Impressions - "Ash Vs Evil Dead"

Some people piss and moan about the 2013 Evil Dead flick, but for my money, it was a stellar continuation of the franchise. It wasn't a strict reboot, nor was it a PG-13-ified take on the gory cult classic. To me, it felt like a killer continuation of one of my favorite series, and like something that took place in the same canonical universe as the original trilogy.

That being said, an after-credits tease featuring national treasure Bruce Campbell left me wanting more of the classic Evil Dead; the one that featured Ash Williams, one of the most lovable douchebags to ever grace the silver screen. Now, after over a decade of false starts and empty promises, Campbell and series creator Sam Raimi are back in the saddle, only this time, it's on cable. Does that affect the camp, the carnage, and the schlocky charm that the franchise is known for?

Nope.

Ash vs Evil Dead picks up thirty years after Army of Darkness ends, presumably, and finds Ash working as a stockboy at a department store. He's living as a washed-up trailer park inhabitant, out of shape and a pale shadow of his former, heroic self. These days, he's using fake stories about how he lost his hand to pick up women in bars and screw them in public restrooms. But like all Joseph Campbellian hero's journeys, this former hero gets unstuck from his rut by a call to action. In this instance, it's the return of the Deadites, his perpetual nemesis. And even though their resurrection is pretty much his own damn fault, as we quickly find out, he's nevertheless shouldered with the burden of taking them out once again... against his every attempt to outrun them.

This time, however, he's not the sole hero in a cast of potential victims. There are four other characters who comprise the main cast, all of whom look like they're going to bring a little something different to each episode. We've got Pablo, an impressionable co-worker of Ash's who looks up to him for whatever reason, and Kelly, another employee of the department store who has some sort of troubled past that she seems to be outrunning. By the end of the first episode, these two are teaming up with Ash to hunt down the unleashed Deadites. Hopefully, they'll get to do more than cower in fear as Ash does shit as the season progresses, because that's pretty much their deal in the premiere. Not that it's a terrible thing, mind, but it'll get old really fast if that's all they end up capable of doing.

Meanwhile, we also get glimpses of Amanda, a disgraced cop accused of murdering her partner, who turned into a Deadite before her eyes. We see her first run-in with evil, we see her first kills, we see her overcoming survivor's guilt/guilt from "killing" her partner, and... not much else. Granted, she seems like a really cool character, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of her, but this episode pretty much just gives her some context for existing in the world of the show. Lucy Lawless' character doesn't really even get that. She shows up, says a thing, then walks off. Of course, these are two characters that will, undoubtedly, become more important as the show progresses, and the next episode promises to give us more of these two interacting and doing their own stuff.

If it sounds like I'm complaining a lot, don't mistake that as a dislike for this initial episode, because it's not. It's actually everything I could have ever wanted from an Evil Dead continuation in 2015, and then some. I'm just ready for the show to get the ball rolling, I guess. I understand that introducing characters and contextualizing them in the world of a pre-established universe is pretty crucial to us giving a damn about them, and maybe it's my predisposition to the binge-ready format Netflix has been releasing its shows in, but the first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead feels like a movie without an ending, or without backstory for its characters. We only really get Ash's backstory, but the thing is... anybody watching this will, in all likelihood, already know that like the back of their hand. What's the deal with Pablo? Or Kelly? What about Amanda? I mean, Lucy Lawless' character has the same last name as the dude who found the Necronomicon, so there's something there, right? Come on, guys!

Anyway. As far the show itself and the execution of it goes, it's all fucking stellar. The special effects, aside from some very noticeably budget CG, are all excellent. One of the franchise's historic strong points has been its fantastically grotesque practical effects, and that's the case here as well. Despite series special effects maven Greg Nicotero not being present (he's probably got his hands full with The Walking Dead at the moment,) nothing really feels lacking in the "explosive, gross, unrealistic, artisan-esque gore" department here. There are arguably some of the franchise's best moments here, actually, with a Deadite rearranging a human body in a particularly backwards way, and Ash having a hilarious showdown with a killer children's doll, among other things.

Very little has been lost in transition from the big screen to the small screen, actually, and as weird as this is to say, it almost feels like Starz is letting Raimi get away with much more than any movie studio would. How times have changed.

Overall, despite my(admittedly shallow) complaints about lack of characterization (which will come in later episodes, no doubt,) Ash vs Evil Dead is exactly what fans of the franchise have been craving since Ash came back from the past at the end of Army of Darkness. It's a bunch of gory, campy fun, full of self-deprecating, sarcastic humor and loving nods to older entries that franchise buffs will dig. Sam Raimi has given us the best piece of classic Evil Dead humor and horror since the 2006 video game, Evil Dead Regeneration. It's not a spin-off, nor is it a scaled-down, neutered version of what fans know and love.

From start to finish, the first episode is big, dumb, grandiose fun, interspersed with sharp one-liners and absurd gore. This show looks, in all likelihood, like it'll be the definitive sequel we've wanted for almost two decades. To put it simply?

Ash vs Evil Dead is groovy.

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