The History of Evil Dead’s Necronomicon

Blair Marnell
Movies Horror
Movies Horror

It’s been a decade since the last Evil Dead movie was released, but the Deadites are coming back to cinemas this month in Evil Dead Rise. However, they couldn’t pull off this trick without a cursed tome, the Necronomicon.

Writer/Director Sam Raimi used the Necronomicon as the inciting darkness of the original The Evil Dead in 1981, and it has gone on to terrorize Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams across two sequels and a TV series, Ash vs. Evil Dead. Similar events unfolded in the 2013 Evil Dead movie, which may not be as unconnected to the original trilogy as it seemed at a glance.

The Necronomicon is the common factor among all five films and the TV series, as it appears to be the Deadites’ favorite means of entering our world. Ahead of Evil Dead Rise, we’re taking a look at the history of the Necronomicon, including origins that go beyond Evil Dead.

Lovecraft Country

Because the Necronomicon is so closely identified with the Evil Dead movies, it’s easy to assume that it was the creation of Raimi and his collaborators. But while they certainly added to the lore, the idea of the book itself was originally conceived by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft almost a century ago. Lovecraft first mentioned it in his 1924 short story, “The Hound,” and he came up with a terrifying history for the Book of the Dead.

According to Lovecraft’s lore, the Necronomicon was written centuries ago by Abdul Alhazred. Alhazred worshiped two of the old gods from Lovecraft’s stories, Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth, and it was Alhazred who compiled a comprehensive history of the old gods who once ruled our world. More importantly, it revealed how to summon them.

Lovecraft’s account was so convincing that many of his readers assumed that the Necronomicon was a real book. And it has since become a commonly used title for books of forbidden magic.

Necronomicon Ex-Mortis

Within the Evil Dead universe, the Necronomicon has a different origin and a slight name change. The full title is the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, and it was rumored in Evil Dead II to date back to the dawn of humanity itself. However, Ash vs. Evil Dead went a step further by introducing the book’s author, Ruby, as a major character.

Despite her human appearance, Ruby (Lucy Lawless) is one of The Dark Ones, an ancient race of powerful beings that were neither demons nor fully human. But they were not the equivalent of the Old Gods in Lovecraft’s stories. Ruby’s claim that she was the author was backed up by her ability to sense when the book was being used. She had a strong connection to the Necronomicon, perhaps aided by the fact that the book itself appears to be alive. Or at least the living flesh of the cover was once alive, and it has been known to bite the hands of anyone foolish enough to hold it. More alarmingly, the book seems to possess a will of its own. Whenever it is discovered, anyone who reads aloud from it has almost always summoned Deadites. And where the Deadites go, tragedy follows.

First Encounter

How did a legendary tome of evil find its way to the backwoods of rural Tennessee? The Evil Dead actually does offer an explanation. It was brought to a remote cabin by Raymond Knowby, an archaeologist who was studying the book he called the Naturom Demonto. And while Knowby had apparently passed by the time Ash Williams and his friends arrived, his recordings of passages from the book gave the Deadites their chance to return to Earth.

Ash’s sister, Cheryl Williams (Ellen Sandweiss), felt the demonic influence of the Deadites even before Ash and his friend stumbled upon the book and Knowby’s recordings. Starting with Cheryl, the group all fell prey to the influence of the Deadites. Even Ash’s girlfriend, Linda (Betsy Baker), was transformed into a Deadite. Ash narrowly managed to survive by throwing the Naturom Demonto into a fire, which seemingly broke the Deadites’ hold on this plane of existence.

It should also be noted that this film established that Deadites can be hurt by a Sumerian dagger, but the only way to prevent them from constantly coming back from the dead is dismembering the bodies of their victims.

The Remake / Sequel

Despite its title indicating it would be a more straightforward sequel, 1987’s Evil Dead II instead presented a sort of remix of the events of the first film, and solidified the mythology of the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, which was now called by its proper name. In this version of the story, only Ash and Linda (now played byDenise Bixler) made the trip to the woods, where Ash once again found the abandoned audio recordings of the late Raymond Knowby, By his own account, Knowby discovered the book during an archaeological dig, and he made the monumental mistake of bringing it home with him. Knowby’s wife, Henrietta, was corrupted and possessed by the Necronomicon before she dispatched her husband. And Linda once again met a similar fate.

A big difference between the two films — besides a crowd-pleasing tonal shift to more outward comedy — is that Knowby’s daughter, Annie (Sarah Berry), had a large role in the sequel. It’s sometimes forgotten, but Annie helped Ash craft his iconic chainsaw hand. Annie also gave her life to finish the incantation that banished the Deadites and the Necronomicon to the Middle Ages. The only problem is that Ash was dragged back in time with them.

Klaatu Barada Nikto

1993’s Army of Darkness, the third film in the series, ran with the idea of Ash fighting the Deadites in the Middle Ages. This time, the Necronomicon was the film’s MacGuffin, the object sought by both Ash and the Deadites. The wise men of the era told Ash that he needed the Necronomicon to cast a spell to get back to his own time and stop the army of the dead before they could rise again. All Ash had to do was find the book and say the words “Klaatu, Barada, Nikto.” Of course, Ash managed to bungle that, and he came face-to-face with his own evil doppelganger and the titular Army of Darkness.

Evil Ash also needed the Necronomicon to fully unleash the power of the Deadites. But even without the book, Evil Ash was able to corrupt Sheila (Embeth Davidtz), a young woman whom Ash had romantic feelings for. Ash and his allies narrowly emerged victorious, and reclaimed the Necronomicon. They even cured Sheila. Soon after, Ash made his way back to the present, using the Necronomicon as promised. But he once again screwed up the magic words and gave the Deadites one more opening in the present.

The Return of Ash

Ash vs. Evil Dead, which ran from 2015-2018, picked up three decades later, with Ash still working a dead end job as a big-box store stocker and living in a trailer park. During the interim between Army of Darkness and the show, Ruby took on the alias of Ruby Knowby, and passed herself off as the last survivor of the Knowby family who wanted to avenge the loss of her parents and sister by finding Ash.

Ruby got her wish when Ash foolishly read from the Necronomicon while high, and he once again allowed the Deadites to return. Ruby immediately sensed that the book’s magic had been used, and she renewed her pursuit of Ash. Meanwhile, Ash found new purpose in life by reclaiming his status as the Chosen One alongside his work friends, Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo). In their quest to stop the Deadites, they returned to the cabin where it all started and finally encountered Ruby.

Unfortunately for Pablo, Ruby captured him and used him to create new pages for the Necronomicon so she could bring unspeakable creatures into the world. Ash successfully bargained for Pablo’s life, as well as his own and Kelly’s. But in return, they gave Ruby the book and formed a truce. Months later, Ruby was forced to revisit her truce with Ash and his team when her demonic offspring sided with their father, Baal, and rebelled against her.

Pablo’s ongoing link to the Necronomicon was unbreakable, but it gave him the power to banish Baal to Hell. Sadly, it also cost Pablo his life. Distraught, Ash formed a plan to go back in time with Kelly and Ruby to prevent the events of the original Evil Dead movies from ever happening. They were only partially successful in changing history, as Pablo was revived, but Ruby was murdered by her younger self.

In the revised timeline, Ash, Pablo, and Kelly were once again forced to face off with Ruby for control of the Necronomicon. But this time, Ash and his “Ghost Beaters” were accompanied by Brandy Barr (Arielle Carver-O’Neill), Ash’s previously undiscovered daughter. The rest of the Dark Ones came to Earth and murdered Ruby themselves, leaving Ash alone to fight them for the fate of the world. When we last saw Ash, he was trapped at some point in the future where he was once again recruited to fight evil.

The New Era

Made before Ash vs. Evil Dead, Fede Álvarez’s 2013 Evil Dead movie plays a lot like a remake of the first two films, albeit with different characters. However, it’s not so easy to dismiss this as an alternate universe. After five old friends gather at a familiar cabin, a car that looks an awful like Ash’s Oldsmobile is seen rusting away outside. (Okay, sure, the car was transported back in time with him at the end of Evil Dead 2, but he was driving it again in the present day in Ash vs. Evil Dead, so it really gets around!) Evil Dead 2013 also has the voices of Raymond Knowby and Cheryl Williams heard offering words of warning for the unwary victims and Bruce Campbell even briefly reprised his role as Ash in a post-credits cameo.

Within this tale, a recovering heroin addict, Mia Allen (Jane Levy), was the first to feel the touch of the Deadites even though it was her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), who discovered the cursed book waiting for them in the basement. While it was essentially the Necronomicon, it was once again called Naturom Demonto, as it was previously referred to in the original flick. Notably though, it looks different from the previous films, lacking the distinct face on the cover. And it should be noted that the book in Evil Dead Rise also looks different. But more on that below…

As before, Mia, David, and their friends fell prey to the vicious attacks of the Deadites. Mia was overtaken before the others, but her soul was spared when David successfully purified her by burying Mia alive and resuscitating her before it was too late. Sadly, David died fighting another one of his possessed friends, which allowed Mia’s evil doppelganger, The Abomination, to gain its own independent body. Out of desperation, Mia was forced to amputate her trapped hand and she used a chainsaw to dismember The Abomination. Essentially, she became the new Ash. Or perhaps even the new Chosen One.


The new chapter, Evil Dead Rise, doesn’t feature Mia or Ash. The story revolves around two sisters, Beth (Lily Sullivan) and Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland). Ellie is raising her three children in Los Angeles before the Necronomicon is found in the basement of her apartment building. Or perhaps we should say “a Necronomicon”, since the fact that it has a different cover suggests that it is either a copy or a different book altogether. How the Necronomicon got there remains to be seen, but Ellie will be the next to fall to the Deadites’ curse when the book’s evil is unleashed. And it will fall to Beth to save her sister’s children and herself, if she can.

Regarding the different appearance of the book in these more recent movies, it’s worth noting that back in Army of Darkness, Ash is baffled to find three books together when he was only sent to get one. While that film indicates only one of them was the correct one for Ash, Evil Dead Rise director Lee Cronin has said he took that scene as a springboard in terms of arguing all of the films do exist in one continuity.

As Cronin explained to Empire, he told Sam Raimi, “‘You know the way in Army Of Darkness, there’s three [Necronomicons]? You had one, Fede had one, I’m going to take the other one.’ It gave me that platform to nudge things forward, and also to showcase that we live in a world where there is more than one copy of the Necronomicon. Those books may all have slightly different personalities – it’s not exactly the same book, necessarily, that Ash had in the cabin. But it’s very, very firmly related. It could even be more dangerous.”

One thing is certain: This won’t be the last time that the Necronomicon (or Necronomicons…) in fiction.

Evil Dead Rise opens April 21.

Blair Marnell
Freelance writer for almost every major geek outlet, including Fandom!