Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ash vs. Evil Dead - The Dark One

The season one finale of Ash vs. Evil Dead.

The Necronomicon Ex Mortis. The Naturon Demonto. The Book of the Dead. Whatever you want to call it, this book of demon-summoning spells, bound in flesh and inked in blood, was written by beings called the Dark Ones, "neither demon, nor fully human". As we head into the season one finale of Ash vs. Evil Dead, it has been revealed that the Ruby Knowby character played by Lucy Lawless isn't a revenge-seeking relative of characters who died in Evil Dead II after all, but instead one of the Dark Ones walking the Earth in human form. As she said at the end of the previous episode, 'Bound in Flesh', she wrote the book, and now she wants to use it to gain control over the forces of evil. She paints this as a positive thing - all evil being ruled by one being will bring order to the world. To me, it sounds like a recipe for the apocalypse.

Evil Dead franchise hero Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his companions Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo), as well as recently acquired tag-along Heather (Samara Weaving) aren't too trusting of all this Dark One/demon business, either. Or at least, Pablo wouldn't be if he hadn't fallen under Ruby's control when the human face removed from the cover of the Book of the Dead attached itself to his own face.

In hopes of thwarting the evil, Ash has to pursue Ruby and Pablo into the cellar of the cursed cabin in the woods where the events of The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II took place... and while he's in there, we get a visual nod to the iconic lead character of another horror franchise. A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger.

This is a continuation of a series of back-and-forth references that used to pop up in the movies of Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi and Nightmare on Elm Street creator Wes Craven. Spotting a ripped Jaws poster in Craven's The Hills Have Eyes, Raimi took that as being Craven's way of saying that his movie was scarier than Jaws, so he poked back at his fellow filmmaker by putting a ripped Hills Have Eyes poster in the cellar of the cabin in The Evil Dead. Craven responded by including a brief clip from The Evil Dead in A Nightmare on Elm Street. So Raimi put Nightmare villain Freddy Kruger's razor-clawed glove in two spots in Evil Dead II.

In the mid-2000s, New Line Cinema came very close to giving us the ultimate culmination of this battle when they nearly made a deal with Raimi to add the character of Ash into a sequel to Freddy vs. Jason. It was going to be Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, and it only fell apart when Raimi, Campbell, and producer Rob Tapert felt they should keep Ash to themselves and develop their own Evil Dead projects instead. We didn't get to see that three-way brawl on the big screen (although the treatment was eventually fleshed out into a comic book series), but the faithful recreation of the Evil Dead cabin on this TV show did include putting Freddy's glove in the cellar.

Also down there is the corpse of Evil Dead II character Jake, with Ash having a quick flashback to the moment of his death to help us recognize his skeleton.

The deeper Ash goes into the cellar, the more strange, bloody, and gross this episode gets. Some of the weirdest stuff ever glimpsed in the Evil Dead franchise is contained within 'The Dark One', and the creepiest part of it all is this horrific, demonic little creature that Ruby makes Pablo puke up. I told you it's weird.

Faced with the stuff of nightmares, Ash uses the classic Three Stooges eye poke maneuver on it. Faced with other things Ruby throws at him, however, Ash isn't so cool under pressure.

After Sam Raimi directed the pilot episode, the following directors tended to handle two episodes in a row, but with a total amount of ten episodes it wasn't possible for every one of them to direct two. Raimi's fellow one-timer this season was 'The Dark One' helmer Rick Jacobson, who has a long history with Raimi TV shows, having directed episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Spartacus: War of the Damned. Jacobson's credits also include multiple episodes of Baywatch and the movies Bloodfist VI: Ground Zero, Bloodfist VIII: Hard Way Out, and Bitch Slap. Jacobson did a great job here, working from a script written by Ash vs. Evil Dead show runner Craig DiGregorio.

This was a great season finale that takes an unexpected that is perfectly, purely Ash Williams and wonderfully sets things up for a second season that will hopefully be just as much fun as the first.

If you're a fan of the Evil Dead franchise who wasn't able to watch Ash vs. Evil Dead while it was airing on Starz, I highly recommend that you seek it out on home video, because this is an excellent continuation of the series. Bruce Campbell and Ash are as great as ever, and every episode delivers bloody entertainment. I'm very pleased with how this all turned out. We waited more than twenty years for Ash's story to continue, and what we got is even better than an Evil Dead 4 feature film would have been, because in terms of running time a season of ten half hour episodes is like getting three movies worth of Ash.

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