Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 5 hours 11 minutes
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Jill Marie Jones & Lucy Lawless
2015 saw many new entries in nostalgic franchises (including post-apocalyptic road warriors, dinosaur amusement parks, time-traveling robots, and light-saber wielding Jedi), but one of its best reboots didn’t even hit the big screen. Instead, it had a TV premiere on Halloween night. I’m speaking, of course, about ASH VS EVIL DEAD. With Sam Raimi as the main showrunner, this 10-episode first season is basically EVIL DEAD 4. Fans hoped for it, Bruce Campbell needed it, and Starz has produced one of the best horror series in recent memory. Filled with creativity, gore and lots of hilarious comedy, Ash is back in a big way and I realized just how much I missed the smart-ass with a chainsaw hand.
Three decades have passed since the EVIL DEAD trilogy and Ash hasn’t exactly moved up in the world. Instead of working at S-Mart, he’s now working at ValueShop and living out of his trailer. In the midst of a one night stand, Ash makes the asinine (pot-aided) decision to drunkenly recite some “poetry” out of the Necromonicon (book of the dead). Thus, the forces of evil have been awakened once again. Aided by two sidekicks, Ash makes the perilous (and Deadite-filled) journey to destroy the Necronomicon once and for all.
One might not expect a television series format to jive too well with EVIL DEAD’s story. After all, the plot is pretty simple in the first three films and mainly serves as an excuse for tons of over-the-top gore and campy humor. Both of those latter qualities remain fully intact, but we also get the added benefit of creator Sam Raimi being able to expand his mythology. Instead of following the simple formula of the Necronomicon summoning Deadites, Ash killing Deadites, rinse, lather, repeat; the series has one continuous flowing storyline that includes subplots and recurring characters with their own individual arcs.
Bruce Campbell slips right back into the skin of Ash like no time has passed at all. He’s played (and voiced) this character before and was more than ready to play him again. Now with over 20 years of age added to the character, Ash finds new struggles in trying to be a suave (and cheap) ladies man, wrestling with a girdle every morning to maintain his figure, and generally just being sick of life in general. He’s still the same smart-mouthed, one-liner shouting asshole that we came to know and love…but just a bit older. Two other main characters of the series come in Pablo, treated as a lovable loser of sorts, and Kelly, a bad-ass heroine with a troubled past. The Deadite-killing trio play off of each other very well in their entertaining banter and progressively grow together as a bad-ass family of sorts. Every time one of them is in peril, I was sincerely hoping that they wouldn’t bite it in a gruesome way.
However, these three aren’t the only characters as there are two subplots that occasionally get in the way of the fast-paced main storyline. The biggest detriment comes in Amanda Fisher, a state trooper who begins to have encounters with Deadites as she pursues Ash. Though she comes eventually links into the main plot, I found myself somewhat bored by her clichéd backstory which only becomes significant during the last three episodes. However, the mysterious Ruby Knowby (played by Lucy Lawless) has a much bigger part to play. Little is known about this character, but she contributes in a big way as the season moves along. Like the state trooper, she occasionally gets in the way of the more exciting moments though.
What I will praise to the heavens is how Sam Raimi expands his EVIL DEAD mythology in a big way. We get plenty of foes throughout the ten episodes (which round out about 5 hours of solid hours). The aforementioned Deadites (including an undead granny in the pilot) frequently appear, but we also get possessed dolls, a unique eyeless demon (who drives his victims insane), gun-toting rednecks, demon kids, and many more (including some familiar enemies from the past). Raimi gives us shaman lore as well as a straight-up Deadite possession unlike anything glimpsed in the film series. We also get an insight to how exactly the Necromomicon came to be and why. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but I will say that the season finale sets the stage for an even bigger (and crazier) second season.
Of course, seeing that this is EVIL DEAD, the viewer can expect lots of over-the-top gore combined with campy humor. What’s also carried over from the first three films is some stellar practical effects. Though occasionally spotty CGI is also used (I can think of three main instances off the top of my head), most of the creatures and fights are done via suits, make-up, and crazy camera movements. The set design of the series is also far better than anything seen in the original trilogy or even 2013’s remake. The lighting and small details that go into each location (whether it be Ash’s trailer, a small diner, or a certain cabin in the woods) evokes a solid atmosphere to go with the hell that’s also being raised.
ASH VS EVIL DEAD is one of those rare instances of a horror series translating almost perfectly into a weekly series format. Compared to other series of its ilk, this is right behind HANNIBAL and miles ahead of BATES MOTEL. Though certain episodes have their flaws (minor subplots that drag, iffy CGI), ASH VS EVIL DEAD is a blood-soaked blast. Bruce Campbell’s comic relief is back in full force, while the two new sidekicks make for a new family dynamic. The creatures are insane, the creativity is off the charts, and this first season is pure gory giddiness from start to finish.