It does my heart good to see that after all this time, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell can comfortably slip back into the shoes which made them household names (to horror fans anyway) without missing a beat. While the original Evil Dead trilogy are cult classics, it’s difficult to imagine the basic premise lending itself well to a weekly series. Yet, Raimi and company manage to make it work.
Best of all, Ash vs. Evil Dead is not a reboot, remake or reimagining. For all intents and purposes, this is Evil Dead 4, a five-hour sequel with everything that endeared us to the original franchise in the first place...insane camerawork, over-the-top blood & gore, goofy humor, silly one-liners, Bruce's chin, that old puke-colored Delta 88, chainsaws, boomsticks, severed hands and, of course, legions of Deadites. Ash (Campbell) is back, 30 years older, of course, but still as heroic (and slightly stupid) as ever. He’s been keeping the Necronomicon in his trailer home for years while working as a stockboy. After drunkenly reading a passage from the book to impress a date, he releases the undead yet again and is forced break out the ol’ boomstick & chainsaw to fight them. Aided by two young co-workers and a cop (who initially believes Ash is the one who killed her partner), Ash leads a road trip back to the cabin from the original film to undo what he’s unleashed on the world. On their trail is Ruby (Lucy Lawless), who claims to be the daughter of the professor who found and translated the Necronomicon in the first place.
One of the funnier aspects of the series is that, even though Ash is the hero of the story, he‘s constantly being reminded that most of this is actually all his fault. As Ash, Campbell remains comically self-centered & stubborn (he hasn’t matured a whit in 30 years), though the supporting cast all have their amusing moments as well. It’s also gratifying to see Lawless, looking as good as ever, approaching her role with the same tongue-in-cheek humor as her Xena character.
Storywise, the series virtually ignores the events in Army of Darkness (which arguably has the biggest cult following of the original trilogy), choosing instead to pick up where Evil Dead II left off. While this may be irk some fans, the omission actually makes a lot of sense, since Army was more of a fish-out-of-water slapstick fantasy. Here, the focus is squarely on comedic horror and demon-dispatching mayhem. Ash vs. Evil Dead is far bloodier than any of the films (and easily the goriest thing on television right now). But like its predecessors, the violence is so deliriously extreme that it’s impossible to take seriously.
Of course, like most cable series, the door is left wide open for a second season. The finale ends on an amusing note that not only reaffirms Ash’s self-absorbed narcissism, but hints that things are about to get downright apocalyptic. I’m not sure how long a series like this can keep going without growing stale, but hell, I’m still surprised Ash vs. Evil Dead manages to stay ferocious and fun throughout ten episodes without ever becoming rote. But whether it maintains its momentum in Season Two or runs out of steam (which happens often in shows with such a narrow premise), at least we finally got the Evil Dead 4 we’ve been pining for all these years.
Featurettes: “Inside the World of Ash” (episode-by-episode making-of segments); “How to Kill a Deadite”; “Best of Ash” (montage of some of Ash’s more memorable one liners and kills)
Audio Commentaries on Each Episode
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS