Has it really been 23 years since Ashley J. “Ash” Williams last battled the Deadite menace in ‘Army of Darkness‘? How time flies. Despite an attempted franchise revival a couple years ago that didn’t involve him, our smart-assed, one-handed hero is back – not in another feature film, but in a TV series, ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’. Hail to the king, baby!
Star Bruce Campbell returns to his most famous role, a little older and a little fatter but still as lovably smug and cheesy as ever. The series is also produced by original creators Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, and Raimi directed the pilot episode. As an official follow-up to the original trilogy of films, the show ignores the reboot. It also mostly ignores ‘Army of Darkness’, but that’s probably because the rights to that entry are owned by a different studio and negotiating for them may have been more trouble than it was worth. For story purposes, our main point of reference is 1987’s ‘Evil Dead II‘ (which was largely a remake of the first film). However, Campbell’s portrayal of the character seems to be primarily drawn from the goofball lothario ‘Army of Darkness’ version.
A couple decades have passed since Ash last fought a Deadite, and he’s… well, he’s still a loser. He lives in a trailer park, he works as a stock boy at a low-end discount chain called Value Stop (the name “S-Mart” was presumably tied up with the ‘Army of Darkness’ rights), and he spends his nights at a seedy bar trying to pick up chicks with fake stories about how he lost his hand while saving a child. After one such unexpectedly successful attempt, Ash experiences something he hasn’t in years – he has a vision of a Deadite taunting him.
Freaked out, Ash returns to his trailer to ensure that the evil ‘Necronomicon’ book is still safely where he left it. Although it is, he suddenly remembers that he recently got high and read from it to impress another girl. Whoops. Now the Deadites know where he is and they want revenge.
Ash’s first instinct is to get the hell out of town. First, he needs to stop by work to pick up his paycheck. While waiting for that, he gets attacked by a possessed doll and the Deadite invasion starts to affect other people. Without really wanting to, Ash begrudgingly picks up a couple of his co-workers as sidekicks: Pablo (Ray Santiago) who worships the ground Ash walks on, and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) who decidedly does not. They all return to Ash’s trailer, where they’re accosted by a Deadite-possessed old lady, and Ash has to finally cowboy-up, strap on the ol’ chainsaw, and once again become the hero he thought he was done being.
In a side story, we’re introduced to State Police officer Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones), who encounters Deadites at a domestic disturbance call and has to kill her partner when he’s possessed by one. Afterwards, Amanda runs into a mysterious stranger (Lucy Lawless) who appears to know what’s going on.
Episode Verdict / Grade: Groovy
At just shy of 40 minutes, the pilot episode is very short and has to cram in a lot of plot to set up the premise. Even so, the brisk pacing never feels rushed. As director, Raimi does a terrific job managing the wild tone swings from silly slapstick to shocks and scares. The Deadite attack on Amanda is genuinely creepy and suspenseful.
Campbell feels right at home in his old shoes. The sidekicks and other supporting characters are surprisingly appealing and likeable. The episode is uproariously funny and gory as hell, and Raimi directs it like a real ‘Evil Dead’ film, complete with tons of crazy POV shots.
I’ll be honest that I’ve never been a huge ‘Evil Dead’ fanboy. For my money, this premiere episode is better than any of the three movies. The question, of course, is whether subsequent episodes helmed by other directors can keep up the momentum. I look forward to finding out. The Starz network has enough faith in the show that it’s already been renewed for a second season.