Unique to the world of horror, Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic The Evil Dead ended with the creation not of a final girl but rather a final guy, and it didn’t take long for badass Deadite-slayer Ash Williams to become one of the genre’s most beloved icons. He truly attained that status with the 1987 sequel, and for many decades it seemed that 1992’s Army of Darkness was the character’s final hurrah.
We have for years been clamoring for the return of Ash, but despite endless rumors, a fourth installment in the franchise never happened. Particularly when the remake hit theaters in 2013 and introduced a brand new protagonist, it was more or less set in stone that there was no turning back – and Bruce Campbell, it was safe to assume, would never again don the chainsaw-hand.
That’s why I encouraged several friends to pinch me when STARZ announced that they were bringing the franchise to the small screen, and returning to the original continuity. With Sam Raimi back in the director’s chair – at least for the pilot – and Campbell reprising the role of Ash, the “Ash vs. Evil Dead” announcement seemed way too good to be true, and even as I previewed the first two episodes tonight, it was still hard to believe I wasn’t dreaming.
Thankfully, as a character proclaims in the premiere episode, “Sometimes what you think you saw is exactly what you saw.” And what I saw tonight, friends, is the beginning of what looks destined to be one of the single best shows in the entire history of small screen horror.
It’s hard to describe the overwhelming joy I felt in seeing Bruce Campbell playing Ash Williams for the first time in over 20 years, and you get the sense when watching “Ash vs. Evil Dead” that Campbell himself felt much the same joy in reprising the role. Not only does he look great, but the cult icon hasn’t lost an ounce of his trademark charm, and his flair for comic timing is as strong and wonderfully brilliant as ever.
At the start of the premiere, titled “El Jefe,” we find Ash living in the Mossy Haven Trailer Park and working at a department store called Value Stop, the aging lothario spending his nights weaving tall tales about the loss of his hand as a way of (literally) charming the pants off local women. And the show wastes no time getting to the good stuff, as it’s not long before the Deadites come knocking on the door of his trailer home.
I won’t spoil any of the fun – in fact, I’ve essentially signed a waiver saying I won’t – but I can guarantee that you’ll get a serious kick out of the intentionally asinine explanation for the return of the franchise’s long-dormant brand of batshit crazy evil. Suffice to say, Ash hasn’t done much growing up in the past 30 years.
In the Raimi-directed/co-written pilot, which runs 40 minutes long, Ash finds allies in fellow Value Stop employees Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo), the unlikely trio banding together in an attempt to stop the Deadite invasion. And the familiar looking monsters are literally everywhere, wreaking so much havoc in only the first of ten episodes that it’s clear Raimi and friends are going for broke with the series.
Absolutely EVERYTHING you could possibly want from the show is on display in the fantastic pilot, from Ash’s witty one-liners to literal buckets of blood. There’s more gore in the episode than in the entirety of most modern horror films, and though hardcore fans may be disappointed by some of the CGI, the gruesome moments are so gleefully over-the-top, in such a fun way, that I can’t imagine registering any complaints in that department.
And don’t worry. The practical effects are plentiful.
The second episode is no less entertaining than the first, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the show is in great hands even without Sam Raimi seated in the director’s chair or scripting the action. In “Bait” the trio heads to Kelly’s house for a dinner party, and while Ash is convinced that Deadites are going to crash the festivities, his partners in crime have a much less bleak outlook on their situation.
One thing that’s immediately clear about “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is that it’s made specifically for big time Evil Dead fans, which is great to see in the wake of a show like MTV’s “Scream” – which wasn’t quite tailored to longtime fans of that franchise. We’re living in a time where even horror shows have to appeal to viewers who may not exactly consider themselves horror fans, and I’m happy to report that this one is nothing short of pure fan service.
Many have bemoaned the short episode runtimes – after the pilot, the remaining nine episodes are just shy of 30 minutes each – but that’s one of the show’s biggest strengths. The short but sweet episodes allow for a breakneck pace that never lets up, and there truly isn’t a dull moment to be found in the first two. Like a Deadite out of hell, the show jumps from one awesome set piece to the next, understanding precisely what Evil Dead fans are looking for – and delivering all of it.
In every conceivable way, “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is the franchise continuation we’ve all been craving for the past 23 years. And if the first two episodes are any indication, the show is going to go down in history as being one of the single greatest gifts that we horror fans have ever been given.
“Ash vs Evil Dead” premieres Saturday, October 31st, at 9:00pm ET/PT exclusively on STARZ.