“This is gonna hurt.”
From the first moment of Ash vs. Evil Dead we’re in pure homage and I am ON BOARD. For many of the people who are going to be following this show, we’ve been waiting years — decades! — for another dip into Sam Raimi’s Necronomiconiverse. And now that it’s finally here in the form of a wacky, gory, Bruce Campbell–starring premium cable television show, the possibility feels electric. But, from right off the bat it seems Ash vs. Evil Dead is going to be struggling to find a balance between delightful, deadite-splattering mayhem and actually offering elements of a compelling, ongoing series. But hey-o, the show’s already been renewed for a second season, so we’ve got at least 20 episodes to see where this thing’s going. We might as well strap on our chainsaws, jump right into the mayhem!
We find our hero in full-on sleaze ball mode, exploiting his wooden hand (“It’s rosewood, hand-carved by Italian artisans.” natch.) and a sob-story about saving a kid from a train to pull loose women at seedy local bars. This doesn’t strike me as classic Ash per se (he’s kind of a goofy sweetheart with his little glass pendent in Evil Dead II, right?), but I guess a lifetime of hard living one step ahead of deadites can turn a man a little cold. Mid-coitus, our hero gets a faceful of deadite and a warning about something that “hasn’t happened in like 30 years.” Campbell’s combination of confusion, fear and horniness as he goes back in to finish the deed after this deadite scare was the first moment that made me really remember what a great performer of expressions he is. I am pumped to watch this man make many more goofy faces.
So Ash guns his trusty Delta 88 home to check up on the ol’ Necronomicon Ex-Mortis and suddenly remembers my biggest qualm with this whole premise. We know Ash is a dummy. We know he’s the kind of guy who has trouble remembering three magic words when the fate of the world depends on it. But even if he’s stoned and hitting on a poetry-crazy lady-friend, for him to KNOWINGLY read aloud from the Sumerian Book of the Dead? To do literally the ONE thing he knows has and will summon a horde of evil demons? For a man who’s been sent through time by this book, that goes beyond screwheaded and into the realm of nonsensical. And obviously accepting a little nonsense is welcome and necessary for getting into the bliss of Evil Dead, but I can’t say I didn’t feel this was a little betrayal to the character of Ash. Dumb? Yes. But reckless? Never — especially when the Necronomicon is involved.
But whatever, if that’s the narrative price of admission here (couldn’t have she just found the book and read it??), I guess I’ll pay. Smash-cut to title screen and we’re into the most exhilarating, classically Raimi-esque sequence of the episode. Sheriff’s deputy Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) and her partner investigate a reported disturbance in a Cabin in the Woods, which obviously turns into a demon-filled, blood splattered, death trap. There are so many great horror-direction touches in this sequence they’re impossible to list, but the final moments using Fisher’s flashlight to cast ever-slowing pools of rotating light against her and her now-possessed partner stands out as an exceptional, classic bit of zero-budget bit of horror filmmaking. Eerie, tense, and nothing more than two actors, some monster makeup, and a single light source... this is the kind of moment that will make Ash vs. Evil Dead worth coming back to week after week for me.
Oh, and deadite poetry girl drops some key info to Fisher: “We know who you are.” Some kind of chosen-one plot to come? Probably?
The rest of the episode is filled out with introducing Pablo, Ash’s new sidekick and co-worker at ValueStop (what happened to S-Mart? Did K-Mart finally decide that joke stopped being cute and started being infringement?), and Pablo’s friend Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). Pablo idolizes Ash for some reason, I guess for his “fun uncle” vibe; and they both crush on Kelly, who’s both uninterested and still a little torn up her mother died six months ago (countdown to when mom turns up again 5... 4... 3…). After saving Ash from a killer kid’s doll, Pablo gets the lowdown on Ash’s complicated history with the undead, and is immediately convinced Ash must be the only man capable of stopping these things. Even though he just saved Ash. Ok, sure. Kelly’s mom (2... 1…) appears to be back from the dead, and Pablo motorcycles off with Kelly to convince Ash to pick back up his chainsaw and become El Jefe we all know he’s meant to be.
The final fight scene in Ash’s airstream is like a Sam Raimi greatest-hits, and re-serves some of our all-time favorite closed-quarters Ash on Deadite moments: Weird noises and slow, tension-building camera rotation! The camera careening into the trailer from the outside as glass breaks and objects fly off shelves inside! Bruce Campbell getting tossed around like a rag-doll! demon-fingernail-to-eyeball! Blood geysers! Full-on, slow-mo, chainsaw decapitation! Ash once again steps up into the role of Deadite-slayer in Chief and proves to his new friends he can be their hero, baby. Groovy.
The fight and horror sequences in this pilot totally kick ass, and are fun and energetic in a way that’s totally refreshing. Compared to five years of settling for the often oppressively grim Zombie world of The Walking Dead, the first episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead feels like changing the channel from olympic wrestling to Monday Night Raw. What remains to be seen is how well Ash vs. Evil Dead will work as a serialized TV show. So far we have a series of wild, slapstick action sequences held together by paper-thin narrative and characters mostly leaning on our collective fondness for Ash the character and Bruce Campbell the actor (which is, admittedly, massive). Now, this has always been the formula for Evil Dead as movies, but it leaves little room for such television hallmarks as multiple compelling character arcs, effective world-building, development of long-term antagonists, etc. But for now, I’m excited enough to see Ash back behind the boomstick, and am hoping these ten episodes provide a huge, gory playground for tons more inventive deadite butt-kicking.
Listen up, Screwheads:
- I have a feeling the use of CGI vs. Practical Effects iis going to be a sticking point for fans in this, especially given the CGI’s uh ... quality. I’m generally in favor of as many practical effects as possible, but understand that budget makes certain things either impossible or necessary. To me, the shlocky CGI of, say, the doll fight kind of adds to the whole B-movie aesthetic of the whole show. And it was saved by cutting from the terrible CGI doll to the dumb-but-hilarious shot of Campbell smashing flower pots into the doll prop connected to his face. So, we’ll see how it goes.
- Ash One-Liner of the Night: “They’re comin’ in alright, and it ain’t for shabbat dinner.”
- “Now take these lightbulbs out back, and don’t break ‘em”. I’m a sucker for all this classic Campbell slapstickery with the lightbulbs. So dumb, so good.
- Oh yeah, Lucy Lawless is there too! Not much sense of what she’ll be up to here yet, but it will be fun to have her in the mix when the show gets around to it.
- Anyone out there in Evil Dead fan-land ever played the Evil Dead: Fistfull of Boomstick or Evil Dead: Regeneration video games? I don’t know how well-known they are, but I remember them both being tons of fun, and actually full of great ideas for extending the Necronomiconiverse plots. Civil War–era time travel! Post-Apocalyptic Dearborn, Michigan! I would not be disappointed to see them crib from those games for this series.
- Some dope music choices in this episode. Enjoyed going out on the Amboy Dukes’ “Journey to the Center of The Mind.”