ASH VS EVIL DEAD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5)
Bruce Campbell as ASH WILLIAMS
Ray Santiago as PABLO SIMON BOLIVAR
Dana DeLorenzo as KELLY MAXWELL
Jill Marie Jones as AMANDA FISHER
Lucy Lawless as RUBY KNOWBY
Studio: Anchor Bay
Created by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Tom Spezialy
BY KEVIN CARR
Having been a horror movie fan for years, I have experienced “Evil Dead” in many forms. The original film as first introduced to me on VHS tape in the 1980s, and later I enjoyed watching it (along with David Cronenberg’s “The Fly”) entirely unedited on an independent television station in Toledo, Ohio in the 1990s.
“Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn” was one that I first saw on the big screen at a 24-hour horror movie marathon in Columbus, Ohio, shortly after it hit theaters. Of all three original feature films, it is the one that is most fun to experience with a live audience of genre fans, and I have held a special place for it in my heart ever since.
“Army of Darkness” is another monster entirely. I was old enough and well-versed in the genre when that was released in the early 1990s to check it out in its original theatrical run. Two decades later, I even enjoyed watching the remake “Evil Dead,” which went back to the grisly horror roots of the original film.
While all the films hold up on their own, they are forever tied to each other in one of the most bonkers explanation of continuity you’ll find in a long-running series. The original movie is the most serious attempt to make a straightforward horror movie with plenty of gross-out effects. By the time the second film came around, Raimi was having more fun with his love of the Three Stooges to stick to visceral body horror.
I’d say that “Evil Dead II” is the most slapsticky of the series, but you cannot discount “Army of Darkness” (and in particular, the stretch of film in which Ash battles himself to fetch the Necronomicon). And even though “The Evil Dead” remake doesn’t indulge in slapstick, a brief chuckle cameo from Ash after the ending credits shows that the movie is still playing in the same sandbox.
“Ash vs Evil Dead” was a concept long rumored but never fulfilled. I remember the years when it was never going to happen because Bruce Campbell was tired of being known for splatter cinema and trying to highlight other works (like “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.”) and Sam Raimi was making the “Spider-Man” movies. In fact, I remember hearing Campbell say at a showing of the first two films (which he was happy to attend if the price was right and he could charge for authentic autographs): “If you ask me when Sam Raimi is going to make ‘Evil Dead 4,’ I’ll give you his phone number, and you can explain to him why he should do that instead of ‘Spider-Man 2.’”
Now, Campbell has chilled out in his old age. He no longer looks at his horror fan base with as much disdain, and he realizes they can be a gravy train to a nice retirement package for him. Raimi burned out on superhero movies and is going back to some fun projects. And with series like “The Walking Dead” and “American Horror Story” doing great business, the time was ripe for “Ash vs Evil Dead” to appear on television.
And this was the best time to do it. “The Evil Dead” has fallen enough into the nostalgia pool that it can capitalize on the splatter horror genre good-will without being pigeonholed as being exploitative. Horror comedies are as popular as ever thanks to absurd films like “Sharknado” and more substantive pieces like “Tucker and Dave vs. Evil” and “The Cabin in the Woods” have already begun deconstructing the genre.
To wit, “Ash vs Evil Dead” has everything an “Evil Dead” fan will love. It’s got plenty of blood, and plenty of body parts get lopped off. It’s absurdly and hilariously violent. And its centerpiece is Bruce Campbell as Ash wisecracking as only he can to (and admittedly only as he does in “Army of Darkness,” for that matter).
Ironically, it is “Army of Darkness” that is mostly ignored (so far) in this series, though I suppose it could technically work if you take the original theatrical release as canon. And that’s okay because as I said before, this series has never been one to stick to continuity very well.
The story finds Ash Williams (Campbell) struggling to make a living as a stock boy at a department store. On one of his many drunken binges, he makes the bad decision to read from the Necronomicon (which he still keeps in his footlocker) and inadvertently releases the Deadites back into our realm. This sends him on the run with co-workers Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana De Lorenzo) on a mission to close the door to this other realm using the Necronomicon, pursued by both law enforcement and a mysterious demon hunter named Ruby (Lucy Lawless).
“Ash vs Evil Dead” is great fun, and it offers the viewer a chance to slate their comedic bloodlust with something that has strong roots in the genre. Throughout the ten episodes of the first season, there’s enough of a forward-moving plot that grounds the film without it dragging. There’s some decent character development with Pablo and Kelly (and pretty much everyone else that is slaughtered along the way) to keep the stories interesting.
The season wrap-up works to a degree, though seems like an easy catch that lofts a softball entry into season two, but it’ll forgivable in the long run, I hope.
The biggest complaint I have with the series is the sustainability of the premise. I hope as we move to season two and beyond that Ash isn’t developed too much. While the Ash from “The Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II” could have used some depth, this Ash is a blustering buffoon we saw in “Army of Darkness.” He will lose all fun if he is developed anywhere beyond his caricature of machismo.
Similarly, I hope the series doesn’t just become overly formulaic, finding a new way every few shows to accidentally release more Deadites. That could get old fast. However, as it stands, we are looking ahead to an optimistically fun season two.
Special features on “Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete First Season” includes audio commentaries on all ten episodes, plus a breakdown discussion of each episode in “Inside the World of Ash.” There are other fun featurettes that include “How to Kill a Deadite” and “Best of Ash” that remind us what the series is all about.