One of the first things we see the deadite-slaying Ash Williams do in the season premiere of Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 is proposition a flirtatious mother and daughter for some sort of deeply disturbing sexual rendezvous. Of course, this is after he’s opened a keg with his trusty chainsaw for a gaggle of party-hard twenty-somethings at a Jacksonville watering hole, where he’s been hiding out with his crew following the events of Season 1. And the moment preempts another bloody, limb-tossing attack by the deadites that sends our hero, played again by Bruce Campbell, and his compadres, Pablo and Kelly (Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo), back to Ash’s hometown of Elk Grove, with Scott Walker’s sublime “The Old Man’s Back Again” playing on the radio.
That’s exactly where Ash vs Evil Dead continues to thrive – between the crass, base joys of sex and violence at their most morally dubious, and the blissful, substantive thrill of witnessing an unpretentious artist deploy all their talents and knowledge in the service of the genre that gave them their start. Though he remains a producer on the series chiefly, Ash vs Evil Dead could be considered Sam Raimi’s most personal comment about the art of being a great director who is more fit for blood and fecal matter than they are grace and empathy.
And yet, there is something undeniably unfettered, focused, and yet engagingly loose in how Ash vs Evil Dead continues to move forward that does suggest a kind of grace. Where series like Outcast and The Walking Dead have pushed the horror genre forward with a more nuanced and empathetic sense of character-building, as well as an integral fascination with a variety of themes — faith, community, violence, etc. — Ash vs Evil Dead‘s triumph is in it’s willingness to not just laugh but let loose a roaring cackle in the face of death. The second episode of Season 2, in which we also meet Ash’s father, features a sequence of Ash in the local Elk Grove morgue in which he is attacked by deadite innards and has an, er, uncomfortable interaction with a corpse that’s too good to spoil. It’s meant to be terrifying but it’s also ludicrously funny, tinged with the spirit of physical comedy that made Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton into icons.
Comedy and horror have always been close kin, but few movies and literally no other TV shows have been able to shirk the specter of morality as effortlessly as Ash vs Evil Dead. There’s no attempt to turn Ash into a squeaky clean, self-serious hero and yet there’s plenty of detail given in this season (and last) that gives us an expansive sense of his tormented, impulsive inner life and his increasingly tragic backstory. In Season 2, the aftermath of what happened in the first two Evil Dead movies is directly tied to Ash’s return to Elk Grove and his reputation in the small town, as well as his relationship with his salty father, Rock “Cock” Williams (The Six-Million Dollar Man himself Lee Majors). Amongst the sheer tonnage of sexual innuendos and gallons of blood, to say nothing of a variety of other bodily fluids, Ash vs Evil Dead quietly reveals itself as a ramshackle character study of the world’s most unlikely and distasteful hero.
It’s to Raimi’s credit, as well as the writers and directors he works with on the series, that the more emotionally resonant elements of the narrative never bogs down the high of watching Ash & Co. beat, stab, chop, shoot, blow-up, and incinerate the legions of deadites. Campbell’s brilliant, undervalued work inhabiting this character has, at this point, yielded not only some of the greatest delivered lines in the whole of genre cinema, but has also given us a full view of the character’s bruised ego and how a lifetime of being told he’s a fucked-up monster has informed his character but never broken him. He uses simple facial reactions and gestures as often as he uses his words to prove this, and his variety and inventiveness in performance is matched by the imaginative litany of horrors that he’s faced with throughout the series.
If nothing else, Ash comes off as a premiere problem-solver, the type of fella who may have no idea what he’s walking into when he enters a haunted factory but knows how to dispatch a screaming white-eyed banshee-demon back to the fiery abyss. During an interview, Steven Soderbergh once said something to the effect that problem-solving is essentially the most important skill for a director to have on set, being able to figure out an often imperfect solution to a sudden issue. As such, Campbell’s booze-guzzling man of action comes off as the key proxy for Raimi, another man who’s skilled at figuring things out on the fly. One would need to do nothing more than read about how Raimi put together the first Evil Dead movie with almost no money and severely limited resources to see that. Bringing back his most iconic creation in Campbell felt faintly self-reflexive for Raimi in the first season of Ash vs Evil Dead, but in Season 2, that personal, almost confessional element feels more sturdily at the center of the action and the series feels infinitely more galvanized for that.
Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 2 premieres October 2nd on Starz.