Last night we were treated to a screening of the first two episodes of Ash Vs Evil Dead at The House Of Detention in Farringdon, surrounded by smoke machines, chainsaws, the Necromonicon and, of course, a bunch of Deadites. After wandering the murky cells and making sure that the undead were visible and definitely not suddenly behind us, we took our seats for the show.
It’s fair to say that our expectations for Ash Vs Evil Dead were fairly high, and not just because it’s more Evil Dead. No, it’s because the original team is all present and correct: Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert. Obviously that didn’t mean that our fears of it being a cash-in/terrible mistake were completely assuaged, but that, with the promise of lots and lots of gore (thanks, Starz) meant that we were hopeful that it would at least be a lot of fun.
Thankfully, fun is most definitely the order of the day. From the opening moments of the first episode it’s clear that everyone’s having a hell of a good time diving back into the Evil Dead world, as Ash straps himself into his girdle, grabs his wooden hand, tells his lizard Eli not to wait up, and drives straight to the nearest dive bar to pick up a lonely lady at closing time with a story about how he saved a kid from a speeding train.
Naturally, this being Evil Dead and Ash being Ash, it turns out that even at this early point in the show, he’s already screwed up. After a gnarly vision in the ladies’ room, Ash remembers that he may have accidentally read a passage from the Necromonicon Ex Mortis while trying to impress a girl who liked poetry, and maybe the forces of evil are already free and after him. At which point Ash makes the very Ash-like decision to flee, but the combination of his hero-worshipping Value Stop colleague Pablo (Ray Santiago) and the fact that evil is already upon him mean that he’s pretty much got no choice other than to strap on the chainsaw hand and get down to Deadite-slaying business.
As you may have gathered from the trailers, Ash Vs Evil Dead is much closer in tone to Army Of Darkness (and Evil Dead II, to a slightly lesser extent) than the first movie. There’s a strong emphasis on slapstick as Raimi and company enjoy tormenting Campbell just as much as they ever did (there’s a particularly fun sequence involving a furious tiny doll).
Campbell, meanwhile, is in full loud-mouthed-braggart mode. He flirts with everything that moves, he gets his neighbour Vivian to clean his trailer (“Really get in there.”), and he’s got an incredibly high opinion of himself. One of the great things about Ash is that his skills with a boomstick and his knack for a quick one-liner are backed up with a total uselessness and cowardice for the most part (as he explains to Pablo, he basically needs a punch in the face for the fighting instinct to kick in). So while we’re given some awesome action sequences which celebrate him for the chainsaw-wielding badass that he is, we’re reminded even more often of just how much of a ridiculous mess he is. Seeing him suddenly remember that he’s got a chainsaw hand in polite company while trying to create a story about exploding deer is something quite special. He’s a total idiot, but he’s the best idiot we’ve got.
However, we were confident that Campbell would bring the goods. One of our main concerns was: how would Evil Dead actually work as a TV show? Could a series really offer the same kind of electric set-pieces and general insane energy? The answer is, at least in these first two episodes, yes, surprisingly enough. Raimi gets in several trademark ram-o-cam shots in his pilot and mounts an awesome set-piece inside Ash’s trailer, while director Michael J Bassett (Solomon Kane, Silent Hill: Revelation) does a fantastic job in the second episode with a brilliant action sequence that we won’t spoil here.
Admittedly, Ash’s new sidekicks Pablo and Kelly seem a little underdeveloped at this point, though both Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo are great. Pablo is essentially there to kick Ash into gear and to get absolutely coated in blood (admittedly, funny stuff), and Kelly’s role in the first two episodes is to threaten Ash with further dismemberment if he tries to touch her and to go tearing off to save her dad. There’s definitely potential for both of these characters (particularly Kelly, after the end of the second episode) but for the moment they’re simply fun foils.
There’s also Jill Marie Jones’ Amanda Fisher, who’s subjected to pretty much the only straight horror sequence in the first episode when she and her partner investigate a house full of Deadites. After a nightmarish and inexplicable ordeal, she finds herself officially off the case but definitely on Ash’s trail. Amanda seems to be the show’s main anchor to some kind of reality, which happily helps to give the horror more weight as opposed to spoiling the fun. She also has a very brief meeting with Lucy Lawless’ Ruby, who we can only imagine will play a much bigger part in the proceedings as things go on.
Crucially, episode 2 is just as much fun as episode 1. We’ve all seen shows go all-out for an awesome opener before utterly collapsing, but the second hour keeps the pace going, the jokes coming and the blood flowing, so full credit to Dominic Dierkes’s script and Bassett’s direction, and impeccable guest star Mimi Rogers.
So what’s not to like? It’s hysterically funny, there’s some creative foul language (Campbell’s delivery of the f-bomb is absolutely flawless), there’s lots of inventive carnage, buckets of blood, some jump scares, one or two nasty moments (a fingernail heading for an eye) and it looks like there’s enough plot meat on these bones to keep it going at least for the 10 episodes of the first season. Oh, and we really should reiterate just how good Bruce Campbell is. Welcome back, Ash.
These first two episodes are so much fun, so if showrunner Craig DiGregorio can keep this momentum and find a way to develop its secondary characters, this first season should be fantastic. Hail to the king, baby.
The first five episodes of Ash Vs Evil Dead are now available on Virgin Media, with subsequent episodes available weekly. Keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.