The Evil Dead franchise has always honored the past. Way back in November 1979, when director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell trekked into the woods of Tennessee, they arrived at the remote cabin wearing a number of influences on their bloody, tattered sleeves: H.P. Lovecraft, The Three Stooges, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and even the early works of Wes Craven. It’s in the murky mythology of the Necronomicon, Campbell’s physical comedy, the musky sets, and the lewd, unforgiving horror that often borders on pornographic. Yet Raimi wisely tethered these dusty influences to his own style, either by turning up the volume or subverting their tired formulas until they became a renewed spectacle, which then made them feel less like clever Easter eggs and more like learned quirks.
So, it’s not at all surprising to see Ash Vs. Evil Dead carry on that same tradition. With “Last Call”, screenwriter Noelle Valdivia pulls from Stephen King, turning Ash’s beloved (and stolen) 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 into the blockbuster author’s carnage cruiser Christine. And much like Raimi, Valdivia elevates the source material by simply having fun, letting her imagination go from zero to 120 mph as she decimates the Elk Grove brats who decided to take the thing out on a joyride. Fingers are sliced off, faces are wheeled away, bodies are incinerated, and teens are trapped and strapped to their seats in absolute terror—the Delta has never looked so terrifying. In fact, despite Ash’s rose-tinted lenses, we might never be able to look at the old bird the same way again. Not since Heather’s death in last season’s finale have we seen such a lack of mercy.
Juxtaposed against all this bloodshed is a wild, boisterous party thrown by Ash and his ”No. 1 partner in … crime!” Chet Kaminski (Ted Raimi). Our boozy hero believes that he can lure those pesky, thieving kids with a thunderous soiree, so he calls up an old friend of his and together they concoct a devious mixed drink called “Pink Fuck.” As Kaminski explains to the Ghost Beaters, it’s “a proprietary mix of liqueurs and spirits, garnished with orange rind and nutmeg—oh, and there’s a shit ton of ketamine in it.” This guy Kaminski seems alright; that is, if you’re into a Desert Storm veteran who kicks back shots to forget about friendly fire, stolen Saudi gold, and whatever happened to Anwar the village boy. He’s a stable mess, the perfect clumsy role for Ted, and given his rapport with Ash, we’re bound to have at least one more adventure with him.
Sadly, the same can’t be said about Brock Williams. After three episodes, Lee Majors’ disgusting, crusty patriarch has kicked the can, and in such an ugly way. Of course, we should have seen this coming earlier—remember, anyone who gets even remotely close to Ash must do-si-do on the chopping block—but credit goes to Valdivia for distracting us with all the other ensuing madness. Still, Majors goes out in true hillbilly style, as he’s given some of the filthiest (“Is this a biological thing? Because basically Ash and I have the same baby formula down in the crotch bottle.”) and most sardonic (“You’re so much better at this than my dead wife.”) lines to date for this series. Brock even gets to grab the mechanical bull by the horns and scorch his son in a public duel that only piles on the pathos for our chainsaw lothario as he slouches at the bar in shame.
Much of that scene plays metaphorically into the episode’s themes of agency and responsibility. As Kelly tells a frustrated Pablo, who’s panicking about having another hellish vision, “Everyone in this world is plagued by evil. You can either pour a drink and you can ignore it, or you can stand up and you can fight it. Okay, so fight it, man. Fight your evil.” We then discover which side Kelly has been leaning upon and sadly she’s not drinking her own medicine. She’s drinking something, though, and that something leads her to the bar’s front stoop, where an equally frustrated Ruby comes to save the day … maybe. If we’re to believe Lucy Lawless’ creepy vixen, she just wants her kids back, but she can’t do it alone. “It wasn’t Ash I was meant to call,” Ruby pleads, acting all Tony Robbins to Kelly. “It was you—help me.” Damn, she’s good.
So is Pablo, who finds his inner Coach Taylor and raises Ash’s spirits following the dismal bull-off. “You’re Ash Williams,” he pleads, “Demon hunter, Deadite slayer, friend, hero … and jefe.” The chemistry between Campbell and Ray Santiago has been dynamite from the get-go and this is the first time this season that we really get to see the two bond intimately. It’s a nice moment, sure, but it’s also hilarious, what with the rousing trumpets and the flamboyant image of Campbell cawing maniacally like a lunatic. What follows, however, is another bloody triumph by returning director Tony Tilse, who leisurely executes the bathroom duel between Brock, Ash, and Olivia Mahood’s ravenous Deadite Amber. Ash operators with ease, too, sawing through Amber without breaking a sweat, as he jokes: “Hiya pop, got room for a threesome?”
It’s a short-lived victory as we noted above—he gains his father’s trust, only to lose it minutes later (to the Delta, no less)—and one that offers a contradicting parable to Kelly’s drunken advice. Because no matter how powerful you may be, and no matter how hard you fight against your own evils, there will be battles lost, and some of those battles may be weightier than you can handle. For Ash, it’s unclear how Brock’s death will affect him going forward, but it does mark the first time since Cheryl or Linda that he’s lost someone truly dear to him. What’s more, it’s the closest this show has come to tackling that sort of loss, outside of Hemky Madera’s quick exit last season in “Brujo” or perhaps the double-down demise of Kelly’s parents in the series’ second episode “Bait.” And looking back, those two deaths flew by without much trepidation or angst.
Which is why there’s reason to believe that “Last Call” might have thrown its heaviest punch a little too fast. Yes, there’s a Chaucer-like charm to how everything ties together by the end, but at what cost? For shock value? Hell, the execution itself isn’t even all that shocking. Everyone who’s seen a horror movie or three knows that those who step in the road too long wind up being road kill. And anyone who’s enjoyed a lazy Saturday watching Deep Blue Sea knows that goes double if there’s some sort of speech involved, of which Brock’s final words fit the bill: “There’s something I’ve kept from you, something so vital that the future of your life may”—and splat. So, yeah, it’s a tad disheartening to see Ash Vs. Evil Dead stoop to such a lame gag, especially given the franchise’s more unorthodox track record, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t laugh a little.
- How about that soundtrack? What starts out with “You Make Me Feel Brand New” ricochets into Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (“Good Vibrations”), Ides of March (“Vehicle”), Limp Bizkit (“Hot Dog”), Alice Cooper (“Go to Hell”), Dexy’s Midnight Runners (“Come On Eileen”), and Roy Rogers (“Happy Trails”). Good god.
- Pepi Sonuga plays the scream queen who’s still stuck in the Delta. If you didn’t glean from the dialogue, she’s Lacey Emery, the daughter of Sheriff Emery and Ash’s former fling Linda Bates-Emery. Needless to say, she’ll be around for future episodes and should be quite traumatized considering she just watched her boyfriend live out the horror of two other King stories: “The Long Walk” and “Trucks.”
- Kelly: “Let’s go kill your kids.”
- “There are no winners when you play catch, pop. You throw it back and forth and you bond.” Ash, at his most remorseful.
- This week’s Top Deadite is somewhat unorthodox. While technically not a Deadite, the Delta does get possessed by the Necronomicon and causes all sorts of chaos, specifically the severe tire damage that makes Amber’s Teeth-shattering malarky a distant echo. Yeah, lots of ouch this week.
- Time to panic yet? Ruby and Kelly have joined forces, which didn’t work so well for Amanda Fisher last season. Brock is dead. The Delta is still careening through Elk Grove. And Chet is probably wasted on Pink Fuck. Looks like Ash and Pablo have a lot on their hands next week in “DUI.”
- On a closing note, Starz renewed Ash Vs. Evil Dead for a third season this past week, and considering Campbell wants to do this for five seasons, it looks like we actually might be in for the long haul. Groovy.