By Chuck Cannini
Fans of the horror classic Evil Dead were rewarded the biggest treat of them all Halloween night when Starz premiered Ash vs Evil Dead, a 10-episode revival of the ’80s cult film that made it cool to appreciate the undearly departed long before the arrival of The Walking Dead and similarly themed projects jumped on board the zombie-fright bandwagon.
For Evil Dead loyalists, it was the perfect night cap, one that offered a nostalgic trip to the gory past and a bloody feast to feed our ever-present primal urges.
One-handed Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) returned to the revived horror series the same way many long-time fans probably did: much older and out of shape. And he had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.
Campbell produced this reboot after years of sequel rumors had kept the cult-followers’ cinematic hopes alive. This new television adaption takes place 30 years after Ash Williams had last battled the bad ones. Viewers unfamiliar with Evil Dead, originally written and directed by Sam Raimi, may recognize Campbell from USA’s more recent hit drama Burn Notice. For Campbell’s role as producer, finding Starz–a network tolerant of carnage and mayhem–may not have been as challenging artistically as recapping a 23-year-old plot to the uninitiated. Campbell had to bridge the gap separating the first three installments–The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and The Army of Darkness (1992)–and keep those fans satisfied while hoping to snare new ones to the cause.
The last time Ash kicked undead butt, he found himself trapped in 1300 A.D. and drank a magic potion to sleep for thousands of years until he could return home to the present. Or, if you prefer the alternate ending, Ash overslept for thousands of years and awoke in a post-apocalyptic future. Neither ending has much relevance to the current series. While Ash’s waistline has widened, not much else has changed.
In this version, the time-traveling hero sets out for his annual survival celebration by “getting blackout drunk” and shagging trashy women in foul bar bathrooms. Later, equally intoxicated, he attempts to impress one particularly poetry-crazy lady by reciting incantations from the Sumerian Book of the Dead, and by doing so, Ash unwittingly summons the living dead—all while he is totally stoned out of his mind and his long-term memory of ancient texts is still intact.
As you can probably tell, Ash vs. Evil Dead doesn’t take itself too seriously, and acknowledges itself for what it is: a horror comedy.
In one moment Ash may battle the strangling hands of a demonic baby doll and in another he’s tossed around effortlessly by a possessed old lady. Ash is also locked and loaded with such one-liners as: “They’re coming in all right, and it ain’t for Shabbat dinner.” To top that off, as Ash dives through the air, he fastens a chainsaw to his outstretched stump of a hand—hacked off during the first movie, for those who don’t know the sad tale–and beheads that same possessed old lady.
Watching the headless corpse twitch and jerk after the blood-soaked blades of Ash’s chainsaw have cut her to the quick, few words come to mind.
Ash summarizes it thusly: “Groovy.”
Sure, it’s silly, but who’d argue with Ash? For what it’s worth, the new series brings an unexpected deeper focus on his character. We got to know him better—an irresponsible loser driving a run-down car back and forth from his bullet-shaped silver trailer house to his dead-end job as a stock boy. Ash has nothing going for him, so the first episode is about Ash embracing the chainsaw-wielding demon-slayer he once was, which happens rather quickly in this fast-paced bloodbath.
The action and comedy are supported by Ash’s coworkers: the awkward “nobody” Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), who want to find out why her deceased mom is back from the grave. Other character intros are left unexplained for now, such as demon-survivor deputy sheriff Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) or the mysterious Ruby (Lucy Lawless, Xena: Warrior Princess), but we’ve got many more gory episodes to go before everything unfolds–20 in all, if you count Starz’s green light for a second season.
Ash vs. Evil Dead is pretty straightforward: demons, action and laughs. With so many film-to-television adaptions (Minority Report, Limitless, Fargo), Ash vs. Evil Dead’s long-awaited return will not disappoint audiences already “terrorized” by dead-centric shows like The Walking Dead. This first episode boasts a reborn Ash doing what he does best with a chainsaw, and viewers can expect more awesome Saturday nights filled with slashing blood-fests like this one.
(Photo credit: Starz/Facebook)