Evil Dead fans having been waiting two decades for a follow-up to 1992’s Army of Darkness. We’ve begged, pleaded, hoped, and prayed. Finally, in 2015, Ash vs Evil Dead has been delivered unto us: the perfect, bloody, Bruce-tacular Halloween treat.
Yes, it’s 2015, and national treasure Bruce Campbell is headlining a TV show again. And, unlike this one and this one, Ash vs Evil Dead has already been renewed for a second season! I have so many emotions. It’s like our dorky, big-chinned dad got a promotion at work, and I’m so darned proud of him I’m practically glowing.
Anyway, Ash vs Evil Dead picks up about thirty years after Ash Williams battled evil at a remote cabin in the woods, and about 700 years after he battled evil with a bunch of primitive screwheads. He’s old, graying, and thirty pounds overweight. He lives in a trailer park with only a pet lizard for company. He’s a terrible employee at the local Value Mart. He makes up stories about what a big hero he is to pick up girls.
So, other than the gut and the various failing body parts, Ash hasn’t changed a lot in thirty years. He’s still irredeemably self-centered, boastful, and lazy. On paper, Ash Williams is a classic heel, a total loser who just happens to be weirdly awesome at slaying zombies.
Basically, Ash has no business being any kind of hero, but despite his terrible selfishness and incompetence, you can’t help rooting for him. Sometime between the first two Evil Dead movies, some strange, magical alchemy took place: Bruce Campbell’s goofy charisma and hilarious physical presence turned a nondescript college-age protagonist into a swaggering, blustering horror-comedy icon.
And actually, the awesomeness of the entire Evil Dead trilogy could be described as a kind of strange, perfect alchemy—the unholy marriage of B-movie geniuses Campbell and Sam Raimi, ultra-low-budget ingenuity meets great filmmaking, hard-core gross-out terror meets hilarious vaudeville horror.
Anyway, Ash finds himself once again pursued by terrible evil after “accidentally” reading from the Necronomicon Ex Mortis. His first instinct is to get out of town ASAP, but the evil quickly catches up with him. Caught in the crossfire are Ash’s innocent coworkers Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo); Kelly is a sarcastic badass trying to deal with the fact that her mother is mysteriously back from the dead, while Pablo is an earnest, wide-eyed kid who (for some reason) idolizes Ash.
Pablo also suspects that Ash is “El Jefe,” a warrior prophesied to save the world (prophesied by Pablo’s Honduran shaman uncle, obvs). In 2015, when movies are still un-ironically telling and retelling and retelling the “Hapless Everyman Is Somehow Also The Chosen One” storyline, it’s actually kind of refreshing that Ash is so entirely, unapologetically bad at saving the world. He’s not a good person, he’s a huge disappointment, and the only thing that protects him from total disaster is a sadistic fictional universe that seems to think he’s too funny to kill.
In the pilot’s climactic sequence, Ash, Kelly, and Pablo get trapped in Ash’s trailer and fight their way out through some wise-cracking Deadites. Ash gets re-armed with his trademark chainsaw and shotgun, and this scene is just perfect: funny, action-packed, and faux-reverential. Santiago and DeLorenzo get in on the physical comedy, and complete a pretty fun, likable trio of monster-hunters.
Meanwhile, Michigan state cop Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) is teetering on the edge of a breakdown after the death of her partner Carson (Mike Edward). Under investigation, questioning her grip on reality, Fisher is tormented by strange visions and taunted by the Deadites who killed her partner. But then, she runs into a mysterious stranger (Lucy Lawless) who advises her that “sometimes what you think you saw is exactly what you saw.”
Ash vs Evil Dead packs in all the jokes, blood, and mayhem that made you a Sam Raimi fan back in the day. We get a couple of trademark evil steady-cam shots, and Ash tells Pablo his life story while the (in)famous re-cap from the beginning of Evil Dead 2 is projected on the wall of the Value Mart warehouse. Raimi recaptures his distinctive, kinetic style, sending the camera hurtling around the room as evil forces scuttle and zoom and crash around with breakneck speed.
“El Jefe” also displays some decent horror bona fides along with its campy laughs. The sequence where Fisher and Carson investigate a scary haunted house is legitimately pretty creepy, and then legitimately pretty terrifying—a light blinks on and off in the dark as Carson flickers in and out of demonic possession.
This episode is perfectly paced—at a lean 45 minutes, it’s fast, fresh, and fun, and doesn’t waste a second. My only real criticism is that—although it manages some fun practical gore effects and prosthetics—the pilot features a couple of distractingly obvious CG shots. Fans of the original Evil Deads respect a good practical effect—hell, they respect a bad practical effect. The essential Raimi-esque aesthetic is extremely and essentially physical—real cameras moving around strange spaces, wet blood dripping off a rack of antlers, neck bones creaking in a twisting neck, bodies being thrown around like bowling pins. So, hopefully AvED takes the high road in the future and gives us some nice juicy headshots that weren’t drawn on a computer.
Mad Moll Green writes in Los Angeles and Vancouver. She loves horror movies, comic books, and ironic spandex.