In 1981, a little film called “The Evil Dead” surged into theatres, and eventually became a cult classic. Spawning two sequels, a reboot, comics, and video games, the horror comedy masterpiece evolved into a legendary franchise. Now it’s back, in a television iteration. Bruce Campbell donned the familiar chainsaw, reached for his boomstick, and reprised his role as Ash in an epic pilot that can only be described as groovy.
“Ash vs. Evil Dead” resumes in present day, with Ash (Campbell) having escaped the remote cabin where he fought off hordes of demons. The series notably skips the events of “Army of Darkness,” positioning the third entry in the “Evil Dead” trilogy as non-canon. Ash is pretty much the same old Ash: he’s bumbling, working at a department store Value Stop (rather reminiscent of S-Mart), and self-deceptively suave. His life seems fairly normal, until a hook up at a bar leads to the return of the Deadites.
In a flashback, it’s revealed that Ash accidentally unleashed the Deadites once again during a stoned stupor. Attempting to impress a female companion, Ash figured he’d pass off a few passages from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (Book of the Dead) as poetry. Initially he plans to skip town in his ’88 Delta and Airstream trailer. However, Ash ends up dragging fellow Value Stop co-workers Pablo (Ray Santiago), and Kelly (Dana Delorenzo) into the mess. Pablo plays Ash’s dedicated, eager companion, while Kelly is the reluctant object of Ash’s affection.
Meanwhile, State Trooper Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) struggles with the death of her partner Carson (Mike Edward). Fisher was forced to kill Carson when he became possessed while investigating a 911 report. Luckily, the mysterious Ruby (Lucy Lawless) appears, reassuring Amanda that it’s not all in her head: Carson really was possessed by demonic forces. No one, it seems, is safe, as anyone from Carson, to Ash’s elderly neighbor Vivian (Sian Davis), and even a doll at Value Stop, are normal one moment and Deadites the next.
“Ash vs. Evil Dead” is a marvelous continuation of the “Evil Dead” saga, and true throwback to the original. The series reunites Campbell with fellow “Evil Dead” collaborators Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert together executively produced the 10 episode series, with Raimi writing, and even directing the pilot. Additional direction comes from the likes of Michael Hurst, who portrayed Iolaus on “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.” Lawless starred in “Xena,” also making guest appearances in “Hercules,” and Campbell guest starred in both shows as well.
Just as with the previous films, “Ash vs. Evil Dead” maintains a familiar vibe. It’s the perfect fusion of horror and comedy. The special effects predominantly eschew CGI, and it’s for the best: it’s more realistic, but also adds an element of humor. Fake blood is bountiful, ironically, as Bruce Campbell apparently hates the stuff. “That hatred, it runs deep,” he admitted. “Ash vs. Evil Dead” brings enough horror to satisfy hardcore fans, but balances out the buckets of blood with plentiful laughs.
Bolstering the engaging plot and well-paced, frenetic action is a terrific cast. Campbell plays Ash wonderfully, from the opening scene where he squeezes into a man girdle, to a delightfully over-the-top Deadite fight scene in the finale. Ray Santiago surprises as Ash’s loyal Value Stop co-worker who isn’t afraid to wield a shovel and bash some demons. Dana DeLorenzo’s Kelly introduces a neat subplot, with her recently returned mother Suzy (Mimi Rogers). Rogers portrayed the wonderfully batty mother in cult classic horror flick “Ginger Snaps,” and Agent Dana Fowley on “The X-Files,” so it’s excellent to have her on board. The always-amazing Lucy Lawless delivers an intrigue which proves promising considering her natural on-screen chemistry with Bruce Campbell. Jill Marie Jones’s storyline offers an enthralling narrative that will presumably intersect with Ash’s quest.
With three critically acclaimed, adored cult flicks, bringing Ash back for a television series was a bold decision. If the pilot is any indication of the rest of the season, it was a marvelous choice. Brilliantly acted, witty, and with an impeccable equilibrium of camp and creep, “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is one of the best shows hit airwaves in decades. It’s no surprise a second run was renewed before the premiere.