It’s kind of shocking we haven’t seen Ash have a hallucinatory trip before. At its best, the Evil Dead franchise’s manic, demonic action is itself basically hallucinatory, so the idea of Ash getting led by a shaman on an ayahuasca-fueled spirit quest immediately sounds like a good time. But before we get to the Zen paradise of Ash’s dreams known as “Jacksonville,” we’ve got a lot of ground to cover, with several reaches back into the Evil Dead mythos.
After saving Amanda from Evil Lionel with ease, Ruby offers the officer a team-up and some context. It turns out she’s the daughter of good ol’ Professor Knowby, you know, the guy who discovered the Necronomicon and brought it to a cabin in the woods to study before getting possessed and presumably eviscerated by Deadites? Ruby thinks Ash is the one responsible for the death of her mother, father, and sister in that cabin all those years ago. Which, you know, is technically true, but only after they had been transformed into messed-up dead demon things, so, like, give the guy a break, right? She’s seeking revenge on Ash and has a killer hand to play to get it: Ash’s killer hand. Lobbed off at the wrist after it got “infected” with Deadite-ism, the hand’s apparently been dormant for years (maybe that blood fountain it exploded into in Evil Dead II left it a little drained?). But it recently started wiggling around again, presumably to find a smash more plates over the head of its master. So Ruby now has a partner in Amanda, and a guide in the evil hand, and is back on track of Ash.
Meanwhile, our main trio is convoying to Brujo’s place and Kelly’s a little under the weather. Turns out that just up and whacking Eligos over the head with the book didn’t quite dispel him, and now he’s taken up residence within her. But before we deal with that, we encounter what I believe is this series’ first major innovation to the Evil Dead franchise as a whole: actually seeing the evil force pursuing them!
Ok, here’s a major challenge with both creating and reviewing something like Ash vs. Evil Dead. It’s based on a cult franchise with a huge number of die-hard fans and limited amount of media, so every aspect of each Evil Dead film is basically known inside and out by the people who do know it. Ash vs. Evil Dead has to then live within and celebrate what we all already know and love about the films, while creating its own world, narrative, and rules so it can, you know, function as an ongoing series with a theoretically indefinite narrative arc. The prowling, demon POV shot of demonic forces chasing Ash is undoubtedly the franchise’s Signature Shot, and when you think of Evil Dead, it’s going to be one of the first things that comes into your mind. And one of the reasons it’s so great is that we never actually see the thing chasing Ash, just Bruce Campbell’s amazing reactions of terror and panic. But now, for the first time ever we get a reverse angle on the Prowling Demon POV and it turns out it’s ... a big ominous dust cloud. And I can’t say this wasn’t a little disappointing. It’s a decent effect and it’s fine for this car chase sequence, but it’s nothing nearly as horrifying as what I’ve imagined being behind those POV shots all these years. Does it necessarily mean that what was chasing Ash in 1987 looked the same? Not necessarily, but now that that image is in your mind, and it’s in the canon, and it’s the only look we’ve seen of the Signature Shot so it is what it is. And all of this is definitely making a mountain out of a dust cloud, but it the difficulties in building off these kinds of universes. Fans do love to argue about what is and isn’t “canon” and whether a new series necessarily retcons an older one, and how old was Spike, anyway? So while it may make sense for AvED to show the menacing force here, and I can imagine it will make sense to show for the sake of building good sequences in future episodes, it also kind of undermines the whole point of one of the most essential bits of creative filmmaking synonymous with the Evil Dead so ... bummer, also.
But I’m talking about Ash vs. Evil Dead, and it was pretty fun watching that oncoming car get chewed up and flung to the wind by a giant evil cloud, as Ash and company race their way into the protection of the Brujo’s property. After chastising Pablo for “always taking the easy way out,” Brujo sets up Ash with some Ayahuasca to aid his inner journey. Brujo’s immediately got a pretty good read on Ash: “Total lack of self awareness will make it very difficult to find the answers you seek, but we must try.”
And try they do! Ash’s trip takes him down a psychedelic, media-laden retrospective of his life: from childhood cartoons, to Playboy, to chopping his demon-possessed girlfriend’s head off in the woods, to an endless porn & booze filled road trip through every ValueStop in Michigan, and ultimately to ... Jacksonville, FL. Ah, Jacksonville, the place Ash could have been if not for all this demon mischief. Here, Ash still has two hands, which of course deserve two beers!
While Ash is blissing out in Jacksonville, Kelly finds out Eligos hopped into her brain, and sets about wrecking poor Pablo and his mechanical hand project before turning her sights on an incapacitated Ash. Setting up a battle with a dream-demon in the midst of a hallucinogenic trip is a nice device, and Ash eventually realizes he’s in control of his own mindscape. While he’s choking out Eligos in his head, he’s choking out Kelly in real life, and Pablo is forced to konk Ash out with a pestle. We end on Ash seemingly trapped unconscious while Eligos survives in Kelly’s head.
Overall, the single-location, go-to-a-new-place-and-get-new-directions structure of both “Books from Beyond” and “Brujo” have kept AvED brisk and buoyant and sprinkled with enough action and new revelations to be fun and satisfying. I’m a little worried that each new episode seems to have fewer and fewer of the wild, inventive visual flourishes that are pretty essential to Evil Dead’s greatness. But, this week’s ayahuasca trip was fun and funny, there wasn’t a huge monster battle to really go all-out on, and I already went deep on the Evil Cloud, so I’ll leave it there.
Listen Up, Screwheads:
- This week’s Classics of 70’s Stoner Rock: The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and Funkadelic’s “Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow.”
- “Don’t eat the eyeball, bro!” — good advice, Ash.
- I don’t know where Pablo suddenly got an interest/expertise in robotics from, but I am excited to see the product of his efforts. And goddamn do I hope we get to see Bruce Campbell have to fight his own severed hand again.