After three cult classic horror movies, decades of dormancy, and a reboot no one wanted, The Evil Dead series returns from the dead in the Starz Original Series Ash vs Evil Dead. With star Bruce Campbell back in his iconic role and fresh life injected into the franchise, it’s a series that know how to give fans everything that they want and more, even when its dedication to expanding the franchise winds up in some dead ends.
Ash vs Evil Dead picks up 30ish years after the original Evil Dead Trilogy with hero Ash (Campbell), who once survived multiple nights in a cabin in the woods being attacked by a demonic force, being dragged back into the battle against the Deadites and the forces of evil unleashed from an evil book known as the Necronomicon. Teaming up with reluctant warriors Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) and Pablo (Ray Santiago), Ash heads out on the road to fight evil with detective Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) and the mysterious Ruby (Lucy Lawless) on his trail.
As a movie trilogy, Evil Dead morphed from film to film, changing from gruesome and serious splatter fest to wacky gory hijinks to comedic adventure. Together, they create an overall tone that is associated with the franchise as a whole, even though it is never completely encapsulated in a single movie. Here, the Starz series and showrunner Craig Digregorio look to capture that tone in a consistent and holistic manner from episode to episode, with massive gore and campy laughs standing side by side across the season. Thanks to the work of franchise creators Sam Raimi (who directed all three films and the series’ pilot episode) and Rob Tapert, that tone is successfully executed, which is one of the biggest reasons behind the series’ success. As a whole, this is a massively welcome return to the franchise that fans have voraciously loved for decades with just enough fan service to please but not become tired. That said, the series is still executed well enough as a standalone to appeal to those who are brand new to the world of Evil Dead. From the very first episode, which is easily one of, if not the, strongest episode of the season, it’s clear that Evil Dead is back in full force.
Just as importantly, this is the Bruce Campbell show. Here, Campbell slides back into the role of Ash with ease while adding on an extra layer of characterization by dealing with the toll that time, hard living, and arrested development has had on the character. These added layers bring more depth, which is certainly needed when spending so much time with him from episode to episode. Even when individual episode vary in quality, Campbell stands strong as the center of the series. His braggadocios demeanor, slapstick follies, and devilish skill with offing Deadites through the use of a chainsaw hand (which replaces the one he had to cut off in Evil Dead II) and a shotgun make him a character that can quickly change from action hero to comic relief on a dime. Pairing him with two main supporting characters also helps to balance the character and bring a richer focus to the show. DeLorenzo and Santiago are welcome additions to the franchise, each bringing something fresh to a series where anyone other than Ash had been instantly forgettable. While Jones’ Amanda is also adept at killing The Evil Dead, her character progresses little more than that, which prevents greater attachment despite her subplot taking up chunks of screen time in the season’s first half.
With perfect tone firmly in place and its leading man doing wonders in his iconic role, Ash vs Evil Dead is able to take the franchise in bigger and fresher directions on a consistent basis. That can be seen in a multi-episode arc involving a demon, Ash’s drug-fueled vision quest, and the lead character’s growth and attachments to his partners. Should the franchise have returned only to retread the same old ground, it would have been a fun if forgettable return for fans. These new elements are proof that the show is willing to try new ideas, even when they don’t all completely work out. But even in the midst of weaker episodes, when the violence starts ratcheting up and the one-liners start flying, Ash vs Evil Dead begins firing on all cylinders, recapturing the magic that made the franchise a hit in the first place.
Speaking of violence, the show is certainly not afraid to up the blood and guts when the time is right. After all, what would a new entry into Evil Dead be without plenty of the red stuff? Concerning the tone, it’s clear that Evil Dead II (my favorite horror movie of all time) is the benchmark for how the series plays, as the scares and tension are all here, but the heightened violence almost becomes slapstick thanks to its copious levels of sanguine mayhem. It’s in the episodes “El Jefe,” “Bait,” “The Killer of Killers,” and “The Dark One” where that note is so perfectly hit as to become sublime. That being said, the final three episodes ratchet up the terror as Ash and company return to the cabin where it all started, resulting in a far more frightening climax that isn’t afraid to get dark and disturbing. It may seem jarring at first in comparison to the more adventurous tone of the mid-season, but it’s just right in the trajectory of the narrative.
However, that’s not to say the series doesn’t have its stumbling blocks. Most notably, the simmering subplot with Ruby simply carries on for too long without any real momentum for most of the series. At most, Lawless’ character is given an average of two minutes of screen time per episode until she is brought front and center for the final two installments. While it’s clear that the creative team wanted to seed her story throughout the season, the fact that literally nothing happens with her for most of her brief appearances make her presence on the show more frustrating than intriguing. That being said, her role in the season’s climax is most certainly one of the show’s highlights, as it leads to numerous plot twists, fresh elements, and some of the entire franchise’s most gruesome scares. If only those elements could be said for the rest of her appearances.
As a whole, it’s clear that Ash vs Evil Deadis conceived as one massive story broken up into 10 episodes which can almost create a massive movie if watched back to back. However, that means that some entries in the season are far less electrifying than those that serve as climaxes to the story’s various acts. However, just as it seems that the series has been playing for too long in low power mode, it throttles back up once again to deliver the goods. With the series having already been picked up for a second season, these bumps in the road can hopefully be corrected for a faster and more even series in the future.
But given its minor setbacks, there’s simply so much fun to be had in Ash vs Evil Dead from start to finish that you’ll fall in love with the franchise for the first time or all over again. Chainsaw-swinging, Deadite-killing, cocksure Ash is back and so is Evil Dead. Season 2 can’t come soon enough.