It’s been nearly 25 years since Bruce Campbell last donned his blue shirt, chainsaw hand and loaded up the shotgun to do battle with demons and evil spirits from beyond the grave. Sam Raimi’s classic Evil Dead Trilogy not only helped define and shape the horror genre back in the 80s, it influenced the future of the genre and paved the way for both Raimi’s and Campbell’s careers. Since Army of Darkness’s release in 1992, fans of the franchise have been clamoring for more adventures with Ash Williams. Raimi and Campbell, along with the original Evil Dead’s co-producer Robert Tapert, attempted to satiate these desires with 2013’s gruesome Evil Dead remake, directed by Fede Alvarez. But while the remake did well at the box office, it also made something abundantly clear: Fans didn’t want reboots or reimaginings with a new cast – they wanted Bruce Campbell dishing out some groovy Deaddite punishment in all his quippy glory. Raimi and Campbell have finally answered the call with Ash Vs Evil Dead, a new Starz series which serves as a sequel to the original Evil Dead Trilogy (though any mention of the events in Army of Darkness is sadly absent due to a rights issue).
Of course, the foremost question on every Evil Dead fan’s mind has to be ‘Is the show any good?’ After all, there’s always concern that a filmmaker who returns to a property that made him famous when he was first starting out has lost touch with what made said property so special in the first place. Add to that the absurd level of expectations surrounding the property and you’ve got a recipe ripe for disaster, and, as Raimi himself is well-aware, nothing is worse than the unrighteous fury of wronged fans. (See: Spider-Man 3)
But, I’m here, Evil Dead fans, as one of your ranks, to tell you without any smidgen of doubt that Ash vs Evil Dead delivers in glorious (GORE-ious?) spades. Not only does it function as the long overdue Evil Dead sequel we’ve all been waiting for, complete with hilarious one-liners, gruesome scares and buckets of blood, it paves the way for what appears to be a really fantastic new series. Non Evil Dead fans might not embrace the show with the same level of vigor, but they should be thoroughly entertained by its unique blend of horror, action and comedy.
We meet up with Ash, who is roughly 25 years departed from his last encounter with the Deaddites, but just as goofy as ever. Life hasn’t been particularly kind to him. He lives in a beat-up trailer, spending his days working at the local Value Stop and his nights drinking himself into a stupor at the local bar. He concocts heroic tales about how he lost his hand saving children from speeding trains and uses this as leverage to have sex with countless women (one of the pilot’s most hilarious scenes, in an episode that’s packed with them). Despite these fleeting pleasures, his life lacks a sense of purpose.
Of course, then he has to go and screw things up by reawakening the Evil Dead during a late-night hook-up/smoke-up session with another babe. She reads him some of her poetry and he tries to impress her by reading his own ‘poetry,’ which is actually just passages from the Necronomicon, a.k.a. The Book of the Dead. Then we’re back in business.
While Ash Vs Evil Dead suffers from some stale plotting and underdeveloped supporting characters, I’m going to give it a pass as I’m hopeful the details will be painted in as we get further into the season. The important thing to know is that El Jefe is an absolute blast. The episode, directed by the master Sam Raimi himself, is full of spectacular kills and one-liners. Bruce Campbell slips comfortably back into his most iconic role as if no time has passed. Raimi’s direction keeps things up and running with the trademark ziggy/zaggy camera moves that have defined this glorious franchise.
The supporting cast, featuring Jill Marie Jones, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, and even Lucy Lawless, are likable enough, but not given much to do in this first episode. They’re also at a bit of a disadvantage seeing as how the biggest pull of this series, at least early on, is catching up with Ash and watching Campbell do his thing. Hopefully as things are fleshed out in subsequent episodes, the supporting cast will be just as interesting to watch as Campbell.
But even these minor snags can’t hold back the overwhelming joy that comes with seeing Raimi and Campbell return to this iconic franchise. Ash Vs Evil Dead is a gory good time and fans of the franchise shan’t be disappointed.
Hail to the King, baby.
Check out the entire first episode on the Ash vs Evil Dead Facebook page.