Binge 'N' Purge - Ash vs. The Evil Dead
At the end of 2013’s Evil Dead remake, if you sat through the credits there was a brief after credits sequence featuring the man himself, Bruce Campbell, uttering the famous line “Groovy”. Upon watching it, fans of the franchise (okay, probably just me) lost their shit and wondered…and hoped…what could be next.
This. This was what was next. Starz had picked up a season [Now two. – Ed.] of Ash Vs. The Evil Dead…finally giving long-time fans what they wanted, a continuation of the story that had been untouched since Army of Darkness, waaaaaaaaay back in 1992.
Here’s the rub though. Due to the unholy union of the De Laurentiis estate and that mass of perpetual evil known as Comcast (owners of Universal), the series can make absolutely NO reference to that film. As such, and apparently I’m getting on with the negative rather early on in this review, some of the story beats from season 1 are a bit…recycled: the robot hand and the evil duplicate Ash in particular. While I’m talking about the negative here, it should be mentioned that some of the computer effects stand out, pulling you out of the show for a moment.
That’s it though. Otherwise, I won’t say it’s perfect…but damn near. Okay, there might be one other negative, but I’ll get to that later. Yes, Ash continues to be an arrogant blowhard idiot but the series actually gives the viewer time to get behind that façade through the other characters he encounters, particularly Pablo and Kelly, his former co-workers at ValueStop (goddamn De Laurentiis…took away fuckin’ S-Mart), who join him on his quest to end the Necronomicon’s evil once and for all. And yes, it’s an evil that Ash started…again. It’s great to see good ol’ Bruce stretch his acting legs in this regard…and he handles it amazingly. He’ll have these selfless moments and you’ll catch these brief flashes of vulnerability…and then it’s gone and the caricature is back. It’s absolutely perfect and a very welcome surprise. As I’ve already mentioned them, Pablo (played by Ray Santiago) and Kelly (played by Dana DeLorenzo) prove to be very capable sidekicks for Ash on his journey and thankfully are not always in need of saving. The aforementioned actors play their roles very well…maybe a little too well. Specifically in the case of Pablo. You see, he’s got the hots for Kelly and, in trying to express that from time to time, is working his damnedest to end up in the hell that we know as Just Friends Land. Having been much like Pablo for my teens...and nearly all of my twenties…well, it’s painful to watch. Don’t take that as a negative though…acting at its best is supposed to serve as a mirror and, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, Santiago is certainly pulling that off with his portrayal. On the other side of the relationship, if you want to call it that, is Kelly, who is typically the font for deadpan sarcasm. And while that’s the side we see of her most, like Ash we do get moments where we get to peek behind this shell and into the vulnerable girl within. Another layer is that we see her very gradual, glacial-like warming to Pablo. Granted, at first she says he’s like a little brother to her…then she uses the much-hated phrase of ‘you’re so sweet and innocent’…clearly reminding anyone that’s spent any time there that, yeah, Pablo’s not gonna get what he’s after there…he’s CLEARLY in The Friends Zone. But the fact that it annoys me so is, like with Santiago’s portrayal of Pablo, a clear sign that DeLorenzo is doing it right. And who knows, given some of Kelly’s actions in the last two episodes of the season, maybe ol’ Pablo isn’t as doomed as we think. Well, in this regard anyway.
While I criticized some of the computer effects, the practical and make-up effects are everything you could hope for in an Evil Dead film…or show…or…yeah, you know what I mean. And there’s lots of it. Gore? You Betcha. Blood? Not just by the bucket, my friend…by the barrel…or two! All sorts of manner of death? Check, check and check. Trust me, just by this metric alone, well…okay, and having Bruce Campbell in it, it TRULY is Evil Dead. Accept no substitutes.
The story of the series itself is really rather simple: Ash is on a quest to end The Evil he’s unleashed…but in order to do that, he has to become The Chosen One he’s depicted as being within the pages of the Necronomicon itself. It might be simple…but it’s not easy…and the clearest way to showcase that the writers behind this series get the characters as originally written by Sam and Ivan Raimi is to point out the fact that the thing that gets in the way most of Ash’s progress is, as you should expect, Ash himself. Yes, the Deadites and their leader (don’t wanna give away that twist) are crafty and Ash…well…isn’t, but Ash’s fatal flaw doesn’t lie in the fact that he’s often outsmarted…it’s when he’s forced to choose or make a decision. That’s when things go to hell. Literally. One thing that I found to be rather neat is that each episode actually uses a classic rock song as its…well…theme, which was great because given all the CW DC shows I watch, I was getting kinda tired of the pop that’s occasionally shoehorned in there. [Granted, Smallville was the greatest offender in this regard. – Ed.] I do have one minor complaint, but to be perfectly honest, I actually have to agree with the decision to do this: the short length of the episodes. Each episode runs (except for the double-length pilot), on average, about 26 minutes long…so a little longer than a network TV half hour show. And while I, like every Evil Dead fan, subscribes to the mantra that the more Ash, the better…well, having gone through the first season, no…I think they got it just right. Much longer than the 30 minute mark and, if not written properly, and even Ash can overstay his welcome. With the shorter episodes, it forces the writers to keep things taut and, as such, things become a bit more impactful. Lastly, while as I mentioned before…that Army of Darkness was off limits…there are plenty of references and callbacks to the first two films of the series and as such…makes the series feel like the vital extension of the films that it needs to be.
With razor sharp wit…and an equally sharp chainsaw…everything you love about the Evil Dead franchise is back in tasty little bit-sized nuggets. And since it’s being produced by Starz, you bet that this’ll satisfy The Three B’s we often mention here: blood…check (lots of checks), beasts, yup…check and breasts, thanks to Lucy Lawless, yeah, that’s a big ol’ checkaroo. I know, I know, I could’ve seen those a lot sooner if I’d watch the Sparticus shows Starz produced…but there’s so much to watch! Oh, and before I forget…two words: BOOMSTICK CAM. Best use of a GoPro EVER. Sure, the show isn’t so great that I’m going to subscribe to Starz just to catch episodes live, but once the seasons come out on streaming or disc, if you’re a fan of the series, you need to pounce on this and binge like crazy. It took me a day to do it with season 1…and it was the highlight of my week! Seriously, get out there and buy it before some primitive screwhead with the last name of De Laurentiis finds a way to shut it down.
Oh...and don't forget...