Ash vs Evil Dead
It’s a nice little coincidence this weekend features two momentous returns from beloved movie franchises. Just as there are many people giddily watching The Force Awakens who long hoped to watch the Millenium Falcon fly on screen again but never knew if it would actually happen, I know there are some die hard Evil Dead fans – myself included – who always dreamed we might see Bruce Campbell return to the cabin for another round with the Deadites in the cellar, but with each passing year grew more and more certain it was never going to be.
Well, tonight’s the night 34 years of cult devotion finally pays off and Ash returns to where his journey began. “Honey, I’m home.”
As Ash gears up and enters the cabin, ready to end this thing once and for all, he finds himself in a clearing littered with dead (and undead) animals. It appears evil’s been festering in his absence. The voice of Linda – the girlfriend Ash had to kill all those years ago – echo out from the homemade cross he planted on her grave in 1987. Maybe it’s just in his head, but maybe…we’ll get to that later.
This episode is littered with callbacks to the earlier films, including explicitly lifted dialogue. Maybe it’s just because the original films gave us such a clear sense of what was in this space and how it was laid out (I just found some lovingly recreated fan-made blueprints that illustrate this), but the most impressive callbacks might be the set and prop design itself. All these objects – the wall mounted pendulum clock, the stag head, the reel-to-reel recorder now lying on the floor, the porch swing that’s apparently never stopped baning ominously against the side of the house – each bring a shiver of recognition each time they appear.
So Ash didn’t do too great of a job ditching his new companions last week because before he’s even in the front door Amanda’s caught up with him. Though he insists it’s too dangerous, that everyone he knows dies here but him (“death, taxes, more death…and I don’t pay taxes, so all I know is death!”), Ash quickly relents and allows her to join.
New director Tony Tilse turns on the slow-build horror movie suspense as they investigate the cabin. Lots of creeping camera moves with canted angles on ominous objects, jump-scare flashbacks to scenes of horror from both earlier in the series and the original films, and the constant sound of wood creaking and wind whistling all build this scene to its gruesome reveal: Ash’s possessed hand is lurking in the walls, and it’s growing something.
Meanwhile Pablo and Kelly are lost in the woods, also trying to track down Ash, when they stumble on some friendly Australians out on a little walkabout in the dark and creepy woods. . After Pablo and Kelly awkwardly explain their heavily-armed state (Pablo offers “they’re for evil… bears. Evil Bears”. “Bears are a menace”, one of the hikers concurs), the hikers agree to show them back to the cabin before heading on their way. It’s like these guys stumbled in from another horror movie right into the thick of this one, and they’re definitely going to show up later as Deadite fodder, right?
Ash finds himself locked in the cabin’s workshed, berated from beyond the grave by the reanimated head of Linda. She continues to work at Ash’s great conflict for the series, that everyone he cares for will die because of the evil that follows him. And as Linda’s dead head gets under Ash’s skin, in the cabin, Amanda encounters…Ash. Just as Amanda falls enough for his smarmy charm to finally give the kiss that was cut off last week she notices…suddenly Ash has two hands. “Maybe I grew another hand, or maybe the hand grew another me,” Ash tries to convince her, “a minute ago you wanted me, too”. Amanda responds: “maybe before I found out you were just some creepy tumor that grew out of a possessed hand!”
The fights scenes that end “Ashes To Ashes” are some pure, unadulterated Evil Dead joy. Bruce Campbell dodging buzzsaw blades and fight off a possessed bear trap as Linda’s bloody head laughs on hits that perfect combination of funny and exciting that the series is best at. And it certainly helps that the bear trap is little more than a prop being jabbed at Campbell by some offscreen PA, awesomely reminiscent of the chainsaw-wielding skeleton being jabbed at him the last time he was in the Workshed.
Amanda’s fight with Evil Ash, meanwhile, is as violent as the workshed fight is goofy, and the contrast between the two makes it even more shocking when Amanda takes a cleaver to the shoulder and an antler to the belly. I genuinely did not see Amanda’s death coming in this episode, making her definitely the most surprising fatality so far in the series. As quickly as you trust Ash, his evil twin turns on you, such is life in the Evil Deadiverse.
Moments too late Kelly and Pablo show up, with Ash insisting his Deadite doppelganger is responsible. We end on Ash and Evil Ash grappling, using their mutual knowledge of Ash’s various weaknesses and ailments against each other, and leaving on a mutual chokehold cliffhanger.
So far the return to the cabin is everything I could have hoped for. A well directed,slow creepy build paying off with some classically Evil Dead fight scenes. Fighting himself has always been one of the highlights of Bruce Campbell’s performance repertoire, and I’m hoping we get a full episode filled with those kinds of shenanigans next week. It’s shaping up to be a strong end for AvED season 1, and I’m looking forward to see how the undead action continues to mount.
LISTEN UP, SCREWHEADS:
- Amanda will come back as a Deadite, yes? This is almost certainly not her final appearance here.
- Also, still no telling of how or when the newly resurrected Ruby fits into all of this.
- List of Ash’s Ailments: Trick Knee, Sore Kidneys, Fake Teeth, Bum Shoulder, Soft Balls.
- This week’s Evil Dead Jukebox: The Two of Us Together, by Don Gibson & Sue Thompson