pay attention to detail (-K), and depending on which ending you see, he either returns to the present while bringing the possessed with him, right into S-MART, or he sleeps too long and wakes in a post-apocalyptic world.
Both endings are acceptable: either he resumes his narcissistic fantasy of being a dashing hero and ladies’ man in today’s world (leading to Ash vs. Evil Dead), or he witnesses the horrific conclusion to how collective trauma (and how oversleeping symbolizes -K, a refusal to learn from history) leads to social breakdown, then ultimately to the annihilation of the human race, which is a truly evil dead.