A MacGuffin is an object that can have a profound effect on a character and their motivations. In the case of the Evil Dead franchise and Ash Williams, the Necronomicon fits the bill.
“It’s the thing that the characters on the screen worry about, but the audience don’t care.” – Alfred Hitchcock
Birth of the MacGuffin
Fans of Alfred Hitchcock know the literary term, “MacGuffin.” According to Wikipedia, this word refers to a “goal or a desired object that the protagonist pursues.” It can have a profound effect on a character and their motivations.
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In a recent list compiled by KEYC News, Evil Dead’s “Necronomicon”ranked highly on their list of MacGuffin cinematic phenomenon and rightly so. From the very beginning of the franchise, “The Book of the Dead” played a central role in advancing the plot of every movie.
The entire sequence of catastrophic events that befalls young Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) on that ill-fated weekend at the cabin begins when he plays Professor Knowby’s tapes. Recitations of the Sumerian incantations from the “Necronomicon” result in awakening the dormant evil in the woods. Once that happens, bloodshed and chaos abound until the only person left standing is Williams.
Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness also revolve around certain key passages in the Necronomicon . Invariably, this is what starts all of the action in both films. Once again, Ash is prompted to battle against demonic forces each and every time as a direct result of The Book.
Army of Darkness finds Williams starting a war with the dead because he can’t remember a simple phrase. Anyone or anything that touches the “Necronomicon” is in trouble.
The MacGuffin Comes of Age
Ash vs Evil Dead provides many examples of the tome being the cause and effect of each episode. Season 1 Episode 1 “El Jefe” finds an older but not wiser Ash reciting passages from the “Necronomicon” to impress a potential one-night stand.
Of course, that exercise in poor judgment results in three seasons of craziness, gore and other sundry activities. Demons are conjured up, main characters (Pablo, Kelly and Dalton) become possessed, certain individuals are tortured (Pablo) and multiple deaths.
The “Necronomicon” can also be used to resurrect the dead (Brock Williams), create doubles (Ash), open up rifts and summon the Dark Ones to bring about the end of the world. For all intent and purposes, it is a character because it has come to life on several occasions.
Based on all of these factors it is safe to say that the Book of the Dead may be the ultimate MacGuffin in film history as well as the most terrifying.
Would you agree that the Necronomicon is the ultimate MacGuffin? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. We want to hear from you.
Susan Leighton can be found on Twitter and Facebook @SusanontheLedge as well as Instagram @convirgin. She is also featured on Friday Night Tights, the ultimate pop culture wrap up show at Nerdrotic Podcast every Friday night at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT. You can catch her weekly coverage on IFC’s Brockmire at TV Series Hub.