This week’s episode of Ash vs Evil Dead is taking some fancy artistic liberties with Evil Dead’s low-brow, goofy horror aesthetic… and they work! Like last week’s episode, “Books From Beyond” is fast, nasty, concentrated horror-comedy with a great sense of style.
Style, you ask? Yup—right from the first shot of Lucy Lawless speeding down a highway in a blood-red muscle car to the tune of Dies Ires, you can tell that Director Michael J. Bassett wants to give you something a little slicker, a little suaver—a little bit legitimately cool. Just when you’re worried we might be taking things a little seriously,
Xena Ruby starts torturing annoying a Deadite by flicking the fork embedded in his eye socket.
Anyway, while Ruby continues to pursue Ash in her single-minded, badass, revenge-y-type way, Ash, Kelly, and Pablo arrive at Books From Beyond, an occult bookstore where Ash hopes to get his Necronomicon translated so he can hit the reset button on the Deadite apocalypse.
This episode is all about our team of zombie-slayers figuring out that they’re actually a team. At the beginning of the episode, Ash is pretty clear that he’s not interested in teamwork. He’s (lol) “an alone wolf.” Meanwhile, Pablo (permanently unable to decide whether to make adoring heart-eyes at Ash or Kelly) wants to ride off into the sunset with his new friends “The Ghostbreakers,” fighting evil and having each other’s backs.
At Books From Beyond, we meet Mr. Hawkins (Kelson Henderson), whose hobbies include rare books, tweed, dead languages, collecting dead things in jars, and Communing With The Darkness.
Books From Beyond is an awesomely creepy place! As I said last week, I really enjoy how compressed and streamlined each episode of Ash vs Evil Dead is. Each episode pretty much boils down to a single event, a single location, a single nasty, goofy, gory slug-fest against the forces of darkness. No elaborate subplots or backstory necessary. In this case, set design tells us everything we need to know about Hawkins in a nutshell: he’s bookish, helpful, but foolishly fascinated with forces beyond his control. He’s a scholar and a meddler. He’s here to provide some exposition and get what’s coming to him.
While Hawkins is translating the book, Ash gets blindsided by State Trooper Fisher. She recognizes Ash from her CSI artist’s (hilariously Eastwood-y) sketch and tries to arrest him… but then Pablo hits her over the head with a femur (???!!!), as you do, and The Ghostbreakers go on with their evil book club like they don’t have a concussed police officer handcuffed in the other room.
Hawkins fills in some of that exposition you’ve been expecting—some of the more detailed “world-building” we’ve ever seen in the Evil Dead universe. I put “world-building” in scare-quotes because Evil Dead generally cares about the whys and wherefores of its fictional universe about as much as Ash does, which is to say… Look, there’s a book that’s evil and raises the dead. What more do you actually need to know? There are apparently some “Dark Ones” that created the book to be “a gateway to hell,” and also a “weapon” to enslave mankind. Do you feel better now that you know all that? Okay.
So, Hawkins can’t figure out the Necronomicon’s vague “undo spell” section, so Ash suggests that they conjure a “weak-ass demon” from the book and just, you know, ask it. Pablo’s pretty sure that this is a terrible idea, but Hawkins <3s demons and Ash uses the word “Ghostbreakers,” so Pablo kinda goes along with it, the poor sap.
Meanwhile, Fisher is trying to convince Kelly that she’s a fool for following a chainsaw-handed blowhard she just met into the jaws of darkness. Which, yeah—Kelly’s aware of the weird, strange trip she’s taken recently, thank you very much.
Back in the other room, the boys conjure a demon called Eligos (Ben Fransham), and this is the unexpected stylistic turn I was talking about. Eligos isn’t a gore-faced, slapstick Deadite. He’s more scary than disgusting: he’s got no eyes and giant tusks and he’s blue, for Pete’s sake. He looks more like a cast-off Guillermo del Toro creature than something that Tom Sullivan and Sam Raimi threw together in the Michigan woods. Eligos flickers and jumps around on screen like he’s too otherworldly to be fully present in this dimension. (This effect is the show’s first clever use of CG effects, so that’s good to see, too!)
This surprisingly slick creature design looks a little too classy for a hero we last saw battling stop-motion skeletons, but—somehow—“Books From Beyond”’s weird mix of horror aesthetics ends up working anyway. Bassett does his best Raimi impression, a bunch of objects and bodies and camera angles zoom around at breakneck speed, and everyone gets hit in the face a lot. There aren’t exactly the buckets of blood we’ve come to expect from this show—more like slurpee cups of blood?—but Eligos throws everyone around the room for a while, impales Hawkins’ face with some shards of glass, and does this weird x-ray brain-aneurism thing to Ash and Pablo. Finally Kelly gets the smart idea to send the thing back to hell by slapping it with the Necronomicon. Can’t argue with results, I guess?
In the end, Ash, Kelly, and Pablo drive off for the next phase of their adventure—asking Pablo’s witch-doctor uncle for help. Ash leaves the bookstore with some unhelpful advice about “looking inside yourself for the answer,” but he’s also grateful to Kelly and Pablo (his “alone wolf pack”) for saving his life.
Ghostbreakers assemble! But not everyone gets to join the team—they leave Fisher behind, handcuffed to a piece of furniture in a creepy bookstore for the second time this episode. (Weirdly, Ash also leaves behind his wooden hand, lovingly crafted by Italian artisans, for no clear reason. Maybe he just wants to permanently switch to the chainsaw. That’s fine, Ash.)
But the important thing is: Fisher is trapped in the bookstore with Deadite-Hawkins! If only she had some kind of warrior princess to save her! Wait a second…
Mad Moll Green writes in Los Angeles and Vancouver. She loves horror movies, comic books, and ironic spandex.