It's been a long time since Ash strapped a chainsaw onto the spot where his missing hand should be, slung a shotgun over his shoulder and went hard on some Deadites. Too goddamn long. As great as it was, Army of Darkness came out more than twenty years ago — but who's counting? And the long rumored fourth movie in the Evil Dead franchise never materialized. Now, after the long wait, we have something with the potential to be even better: Ash vs. Evil Dead, a TV show that continues the story. The first episode hit late last week, and now the only question is, was it worth the wait?
Yes. Hell, yes.
The story picks up some thirty years after Ash last encountered the Deadites, a fact revealed when he mutters it to himself while sexing up some random woman in a dive bar bathroom. A later flashback, triggered when he tells a coworker about his past, draws heavily on footage from the Evil Dead films, but makes no mention of Army of Darkness, so it's possible that's been retconned out (apparently an issue with who owns the rights, which is fucking bullshit). In any case, from the looks of things ol' Ash has been living in a trailer park, seducing women with larger-than-life tales about his missing hand — now covered by a lovely wooden replacement — and generally returning to the life of sloth and uselessness he knew before running afoul of ancient evil. Not a bad way to pass three decades, especially if you're still suffering from Deadite-induced PTSD, as he most likely is.
His life would have presumably remained Deadite-free had he not gotten super-fucking high and tried to impress one of his conquests with a little reading from the Necronomicon, but Ash was never a hero known for his brains so much as for his ability to take punishment and willingness to kill the living shit out of any evil creature that tried to do him in. In other words, the show's creators seem to have stayed pretty true to the character and mythology of the films, which is a great sign. So now the evil is awakened and only he can deal with it — a couple of cops run afoul of a Deadite and it ends with one dead and one suspended and under investigation — but he seems more interested in getting away than fighting. Of course, that's all pretty standard hero's journey stuff, so it's no spoiler to say that by the end of the episode he comes around, with a little help from his friends, who will presumably be his co-stars and sidekicks as the series progresses.
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The beautiful thing — and the most important thing to most fans of the films — is how well the pilot captures the vibe and energy of the movies. It's not just the wisecracks and one-liners, though they are great, but the hyperkinetic violence, the blood splatter and the seamless mesh of comedy and horror. No doubt this is due largely thanks to the fact that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are on board for the series, but there are no guarantees in life, and this could easily have fallen flat given the decades since the last iteration and all that's come since. The fact that it doesn't is a testament to the talent involved, the strength of the characters and story, and, of course, Campbell's unbelievable charisma.
Damn, is it great to see Bruce Campbell back on TV! He certainly had the charm, looks and chops to make it in the movies, but he's been an incredible force in any TV show he's ever been on, from the days of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. to his co-starring role as Sam Axe on Burn Notice. This show is no exception. Not only is he playing one of his iconic characters, but he's doing it with with panache and a recognition that Ash just isn't as young as he used to be, a refreshing take. He doesn't shy away from embarrassing character touches like tightening his girdle (yes, really) or putting in false teeth. He embraces it, and so does his character, knowingly acknowledging that he's well over the hill and then, in the next breath, showing that doesn't really matter much at all.
It's just as great to see a return to some badass practical effects, too. Yes, there's a bit too much CGI bloodwork, but that's to be expected, and apart from the copious blood spatter, the show looks to lean heavily on real, old-school special effects, done with latex and models and lots of TLC. That speaks to the care being put into the show, but it's also a nice piece of fan service to people who grew up on Evil Dead's blood geysers and cellar witches.
Speaking of fan service, you'll get plenty of that in the pilot, too. From classic lines to classic props, there's a treasure trove of geeky gems to see throughout the episode. It never goes overboard, and I honestly believe a total newcomer to the series could enjoy it just as much as a diehard fan. The episode is directed by Raimi himself, and it shows. The hour flies by, and when it's over you'll be instantly disappointed there isn't more of it. Of course, you'll have to subscribe to Starz to see more — they've wisely made the first episode free to watch online, in the way that any good pusher will — but it seems a small price to pay for a weekly dose of Ash vs. Evil Dead. Groovy, indeed.