“Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, roughly translated, “Book of the Dead”. Bound in human flesh and inked in blood (also human), this ancient Sumerian text contained bizarre burial rites, funerary incantations and demon resurrection passages. It was never meant for the world of the living.” Quote from the opening monologue of the horror cult-classic Army of Darkness, circa 1992.
“Never meant for the world of the living…”, well then, it’s a good thing it isn’t really here or there — living status pending. The Necronomicon is actually a work of fiction, within a work of fiction. A fabricated grimoire (textbook of magic) conceived, created and appearing in stories by the master horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was first mentioned in Lovecraft’s 1924 short story “The Hound”.
Existence notwithstanding, the “accidental” translation, reading or unintentional prerecorded playback of the “Book of the Dead” has served as a catalyst for all things Evil Dead. A franchise which currently spans four decades, encompassing five feature films, a television series, multiple video games and a plethora of assorted merchandising.
The original film The Evil Dead (1981) set a new precedent in horror films with its release creating the “teenagers trapped in a cabin in the woods” horror genre. It also launched the careers of director Sam Rami and B-movie actor Bruce Campbell. Bruce would return to reprise his role as the smartass, chainsaw-handed, boomstick toting, anti-hero Ashley J. Williams in the film’s sequels, Evil Dead 2- Dead by Dawn (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992) also directed by Rami.
This trilogy became the blueprint for the Evil Dead formula: a group of kids in a cabin find a creepy book and a recorded translation of said book. They unintentionally play the recording of the deceased demon resurrection passages which resurrects deceased demons (duh). Then… “the evil” kills, maims, swallows souls and possesses all but one, before all hell breaks loose. Until, that aforementioned “one” turns anti-hero and rises to fight “the evil” … by slashing and blasting their friends’ possessed corpses to pieces – the use of a chainsaw and double-barrel shotgun are mandatory.
This horror equation was readily recycled in a revised, rebooted re-envisioning in 2013 titled Evil Dead (the “The” was re-booted out). And though this 4th installment was filled with a multitude of references and homages to its predecessors, it was missing something.
Obviously, Bruce (who didn’t reprise his role), but still it lacked the tongue-in-cheek dark humor of the originals. Not a box-office failure but not quite the film fans had hoped for.
Now, a decade later, we leave the cabin behind. As the 5th and latest film takes us to a decrepit apartment building in the big city and changes up the formula a bit with Evil Dead Rise. Still no Bruce, but aside from the new locale we also swap older teens for pre-teens, confronting evil in the form of their demon-possessed mother, with shotgun and saw provided by their ne’er-do-well, rock-band groupie, Aunt Beth. It’s dark, foreboding, and though a far cry from the original, still a gory good time.
What truly sets this film apart from its predecessors, and adds a more horrifically compelling element, is the change-up of the evil dead possessed antagonist. Instead of being just a friend, annoying sibling or complete stranger, it’s a formerly loving parent. And it brings up an interesting and disturbing inquiry — could you kill your mother… if she were already dead and possessed by evil? Whew… don’t kill her otherwise… but could you? Wow this would have made a helluva Mother’s Day article.
Keep in mind this is not a shambling mindless zombie we’re talking about. Reading of the Necronomicon opens a rift to the world of the damned, allowing the dead to take possession of the living… after they’ve killed them. They’re called deadites and they reign over every aspect of whomever they possess. So, it looks like mom, sounds like mom, acts like mom but that thing in the cellar is not your mother.
Still, that’s a hard call. Possessed or not, killing and dismembering anyone would be. Guess it’s a good thing the Book of the Dead is a fictitious work. Because the bloody process of finding out who the anti-hero is would probably suck. Especially if it turned out to be you.
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(Evil Dead Rise is in theaters and paid streaming.)