Ash and the Deadites continue their battle on television.
Fans have been hounding director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell to make another sequel to The Evil Dead, the film that started their careers, pretty much ever since the release of the third film in the series, Army of Darkness, in 1992. While Campbell would often play down the chances of an Evil Dead 4 ever happening, Raimi would always keep hope alive, saying he wanted to make the movie and was working on a script with his brother Ivan, who wrote AoD with him. Years went by, and the closest we ever got to seeing Campbell reprise the role of the franchise's "loudmouth braggart" hero Ash was when New Line Cinema wanted to bring the character into the mix for a sequel to Freddy vs. Jason. That idea fell apart when Raimi, Campbell, and Evil Dead producer Rob Tapert realized it made more financial sense to make their own Evil Dead project - the 2013 remake - than to loan Ash out to New Line.
Working with director Fede Alvarez on crafting the remake obviously helped strengthen the group's resolve to make more Evil Dead, as they were soon talking all sorts of sequel ideas: Alvarez would make a sequel to his remake, Raimi would make Army of Darkness 2, and then there would be a film where Ash teams up with the remake's heroine, Mia.
Well, the sequel to the remake stalled out, but Raimi and Campbell have finally delivered exactly what fans have been asking for for more than twenty years. Ash has returned, not in a feature film, but in the Starz television series Ash vs. Evil Dead, which is even better than just getting a new movie. By the time the show's ten episode first season has ended, Ash vs. Evil Dead will have already delivered more Ash than The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness combined did.
Since I have written about all of the previous entries in the Evil Dead franchise, I couldn't let the series pass by without writing about it, too.
Directed by Sam Raimi from a teleplay he wrote with Ivan and veteran television writer Tom Spezialy, the first episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead, titled 'El Jefe', picks up thirty years after the events of the film trilogy and drops us right into the life of our questionable hero Ash. It's not shy about the fact that Ash has aged a few decades and put on some pounds since we last saw him, either - the first scene shows him wrapping himself up tightly in a man-girdle before heading out for a night on the town.
The Evil Dead movies have never been the strictest about continuity, but 'El Jefe' demonstrates one of the best instances of continuity in the franchise, and also one of the worst.
The best: For the first time ever, when we're given a recap of what happened in the films - Ash going on a vacation to a cabin in the woods and discovering there the Book of the Dead, bound in human flesh, inked in blood, and filled with incantations that unleash demonic spirits on the cabin - it is acknowledged that he actually had friends with him there as well. The recaps at the beginning of Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness simplified the story and said that Ash just went to the cabin with his girlfriend Linda.
As Ash tells the story with lines similar to ones we've heard him speak before, clips from the first two movies are shown, including the moment when the evil force got into his right hand and he had to cut it off at the wrist. Clips from Army of Darkness are not shown and Ash doesn't mention that he got sucked into a vortex that briefly dropped him into medieval times. This is because the rights to reference AoD couldn't be obtained for the show, but rest assured, Ash did live through that. Glossing over it works for the sake of brevity.
The worst: When Ash starts experiencing visions of the evil, demonic Deadites for the first time in thirty years, he rushes back to his crappy little trailer home (Ash lives very much like the fictional version of Bruce Campbell did in My Name Is Bruce) and pulls the Book of the Dead out of a trunk. The Book of the Dead was destroyed in the first movie. All that remained of it as of part 2 were a handful of pages. To say Ash brought the book back from medieval times with him wouldn't make sense. The book shouldn't exist anymore.
But exist it does, and Ash quickly realizes why he's seeing Deadites again. The other night, when he was in a drunken, stoned stupor with some girl he picked up, he found out that she was a big fan of French poetry, it "drives her wild". So to impress her he busted out the Book of the Dead and they read a passage together. It ain't French, but it did the trick. And on his quest to get laid, Ash has accidentally unleashed the demonic forces again. It figures. That's a very AoD-Ash thing to do.
Ash sets out to get the passage he read translated so he can find out exactly what sort of trouble he has caused, but first he needs to work his shift at Value Stop so he can pick up his paycheck. (Army of Darkness established that he worked at a store called S-Mart, but again, things introduced in AoD can't be referenced here.)
At Value Stop, we meet a pair of very interesting characters. Ray Santiago is a lot of fun in the role of Ash's co-worker Pablo Simon Bolivar, a young man from Honduras who idolizes Ash for whatever reason. He covers for Ash whenever he doesn't show up for work or when he sneaks off to take a nap, and he clearly wants to hang out with him as much as possible.
Less interested in hanging out with Ash is new hire Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo), Pablo's neighbor and object of his desire. Ash immediately develops a desire for her as well and tries to hit on her, but she's not receptive. To put it mildly.
Ash's shift comes to a hilarious end when he gets attacked by a vicious little doll, a quick fight that enables Bruce Campbell to do some of the brilliant physical comedy he exhibited in the films. Any fan that sees this scene will be having flashbacks to Ash fighting his own possessed hand in Evil Dead II or the miniature versions of himself in Army of Darkness. I had a big grin on my face while watching this, it was great to see Campbell doing stuff like this again, and Ash's reaction to the doll getting hurt made me laugh out loud.
After Pablo ends the doll fight, Ash tells him about his past, and Pablo seems to accept all of this pretty quickly. His uncle was a shaman and always warned him to beware of evil. His uncle also told him that one man would rise up and fight the evil. Pablo believes Ash is that man. The Chosen One. El Jefe. Just like in AoD, Ash is reluctant to take on this title. He doesn't want to be a hero, he's out for himself. He wants to run and hide.
Whatever Ash did, the evil is loose on a grander scale than ever before... Well, maybe it's comparable to how it was running rampant in the medieval countryside, but this time it's loose in downtown Dearborn, Michigan.
Another character who gets caught up in this nightmarish scenario is Jill Marie Jones as Michigan State Police officer Amanda Fisher, who responds to a call about a woman screaming for her life to find a home inhabited by a corpse and a Deadite... Ash's French-loving friend, now possessed.
The sequence in which Fisher faces off with this Deadite is the most stylishly directed in the episode, and has a lot of callbacks to the films. POV shots of the evil force moving through the woods outside. A rocking chair moving on its own. Antlers on a wall. A shot of characters walking away from a car that makes it look like they're tilted sideways. Fisher's partner becoming possessed, but then seeming normal in an attempt to fake her out.
The female Deadite attacking the police while her head is twisted around backwards is a very freaky sight, while a spray of blood across white, backlit curtains is gorily beautiful.
It takes Fisher a while to accept that what she has seen is real, but she does so with a little pushing from a mysterious woman she meets in a diner. A woman who is played by Rob Tapert's wife Lucy Lawless, star of the Raimi/Tapert-produced show Xena: Warrior Princess. You can expect we'll be seeing more of her in this show.
When Kelly gets a frantic call from her father saying that her recently deceased mother has shown up at the door of their home, Pablo takes her to get help from Ash, whose trailer is soon being swarmed by Deadites. So, backed into a corner, Ash has to accept his role as El Jefe, and when he replaces his wooden prosthetic hand with his specially modified chainsaw and speaks his most famous catchphrase, it is official: Ash is back.
With this episode, Ash vs. Evil Dead is off to a fantastic start. It's been a long time since we've seen Ash in action, but he hasn't lost a step, and neither have Raimi and Campbell. This was a wonderful return to the world of the original Evil Dead and its sequels, and as a viewer it's great to be able to see a new story being told in that world.
Campbell is awesome as always, there was never any doubt that he would be, and it appears that he has been paired with a couple of terrific characters in Pablo and Kelly. I'm looking forward to watching their interactions continue and seeing how the dynamics develop.
The storyline with Fisher and Lucy Lawless is also off to an intriguing start.
I was guaranteed to watch every episode that will ever be produced of Ash vs. Evil Dead from the moment it was first announced, and 'El Jefe' has me feeling that watching my way through this series is going to be an absolute joy.