Comparing sexual meaning in Evil Dead and its remake: genophobia and rupophobia in contemporary horror

The conventional explanation for why teenage boys and girls got killed in slasher movies is that they had sex. It is said that the anxiety that teenagers have about sex (in extreme form, genophobia) is thus vented, in this display of retribution. But this is a simplistic notion, as terror management theory, a theory which explains how human beings manage primal fears, states that even among adults and all humans of whatever age, sex sometimes causes anxiety, and after sex more so, because such intimacy experienced then released from makes human beings think of death, it has, what is called mortality salience, and also makes people think of their creaturliness, which also reminds us of our limits and mortality, so we have sex, then think about death. One of the ways in which modern civilization also tries to lessen these feelings is to desensitize and desacralize sense, with the idea that if we feel less about sex we will feel less the mortality salience that it arises in us. And so casual sex, and sexual freedom, and being lax and uncaring about sex, and getting it out of the way at a young age so it doesn’t bother you anymore, is all a strategy managed by still TMT to get the fear or mortality salience out of sex.

Culture has not in any way reduced the anxiety of sex, it has simply tried to make it so routine and no big deal that as a motif in horror it no longer has the pungency that it once did, and so, more and more, is being simply avoided. And thus you have in much contemporary horror the strange paradox that in this supposedly much more liberal time in matters of sex there is very little sex, much more gore, and an almost chaste view of sex as not being primal enough to elicit fearful response. As a result of this change too, if this generation thought that conquering sex would reduce mortality salience, they were mistaken, and a new fear, rupophobia, fear of filth, dirt, creepy crawlers, slime, contact, life, has come to the fore.

This can be clearly seen if you compare the 1981 Evil Dead original and its remake Evil Dead 2013. In the first movie, there is still a strong sex anxiety that the core underlying anxiety in the movie that primarily serves to call up the demon is sex. In the remake, sex plays almost no part in it, and it is the girl itself, because she is messed up on drugs, that is the problem. And her problem is not sex but life, and life itself, and life itself is symbolized in contemporary horror as a disgust at the messiness and disgustingness and filth and miasma of muddy, messy, awful life. It might be said that while classic horror preslasher was informed by a thanatos-attacking-eros dynamic, contemporary horror is informed only by more primal elemental fears involving disgust with creepy crawlers and muck and mess and all that. Classic horror is sexual-relational-social, contemporary horror primal-elemental-ontological. Its just a thesis. But consider the difference in a single scene in Evil Dead, the scene I have no doubt which put the original on the map, the good brainy girl being raped by the evil forest demon.

The first problem is that there is an uneven number of kids up on the trip, and we see pretty quickly that some are paired as couples, and get romantic, and others not. That itself creates an uneasy tension in the house. The romance elements of the movie are pretty corny, too, it has to be said. But then when the demon first stalks the house, he is not some elemental force like wind sweeping around the house, but a humanoid-acting presence, who can peep into windows, and, quickly, scores, by catching one of the girls precisely at the moment when she takes off her top,

ev 1

And then it is artist good girl, without a mate, without a bedroom to share with a boy, who goes out in the woods, The woods then smell her, sense her, and begin their attack. Like clingy boys, they send out feelers

ev 2

And then their feelers get more direct, and phallic in form, taking the shape of sticks with thickness

ev 3

In the Evil Dead remake, the branches creep along the ground (not unlike in Contamination Number  7), and are black

ev 4

In closeup, they embody not the stickiness and phallicness of the trees, moving through the air, in human space, but natural creepy crawlers, lurking about in the muck. It is a difference, they represent different forces. Then when they begin to grab the girl, they seem only interested in wrapping her up and getting her stuck in nature,

ev 5

All this in closeup, and in black. And then the famous rape occurs, but one has to say one might hardly know, if you have not seen the original, that this is what this is,

ev 6

A black thing goes up in her, between her legs, but she is already smeared with black mud, and scratches, and rain, the stick is blurred, it could be coming out as well as up. This reminds me of other illegal entries of that area, such as Freddy’s hand in Nightmare, and the slugs in Slither coming up into the girl in the bath. They relate to the creepy crawlers that crawl out of people in Alien, or are fed into people mouth to mouth in so many movies, like in a late Friday the 13th movie, and others, this is as much as transmission of an evil possessive imp, an abortion, a perverse birth, embodying as it does an essence of creepy crawliness, this makes girls squeal because of a primal fear, cultivated in more disgust horror, of having some creepy crawler crawl up in there, and infect and infest one, pollute one, make one germinate it, and give birth to a monster. This is all emphasized by the many-directioned pinioning of her, like a medieval satan giving birth out of all orifices, in a black inky drawing in the book

ev 7

This entry then in my view, as I see it, in terms of where it comes up, how it moves up in there, and where it goes, is more elemental, and ambiguously invasive, related to all of the above. It is nonsexual, it is elemental, it is not about bodies and sex, it is about having a body and being disgusted at the dirt and nastiness in life. But, in the original, back in 1981, there is absolutely no doubt that this stick is a moving penis and he is zeroed in on her vagina,

ev 8

This stick energy has already ripped open her clothes, stripped her, readying her for the rape, and then it zeroes right in, this is a rape by the forest. And the proof that this is conceptualized as a sexual assault, is in the movie, that is, the sequence, after, as we see the branches tearing off more of her clothing,

ev 9

Then the branches twist and turn and spread all over here body, in this shot, they have exposed a breast, we see it, and then they spread over and feel up the breast

ev 10

the fact that the vines twist in under her breast is intentional, and then we see them squirm further up her leg, with more intention

ev 11

And then, straight on, there is the intercourse scene, when, spread eagle, her dark crotch showing, though she wears black panties, we see entry, the attempted rape

ev 12

And then when she escapes, she runs back, almost naked, her legs and panties exposed (presumably meaning that she escaped before there was consummation). But one knows, from the conventions of the time, that this sequence of events, per se, in themselves, signify the primarily sexual nature of the assault because they track closely over the way that most sex scenes of the time were filmed, usually involving passes over close-up body parts, legs, arms, breasts, etc. and it is the same thing here, and any viewer in 1981 would have got the message quite clearly. In the new version, there is only that single miasmic black assault, and nothing more about it. Clearly, this direct comparison sets in relief the profound differences between then and now, in matters of sex, and in matters of where most fear resides. Then, fear spun off from sex (genophobia) had not yet been entirely cultured away, and made routine, desensitized. Now, it has, but that in turn has ended up removing from our defense against and fear of the miasma of creation (rupophobia) our fear of decaying into the muck and the assault upon us by dirt and creepy crawlers from the dirt.


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