It’s been 23 long and deadite-free years since we last saw Bruce Campbell in the role of the cockstrong and weaponized horror icon Ash Williams for the epic Army of Darkness, and although there was an endless well of hope that Campbell would reteam with director Sam Raimi for another round, it never seemed very likely. But this is 2015, where no movie is safe from a TV adaptation, and Starz became a cable savior by ordering Ash vs Evil Dead. And as you’ll learn from my endless gushing below, this show is goddamned amazing.
Bringing beloved franchises back to life after years of dormancy always runs the risk of tarnishing what once was, as well as offending entire fanbases. I could not be happier to say that’s absolutely not the case with Ash vs Evil Dead, a series that delivers on all fronts and features everything that Evil Dead fanatics have been waiting for. And in a manner that feels just as timeless as the original films, despite the fact that it looks incredibly sharp and modern. You’ve never seen Evil Dead look as glorious as this, without a doubt, but that doesn’t mean it’s pretty.
Ash vs Evil Dead takes no time at all to get down to bloodied brass tacks. Modern day Ash is boozy and overweight, working with seniority at the Value Stop, but that description doesn’t take away from the fact that the age-defying Campbell once again looks amazing in the role. With his wooden hand intact, he picks up a woman at a bar, and during one libido-embracing scene, Ash comes face-to-face with the evil that he thought he’d left behind all those years ago. It’d be a spoiler to say why it’s back, but just know that it’s the least complicated explanation possible and plays on Ash’s buffoonish qualities.
With the threat immediately out in the open, Ash knows that it’s up to him to save the world from the deadites, although he’s not immediately aware that these creatures have certainly evolved over the years. Thankfully, Ash isn’t alone on his mission. First, there’s his chainsaw and boomstick, because of course those are worth mentioning before any mere humans. Second, we have Ash’s Value Stop co-workers Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana Delorenzo). Though Pablo is romantically interested in Kelly, he is exuberantly interested in Ash as someone to idolize, particularly once the shit hits the fan. (Or the chainsaw teeth, as it were.) Kelly, who is a perfect mix of Parks and Recreation’s April and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Rosa, is initially wary of changing her life to team up with Ash and Pablo, but it doesn’t take long for her to be convinced thanks to some heavy familial drama.
Although the episodes screened for critics didn’t bring in Lucy Lawless’ mysterious Ruby Knowby, take comfort in being quickly introduced to Jill Marie Jones’ state trooper Amanda Fisher, whose first scene is a spectacularly gory and legitimately haunting ordeal that cements the assertion that Raimi will probably never miss a step at being a master of the horror genre. Amanda clearly has some kind of a past related to the deadites, but it isn’t immediately clear why she’s in the middle of this mess.
While plot and story mechanics are definitely important for any TV series, Ash vs Evil Dead is a horror-comedy, so its bread and butter are blood and chuckles, and there isn’t a single minute that passes in those first episodes that doesn’t have at least one of them on full display. The jokes are rude and raw, and the special effects excellently supply the blood-soaked carnage that people will be thirsty for. Thankfully, when there’s CGI being used, it heightens the disgusting factors and makes the practical splatter all the more tactile and “real.” Yes, shows like The Walking Dead can take much pride in being gross –that series’ effects maestro Greg Nicotero worked on both Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, as well as Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell – but it never feels as fun or as exhilarating as it does in this world.
Ash vs Evil Dead is the rare film-to-TV adaptation that convincingly proves no other continuation of this story could have been better. It honors the films that came before it – sometimes metaphorically and sometimes literally – and serves as a reminder why they were great while standing on its own as one of the best horror shows on TV. Ever. From the music to the direction to sequences that could legitimately cause nightmares, Ash vs Evil Dead is a neverending delight that will likely find zero detractors, and those that do surface should run and hide somewhere deep in the woods.
Get all that trick-or-treating business out of the way early, preferably with a few blood-red cocktails, and get ready for Ash vs Evil Dead to premiere on Starz on Saturday, October 31 at 9 p.m. ET. And then celebrate knowing that the show has already been renewed for Season 2.