Hail to the King, Baby! ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’ is Gory, Glorious, and Groovy

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Ever since the end credits of Army of Darkness, fans of the Evil Dead series have been vocal in their demand for a continuation of Ash’s battle against the Deadites. As the Evil Dead series carried on in different mediums – video games and comic books – along with a remake, the demand for seeing Bruce Campbell reprise his role as Ash remained unchanged. There was even a rumored Ash vs. Freddy vs. Jason, though the lacking success of Freddy vs. Jason ensured that movie would never get made. But alas, here we are in 2015 and Starz has teamed with Campbell and series creators Robert Tapert and Sam Raimi to bring us Ash vs. Evil Dead, the new series which faithfully continues Ash’s damned misadventures against the Deadites. Whatever concerns one might’ve had about continuing a series nearly 25 years after the last installment should be put to rest following the first two episodes. This show is as much fun as the classics that inspired it.

Due to complications with film rights, Ash vs. Evil Dead doesn’t deal with the events of Army of Darkness. Taking place 30 years after the events of Evil Dead 2, Ash (Campbell) has been living a low-rent lifestyle. He lives alone in a trailer at rundown trailer park and works at Value Stop, an S-Mart-like superstore. Ash is more or less a failed lothario, using a fake story to explain his missing hand in a vain attempt to pick up drunken women. Before long, the Deadites that used to haunt Ash start appearing in hallucinatory manner, making Ash doubt his own sanity. But Ash soon realizes that in a haze of booze and weed smoke that he read certain passages from the Necronomicon in an attempt to impress a local floozy, thus resurrecting the Deadite plague.

While Ash is trying to weasel his way out of work in order to flee the danger he created, Michigan State Trooper Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) has just had her own encounter with the Deadites, having to slay her possessed partner. The scene is unmistakably the work of Sam Raimi, yet proves that Ash vs. Evil Dead isn’t merely content in finding humor in gushing gore, there’s a strong and effective horror angle to the work. The incident with the Deadites leave Amanda forced to take a leave of absence from her work, as none of her colleagues believe the fantastical story of demonic possession and the undead. The character has one of the more intriguing story arcs in the first two episodes. Being a rational, evidence-based officer of the law doesn’t lend itself to a belief in the supernatural. While doubting her sanity, Amanda has brief encounter with Ruby (Lucy Lawless), a mysterious woman who only tells Amanda not to doubt what she sees.

Ash isn’t able to flee as he intended. Instead, he’s forced to confront the demons which he resurrected, which seems to have spread farther than it has before. One of Ash’s co-workers at the Value Stop, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), has just watched video of her dead mother greeting her father. Another co-worker, Pablo (Ray Santiago), who has always looked up to Ash, believes him to be the embodiment of a prophecy from his uncle. Reluctantly, Kelly joins Pablo and Ash to retrieve the Necronomicon in order to find an expert who can translate the passages and dispel the evil. Oh yeah, and Ash reunites with his chainsaw and boomstick.

Through the first two episodes, what really stands out about Ash vs. Evil Dead is how much it feels like an anti-Walking Dead. While a number of things are being set up in the first couple episodes, there are payoffs and conclusions for each individual episode that will fit into a larger scheme. There’s no oppressive bleakness or flat characters or extended waits for resolution. There’s no way this series would ever waste our time hanging around a barn for an entire season.

Of course, it’s interesting watching how little Ash has grown in the years since the previous films. He’s still the same cowardly hero, and Campbell hasn’t lost touch with what made the character endure for so long. But it’s the supporting characters that help Ash vs. Evil Dead stand out. At first, one might suspect that Pablo is just a doofus character inserted for comedic relief, yet as the episode progresses Pablo proves himself as a real character with his own set of competency and foibles – not to mention on badass kill. Kelly, too, is given a bit of depth in the early episodes, especially the second where we see a delightfully awkward family dinner with Ash in attendance, chainsaw and all.

First and foremost, this show is made for fans of the Evil Dead series, and those fans (like myself) won’t be disappointed. Ash vs. Evil Dead has the buckets of blood and physical comedy that fans of the series have come to expect. It maintains a strong streak of horror throughout, but Raimi and company still take sick pleasure in drenching Bruce Campbell in gallons of fake blood while making him flail about the screen like a member of the Three Stooges. There’s even a rock ‘n’ roll element that’s added to the series, with the opening scene to the rockin’ “Space Truckin’” by Deep Purple and concluding with “Journey to the Center of the Mind” by the Amboy Dukes. It all works in unison to make Ash vs. Evil Dead just a lively and entertaining show, one that is able to tap into the elements that made it a classic while feeling entirely fresh.

In all honesty, I was nervous entering Ash vs. Evil Dead. I feared that this would by my Phantom Menace. But it isn’t, not even close. Ash vs. Evil Dead is its own thing. It’s not a series that is rooted in nostalgia. It doesn’t want to take us down the same path while reminding us of the past. Ash vs. Evil Dead is carving out its own path, a path carved with a chainsaw and liberally splattered in blood. This is a show that hits all the right notes in humor, horror, and glorious gore. It is, well, groovy.

Ash vs. Evil Dead premieres Saturday, October 31st at 9pm only on Starz.

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