Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ash vs. Evil Dead - Brujo

Ash sees the witch doctor.

David Frazee has never directed a feature film, but he has directed a whole lot of television over the last seventeen years, helming episodes of shows like Orphan Black, Continuum, Flashpoint, and Da Vinci's Inquest. With the fourth episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead, the long awaited follow-up to the films The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness, Frazee has the honor of becoming the second person to be trusted by Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi to take control of the adventures of franchise hero Ash Williams, played by the great Bruce Campbell. Raimi directed the first episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead, then handed things over to director Michael J. Bassett for the episodes 'Bait' and 'Books from Beyond', and now Bassett passes the baton to Frazee.

Frazee was working from a teleplay by James Eagan, a writer who worked on several episodes of Saturday Night Live in the early 2000s and also scripted two episodes of a short-lived horror/comedy series I really enjoyed called Reaper (Kevin Smith directed the pilot of that show).

At the beginning of the original Evil Dead film, the evil force moves through the woods until it comes across a road where Ash's Oldsmobile is driving along, Ash's buddy Scott at the wheel. When the force reaches the road, it seems to have a supernatural effect on the car - the steering wheel jerks out of Scott's hands, nearly causing a head-on collision with a logging truck.

Frazee and Eagan's episode of the series starts off with a similar event, but turned up to 11. With Ash driving along in his Oldsmobile, the same car he had thirty years ago, with sidekicks Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo), the force gives chase and has a supernatural effect on the car. The radio bugs out, the steering wheel moves on its own, the doors lock themselves... And we see what is pursuing the vehicle. This is the first time we've ever been given a glimpse of this force of pure evil, and it's a total disappointment. It's just a big CGI cloud of dust and dirt. After all this time of being presented solely through P.O.V. shots as it moved through areas, the force never should have been revealed on screen.

This is the first time I've had any sort of a problem with Ash vs. Evil Dead, but I can't accept that CGI mess as the true look of the force. I'm not going to be imagining a cloud of dust and dirt during force scenes the next time I rewatch the Evil Dead movies.

Ash and his companions are on their way to confer with Pablo's uncle, who's a shaman, or a brujo, or a witch doctor, whatever you want to call him. Thanks to the talismans the brujo has all over his property, the force is unable to follow our heroes there, so Ash can seek an answer to his demon plague problems in peace.

The brujo is played by Hemky Madera, where showed up as a cool character in the 'Bizarre Tales' episode of the From Dusk Till Dawn series' second season. Madera again makes a strong impression here, as the highlight of the episode is the comedic, drug-fueled ritual he conducts with Ash that is supposed to help Ash find answers within himself. Among the things we discover is that Ash's spiritual center is Jacksonville, Florida, the vacation location he had intended to go to thirty years ago before his plans were derailed and he went to a cabin in the woods with his friends instead... and the events of the Evil Dead trilogy occurred.

While Ash is finding things out about himself, there are cutaways to the characters of Michigan State Police officer Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) and the mysterious Ruby (Lucy Lawless) as they join forces in their continued pursuit of Ash and the Book of the Dead. Here Ruby's identity is revealed, we're told why she's after Ash, and it ties directly into Evil Dead II. She is Ruby Knowby. that cabin Ash went to belonged to her family. The professor who was translating the Book of the Dead was her father. Both of her parents and her sister Annie died in that cabin, and she blames Ash.

Ruby then confirms her link to Evil Dead II by producing a popular "character" from that film: Ash's severed right hand, which is possessed by an evil entity and has recently started to twitch again after being dormant for thirty years.

The sight of the force was a letdown, but the episode redeems itself with these very cool callbacks to the films and with how amusing Ash's interaction with the brujo is. After a shaky start, it ends up being a fun time, although it was my least favorite episode so far.

I also appreciated the callback to another Sam Raimi film, Oz the Great and Powerful, by way of a Wizard of Oz visual reference.

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