I saw Army of Darkness in the theaters when I was 10 years old. I remember being captivated by it, even at an early age, in terms of the world building, the Deadites, and of course, Ash himself. The one liners from Bruce Campbell alone were worth the price of admission, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized there were actually two movies prior to Army of Darkness that chronicled Ash’s story: Evil Dead 1 and 2. Since the last film’s release in the series, fans have been chomping at the bit for another visit to the world of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis (roughly translated, “The Book of the Dead”), pestering both Campbell and director Sam Raimi relentlessly for years at conventions about when we’ll get the next installment. There were even rumors about Ash returning in a never-made sequel entitled “Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash,” which never came to fruition. (It did however end up as two really neat comic book miniseries that you should check out). Fans no longer need to wait any longer for more Ash, though, as the 10-episode Starz series, Ash Vs. Evil Dead is now upon us, starting on Halloween night.
For those of you wondering whether or not the series will live up to its predecessors, I can tell you that Ash vs. Evil Dead feels like we haven’t missed a beat, which is a feat unto itself considering the last installment came out nearly 20 years ago. The series could easily just have been called “Evil Dead 3” or “Army of Darkness 2,” as it feels like a direct sequel to the original films. But the best kind of sequel is where the world is expanded, while still retaining the spirit of its prequels. Though Bruce Campbell has certainly aged, one hardly notices as Ash picks up his rusty chainsaw and boomstick to fight the newly-resurrected Deadite scourge.
Speaking of the Deadites and the horror of the series in general, they both return in full force. Without a doubt, the reason as to why the Deadites have returned to the world will have you busting a gut, as it’s pitch-perfect to both the tone of the series and to Ash’s character. The practical effects for the creatures are a sight to behold, and there are some particularly creepy scenes in the first episode that will leave viewers cringing. I had a minor quibble with the effects of the porcelain doll which attacks Ash in the pilot episode, which you can get a glimpse of in the trailers, but it didn’t take away from the scene itself or anything before it. The gore is fast and furious, with buckets of the stuff dropping on our protagonists at a frantic pace.
Campbell slips back into the role of Ash like he never left it, and plenty of new one-liners and quips stream from Ash as quickly as the shotgun shells from his boomstick. The series finds him still a loser, working as the “Senior Stockboy” of a local “Valu-Mart” (What happened to S-Mart?), spending his nights in his trailer and frequenting bars minutes before closing in order to take advantage of women who have had too much to drink. The strength of Ash has always been that he is one of the absolute last people you would expect to fall into the role of the “Chosen One,” but when everything goes to hell, he manages to turn things around … until he messes everything up again. In the latest series, much like the previous installments, you’ll find yourself rooting for him, and then exasperated as he commits yet another bonehead move. But at the end of the day, you have to love the guy, and that’s thanks to Campbell, whose charisma just oozes out of each second of screen time he gets.
The supporting cast is also strong. It’s great to see that we have characters that can keep up with Ash’s pace, as opposed to the hillbilly couple from Evil Dead 2 (BOBBY JOOOEEE!) or “Old Man” from Army of Darkness. Ash is directly joined by two co-workers from the “Valu-Mart,” Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). Pablo is an optimist with a bright and sunny personality, who — even when being dragged through such bloody affairs — manages to keep an upbeat attitude, to hilarious results. Kelly’s more of a take-charge and take-no-crap personality who manages to put Ash in his place. The most interesting supporting character though is State Trooper Amanda Fischer (Jill Marie Jones), a cop who unwittingly gets dragged into the proceedings, and may be more than she seems.
What would an Evil Dead installment be without a certain level of humor though? (Other than the original Evil Dead and/or Evil Dead remake, but …). Ash vs. Evil Dead has some hard-hitting humor that really will make you laugh out loud and quote lines, in a similar fashion as to Ash’s original lines from the series. Raimi’s Looney Toons-style comedy can be found frequently in Ash’s exploits, and it’s a testament to the series’ strength to see how great the humor can shine in light of the more horrific scenes strewn throughout.
If you’re a fan of the Evil Dead series, you have absolutely nothing to worry about in terms of loving Starz’s miniseries. Strap on your chainsaw and welcome back Ash with a nice read from the Necronomicon. Ash vs. Evil Dead is going to blow you away with its boomstick.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Ash vs. Evil Dead premieres Saturday, October 31st at 9 p.m. on Starz