This review originally ran with our NYCC coverage, but check back each week for new episodic recaps starting November 7th.
I’m a huge fan of Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake, but clearly his focus was on delivering stunning gore rather than embracing the irreverence and playfulness of the original films. However, now Starz is swooping in to change that because their new series, Ash vs. Evil Dead, taps right back into everything that made the first films so special. This pilot is everything longtime fans could hope for and then some.
Our main man is back. Ash vs. Evil Dead picks up about 30 years after Ash (Bruce Campbell) ended the deadite threat. He’s as cocky as ever, living in a trailer, chugging Hi-C and picking up ladies by flaunting his wooden hand. Trouble is, Ash might have inadvertently unleashed the evil again. He attempts to make a run for it and hightail it out of town, but thanks to a little persistence from his Value Stop co-worker Pablo (Ray Santiago), he agrees to rev up his chainsaw, behead some deadites and do what’s necessary to bury this evil once more.
Campbell and director Sam Raimi are just unstoppable together. The moment the show opens up, you instantly get the sensation that you’re stepping right back into what they started 33 years ago. When you pair Campbell’s comedic tone and timing with Raimi’s spot-on pacing and shot design, they can dish out one winner after the next. Not only do they wholly embrace everything fans have come to know and love from the original films from Ash’s one-liners to the shooting style to the unique blend of fun and violence, but the duo also manages to raise the bar big time in every single department.
It’s hard to imagine anyone managing to steal some of the spotlight when Campbell is around, but every single Evil Dead newcomer makes a strong first impression. Santiago is an instant charmer as Pablo, a Value Stop employee who idolizes Ash and also knows a thing or two about demonic entities thanks to his shaman uncle who used to warn him, “The devil is always waiting in the shadows.” Dana DeLorenzo steps in as Kelly, Pablo’s neighbor who winds up right in the middle of the madness with him and Ash. DeLorenzo brings a brilliant blend of vulnerability and confidence to the character, serving as a very relatable anchor while also giving the impression that she’ll eventually rise to the occasion and kick some deadite ass herself. The three of them will undoubtedly make an exceptional team.
We’ve also got Jill Marie Jones as Michigan State Trooper Amanda Fisher. She absolutely kills it in the show’s first big, bloody set piece. Similar to DeLorenzo, Jones’ work as Amanda is strikingly naturally, making her instantly likable and getting you to root for her to make it out alive mere seconds after meeting her. She’s the capable, heroic type, but she’s also clearly very rattled by her first encounter with the deadites, leaving you eager to see her make her next move. Lucy Lawless also makes an appearance in the pilot as a character named Ruby, but she only briefly crosses paths with Amanda, suggests that she knows a little something about what’s going on and then exits.
As for the carnage, Raimi and co. go above and beyond the original films, but not in the same way that Alvarez does in the remake. Rather than going dark and turning the deadites into grim, realistic looking zombies, Raimi manages to honor the cartoonish quality of the original monsters but while adding a slightly more realistic texture to them. The mix lets us have some fun with quirkier deadites like one of Ash’s elderly neighbors, but also lets us get genuine scares out of others, like one that attempts to hunt down Amanda in the darkness.
Raimi, Campbell and the rest of the team really nailed this. This is what the continuation of a franchise should look like, something that embraces what made the original a standout but while expanding the lore and upping the production value. As far as we know, Raimi is only directing the first episode so it’ll be interesting to see if other directors can seamlessly fall into synch with Campbell’s style and fully embrace the unique tone of the show. Let’s hope they do because if showrunner Craig DiGregorio keeps this up, this is bound to be one of the best horror series out there.
★★★★★ Excellent — One of the best pilots ever.