Ash (Bruce Campbell) is back and everything is groovy baby!
Let’s bitch it out…
After 30 years, Bruce Campbell reprises his signature role as Ash with the debut of STARZ’s new series, Ash vs Evil Dead. Clearly the cable network is betting big on his return since the series has already been renewed for a second season in advance of its debut. If this first episode is any indication of what to expect, then STARZ has made a smart move. As expected/hoped for, Ash vs Evil Dead is quite simply tons of fun. It’s silly, campy, and scary in all of the right doses and Campbell slips back into Ash’s juvenile / heroic shoes with ease. It’s as though he’s been waiting for an opportunity to revisit the character after all of these years.
This first episode is fairly lightweight in terms of plot, primarily interested in catching up with Ash after all of these years, introducing the supporting cast of characters, and explaining how the Deadites have returned. People who observe that not much happens in this extended first episode wouldn’t be wrong, though that’s not much of a concern when there’s so much fun to be had.
Obviously the main source of joy in this premiere is Campbell’s Ash. From his introduction with the girdle to the scandalous story he tells about losing his hand rescuing a child from a train in order to get laid to his inept work ethic, it’s clear that Ash is the same old lovable loser that we fell in love with in Evil Dead 1 & 2 and Army of Darkness (the show doesn’t own the rights to AoD, however, so don’t expect to see it referenced much). Campbell knows exactly how to play this character and even his interactions with one-note characters such as when he delivers rubber gloves to gullible old neighbour Vivian so she can clean his RV or when he asks grumpy manager Mr. Roper (Damien Garvey) for his ValuMart paycheck, are filled with enjoyable bits.
As for the new characters, Ray Santiago brings does a good job with Pablo’s hero worship of Ash, even if it’s not entirely clear why he idolizes his older co-worker so much (perhaps if the character were a little younger it would make more sense). As Valumart trainee and the object of Pablo’s affection, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) is given a little more to do. Her shift in attitude from meeting Ash to seeing him kick ass is definitely amusing. Still, I hope that the flirtation between Kelly and Ash is either redirected back onto Pablo or played solely for laughs because an entire series of Ash and Pablo both mooning over the same young girl could get a bit old.
The best character – and scene – in the premiere involves the other new character, Amanda (Jill Marie Jones). Her investigation with partner Carson (Mike Edward) into an emergency call at Lucy’s (Marissa Stott) house in the woods is the episode’s most overt horror sequence and it’s here that director (and creator) Sam Raimi’s talents shine. From the classic point of view steadicam through the woods to the dutch angles to the spinning flashlight as the light source, Amanda’s first encounter with the Deadites is masterfully tense. Half of the fun of the Evil Dead films is that dead characters are immediately co-opted, so we know the moment that Carson is impaled on those antlers that he’ll return. In general the level of violence and gore (including three exploding head shots, plus scissors through the hand!) is impressive. On the whole, this scene nicely balances out the comedy from Ash’s side of the story since his last act showdown with Vivian in the trailer is played more for laughs than scares.
On the whole, ‘El Jefe’ does a great job of reintroducing the series and the characters while also laying out the foundation for the rest of the season. It’s clear that we’ll be touching base with the book dealer Ash called, as well as Kelly’s father (who in all likelihood is already dead). Plus Amanda and Lucy Lawless’ character Ruby have to play into this in some way. I’ll echo Ash’s final line of the episode: “Groovy”. Let’s do this.
- The reason for the Deadite return is hilariously dumb (in a good way): Ash and Lucy were getting stoned and he tried to impress her by reading from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. What. An. Idiot.
- The bit with the axe in the final trailer battle is nicely foreshadowed / contrasted by Ash’s inefficiency with the dart when he arrives at the bar in the opening scene. Ditto for the flashback sequence when Ash lops off his girlfriend’s head in the flashback scenes from Evil Dead, which anticipate a similar move he uses to dispatch kindly elderly neighbour Vivian.
- We barely get a glimpse of Ruby outside of her few brief words with Amanda in the dinner. Sad face. Thankfully Lawless is a series regular, so we can look forward to much more from Ruby.
- If I have one major complaint about the episode, it’s the shoddy CGI in Ash’s battle with the doll in the ValuMart store room. This fight should be an amusing, silly scene, but the shitty FX is so distracting that I just couldn’t get into it.
- Finally, I loved that the gardener at the RV lot is dressed as an homage to Ash’s classic costume. I didn’t notice until the fight in the trailer, but he’s even missing a hand!
- Ash (smacking the bar wench on the butt with his fake hand during sex): “How do you like my wood?”
- Ash (hitting on Kelly): “I know, I’m old and grisled. And 10 pounds overweight.” Kelly: “10?” Ash: “Okay 30.”
- Ash (after his first Deadite battle): “The other thing I gotta do is some cardio because my heart is jackhammering like a quarterback on prom night.”
Your turn: are you glad to have Ash back? What do you think of the new characters? Which part of the premiere was your favourite? Do you think subsequent directors will be able to match Raimi’s directorial style? And what are you hoping for from the remainder of the season? Sound off below.
Ash vs Evil Dead airs Saturdays at 9pm EST on STARZ