What makes Evil Dead so scary

Deconstructing rape and mysogyny in the horror genre

The thrill of a good scary movie is one I can rarely deny. So when my friends asked me to go see Evil Dead I jumped on that bloodcurdling train without hesitation.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t enjoy the cheap scares this time around thanks to some other alarming themes that reared their ugly heads.

The first scene in the movie shows two men hunting down a young woman. When they finally catch her she is tackled and with a blow to the head she goes down. We soon learn that the young woman was in fact demonic – apparent justification for the violent act. The camera angles, however, are disturbing. When the men tackle the pleading woman to the ground, a sneaky “upskirt” shot is flashed before the audience as she struggles to get free.

Several scenes in the main character, a young heroin addict named Mia, crashes a car into a swamp. When she finally emerges from the murky water, she is running through the woods when, in true horror movie fashion, the forest comes alive and attacks her. The young woman is bound by her wrists and ankles by the evil trees, and her legs are then spread apart. A long slimy vine slithers up her leg and into her vagina while she screams bloody murder. Standard demon possession method, no?

This is a perfect example of how rape is subtly made socially acceptable in film. This isn’t a reenactment of someone’s life story or somehow about crimes against women. This is a shining example of rape-as-scare tactic, used purely to invoke fear.

Later in the movie, we find Mia is in a possessed bloodlust. In one scene Mia taunts another young woman, pressing her devilish face up against the woman’s legs; a typical display of sexual intimidation. While I watched I was almost positive another rape was unfolding, and I had a strong physical reaction of anxiety and discomfort. Were the men in the audience feeling this too?

Thankfully a young man shows up to save the day and the possessed girl yells something about sucking his dick. The sexual intimidation extends to the men here; however, when it happens to the man, he is standing above the possessed Mia and slams a cellar door on her. When Mia is intimidated she is in a very vulnerable position and cannot escape, amplifying the intimidation with defenselessness.

Throughout the movie the term “bitch” is used frequently. The women in the movie all become possessed before the men, and in one telling scene a man desperately says to the other something to the effect, “I don’t want to be the devil’s bitch.”

To briefly unpack the term: aside from being used to insult women, “bitch” has developed a new meaning as an insult implying that a person performs demeaning tasks for another. A devil’s advocate would say that the word is no longer an insult to women because in its popular usage it means something entirely different.

But the word has not shed its old misogynistic meaning entirely – it has just evolved. To clarify: someone is another’s bitch, not simply because they do demeaning things for that person, but because they are doing demeaning things only a woman would do. We can pretend that the word bitch doesn’t mean what it used to, but its modern meaning is arguably more harmful than its original connotation.

The term bitch takes on special significance in the final scene when the young villain-turned-heroine Mia manages to kill the source of all evil. With a chainsaw in hand, Mia cuts the demons face in half… then calls her a bitch. Mia is one of the devil’s “bitches” herself, but in an exciting twist she is free and able to participate in the bitch bashing. So there you have it. The ultimate victory lies in not being a bitch.

Many people will be quick to dismiss everything I’ve pointed out here. Perhaps I’ve over analyzed the film? Let’s be clear: I am not arguing against horror movies in general, I am simply pointing out that many of these films involve a disproportionate and alarming display of sexual intimidation, rape, and deprecating language and violence against women.

If you find yourself inclined to defend the film on these grounds, ask yourself: what exactly is it you’re defending and why is it so important to you that these expressions of sexual violence be uncritically accepted and shielded from criticism?