Television review: Ash Vs Evil Dead (2015)

by Steve Green

Ash vs Evil Dead

Ash Vs Evil Dead, S1E01, ‘El Jefe’
Ash Vs Evil Dead, S1E02, ‘The Bait’

It’s intriguing to speculate what direction Sam Raimi’s career might have taken had his second movie, 1985’s Crimewave, not proven such a box office train wreck. After all, he specifically chose the horror genre for his directorial debut, The Evil Dead (1982), because he saw it as a gateway market from which he might eventually move onto less transgressive projects. Instead, 1986 found him deep in the woods of North Carolina, filming Evil Dead II and cementing his reputation for delivering gore with a side order of slapstick.

A further sequel followed in due course – 1992’s Army of Darkness – but horrendous post-production delays (Universal and executive producer Dino De Laurentiis left it on the shelf for a year whilst they haggled over the rights to serial killer Hannibal Lecter) soured the experience for all concerned, not least lead actor Bruce Campbell. Meanwhile, Raimi moved on to nine-figure budgets with the Spider-Man trilogy, but fans of the series clung on to the hope that its reluctant hero Ash would one day return for another duel with the Deadites.

More than twenty years later, their wishes have finally been fulfilled, although the mooted fourth movie has transformed into a US television series, the first of an initial 10 episodes aired by Starz on Halloween night. Older but certainly no wiser, Ash remains in the same dead-end supermarket job he was barely holding down when last we saw him. Unfortunately, a drug-fueled one night stand results in accidental Kandarian necromancy, once again unleashing soul-sucking demonic forces upon the living.

For the 45-minute premiere, Raimi himself handled the directorial duties, setting the show’s theme of cartoon mayhem and crazy monsters, like Scooby Doo re-imagined by Lucio Fulci (it comes as no surprise to learn Raimi is a huge fan of the Three Stooges). From the very first scene, Campbell dominates the screen as Ash, an extraordinary Frankenstein’s Monster sewn together from over-arching egotism, conspicuous cowardice, demented self-delusion and scenery-chewing self-parody, all wrapped up in an hilariously misplaced messiah complex. Nor will Evil Dead fans be disappointed with the amount of grue and gore thrown at Ash and his comrades: demons and bodily fluids are plentiful in both instance and volume.

It’s with the second episode that the series reveals its key weakness: shortened to fit a 30-minute slot, the action hardly seems to have got into gear before credits rather than heads are rolling. Will its audience be satisfied with a weekly fare of bloodstained burgers, instead of a rare steak dinner? Most likely: after all, it’s not as if there are any other shows airing on Saturday night worth blowing a trumpet for, and I’m including the BBC in that. Plus, come early January, fans will be able to run Evil Dead marathons, watching all three movies (as the Rose of Eibon crew did last weekend) and then settling down for a further five hours of small-screen splatter. Groovy.

Update 19/11: Great review by New York Times columnist Mike Hale.
Update 27/11: Virgin Media announces UK premiere.