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Early in 2023’s Evil Dead Rise, we are presented with Ellie and her three children. They all embody a radical deviation from the expected norms of kids. One daughter rejects a boy to pursue climate activism, another child is a young trans man making abstract music with vinyl. The youngest has the severed head of a doll on a stick, who she calls Staffne. These kids are queer as fuck, and I love them for it.
Amidst the gallons of blood and gore that fill the movie, Evil Dead Rise makes a powerful statement on how enforcing heteronormative roles upon queer families can become destructive for everyone involved. When transformed into an iconic Deadite, Alyssa Sutherland’s Ellie brings death and violence to everyone, transforming two of her children into Deadites and killing the other residents of her apartment building. While much of this serves to indulge in the Evil Dead series’ trademark gore, the way in which violence is enacted upon a queer family serves a greater message. Rather than the gore standing for simple spectacle, the manner in which it is enacted and who it is enacted upon represent the encroachment of heteronormativity on a queer family.
The Evil Dead movies have a long-standing relationship with queerness. Whether that be a transgender reading of Ashley Williams or the many gay gatherings that center around Army of Darkness (1992), Raimi’s movies are beloved by queer folks. Despite this, we’ve never seen on-screen queerness in any of the movies, though there were queer characters in the underrated Ash vs. the Evil Dead show. This doesn’t change the fact that the mainline movies are insanely queer.
This doesn’t mean Evil Dead Rise is not a queer movie. Queer analysis often requires reading into the subtext of film, particularly within horror. This approach has been applied to Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985), Jennifer’s Body (2009), Sleepaway Camp (1983), and many others. Evil Dead Rise revels in the atypical nature of Ellie’s family. From her offbeat kids to her tour technician sister, it is made clear that these people are separate from the norm. Not only does this align them with the historically queer and ostracized horror audience, the film also does not mock them for their oddity. A lesser film would blame Beth and Ellie’s misfortune on their status as single women. Evil Dead Rise chooses to create joy and empathy instead. While the family struggles with poverty and interpersonal drama, this is not blamed upon the environment they cultivate. Rather, external factors, be they economic or supernatural, are what places struggles upon the family. The time spent endearing us to Bridget, Danny, Kassie, and Ellie is where we see their queer traits displayed the most. It is their queerness that causes us to love them.
After making us love this family, Evil Dead Rise violently mutilates them. What the audience is treated to is a solid hour of watching this family undergo some of the worst physical and mental trauma that’s been depicted on an AMC screen. This is all spurred on by the Book of the Dead, which here is tied to the actions of a Christian church. This demonic entity revels in the torture of this family, taunting them by revealing secrets amidst the butchery. Here, the violence is used to separate the family. As Ellie is manipulated by the Deadites, her love for her children becomes twisted into something evil. She begs to be close to her children and sister with cruel intent. Her words resemble language of abuse, in which the individual is rejected in favor of one who fills the role of a nuclear family member. Kassie is told to be a good girl rather than the expressive artist she was prior. A stark departure from the queer atypical joy seen early in the film.
Ellie’s family is economically disenfranchised, similar to many queer families in America. The socioeconomic inequality that has run rampant in America has made them vulnerable to this. It is because of this lack of access to safe housing that they wind up with the Necronomicon. The book is found in an old bank vault, a financial institution unleashing the scourge upon the family. This creates a blunt metaphor, almost as blunt as one of many bludgeons used against the family.
Heterosexual norms of what a family should be, when enforced upon queer families, are a type of violence. Even if it is not the cheese grater shredding gore of Evil Dead Rise, the way in which it stifles queer joy and love is certainly destructive. Kassie recognizes this, as she knows that the ultra-possessive Deadite claiming to be her mother is not the same one that showed her joy and acceptance. The violence enacted by Ellie and the Deadites destroys those within her family and those surrounding it, as the violence of heterosexual normality mutilates body and social structure alike. This violence erases the personality of the family, replacing it with a static, demonic persona that serves these heteronormative ends.
This all comes to a head in the final showdown, in which Bridget, Danny, and Ellie fuse and are effectively homogenized into a singular being. No longer are they granted the myriad of queer expressions that were originally seen. This process becomes the heterosexual-ification of their lives. Evil Dead Rise bravely recognizes that this heterosexual enforcement must be combatted. Here, that combat takes the form of a blood-soaked chainsaw.
Queerness thrives when individuals are allowed to exist as themselves. This is a threat to systems of power, as difference destabilizes oppressive systems. Queer realities of deviance are embodied in how the family takes pride in their presentation. This presentation is violently attacked by the demonic forces at hand. Evil Dead Rise makes it clear that the attack upon queerness is not circumstantial; this attack is core to the Deadites’ goals. Their goal is to eradicate queerness from the Earth. In their own words, “Dead by Dawn!” The enforcement of this homogeneity on queer populations is embodied in the Deadites of Evil Dead Rise. These abstract systems of oppression are given physical and terrifying forms.
In tackling the reality of this violence, Evil Dead Rise paints a powerful image of queer resistance in the face of violence. Ellie’s family goes down swinging. Until their last breath, each member fights not only for themself but also for the rest of the family. Their actions are rooted in mutual care rather than the violence of the Deadites. They do not revel in violence, instead working to protect one another at any cost. Even as the world looks down on them, the family of Evil Dead Rise lives on in Beth and Kassie. Rather than living based on heterosexual norms of society, they destroy the old ways.
In claiming the role as victor over the Deadites, Beth slays the demon of heterosexual normality. This masculine role is placed upon the mantle of a queer woman. She leads Kassie to freedom and presents a future where, even when availed by evil, they will survive out of solidarity. All it took was several violent deaths and Staffne’s help.
Hail to the King, baby.