With the 2nd season of ASH VS EVIL DEAD kicking off this past Sunday, many of us alleviated our anticipation by re-watching, and marathoning Season 1 in preparation. While re-visiting the episodes, I found myself thinking a lot about the common motifs in THE EVIL DEAD trilogy and how they might’ve evolved in ASH VS EVIL DEAD.
What has been reinvented and reimagined? What has remained the same, as friendly nods back to the originals? It’s the show’s motifs that are used in such a way to speak to the die-hard deadites while simultaneously building a new fan base. I think the success of this show has a lot to do with the way in which ASH VS EVIL DEAD plays upon the Raimi-isms, staples, traditions, and legacies of the films while also using the three-decade-old tricks from the franchise in a fresh and totally kick-ass new way.
I think we can see a bit of Ash in Kelly. Much like Ash, she is someone who has been so tortured by the undead and wants ultimate revenge. Both have lost their loved ones, hardening them with one goal in mind: destroy deadites! We’ve seen a shift in both Ash and Kelly from victim to bad-ass-deadite-slayer. But no matter how bad-ass they’ve become, there’s something the undead is relentless in—mocking, teasing, and playing into the deepest fears and feelings of those they haunt. They are all-knowing and they take every chance they can to try to make their victims cave.
Ash has let his guard down before in THE EVIL DEAD movies, taking the time to listen to his possessed loved ones and mistaking them as “fine.” Kelly does the same in the episode when her parents become possessed. However, no matter how strong our heroic deadite-slayers become, the undead relentlessly find new ways to torment them. The chatty Necronomicon teases Ash that without the book he will no longer be a superhero. After all, who will he be if he’s not the ultimate deadite-slayer? The Necronomicon gives him a sense of identity and a sense of purpose. Stronger after all these years, Ash is able to ignore the Necronomicon, tossing it into the fridge. However, the undead don’t stop there.
There’s a series of endless motifs that continuously reemerge to dig deeper, forever haunting Ash and his allies. Let’s take a look at some of these more subtle, yet harrowing ones…
Laughter and the Grotesque
THE EVIL DEAD series has always been known for its unique combination of horror and comedy, especially with Scotty’s “party down” attitude in THE EVIL DEAD straight through to Ash’s witty one-liners in ARMY OF DARKNESS. By the time Ash is middle-aged, the things that come out of his mouth are even more absurd, hilarious, witty, and t-shirt worthy. (As I write this, I’m wearing my “Let’s Tango, Bitch!” t-shirt.)
Laughter is part of the undead’s language, a demonic wavelength continuously spewing a song of mockery to terrorize those around them. Their evil howls are grotesque—exaggerated, morphed, and animalistic. Their eerie, echoing snickers serve to torment, torture, and tease; driving the living insane. Possessed Cheryl, locked away in the cellar in THE EVIL DEAD, sets the stage for this ongoing motif. Her over-the-top laughter booms throughout the cabin, and her whitened eyes creepily peer through the opening while the camera zooms in on her hideously transformed mouth. The sound is overwhelming and all-encompassing. It’s a myriad of unearthly sounds, an ugly chorus of the undead.
Possessed Linda is also overcome with a fit of hysterics that are clownish, childlike, and demonic. (And we probably all remember her creepy song in between her ghoulish giggles, “We’re gonna get you! We’re gonna get you! Not another peep, ‘cause we’re gonna get you!”) One of the most memorable scenes comes in EVIL DEAD II when the room comes alive. The mounted stag head and other inanimate objects adopt humanlike features, mocking Ash. The scene is one of pure insanity as Ash begins cackling along as well.
In ASH VS EVIL DEAD, the undead continuously mock the living, and one of the freakiest scenes is when Amanda’s possessed partner pauses to derisively giggle at her, quite amused with himself. Even possessed Kelly keeps laughing at everyone around her as they try to help her (and, of course, there’s also the vomit, teeth, and spit)! There’s just something about the laughter in ASH VS EVIL DEAD that’s so effective and haunting, and continues one of the most identifiable aspects from the original series. Many of the possession scenes, as terrifying as they are, are tinged with comedy. An old lady with cat-like reflexes bouncing off the walls and flies across Ash’s trailer in the finale of Season 1’s first episode, only to land in the direct path of Ash’s chainsaw. The entire season induces even more belly laughs than the films that came before it.
Extreme Close-Ups of the Eyes
We’ve also seen extreme close-up, dismembering images of eyes from the very beginning in THE EVIL DEAD. It starts with a sweet and innocent scene where we see extreme close-up shots of Ash’s and Linda’s eyes as he pretends to be sleeping before giving her a meaningful gift, a necklace. She looks back and forth from Ash’s face to the tiny box held in his hand, and Ash sneaks peaks to see if she notices. However, close-ups of eyes later become a twisted, sick image: possessed Linda’s whitened eyes as she giggles at Ash, possessed Cheryl’s transformed eyes as she peers out from the basement cellar, and Ash’s bulging and googly eyes as he’s driven insane in EVIL DEAD II. The motif of extreme close-up shots of eyes returns in ASH VS EVIL DEAD. One of the first close-ups that we see is when Ash’s possessed neighbor tries to stick her long, pointy fingernail right into Kelly’s eye!
The stag and antlers have multiple appearances and meanings across the series. We all remember the iconic scene in EVIL DEAD II where the mounted stag comes alive, twisting its neck while laughing at Ash. (It’s such an iconic scene that I own a mounted, toy stag that’s signed by Bruce, Hal, and “The Ladies of The Evil Dead”). As we see in ASH VS EVIL DEAD, this classic motif reappears as the undead’s way of haunting Ash after all of these years with an evil new twist. The first appearance of the image is when Amanda’s partner, Carson, is killed from the impalement of antlers. Then when Ash and Amanda walk into the cabin later in the series, the stag falls to the ground, giving Amanda a traumatic flashback to her partner’s death and Ash an unnerving reminder of his past. But the undead aren’t going to stop here. They’ve got a plan. Amanda, Ash’s love interest, dies a horrible death after the attack of Ash’s evil twin when she stumbles and falls upon the antlers, impaling her. Ash’s double asks, “What are the odds?” as Amanda dies. This line has a ton of meaning. The Evil Dead know exactly what they’re doing as this haunting motif reemerges throughout the series.
The motif of “the hand” has been present since the very beginning, right down to the first theatrical one sheet poster for THE EVIL DEAD. And in that first movie, possessed Linda reaches up from beneath the ground to grab Ash’s leg. Despite any attempts of burying or even dismembering the undead (which Ash later does to both Linda in THE EVIL DEAD and his own possessed hand in EVIL DEAD II), they’re still after him. Symbolically, the undead will always be grabbing and reaching for Ash and the living—taunting and haunting. In ASH VS EVIL DEAD, the motif of hands returns, and Ash’s long-lost own severed hand stirs up some trouble again. The hand guides Ruby to the scene, and we even see an extreme close-up of Ash’s hand with a mind of its own walking around the cabin. Ultimately, Ash’s hand prompts Amanda’s death, and we see this motif has returned in an even more evil and eerie way. When Amanda chops off the reattached hand, Ash’s evil twin raises his remaining hand and says, “I still have this hand…to finish the job!”
Sounds of the Undead
Since the beginning, the sounds of the undead have been a constant, cacophonous contribution to the score. The undead communicate through a myriad of horrific noises—multiple inhuman voices, animalistic grunts and snarls, demonic growls, deathly moans, and uncomfortably loud shrieks and screeches. In THE EVIL DEAD, possessed Cheryl makes some of the most iconic sounds of the undead, especially the loud, threatening rattle of the cellar door. Nagging, taunting, teasing, watching, growling, and laughing… It’s all so terribly haunting! In ASH VS EVIL DEAD, the horrid sound of the chains is recreated when Amanda yanks on the cellar door, giving Ash a flashback. Later, when Ruby reads from the book, the cellar door rattles once more and the stag head shakes, subtly reminding us these motifs are always around, always there haunting Ash.
Point of View
From the beginning, THE EVIL DEAD series has always used the most awesome camera angles and point-of-view shots. The Evil Dead utilizes a P.O.V. shot in which we see the cabin from the perspective of possessed Cheryl’s eyes. All we hear is her beastly breathing and demonic laughter as Shelly screams, “For God’s sake, what happened to her eyes?” The placement of the camera has always been so wonderfully unique, especially the iconic point-of-view shots of the zooming, speeding, looming, twisting, turning camera angle as the force of the undead travels through the foggy woods. We only see the horror-stricken faces of its victims. This iconic shot that’s been present since THE EVIL DEAD is recreated in ASH VS EVIL DEAD, an exciting rollercoaster ride for any diehard fan and a kick-ass way of pulling new fans in for the ride.
Lewd, Grotesque Sexuality: the Mocking of Love
We all know that Ash can be quite the flirt and ladies’ man, like in ARMY OF DARKNESS when he tells Sheila all the sweet things he’s said to her was just “pillow talk, baby.” In ASH VS EVIL DEAD, the series opens with Ash in a bar bathroom with a woman he picked up, and he flirts with Kelly when he first meets her. But there’s been two women Ash seems to have felt differently for and things seem to have been “special” with. The first is Linda, and maybe after she died he never truly “loved” again. Ash and Linda’s relationship was sweet, but the undead thwarted and ruined it. The undead mock and pervert Ash’s love for her.
In THE EVIL DEAD, a headless Linda climbs atop Ash, a sexualized and corrupted version of the sweet, reserved Linda we know. Similar perversions are recalled and reimagined in ASH VS EVIL DEAD in the scene where Ash encounters Linda’s decapitated head. While in the shed he hears, “Ash, honey? You left me here, Ash…I loved you. You loved me, too. We had a life planned. I’ve been so lonely…Don’t you love me anymore? …You promised you’d take me to Jacksonville after this.” The undead repeatedly play upon a sore spot as Linda was his original, true love. Linda’s head’s sexualized jokes thwart the feelings he had for her, making everything into something vulgar and perverse. Although she whines, “You already have a girlfriend, you have me,” he doesn’t cave this time. We can see he’s become stronger over the years by his comical response, “You always talked too much, Linda!”
The undead are all-knowing, and they destroy every chance Ash has for love. As Linda’s head says, “We all die. Everyone you ever loved.” Despite Ash’s silly one-liners and inappropriate glances, his relationship with Amanda is more than just sexual desire. He’s been developing feelings for her. Linda’s head gives a threatening warning about Amanda and what’s to come, “Ash. You-you can’t save her. Everyone you care about dies! …She’s gonna die. You already killed her!” Ash was falling for Amanda, and the undead know this. Before Amanda’s killed, his evil twin plays upon Ash’s feelings for her as he talks about their future together. Then the undead continue to taunt Ash after her death like when possessed Amanda bellows, “Baby, I’ve missed ya…Pucker up and give me a kiss!” The undead take away each woman Ash begins to fall far—Linda and then Amanda. And it’s always as soon as his feelings are really beginning to develop for someone. As Linda’s head reminds him, “You’re gonna be alone forever, we’ll make sure of that!”
The undead also mock Pablo and Kelly’s prospects for love or anything meaningful, especially in Kelly’s possession episode. She’s overly sexualized, relentlessly attempting to seduce Pablo. We all know that Kelly and Pablo have a bit of something going on. Pablo has admired Kelly from the beginning, and she seems to show signs of interest in Pablo, too. After all, she jealously tells Heather, the camper, that Pablo has a girlfriend. And, like I’ve mentioned, the undead are all-knowing. The undead twist, mock, and pervert anything that’s sweet and innocent like how Pablo wants to kiss Kelly’s forehead. Even possessed Amanda mocks their feelings for each other. She uses the two campers’ bodies as puppets to demonstrate her impression of Kelly and Pablo, “Hello, Kelly, do you love me? ‘Cause I love you! I love you! I love you! I love you!…” (One of the most awesome scenes of the series)!
“Ashes to Ashes” – “I’m Telling You, There’s Another Me Around Here!”
The deadites always tease Ash with multiple versions of himself. In ARMY OF DARKNESS, miniature reflections of Ash climb out of a shattered mirror, tormenting him. One of the reflections dives down his throat and uses his body to become a life-sized evil twin. While this scene is over-the-top and comical, ASH VS EVIL DEAD uses this motif in a new, horrifying way. Did we think the undead were going to stop there with these crazy, duplicate Ashes? In the show, Ash’s evil twin kills Amanda, redefining the originally silly motif into something purely more sinister. Again, the undead know exactly what they’re doing. They know Ash’s history and what’s worked before when it comes to tormenting him. They take their original techniques and twist them, taking it to the next level. They’re unstoppable and totally outrageous. Season 1 has been a freakin’ blast, and judging from the way the first episode of Season 2 kicked things off, we’re in for one hell of a ride!