Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ash vs. Evil Dead - The Morgue

Ash is like a ninja losing his virginity.

A big deal has been made, in some circles of the online horror community, about the fact that Ash vs. Evil Dead, the Starz television series continuation of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, can't use footage from the third installment in that trilogy, Army of Darkness, or directly reference the events of that film. All of the Evil Dead movies were released through different companies, and the rights to Army of Darkness couldn't be secured from the studio that owns it, Universal, to tie the series into it in an obvious manner. Some fans take this to mean the series is ignoring that movie, even though Raimi's producing partner Robert Tapert has said that the events of Army did indeed occur, whether our hero Ash Williams (played in all of the films and on the series by Bruce Campbell) reminisces about that experience or not.

Believing Tapert, I count Army of Darkness as part of this timeline and don't need Ash to mention that he once went back in time to prove it. The rights issue that interests me the most is the fact that they did, for the first time, secure the rights to use footage from the original movie The Evil Dead. They couldn't get those rights when they were making Evil Dead II, so they had to shoot an all-new sequence recapping the events of the movie, simplifying those events and not mentioning some of the characters that didn't survive it, most importantly Ash's sister Cheryl. Now that they have those rights, they can show clips from The Evil Dead on Ash vs. Evil Dead any time they want, and they have finally been acknowledging Cheryl's existence.

The Evil Dead footage and Cheryl play into a moment early in the second episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead's second season, which finds Ash returning to his childhood home, sidekicks Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) in tow... with "enemy of my enemy" Ruby (Lucy Lawless) tagging along... to find that his father Brock (Lee Majors) has kept his bedroom exactly as he left it thirty years ago. Ash hasn't exactly matured or gotten smarter since his younger days, so the room still seems quite fitting for him. But right down the hall from it is Cheryl's old room, and when Ash spots Cheryl's door he starts to have flashbacks to that terrible night when Cheryl died. As he does, footage from The Evil Dead appears projected on that door. It's a nice nod to a character who was overlooked in the sequels, which always felt odd to me.

Ruby may look like Lucy Lawless, but she's actually an ancient evil, one of the Dark Ones and the author of the demon-summoning book Necronomicon Ex Mortis, which is bound in human flesh and inked in blood. The demon children she brought forth at the end of season one, using poor Pablo as the portal, have turned against her, and she needs Ash's help getting the Necronomicon and sending the demons back to Hell.

The title of this episode tells you the location where Ruby hid the book, but not the gory specifics. The demon children are seeking the book themselves, and Ruby hid it not just in the morgue, but in a place within the morgue where the smell of dead flesh would be sure to mask the scent of the book - she put it inside one of the corpses.

Maybe the retrieval of the book would be simple if Ruby went to the morgue with our heroes, but that's not the way things go. Ash and his cohorts still don't trust her - which is understandable, since she was the villain of season one - so Pablo keeps her at Ash's place to do some questioning while Ash and Kelly head out to the Kenwood County Hospital morgue. Pablo has an ulterior motive, though. What he wants to know more than anything is why he has been having disturbing visions ever since his previous encounter with Ruby.

Stepping into the morgue, Ash realizes he (as usual) doesn't know what the hell he's doing, and viewers are then presented with perhaps the grossest and most appalling sequence in Evil Dead history. Ash's search for the book involves him chainsawing open the corpses of random people and gorily rummaging through their guts. Ash makes a total mess of the place and of the bodies of these poor dead folks, and that's even before evil forces show up on the scene and take control of a corpse's innards. As Ash struggles with a spool of intestines that have a life of their own, I couldn't help but think of one of The Evil Dead's '80s classic peers, Re-Animator, a film which also features an attack by intestines.

I also couldn't help but be stunned by how far this show goes and how much it can get away with. Not only do we get lingering shots of this corpse's penis, but as the intestines pull Ash toward it the exertion also causes diarrhea to come spraying out of its anus. An anus that Ash's head gets shoved into, that aforementioned penis dangling in his face. The MPAA gave the first two movies X ratings, and they had nothing like this. Now these things are just on a cable TV show.

Some Evil Dead fans may be shocked by what they witness in 'The Morgue', and I can't even imagine what some dedicated Lee Majors fans might think if they check out this show. The Six Million Dollar Man and The Fall Guy sure never put their heroes in the sort of situation Ash vs. Evil Dead puts Ash in.

Majors has some fun moments in this episode, as Brock has a date with an older woman Ash hooked up with a few decades ago. Unfortunately, she goes full Deadite before Brock can get any of that "cheesecake", and it's also a bit unfortunate that Majors doesn't get involved with the ensuing Deadite fighting action. We're only two episodes into this ten episode season, though, so I have my fingers crossed that we'll be seeing Brock take down some demons before long.

Tony Tilse, director of the 'Ashes to Ashes' and 'Bound in Flesh' episodes of the first season (as well as most of the Wolf Creek mini-series), returned to direct 'The Morgue', working from a script by Cameron Welsh, whose previous credits include the long-running Australian soap opera Home and Away and the short-lived DC Comics series Constantine. Tilse and Welsh certainly made their mark on the Evil Dead franchise with this episode. It's guaranteed that fans will never forget 'The Morgue'.

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