30ish years after the events of Evil Dead II (wait, did Army of Darkness happen in this timeline?), Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) has settled into a life of cheap sex, cheap drugs, and mind-numbing retail work, living in his trailer and picking up chicks in bars with made-up tales of how he lost his hand. He wears a girdle, dentures, and dyes his hair (sometimes with shoe polish), but still relies on goofy charm to make it through life, day by day. Until he gets high with a one-night-stand and reads from the Necronomicon, setting events in motion that could lead to the end of the world.
So with his co-workers, Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo), Ash sets out to put things right and save the world from the Deadite invasion. But police detective Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) and the mysterious Ruby Knowby (Lucy Lawless) are hot on his trail. Will they remain enemies or become allies before everything is said and done? Tune in to find out!
If you didn’t already tune in, that is. If you’ve already watched Ash vs Evil Dead, you know that while some things go right for our heroes, overall, things don’t go exactly to plan.
I didn’t review the entire series when it aired, quitting after the sixth episode, but it wasn’t because of a lack of quality. I was just saying the same things over and over again (although Episode 7 “Fire in the Hole” was easily the weakest episode of them all), Campbell is great, DeLorenzo and Santiago are great, Jones and Lawless are great, the gore is great, the jokes are great, the soundtrack is great, ad nauseum. The reviews were getting boring.
But let me go on the record and say that Ash vs Evil Dead was one of the best TV shows of 2015. The only reason it didn’t make our Best of 2015 list was because it had a bit of a lull in the middle and with just ten half-hour episodes, that lull felt more substantial than it actually was when you marathon through them. And marathon through them you will, with this set.
The Evil Dead series is one of the greatest success stories in low-budget indie horror history. The first film, released in 1981 was written and directed by Sam Raimi and both traumatized and inspired a whole generation of fans and potential filmmakers. It was brutal and intense, garnered an X-Rating for its gruesome violence, and launched the careers of both Raimi and star, Bruce Campbell.
Evil Dead II was released in 1987 as a parody sequel, retelling the story of Evil Dead, but this time playing up the Three Stooges-inspired splatterstick humor. Raimi returned to direct and Campbell returned to play Ash – this time, though, his low-brow humor and roguish attitude were center-stage and by the time the film ended, Ash was a genuine horror movie icon (and was also deposited in the year 1300 AD).
The third Raimi-Campbell Evil Dead collaboration was 1992’s Army of Darkness, which featured Ash in the dark ages fighting more Deadites and generally fucking things up royally before finally, sort-of, kind-of, saving the day in the end. While the original ending of Army of Darkness had Ash waking up in a post-apocalyptic nightmare, the American release featured a more positive ending, with Ash back working as a stock boy at S-Mart, occasionally killing Deadites and generally being an obnoxious jerk to everybody.
It’s this ending that informs Ash vs Evil Dead, which embraces the comedy aspects of hosing people down with fake blood and gore while our hero is a self-centered jerk with a heart-of-gold. And as far as we can tell, the TV show is pretending Army of Darkness never happened.
There were a number of inherent dangers in turning Evil Dead into a TV series. The films lived and died on their unique combination of extreme bloody gore and ridiculous slapstick humor. It’s a hard line to walk, and most imitators never really hit that crucial balance. The stories themselves were also pretty straightforward and streamlined with none of the films coming in at over an hour and twenty-five minutes (and remember, the first two films essentially retell the same story), so how would stretching out an Evil Dead story to just over five hours affect the storytelling?
Well, I’m here to tell you that while it can seem a little repetitive here and there, Ash vs Evil Dead struck gold with the decision to go for half-hour episodes. With just thirty or so minutes to tell their story each week, the show is streamlined and sleek. Being aired on Starz was also another great opportunity, as it meant they didn’t have to water down the gore (or the language), and nearly every episode features a liberal amount of blood spray.
In fact, it’s rare for there to be an episode where someone doesn’t get hosed down with the viscera-cannon (as Campbell puts it). And the comedic timing is impeccable. If you’re like me, and excessive, cartoon-like violence makes you giddy as a little girl, then Ash vs Evil Dead won’t let you down.
The most impressive things that the show did, however, was introduce new characters that are not only charismatic, but actually serve as a fantastic balance to the numbskull antics of Ash, while also expanding the world of Evil Dead, always paying homage to what has come before. Ray Santiago, as Ash’s first partner-in-crime, Pablo, brings just the right balance of innocence, idealism, and good intentions to make sure that Ash doesn’t veer entirely off into pure self-preservation. And Dana DeLorenzo provides an energetic enthusiasm as Kelly, and sometimes surprises even Ash in her bloodthirsty drive to avenge her lost family.
The main supporting characters, Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) and Ruby Knowby (Lucy Lawless) never miss a beat in their early introductions and by the time they become central to the plot as the season comes to head, they are both integral to allowing both Ash and the overall story become even more fleshed out. Because you can’t really have a hero who is a complete idiot, and you can’t have a world that focuses on just one trick.
The world-building here is also very nicely done, expanding on the normal, everyday Deadites and their wickedly intelligent hostility (remember, Deadites love to fuck with their victims before killing and claiming their souls), to include full-fledged demons and monsters. At the same time, there are multiple references back to the original films that are seamlessly interwoven with the plot as Ash is forced to confront the events he barely survived all those years ago.
With Season Two of Ash vs Evil Dead coming soon (October 2 is the season premiere!), it’s time to step up and slam down some cash on this Blu-ray set knowing that you can proudly display it next to your fiftieth re-releases of Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness.
Ash Inside the World (15:59): This is a series of short pieces that ran after each episode of Ash vs Evil Dead, where executive producer/showrunner, Craig DiGregorio, provides a little bit of insight into the episode. There are jokes, discussions of effects, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and bits of character and story development details. DiGregorio clearly has a love of the material and has proven to have a solid handle on how to translate the world of Evil Dead to television.
How to Kill a Deadite (2:31): This is exactly what it says it is, as Campbell shares how to kill Deadites and the weapons used throughout the series. It’s a bit of fluff that doesn’t really add anything to the overall experience, but it’s always fun to watch the splatterstick gore effects.
Best of Ash (1:27): This is a fun little montage of Ash’s more memorable moments from the entire season. Again, not much substance, but a fun way to pass a minute and a half.
Audio Commentaries: This is good stuff. It is well worth watching the whole season over again, just to hear the commentaries. There’s awesome technical stuff, and the whole gang seems to be having a great time reliving the experience.
- “El Jefe”: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell. The commentary for the premiere episode is extremely informative, as the Raimis, Tapert, and Campbell go into great detail about the origins of the show and the different iterations they went through trying to put an Evil Dead 4 movie together before finally deciding on going the TV route. They discuss the casting and spend a lot of time praising the uncut, uncensored television format that they were able to get away with at Starz.
- “Bait”: Rob Tapert, Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, and Ray Santiago. The core cast of the show, Campbell, DeLorenzo, and Santiago are a pretty entertaining team when it comes to the commentaries. I found myself unable to fast forward or skip to the next episode. Especially when, later in the season, DeLorenzo was watching the episodes for the first time and freaking out periodically over the gore and violence. In a good way, of course. There’s a lot of praise here for director Michael J. Bassett and his love of horror, and this franchise in particular. He’s such a fan, in fact, that he also scripted episode 8 and the return to the original cabin in the woods!
- “Books from Beyond”: Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, and Ray Santiago. Lots of praise here for the folks who design and dress the sets. There’s an amazing amount of detail in every single nook and cranny in every single episode, but the Books from Beyond bookstore takes the cake. The gang also sings Lucy Lawless’s praises here and joke about how they “stole” her away from Salem. Somehow, I didn’t know Lawless was married to producer Rob Tapert. Huh.
- “Brujo”: Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, and Ray Santiago. Lots more praise for the set design and dressing. Also, everybody loves the brujo himself, Hemky Madera.
- “The Host”: Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, and Ray Santiago. It’s really refreshing to listen to DeLorenzo and Santiago get more and more enthusiastic about this show. They clearly love what they’re doing, and Campbell really sounds like he’s happier than he’s ever been working on a TV show. DeLorenzo, in particular as these commentaries go on, impresses with her professionalism, her love and support of the entire cast and crew, and her enthusiasm for the show itself. She kills this stuff!
- “The Killer of Killers”: Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago, and Jill Marie Jones. There’s a lot of praise here for the stunt team, as the gang discusses the most epic fight scene in the series. There’s also some creepy fangirling over how scary-sexy Ash is at times. Um…
- “Fire in the Hole”: Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago, and Jill Marie Jones. The biggest takeaway from this one is that it was really, really cold while they were filming.
- “Ashes to Ashes”: Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago, and Jill Marie Jones. Campbell is in awe with the Kiwi set designers and the way they faithfully recreated the original cabin down the last detail. Even the gunshot holes in the walls matched Evil Dead II when Ash was trying to shoot his demonically-possessed hand. Campbell has the best line of the commentaries with this one, declaring: “That’s a hot shit death, right there!”
- “Bound in Flesh”: Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago, and Lucy Lawless. Lawless joins the fun for the final two episodes and we finally get to hear her true Kiwi accent. Our ill-fated campers are the butt of a lot of jokes and it’s always fun to hear DeLorenzo freak out when something scary happens. Am I developing a crush?
- “The Dark One”: Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago, and Lucy Lawless. The interesting thing about this final commentary track is how quiet it gets as things get intense on-screen. You can tell that it’s not a case of running out of things to say (although Campbell defaults more and more to wisecracks and bad puns instead of talking about the episode), but the gang is actually pulled into watching the episode. It’s that good, folks. I promise.