ASH VS EVIL DEAD
Groovy Return or Primitive Screwup?
By Danny S. Warren
It has been 34 years since Evil Dead first hit the screens of Drive-Ins everywhere and became a cult classic. Since then it has spawned two sequels, two video games, and several comic book crossovers and adaptations. Its fan-base spans generations, and it launched the careers of “Spiderman” director Sam Raimi and B-movie star Bruce Campbell. It has been 23 years since we last saw the over the top violent mayhem of Army of Darkness, and ever since fans have been rabid with enthusiastic desperation to bring it back. In 2013, we got a delightfully scary and gory remake, but the ravenous hunger of the fans would not be satisfied until they saw Bruce Campbell’s Ash don his chainsaw hand and boomstick to kick Deadite butt all the way back to hell. Halloween night (or if you were the lucky few that caught a secret airing the night before) the Starz Network finally gave us the entrée we have been waiting for when it debuted its new series “Ash Vs Evil Dead”. So listen up you primitive screwheads, because I’m about to deliver my review of the pilot episode “El Jefe”, directed by Sam Raimi and produced by the original producers of the first three Evil Dead movies.
It has been thirty years since the events of that infamous cabin in the woods, and Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell channeling William Shatner’s ego) is living the simple life. He has a stockboy job at Value Stop (What!? No S-Mart!?), lives in a camper at a trailer park, and spends his nights picking up bar broads with made up tales of bravery explaining how he lost his hand (fans of the movie series will remember that he lopped it off at the wrist when it became possessed). While cashing in on a successful pickup, Ash has a vision of a Deadite with a threatening message. This brings back a memory of Ash and an unnamed girl with French poetry tattooed on her wrist (that will become important later), getting stoned, and reading from the Necronomicon Ex Mortis (Oh, Ash! You should be smarter than that, even when stoned). Whatever the passage was, it seemed to have awakened the evil and brought it back to Michigan.
Meanwhile a pair of State Police officers check out a creepy old house where neighbors have complained of a woman screaming. What happens next brings the series to the next level and shows us that Starz knows what they are doing when it comes to producing serials. As the two officers (John and Amanda) begin to inspect the house, it becomes apparent that something is wrong. At this point, the show drops the camp and becomes a legitimate horror experience. John and Amanda discover a body locked into a blood curdling scream and an un-named girl with French poetry tattooed on her wrist (told you!). The girl whispers something in a foreign language before a Deadite appears and begins to bash everyone around. At one point the Deadite tells Amanda “We know who you are” which is never explained indicating that she is important somehow (Maybe Ash’s illegitimate daughter? Maybe a descendent of the archaeologist who found the book? Whatever it is, I can’t wait to find out). Again, they drop the campiness for the most part. There is a moment where a derringer pistol (typically only holds one or two rounds) fires several rounds with the strength of a shotgun blast, but other than that this scene is top notch horror. There is a sequence with a spinning flashlight that is just a masterstroke! I loved it!
We then return to Ash who is desperately trying to get out of Dodge before the guts hit the fan. He swings by work to pick up his paycheck, but his boss, Mr. Roper, tells him that he has to work his shift. We then meet Pablo, a young man who has befriended Ash and has a form of hero worship for the Egotistical Stockboy. He covers for Ash and comes to his aid when he is attacked by a toy doll, making Pablo true sidekick material. Pablo manages to introduce Ash to his friend Kelly, who just started working at Value Stop, and Ash immediately crushes on her. After a disastrous attempt at flirting (which ends with Kelly threatening to take Ash’s other hand) and the aforementioned doll attack, Ash confides in Pablo about his trip to the cabin and his experience with the evil dead. Pablo then confides in Ash that his uncle was a shaman who went by the name El Brujo, who prophesied that evil will emerge from the shadows and one man, named El Jefe, would stand up to and defeat it. Pablo tells Ash that he believes that Ash is the one called El Jefe and that he will defeat Evil. Ash disagrees and splits, proving to be the reluctant hero he has always been. Meanwhile, Kelly receives a phone call from her father who is experiencing some creepy things going on at his house as Kelly is trying to figure out what is going on. Her father says that her mother has returned which is pretty creepy considering she died in a car accident six months prior. She asks Pablo to take her to her dad’s, but Pablo decides her dad can wait and instead takes her to Ash’s. This is where the big climax happens, and Ash steps into his role as El Jefe. This is all fan service as we see Ash don his familiar blue shirt, boomstick, and Chainsaw while he slaughters Deadites with quips and one-liners.
All in all, this was a marvelously well done continuance of a much beloved series. There is plenty of fan service for those of us who grew up on the movies while being welcoming to new comers. It balances the camp and horror well, maybe a little too well. There are a number of people who only know Evil Dead from the third film Army of Darkness and will be expecting much more campy comedy. I fear that particular group of fans might be disappointed in Ash Vs Evil Dead’s occasional serious storytelling and lack of reference to Ash’s time traveling adventure, but those of us who have followed the entire series will be happily joyous now that our Evil Dead cravings are being quenched.
Hail To The King, Baby. This show rocks.
Rating: 5 skulls out of 5