The first episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead was everything an Evil Dead fan could hope for—and more. Start your chainsaws, because this is going to be a very groovy ride.
The Ash vs. Evil dead panel was hands-down the best thing I experienced at NY Comic Con. I’d spent the morning interviewing cast and creatives, and everyone seemed genuinely psyched about the series and the chance to return to the world created by Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the unadulterated awesome that awaited at the panel. In the packed Hammerstein Ballroom, moderator Kevin Smith (a huge fan himself) kicked things off with a surprise debut of the full first episode.
Your brain is going to explode like so many Deadite heads, because the premiere—directed by producer and original Evil Dead director Sam Raimi—is insanely wonderful. Spoilers ahead!
Everything. I never thought I’d be in love with this show, but many hours later I’m still excited about how excellent it was. Ash vs. Evil Dead is a half-hour horror-comedy, and it hits every one of its disparate notes. There’s slapstick hilarity and plenty of the expected sarcastic one-liners from Bruce Campbell’s Ash, and at the same time there’s terrifying scenes of suspense and creepy-as-hell Deadites. One minute you’re laughing, the next minute covering your eyes, and then you’re laughing again as geysers of blood fountain from a twitching neck-stump.
Even better, after just half an hour, all of the characters already seem like nuanced people you want to know more about, a testament to the killer cast and smart writing. The titular Ash hasn’t evolved one bit from the smart-mouthed lothario whose hand-stump can be fit with a chainsaw in order to slay undead evil. He works as a stockboy, drinks a lot, and chases women. All that’s changed about Ash is that he’s gotten older—now he uses a “man girdle” to maintain his physique and wears dentures. But don’t worry, Ash can still kick total undead ass, once he’s convinced to get back in the saddle.
Thirty years after the first Evil Dead events, Ash accidentally unleashes Deadites into the world after he and a lady friend read from the Necronomicon while getting stoned. At first Ash tries to skirt his Evil Dead-fighting destiny, but he can’t outrun the forces of darkness gunning for him. He’s soon assisted by Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago), an idealistic young man who idolizes Ash, and Pablo’s no-nonsense friend Kelly (Dana Delorenzo). Kelly and Pablo are dazed newcomers to the world of Deadite insanity, standing in for the audience as their lives turn into a horror movie, but it’s clear that both are formidable when pressed and are going to come into their own destroying the undead.
State Trooper Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) has a horrifying first clash with the evil, but everyone thinks she’s crazy and she’s soon ostracized from the police force. The set-up seems to be that Amanda blames Ash for the Deadite plague and goes on her own mission to bring him to justice. We see her meet Lucy Lawless’s character, Ruby, a mysterious woman who lost her whole family to the events in movies past and also thinks Ash is responsible.
From what we heard from the actors, Ruby and Amanda are going to team up for a “Thelma and Louise”-type road trip to hunt down Ash and make him pay. Lucy Lawless also implied that Ruby and Amanda are romantically involved, and while it’s unclear if she was joking, it’s clear that these ladies are going to be ass-kicking partners in Ash-hating vengeance.
The inclusion of Amanda and Ruby gives Ash and his team a human element to have to deal with alongside the Deadite threat. It also means that currently there are three strong, uncompromising female characters in the Ash vs. Evil Dead world, which is an exciting way to launch a show. Ash is an anti-hero in that he’s most often thinking about himself and has been running from his past for decades, so it’s great that the narrative gives us lots of cool characters to sympathize with and root for. And when Ash reclaims his dead-slaying mantle in a scene that sees him suit up with all the right icons—blue shirt, gun holster, chainsaw—you’ll be gleeful and shouting about it just as loudly as Hammerstein Ballroom did, where the crowd understandably went wild.
The production looks incredible, especially considering that this is being made for the Starz cable network and not a big studio. The colors pop, the sets are atmospheric, and the special effects are spot-on. The creatives are excited about a return to using hands-on, hand-crafted prosthetics, puppets, and so much fake blood Bruce Campbell related that he literally almost drowned in it on-set one day.
Are you easily frightened? SCARED, I wrote in my notes several times, so as not to have to look at the screen, I’M SCARED I’M SCARED. If horror isn’t your thing or you’re squicked out by blood, you’re probably going to want to skip this show. Some moments are legitimately terrifying. And while you don’t need to have seen the movies to understand what’s going on—they sum up Ash’s past nicely—it definitely enriches the experience if you’re already an Evil Dead fan.
While much of the action is played for comedic effect and the gore so over-the-top that it’s equally entertaining, there is constant violence in Ash vs. Evil Dead: chainsaw decapitations, limbs lobbed, heads shot off, and leap-out-of-your-seat frights. The showrunner disclosed that one of his favorite upcoming scenes involves a deli slicer. This show is not for the faint of heart. It’s also not for children, involving both crazy violence and raunchy sex scenes, so save this one for after the kids are asleep.
Of course, if you’re into all of the things above, none of this is a “bad” at all. Ash vs. Evil Dead pulls off the violence with such cinematic genius you’ll be cheering, and we hope it can keep delivering each week. This show is clever, tongue-in-cheek, scary as hell, and knows exactly what its audience wants. The premiere debuts on Starz on October 31, and we can’t imagine a better way to kick Halloween off right.