The Reviewinator: Ash vs. Evil Dead (S1E01, “El Jefe”)

ashvsevildeadposterIn what is probably the most requested franchise resurrection in horror history, Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert have returned to finally (FINALLY!) give their ever-fussy fans what they’ve been clamoring for for 23 long years: Evil Dead 4. But it didn’t exactly happen that way, and we’re all better off for it. Rather than getting a long-awaited 80-90 minute sequel, or even a new trilogy, instead we’re treated to ten 30-minute episodes, which was just recently renewed for a second season of (hopefully) equal length. We wanted more Evil Dead, and now they’re giving us more than we could have ever expected. There aren’t enough thumps-ups in the world to thank them for this!

We begin with an aging Ash, living out his everyday life, which is something we’ve never really seen him do before. He heads out to a bar, hits on a middle-aged drunk girl with a fake sob story about his missing hand, and takes her into the bathroom for some late-night woodworking. And that’s when visions of Deadites kill the mood, prompting Ash to retrace his steps through a hazy weed-inspired memory, realizing he read another girl some “poetry” from a certain Book of the Dead, which as we all know is the dumbest thing only a man like Ash could have done.

Let me get this out there: the style and tone of this show is NOT like the movies. It’s filmed in HD, clear and pristine, and every sight and sound is polished to modern standards, which may seem like a departure from the guerrilla, independent filmmaking style the early movies are renowned for. Hardcore Evil Dead fans may have the most difficult time adjusting to this, but like all new shows, it is an acquired taste. That being said, the style and tone of the show are perfect for what they’re trying to achieve here. Make no mistake.

For legal reasons, the show is not allowed to get into specifics about the events of Army of Darkness (not groovy, Universal; not groovy at all). But rest assured, not one thing about that movie is actually ignored or rewritten. Ash’s personality is very much the Ash from Army of Darkness. He’s still a stockboy, which was never even mentioned in the first two Evil Dead‘s (although it’s at a store called Value Stop rather than S-Mart here). He also jumps into the air and catches a chainsaw with his severed arm. In one of the trailers I even heard him refer to his shotgun as a “Boomstick”. And the very fact that it’s more comedy than horror is also reminiscent of Army of Darkness. So if you’re aware of the legal restrictions, don’t worry too much about them. Sam Raimi and friends are making it work, and probably wouldn’t have done this show if they couldn’t.

Like most pilot episodes, a lot of it is devoted to setting up the events of later episodes and seasons. And that’s fine here. Watching Ash try to resist what he’s supposed to become may feel like a retread, but it sets up an amazing climactic fight scene at the end of the episode. And if you had any reservations about the new style, the new direction, or anything that distances the show from the movies, all of that is washed away in the final moments. As a hardcore Evil Dead fan, I was extra critical of this episode, and it still won me over. It is absolutely for Evil Dead fans and I cannot wait for more groovy episodes.

5 out of 5

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