Ever since the end credits rolled on Army of Darkness (either the theatrical ending or the director’s cut ending), fans have been clamoring for Evil Dead 4. Even as Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi was smashing box office records with Spider-Man and its sequels, he was still haunted by the demands of fans for more adventures of Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams. There was the soft reboot from director Fede Alverez that was a modest success and teased the return of Ash in its end credits. Alas, that incarnation of the series never continued. But then suddenly, like a ghastly spirit in the woods, news emerged that Ash would be returning to fight the deadites once again in Ash vs. Evil Dead, an original series for Starz that would pick up the chainsaw and shotgun of the original films. Ash vs. Evil Dead was a welcome successor to the Evil Dead series that worked on its own terms and not just nostalgia, though important events from the previous films (with the exception of Army of Darkness due to a rights issue, though that has been resolved for the upcoming Season 2) play a factor in the story of the series’ inaugural season.
Now available on Blu-ray, Ash vs. Evil Dead gives us more splattering gore and the dimwitted nature of Ash than the previous three films combined with ten half hour episodes. What stands out about the series’ first season is just how well it encapsulates the exact tone that fans of Evil Dead would expect, a mixture of geysers of gore with slapstick humor inspired by the Three Stooges.
In the years since we last saw Ash Williams (Campbell), he hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still working as a store clerk, incompetently I might add, and is still driving his beat up 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. He cruises the local bar and tells tall tales about how he lost his hand (not by hacking it off with a chainsaw when it became possessed in Evil Dead 2), claiming to have lost it when rescuing a child from the train tracks in order to grab the attention of a local floozy. All these years later and Ash is just as brash, dumb, and selfish as he ever was. But Ash is called into action when the forces of the undead have been resurrected by the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead. Except, of course, that it was Ash who unwittingly unleashed the latest round of the undead, forcing back into his patented brand of unenthusiastic heroism.
This modern era of “Peak TV” has given audiences a bevy of anti-heroes to grapple their attention. Ash, meanwhile, isn’t quite an anti-hero as much as a reluctant hero. Throughout the first season of Ash vs. Evil Dead, Ash doesn’t actually have a character arc. He’s a brash, loudmouthed moron in the first episode and just as selfish and stupid in the last. Typically, this would work against a show. But it works in Ash vs. Evil Dead because it allows Ash to be a constant, allowing the series to give its character arcs to the new characters that are forced to cross paths with him.
Among the new supporting characters that have to deal with Ash’s bravado and the threat of the deadite scourge is Pablo (Ray Santiago), who more or less operates as Ash’s loyal sidekick, trusting of Ash despite his robust idiocy and bluster; Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), a co-working of Ash and Pablo’s that has to learn to trust Ash even though it means accepting the death of her mother; Amanda (Jill Marie Jones), a Michigan State Trooper that is seeking answers following the death of her partner at the hands of the deadites; and Ruby (Lucy Lawless), a mysterious stranger that is after Ash and the Necronomicon, and has more answers than she ever lets on. After a little while each of these characters come into their own and serve the overall narrative of the series, which takes fans of Evil Dead to locations old and new.
If there’s really a weakness to the first season of Ash vs. Evil Dead it’s that the first episode is the best of the bunch. “El Jefe” is the only episode of the series directed by Sam Raimi, and the manic cinematic energy he brings to the episode is unmatched in the nine subsequent episodes. Which is not meant to be a slight towards the rest of the episodes or the roster of talented directors; it’s more a testament to Rami’s skills as a filmmaker and just how much he’s the entirety of Evil Dead folklore is directly from his vision. Even if the later episodes don’t stack up with Raimi’s effort, there’s still plenty of spooky thrills, gross-out laughs, and countless gallons of fake blood.
Among the special features on the Blu-ray set of the first season of Ash vs. Evil Dead is a fairly lengthy featurette with showrunner Craig DiGregorio, who explains the thought process behind each of the season’s ten episodes. After that are just a few minor and very brief featurettes that don’t quite stack up with the main one featuring DiGregorio. The best of all the special features is the audio commentary of the first episode that features Sam and Ted Raimi, executive producer Robert Tapert, and the chin himself, Bruce Campbell. In that commentary, the Raimi brother explain some of the failed attempts to create an Evil Dead 4, giving us some of their unrealized plans that were too crazy to be filmed. It then slowly turns into how the Raimi’s and Tapert realized that television might be the best home for continuing the world of the Evil Dead and the silly stories of the series’ genesis. Later commentaries mostly consist of Campbell, Ray Santiago, and Dana DeLorenzo. Though there might not be the same kind of intriguing nuggets as the first commentary, the later commentaries really bring to light the comradery between the trio of stars.
As a longtime fan of Evil Dead, I’ve been waiting since the credits rolled on Army of Darkness for more adventures with Ash Williams along with his boomstick and chainsaw. Ash vs. Evil Dead delivers on all of my hopes for a continuation of the Evil Dead world, complete with the horror-comedy hybrid that should be called “splatstick.” If Ash vs. Evil Dead is able to maintain the distinct energy of the movies that inspired the series, Ash vs. Evil Dead should blowing up heads and hacking off limbs for many more season to come. No matter what, new Evil Dead is new Evil Dead and there’s one word to describe that – groovy.
Ash vs. Evil Dead (Season 1)
- Overall Score
A longtime wish fulfilled for fans of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies, Ash vs. Evil Dead Season One features all of the gore and humor one would expect from the legendary horror-comedy series.