A show like Ash Vs. Evil Dead can surprise you, in that it can reveal what an old stick-in-the-mud you’ve become about people messing with things you like. Overall, Ash Vs. Evil Dead is very faithful to the Evil Dead mythology: In the first two episodes at least, the Deadites appear virtually unchanged, and are even singing the same lullabies as they did in Evil Dead 2. The chainsaw is gassed and ready behind a curtain in Ash’s trailer, and the boomstick is waiting in a trap door in the floor. Bruce Campbell even bears prosthetic scars to match his injuries from the films. But certain concessions have been made in adapting the story to contemporary TV, both in format and in content.
One of these concessions comes in the opening sequence of the pilot, where Ash straps himself into a girdle—a shot that’s been shown ad nauseam in promos for the series—and heads out to a bar, where he ends up bending a female patron over the ladies’ room sink. Although Ash has always been a ladies’ man, there’s very little sex in the Evil Dead movies, and none this graphic (tree rape excepted). So the whole scene feels like a record needle skipping out of its groove. But then again, this is premium cable, and director Sam Raimi has said that “If this came out as a movie, it would be unrated.”
Ash does seem to have been stuck in a holding pattern since Army Of Darkness, although Raimi has said the series “takes place somewhere in an alternate universe after Evil Dead 2,” which is presumably why Ash works at Value Stop and not S-Mart. He’s a fiftysomething stockboy with dentures and the aforementioned girdle whose charisma ensures he’s still the coolest guy in his Michigan trailer park, mostly because he has a lot of women over. In fact, it’s one of these women who inadvertently helps cause the Deadite resurrection, telling Ash that French poetry “really turns [her] on” while they’re sitting around smoking joints one night. “It’s not French, but…” he says, and the two recite passages from the Necronomicon Ex Mortis in a stoned haze.
Yep, he’s as big of a doofus as ever. This time around, he also has a sidekick, Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago), whose chemistry with his equally dopey mentor forms the comedic heart of the show. Pablo is Ash with no game, the nephew of a Honduran shaman whose wisdom Pablo cites whenever something supernatural happens, kind of like Ken Foree’s monologue about his Trinidadian granddad in Dawn Of The Dead. Pablo earnestly believes in Ash and would follow him into hell—and probably will, over the course of the season—with the two trading cheesy one-liners and killing demons with broken bottles and household appliances as they go. It’s bliss. Accompanying them is Kelly (Dana Delorenzo), Ash and Pablo’s Value Stop co-worker whose character is described as “cynical” and who has a major turning point in the second episode, one that will hopefully get her more into the screwball spirit of things.
The non-Ash part of Ash Vs. Evil Dead also has yet to capture that screwball spirit by the end of the second episode, playing more like straightforward horror than Raimi’s Three Stooges-influenced horror-comedy and occasionally feeling like a concession to the idea that TV shows must have more than one concurrent storyline. Jill Marie Jones leads this portion of the show as Amanda Fisher, a police detective who comes face-to-face with the reality of the Deadites in the pilot and who is blamed for the subsequent death of her partner. In order to clear her name, she starts hunting Ash; that’s when we meet Ruby (Lucy Lawless), about whom we know practically nothing but who knows everything about Ash and the Deadites. The two apparently go on the road together at some point, which will hopefully bring more out of Lawless than “cipher” and Jones than “shellshocked,” the two actors’ default settings at the beginning of the season.
Overall, bringing Ash into the modern world is a mixed bag. Seeing the demon cam come out of the woods and into a suburban parking lot is delightful, although you’ll only see it in the first episode. (Raimi only directed the pilot, and the second episode declines to emulate his kinetic camerawork.) But then there are certain modern touches that feel superfluous, like an exposition scene with Kelly’s parents that plays out on an iPhone when split screen would have served it much better.
That’s all nitpicking, however, considering that the over-the-top extreme cartoon violence—the raison d’être for anything Evil Dead—is glorious and appears mostly practical, spraying and splattering buckets of the red stuff (410 gallons of it, according to press materials) all over the frame and everything in it. (There is the occasional CGI head shot, but, as anyone who’s seen Oz The Great And Powerful can attest, Raimi isn’t opposed to CGI on principle.) When the Deep Purple kicks in on the soundtrack, Ash locks in his chainsaw hand, and the blood hoses are turned on, Ash Vs. Evil Dead is everything fans hoped it would be. Hopefully the series doesn’t get dragged down by the TV format, because in this case getting there just isn’t as much fun.