Ash vs. Evil Dead Premiere Review: It All Comes Out in the Ash

Ash

When the perhaps inevitable “Evil Dead” remake came out a few years ago, it was met with overall good will and acceptance from hardcore fans, save one thing, of course: no Ash. Granted, given that the initial thought was to recast the role with a newer, younger face- among the names bandied about to “replace” star Bruce Campbell was Ashton Kutcher, of all people- it could have been worse. But still, for many fans, as decent as the remake might have been, it just isn’t “Evil Dead” without Ash, and no, that brief cameo at the end doesn’t count.

Then, a light at the end of the tunnel emerged. The new “Evil Dead,” creator Sam Raimi said, wasn’t a remake at all, but a continuation. Indeed, he said, the plan was to merge this new film’s surviving character- spoiler ahead for those who haven’t seen it- Mia (Jane Levy), with a direct sequel to the final original “Evil Dead” film, “Army of Darkness.” However, rather than going the big screen route, Raimi surprised everyone by announcing that this new venture would be on the small screen, on the network Starz, to be called, spectacularly, “Ash vs. the Evil Dead.”

For those familiar with the network, this actually made sense, as “Spartacus,” the series that ran for several seasons on Starz, was produced by Raimi, along with longtime collaborator Robert Tapert, with whom Raimi co-founded Ghost House Pictures and also produced the cult classic TV series “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.”

Even better, Raimi and Tapert announced that Xena herself, Lucy Lawless (aka Tapert’s wife, BTW) would be joining the fray, as Ruby Knowby, whose last name should be familiar to those who know the franchise. To those who don’t, Professor Knowby is the one whose voice is heard on the tape that is played by the characters of the first “Evil Dead” movie that sets the action in motion when he recites words from the famed Necronomicon, aka the “Book of the Dead.” One assumes that Ruby is his daughter, though the jury’s still out on that one as of yet.

However, the best news of all was that the show would mark the return of Ashley J. Williams, aka Ash, the most beloved character of actor Bruce Campbell (“Burn Notice”) by a long shot. But would the show be able to recapture the magic of the original trilogy of films? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes. Not only does the new series seem to pick up where the original movies left off, it does so without skipping a beat.

Now THIS is the continuation most fans were waiting for, and then some. After all, as a weekly series, we’re going to get more Ash than even the most diehard of fans could have ever hoped for. Whether this proves to be too much of a good thing, like having your favorite meal for supper every night, day-in, day-out, remains to be seen, but so far, so great.

I’m not kidding- this sucker hits the ground running, with some wonderfully Ash character moments: Ash strapping on a corset before hitting the town, in his trusty old 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, naturally, to the raucous tune of Deep Purple’s “Space Trucking,” only to arrive at the bar ten minutes before they close. He walks in, grabs a dart, tosses it casually at the dartboard as he walks towards the counter- and completely misses.

Then, after lying through his teeth to the last female in the bar about how he lost his hand in saving a child (the new one is “hand-carved by Italian artisans”), he promptly takes her, not back to his trailer- of course, Ash would live in a trailer park- but to the bathroom, where he unceremoniously takes her from behind as she’s bent over the sink!

Oh, but it gets even better. As he’s pounding away, she suddenly turns into a Deadite (the series’ version of a possessed, zombie-like creature) and says “We’re coming for you!” Ash stops, horrified, much to the chagrin of the woman in question, who chastises him for stopping before she had reached a climax…so naturally, he goes back to pounding her, nearly without hesitation. You gotta love it! Now THIS is the Ash fans know and love, and what was sorely missing from the most recent iteration.

From there, we discover that the return of the Deadites is not by mere happenstance. In quintessential Ash form, it turns out that one night, drunk and stoned out of his mind back at his trailer with a Goth type who was into poetry; he showed her the Necronomicon and the two recited some “poetry” from it, which was actually the same foreign phrases that started all the trouble in the first place. Oops!

So, yeah, the Deadites are back, and Ash only has himself to blame. They waste no time in possessing the Goth chick, who goes nuts and starts screaming back at her place, arousing the suspicions of her neighbors, who promptly call the cops. Enter Amanda (Jill Marie Jones, “Sleepy Hollow”) and Carson (Mike Edward, “The Strip”), who run afoul of the possessed girl in question, who kills then possesses the latter after they both take turns at blowing her head off in amusingly over-the-top fashion.

This forces Amanda to have to do the same to her partner, an action for which she is suspended pending investigation. I suppose one could quibble as to why the demon didn’t possess Amanda after she killed both Carson and the woman, but why bother? Best not to get bogged down in unnecessary details when the show is this much fun. Besides, Ash is still un-possessed as well. (Although, as fans of the series know, he was indeed possessed at one time- as was his hand…)

Amanda later starts seeing Deadites in random places and faces, and starts to think she’s going crazy, at least until the aforementioned Ruby Knowles attempts to set her straight. That’s all we get from Ruby this episode, and Amanda as well, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next with these two next week.

Meanwhile, Ash decides he better investigate what to do next by taking to old book expert Lionel Hawkins, of “Books from Beyond” (!), whom he arranges a meet with. (BTW, I checked the website listed but got nothing- missed opportunity, guys!)

Before he can do so, he goes to pick up his last paycheck, but is told by his boss he has to wait until the end of the day to get it, so he’s forced to work one last shift. Amusingly, it’s at the Value Stop, which is not unlike the store we last saw him working in when we last saw him in “Army or Darkness.”

Ash vs Evil Dead

There, we meet his co-worker and good pal, Pablo (Ray Santiago, “Girlfight”) and new employee, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo, “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas”), who he wastes no time in hitting on in hilariously inept fashion. (“Thank your mother for me. She passed her genes down to you in all the right places.” Says Kelly: “She’s dead.” Lol.)

Then, later on, out of nowhere in the stock room, a tiny baby doll comes to life and attacks Ash, biting his finger and knocking out one of his teeth! Thanks to an assist from Pablo, the demon seed is defeated, but it forces Ash to recount his sordid past to Pablo.

Pablo informs him that his uncle is a Brujo, or a witch doctor of sorts, who told him of the coming of “El Jefe”- hence the episode title of the same name- which means, “The Boss.” “El Jefe” is supposedly a lone man who rises to fight evil wherever it may strike. Ash laughs it off and says he’s leaving town before things get worse, but Pablo warns him there’s no escaping evil.

Right on cue, we get the famed “Dead-cam,” which is the signature Raimi camera move where the POV of the demons is shown in swooping, careening shots that seem to seamlessly pass through windows or whatever else gets in their way. Though Ash has already left the scene, Pablo collects a mortified Kelly after she gets a freaky call from her dad, in which he seems to encounter her mother- as in, her dead mother.

They get away just in the nick of time to avoid the impending demon force, but not so lucky is their boss, Mr. Roper (Damien Garvey, “Secrets & Lies”), who seems to end up possessed, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that one as well. Pablo makes a pit stop at Ash’s trailer, sensing they will need his help, but Ash is still hesitant. That is, until his possessed neighbors strike and he’s forced to combat them to the death.

Ashs toys

Enter Ash’s signature “boomstick” and chainsaw, which he uses to defeat both comers in wonderfully gory fashion. “Mama should have taught you to knock,” he deadpans, before blowing the head off of one of the Deadites in question. Now left without a choice but to fight, Ash, as ever, rises to the occasion, however hesitantly, and we get another golden line, said to his other elderly neighbor: “Yo, granny, hope you took your Geritol- it’s time to dance.” Head, meet floor.

“How does it feel to be back?” asks Pablo, clearly impressed. And what else could Ash possibly say but: “Groovy.” And we’re out, to the tune of “Journey to the Center of The Mind.” Man, I already adore this show.

So, yeah, this is everything long-time fans of the “Evil Dead” franchise could have hoped for and then some. While it remains to be seen whether the show can keep up this tempo for an entire season, it’s certainly off to a running start. If there was an element that Raimi missed in the pilot that fans love, I can’t think of it.

It’s all here, from Ash’s goofy-but-tough demeanor, to his hilariously off-kilter one-liners, to the eye-popping gore and creepy crawly Deadites defying gravity and taking a licking but keeping on ticking. In short, this is totally what fans were wanting all along, and found lacking in the last “Evil Dead” movie.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. The last movie did go a long way towards making the franchise scary again, but part of what makes “Evil Dead” what it is, is undeniably Ash, and that’s what we got in spades here. It’s an undeniable hoot to see Campbell back in his wheelhouse, hamming it up wonderfully as only he can do in quite the way he does. Honestly, the man is a national treasure. It’s no wonder the show has already been renewed for a second season before this episode even aired.

Ash vs Evil Dead

As far as I’m concerned, this sucker should be allowed to run for as long as it remains fresh, and I suspect it will be for some time yet. It’s the perfect antidote to the more self-serious likes of “The Walking Dead” or “From Dusk Till Dawn,” and I can’t imagine fans won’t just love it as much as I did. It may not be all that scary, but that’s kind of beside the point. Who needs scary when you’re having this much fun? Count me in for the season, and however many seasons to come. The world is a better place with Ash in it.

What did you think of “Ash vs. the Evil Dead”? Was it everything you hoped for? If you were new to the characters and the series, what did you think of it? Was it too silly? Or just silly enough? Will you continue to watch every week? What did you think about the early renewal? A little premature, or a vote of confidence in what the show is doing? What did you think of the new characters? Any early favorites? Sound off down below, and I’ll be back for a report later in the season!