Review: Ash vs. Evil Dead – Season 1 (2015)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #666

Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 31, 2015
Sub-Genre: Horror/Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 290 minutes
Directors: Sam Raimi, Michael J. Bassett, David Frazee, Michael Hurst
Producers: Chloe Smith, Aaron Lam, Rick Jacobson, Sean Clements, Dominic Dierkes
Screenplay: Ivan Raimi, Sam Raimi, Tom Spezialy, James Eagan, Nate Crocker, Zoë Green, Sean Clements, Dominic Dierkes, Michael J. Bassett, Alex Sobotowski, Rob Wright
Special Effects: Brendon Durey, Ken Durey
Visual Effects: George Ritchie
Cinematography: Dave Garbett, John Cavill
Score: Joseph LoDuca
Editing: Tom Eagles, Bryan Shaw, Bob Murawski
Studios: Renaissance Pictures, Starz!
Distributors: Starz!, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Jill Marie Jones, Lucy Lawless, Samara Weaving, Hemky Madera, Rebekkah Farrell, Ben Fransham, Ellen Sandweiss, Phil Peleton, Peter Feeney, Damien Garvey, Kelson Henderson, Lionel Hawkins, Indiana Evans, Ido Drent, Andrew Grainger, Mark Mitchinson, Mike Edward

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Boney M Hark The Herald Angel Sing

[2] Metallica Holier Than Thou

[3] Joseph LoDuca Main Theme

[4] Deep Purple Highway Star

[5] The Amboy Dukes Journey to The Center Of The Mind

[6] Frijid Pink End Of The Line

 

“Glory, Gory, Hallelujah!”

 

I would like to begin with a prayer I’m fairly assured hasn’t made it to print yet. Please bow your heads.

“Blessed be Bruce Campbell in his angels and in his saints. O Holy St. Bruce, grooviest of saints, your love for B-Movie cinema makes you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Encouraged by this thought, I implore you to obtain for me. O brave and loving St. Bruce, whose boomstick was ever pre-loaded with shells, whisper thoust petition into the ears of the wretched Deadites, who loved to make life a living hell for thine co-stars; and the gratitude of audiences worldwide will ever be yours. Amen.”

Not looking to get all preachy here but it is my understanding that Bruce Lorne Campbell, born in Royal Oak, Michigan and the son of Joanne Louise, homemaker, and Charles Newton Campbell, amateur actor and traveling billboard inspector, is something of a messiah around these parts. By parts I mean the hearts of so many students of film, those whose lives have been touched by Bruce in some way and have continued to serve unto him ever since. Where there is hatred, he sows love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. That is to say there are few screen actors quite so effortlessly enigmatic as he and I’m fairly assured I can get that amen now.

It all started in a dilapidated cabin in the woods way back in the year of our Lord, 1978. Having met his brother from another mother, Sam Raimi, in Wylie E. Groves High School, the pair became as thick as thieves and, within no time, began shooting Super 8 films together. One such labor of love was called Within The Woods and was conceived as a way of enticing potential investors. Their plan worked a treat as, three years down the line, they had raised sufficient capital to shoot a full-length feature, albeit on a shoestring and with the assistance of family and close friends. The Evil Dead was born and, against all odds and thanks to a hefty promotional campaign, the movie went on to become a minor theatrical success and, soon after, firm cult favorite.

Moreover, the leading role of beleaguered Ashley J. Williams made Campbell something of an overnight star and, within a few short years, this charismatic young chap began cropping up all over the show. Parts in Raimi’s 1985 black comedy, Crimewave, and William Lustig’s 1988 midnight movie, Maniac Cop, duly followed and, when Don Coscarelli needed a cat with the sufficient swagger to portray the great Elvis Presley for his 2002 crowd pleaser, Bubba Ho-Tep, there was only ever going to be one man for the job. That man’s name was Bruce, known by his legions of fans as simply “The Chin”, he represented the king in all of us and, as a way of repaying his services to B-movie cinema, we cherished him dearly.

In the words of Sir Bruce himself – “Don’t aspire to be a B-movie director, you’ll be there soon enough”. Hopeful prose I know but delivered with ample belief and integrity to help us all to believe and achieve. And this is why we love him so as, by all accounts, Bruce is the kind of everyman who could have wound up working split shifts at the local 7-eleven. But instead he donated his soul to what some may have believed to be a lost cause and we were fortunate enough to find him. Over thirty years have passed since Ash Williams first did battle with the Deadites and, when it was announced that the Raimi brothers and their main man Bruce were looking to resurrect the franchise, I’ll be the first to admit to a little penile leakage.

Originally the grand plan entailed writing a fourth film, although this idea was soon scrapped as there appeared scant avenues for funding. After opting to tackle this behemoth by way of episodic television series, Raimi finally made the announcement at the 2014 San Diego Comicon and pretty much the entire free world were placed swiftly in rapture. Of course, this presented a whole new challenge, as there was still the small matter of converting the format into something both accessible for newcomers and respectful of the needs of its core audience. A few well received teasers later, the first season of Ash vs. Evil Dead launched on the Starz network, and needless to say, it didn’t disappoint.

Apologies for being so frightfully tardy with my findings but I have an illogical fear of TV shows that I wish to elucidate further. You see, given that I’m such an impatient viewer, the idea of being forced to endure a full seven days between airings makes this too thankless an expedition to endure. Thus I bide my time until which point as it no longer feels like a priority and ultimately forget said show’s very existence. In case you’re wondering, yes my head is currently bowed, not in prayer but out of shame most bitter. I hear that Dexter was a blast for the most part, thoroughly enjoyed the pilot to The Walking Dead before cutting my losses, and currently find myself perched around the midway point of Breaking Bad season two. So I’m here to repent right?

Wrong to the power of tsk tsk. I’ve found my absolution by way of spending almost 300 minutes going through Ash vs. Evil Dead with a fine tooth comb and that has to earn me some kind of reprieve surely? Dare I say, a bloody good time was had by all, and I plan to double up on my homework at the first available opportunity. By my estimations and in light of my past discrepancies, this moment should arrive in approximately 2020. What can I say? I’m a work in progress. For the time being and by the power vested in me, here is the lowdown on what’s been going down in Elk Grove, Michigan.

There’s been rather a lot of water under the bridge since Ash defeated the Army of Darkness by the seat of his pants although familiarity need not breed contempt where this grizzled war-horse is concerned. Having drifted from settlement to settlement in his trusty mobile home for the best part of three decades, he appears to have found a slither of redemption in the local Elk Grove Value Stop. Here he stacks boxes, relocates breakables from store floor to warehouse, and dies a little more inside every day for little over minimum wage. Booze and weed make up his staple diet, while Ash keeps himself in trim by picking up loose women in bars and letting the Viagra do the talking.

Alas, those demons still persist, and a dash of survivor’s guilt is his penance for enduring the Deadites’ relentless onslaught not once but thrice. The physical scars may have long since healed and his almost accurate description of how he misplaced that right hand may have vaguely impressed the ladies, but emotionally he is on his knees, although you wouldn’t think it to look at him unless you know how to read a man’s eyes. The problem is that wretched Necronomicon, the hellish hardback that Ash has attempted in vain to destroy on occasions too numerous to tally. It has now become his cross to bear and the only way of silencing its scripture has been begrudgingly accepting the role of defacto caretaker and keeping it under his one good wing. If only he weren’t so partial to boozing and blazing, then Elk Grove wouldn’t be forecast for one helluva shit storm.

Any good champion worth their stripes needs a spotter or two in their foxhole and this is where Ash’s co-workers land themselves the distinct honor of polishing his barrels during those all-important single wristed reloads. Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) is as loyal a compatriot as they come and wisely positions his mentor, “El Jefe” (“The Boss”) on a lofty pedestal. It is Pablo’s task to fight tooth and nail alongside his personal Miyagi to rid the world of these vile wretches in an apprenticeship capacity, whilst providing shoulder rubs each time Ash sends one of these spiteful sons of bitches packing back to hell. In addition, he is required to turn a blind eye to the fact that El Jefe is clearly winging it, accept that he is ultimately expendable and be thankful just to ride shotgun.

There is another deemed worthy of tagging along for the foreseeable and, as a mark of respect to the fairer sex, Ash has selected a female to help keep his affairs in order. Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo) is a feisty young lady for sure, diametrically opposed to Ash in that she’s not a raging nutbag, and initially reluctant to forego her bright career as a checkout girl on the whim of a chauvinist swine who is evidently more adept at jerking off in the stock room than he is saving the population of Elm Grove from ancient evil. However, given that her family home has been torn asunder, options are at a distinct premium and, as long as Ash keeps his stump where she can see it, Kelly is willing to give him the benefit of all-encompassing doubt.

Then we have the obligatory stragglers and, after watching on helplessly as her partner Carson (Mike Edward) is disunited from his last few drops of lifeforce while investigating a disturbance at an abandoned house , ballsy Michigan State Trooper Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) is all about finding some answers. She hasn’t the faintest idea how to process what she has witnessed and is wracked with guilt over being the one forced to put the old dog out of his misery. Snooping around in affairs that really need not concern her when she should be cashing in on those lieu days, Detective Fisher refuses to let Carson’s death be in vain and all roads point directly to Ash for answers. That said, a mysterious stranger is on hand to offer her take on all this spiralling madness.

Little is known of Ruby (Lucy Lawless), although she claims to be related to Raymond and Annie Knowby, two characters who crossed paths with Ash way back on his second stint at that cabin in the woods. One thing’s for sure, she knows her Deadites from head lice, and appears astonishingly well versed on the ancient Necronomicon. Perhaps this oddly familiar warrior princess will lend a hand when push comes to shove as Ash could really do with the assistance right now, although he’ll never admit to that publicly. Ruby has every intention of tracking her man down and is nothing if not resourceful.

With all pawns now firmly in place, it’s high time we commence cracking some skulls and, after a quick straightening of his girdle, Ash wastes no time in carving himself some dead meat. With boomstick locked and loaded, chainsaw purring nicely, and quick-witted quips on tap, he’s primed to the nines for whatever fiendish curveballs those pesky Deadites can pitch his way. Better yet, that playful twinkle is back in his eye; the very same gleam that made him such a magnum force back in the day and it’s business as usual from the get-go.

That said, it’s not all inane one-liners and rousing war cries as he’s also liable to toss the odd nugget of wisdom into the mix from time to time. When Kelly informs him rather bluntly that her mother is dead with the intention of guilt-tripping him into submission, Ash swiftly calls her out for such a blatant act of burden pimping and it is made abundantly clear that he’s not in the mood for mincing his words. Naturally, these moments are few and far between, as he’s far too predisposed kicking ass to take names, but it’s great to see that he has surrendered none of his edge during such an extended hiatus.

Ash vs. Evil Dead shifts with the velocity of a whippet on speed and expands on the rich mythology in as natural a manner as possible. However, what really impresses is just how effortlessly this all translates into an episodic format. Granted, certain sub-plots can drag a little, CGI is preferred to practical splatter a dash too readily, and for all bells and whistles, it’s ultimately disposable entertainment; but it recaptures the very essence of what made the series so moreish and pulls out all the available stops to ensure that the audience is seldom found wanting. Throw in a smattering of possessed dolls, demonic ankle-biters, some gun-toting rednecks, and an eyeless djinn whose specialty is driving his victims to insanity and we’re laughing and screaming all the way back to that infamous cabin in the woods.

Is there room for improvement? Of course there is, we’re never left under any illusion that this isn’t the first rough sketch of a far bigger picture and the word on the street is that season two grasps the baton and runs like Gump with it. But as far as entrée is concerned, there’s more than ample here to give thanks for and Uncle Ash is ever so generous with the servings. Few can raise hell quite so instinctively as he, which I guess is a double-edged sword. But his perpetual birthright curse is our blessing and that’s more than groovy enough in my books. Thus, for services unparalleled to thoroughly engaging our senses, I make him right about ready for that amen.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers: If you’re searching for a bloodbath, then look no further as the screen is pretty much permanently painted deep red and there’s more than enough splatter on the platter to appease all but the most ravenous of Grueheads. If there’s one criticism to be had, then an over reliance on CGI would be it, particularly given that it has a tendency to be a little spotty on occasion. But beggars can’t be choosers and this is splitting hairs where Ash vs. Evil Dead is concerned. Limbs are amputated without anesthetic, heads lopped off for fun, gallons of blood excised from open wounds, palms punctured with sharp objects, elk antlers used to impale and I’ve barely even covered the pilot.

Read The Evil Dead (1980) Appraisal
Read Evil Dead II Appraisal
Read Army of Darkness Appraisal
Read Evil Dead (2013) Appraisal

 

Richard Charles Stevens

aka

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

#CreatorsUnite
Copyright: Grueheads Films 2017

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2 Comments

  1. You always write terrific appraisals, Rich but thank you for writing one close to my heart. This show is inventive, innovative & well worth it. Currently, fans are awaiting S3 which looks like 2018. S4 is up for grabs, however if fans don’t support the show by getting the dvds or the STARZ app, the adventures could end. S3 is going to be epic……I have been writing about it for several weeks now. Thanks again, Rich. You made this gal’s day!

    1. I am so pleased that you dug this as I know what a huge fan you are. I was really conflicted with the score and it almost snuck a nine. But I’m hopeful that Season 2 will deliver me to that place. Great stuff and it’s awesome that S3 is in the works. To quote the great man in a horribly predictable but totally irresistible way… Groovy!

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