When it premiered last year, Ash vs. Evil Dead had to do one thing: assure the die-hard fans of Evil Dead that the show would be able to continue the tradition of gory horror and slapstick humor inspired by the Three Stooges, which I like to call splatstick. With a pilot directed by Evil Dead creator and ace filmmaker Sam Raimi, Ash vs. Evil Dead passed its first test with a wildly fun first episode. As the first season progressed, it traveled into new territory as well as revisited old locations and undead foes before reaching its wonderfully absurd conclusion. Before a single episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead even aired, Starz had picked up the show for a second season, which is set to premiere on October 2nd. With the tone for the series firmly established, the challenge for the creative team of Ash vs. Evil Dead is to keep the show’s manic splatstick energy going in high gear.
In the season premiere, “Home,” there’s no need for a where-are-they-now segment – the episode hits the ground running. In the cold open, we see Ruby (Lucy Lawless), the author the evil Necronomicon, fighting the creepy shadowy forces of which she’s given birth. As her unholy children fight for possession of the evil book, Ruby is forced to realize that only one man can help her revive the delicate truce she carved out in blood at the conclusion of last season. That reluctant hero, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) isn’t off studying or meditating, oh no, he’s living a sleazy existence fueled by cheap booze in Jacksonville, Florida, using his chainsaw hand to slice open kegs of beer for debauched parties involving coeds and, on some occasions, their mothers. Ash isn’t alone in the white trash paradise of Jacksonville, reluctantly accompanying him in Jacksonville are Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). When their party is crashed by some fresh deadites, it becomes apparent that the truce they struck when we last saw them is over and they must be locked and loaded for some more battles with the forces of the undead. But this isn’t a battle in Jacksonville, they’ll all have to travel to Ash’s hometown, a town he’s stayed clear of for over 30 years.
In that first battle between Ash and company vs. the deadites in Jacksonville, director Rick Jacobson employs as much blood and guts in one scene as most horror movies would use during their entire production. Fans of Evil Dead should be more than pleased with how freely the blood flows here, and the makeup and effects work are on par with the excellent work that was on display in the first season. Because this is Ash vs. Evil Dead, the series still freely employs that oddball physical comedy that is rooted the knuckleheaded exploits of Moe, Larry, and Curly. This becomes especially apparent at the episode’s conclusion, where Ash seems to be navigating a pipe-laden factory with all the grace of Curly Howard, his head clinking and clanging on each and every low overhang.
If there’s one problem that Ash vs. Evil Dead has encountered since its inaugural episode it’s just how much Sam Raimi is sorely missed. Rick Jacobson, as have many of the directors to take on episodes of this series, does an admirable job in mimicking the exaggerated cinematic mannerisms of Raimi, but nobody this side of Edgar Wright has the ability to seamlessly capture the frenzied energy of Raimi’s madcap blend of horror and humor. If not for the presence of Bruce Campbell, who can do lunkheaded heroism unlike anyone else, there are times where Ash vs. Evil Dead would feel like a cover band trying original material in the vein of their namesake.
Thankfully, Ash vs. Evil Dead doesn’t fully come across as a cover band trying original material, thanks in good part to the script for “Home” by showrunner Craig DiGregorio. “Home” is a sharp season premiere that provides the groundwork for each of the show’s main characters’ arcs that will run throughout the season – Pablo is dealing with the aftereffects of last season’s gut-wrenching conclusion; Ruby is trying to reinstate her truce with the forces of evil; Kelly has to retain her shaky trust in Ash; and Ash, well, he’s just Ash, dumb bluster and all. Actually, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, as Ash’s return to his hometown comes with the uneasy reality of confronting a past that he’s been running away from as well as reuniting with his grizzled, grumpy father (played comically by Lee Majors).
Whereas “Home” establishes the groundwork for the rest of the season, the second episode of the second season, “The Morgue,” represents the first rough patch encountered this time around. Directed by Tony Tilse and written by Cameron Welsh, “The Morgue” does have its share of moments that are in line with the series and its modus operandi, but there’s one major sequence that takes Ash vs. Evil Dead to its nadir to date, one that moves beyond gross out gore and into the bowels – literally. However, for all of the displeasure incited by this particular sequence, it wasn’t depraved and disgusting enough to make give up on the show altogether, and that’s more a testament to the commitment of the cast as opposed to the writing and direction of this particular episode.
The storyline of “The Morgue” revolves around Ash’s attempts to secure possession of the Necronomicon, which Ruby has hidden from her demon hellspawn children (also literally). The Book of the Dead, as it’s known, has been hidden within a body in the morgue and Kelly along with Ash must excavate it from the cold bodies on the slab. In his trademarked inelegant fashion, Ash uses his chainsaw to slice and dice the dead bodies in search for the fabled book, leaving the morgue splattered with blood on its walls and floor than usual as Kelly monitors the hallways on the lookout. It’s not in this that “The Morgue” runs into any issue, but when Ash discovers the book and attacked by an anus possessed with the evil spirit of the deadite plague. Suddenly, Ash vs. Evil Dead takes the series into a form of scatological humor that it’s previously never dared to enter. Frankly, it’s a disappointing turn towards fecal humor that does have its moments of effective horror though the shit-stained element of humor underwhelms. It winds up being an odd sequence where the desecration and mutilation of dead bodies is effectively humorous and undone by travails into an element that show nor the films ever traversed, and with good reason.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on this one sequence, but that might only be rooted in my overall affection for the Evil Dead mythology and its unique brand of splatstick. Either way, the scatological elements of “The Morgue” isn’t enough for me to abandon or lose faith in the future of Ash vs. Evil Dead. If anything, it shows that DiGregorio and company aren’t afraid to take the show into previously uncharted territory, though the fact is that it might sometimes backfire.
Other than this segway into the scatological, there are still a number of fascinating elements to “The Morgue” that could pay off as the season progresses, especially the scenes between Pablo and Ruby where they try to find the root as to the visions and nightmares that are plaguing the loyal sidekick to Ash. More so, the episode fleshes out further the tenuous relationship between Ash and his grizzled father. Compounding matters, the episode concludes with a cliffhanger that is entirely the result of Ash’s crude and rude behavior.
Despite all the unseemly aspects of “The Morgue,” I’m still onboard with Ash vs. Evil Dead for its second season. The show has introduced a new form of threat with Ruby’s ghastly children hellbent on murderous destruction, and that’s counteracted with the shaky alliance between Ruby, Ash, Kelly, and Pablo. Across these first two episodes there’s enough splatstick and manic energy to carry the show along on goodwill alone, but the makeup and direction is solid enough that it’s not merely up to the chin of Bruce Campbell and the rest of the supporting cast to carry the show alone. But as much as I’ve enjoyed these first couple episodes, there’s a heart missing from Ash vs. Evil Dead and that heart is Sam Raimi. Over the course of three movies and the pilot, Sam Raimi is the heart and soul of the series, and a top-tier talent that is unable to be replicated in full. Of course, I’ll be watching Ash vs. Evil Dead until the conclusion of this season in hopes that Raimi might be helming the season finale. If not, there’s not much to lose either way.
Ash vs. Evil Dead
In the first two episodes of its second season, Ash vs. Evil Dead lays the blood-splattered groundwork for the rest of the season but does run into a few hiccups when the show takes a misguided turn into scatalogical humor.