It’s hard to define specifically what propelled the Evil Dead franchise from a trilogy of unknown, unrated films banned in multiple areas of the world to the embodiment of cult classic series; there isn’t just one. Shot entirely on shoestring budgets with a professionally unequipped cast and crew (director Sam Raimi, writer Ted Raimi, and actor Bruce Campbell will admit this themselves in various Comic Con panels), the team still found a way to conjure up magic. Sure, Evil Dead is one of the all-time greats in terms of gory violence, but to this day there is a deep admiration for all the prosthetic work and the tricks employed to frame these decapitations and fountains of squirting blood drenching anyone and everyone on set. It’s also impossible to overlook the comedic elements, such as Ash battling his own lopped off-hand that took on a conscience of its own; the franchise was one of the very first to create the horror-comedy movie hybrid.
With that said, the question coming into Ash vs. Evil Dead was always going to be if all of this material would hold up with both film making and television having multiple decades worth of evolution. Fortunately it does. There is no reinvention of the wheel needed with a cast this charismatic and a production team that is insistent on sticking to the roots of old-school techniques over transitioning the series into something it is not, a.k.a. modern-day CGI and special effects.
From literally the opening scene, Sam Raimi (directing this pilot episode and I believe a few more in the season) depicts Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) as narcissistic as ever, trying to tighten a contraption around his waist to give off the illusion that he is still fit. He then fabricates a sob story about the loss of his hand occurring as he tried to save a child from getting splattered by a train in hopes of getting some action from a woman in the bathroom of a local bar.
Simply put, he’s the egotistical and misogynistic asshole we know and love, because at the end of day he is one bonafide Deadite slaughtering machine. Think James Bond but if he saved the world from zombie apocalypses instead of taking out the leaders of shadowy terrorist organizations. Furthermore, this first episode titled “El Jefe” deals largely with Ash having to come to terms that he has once again fucked everything up, but rather than run like a coward must summon the inner courage and heroism that counterbalances the more seedy aspects of his persona, all in order to restore balance.
The real beauty of Ash vs Evil Dead however is that a working knowledge of the franchise isn’t required to understand the series. It will assuredly allow you to grow a deeper appreciation for what’s unfolding, but ultimately the show is accessible to everyone, meaning that the cult phenomenon is only going to expand its fanbase. It’s also worth noting that due to licensing rights, for now Army of Darkness isn’t referenced within the narrative yet. This pilot episode does go over the original story though briefly for those completely new.
Ash is also surrounded by some entertaining supporting characters; namely a duo of seemingly Hispanic descent that will most likely end up becoming a couple by the end of the season, but I’m betting not before Ash temporarily woos her for himself before doing the right thing and ditching some of his ego. There’s also a side story branched off about police officers investigating these Deadite disturbances, which is interesting although nothing has obviously come of it yet.
It goes without saying that Ash vs. Evil Dead is a riotous success, containing a level of manic energy (brought on by both violence and laughs) that most television shows, and hell, even films cannot muster up. The decision to format the series as 30 minute episodes (although this pilot is around roughly 40) will only strengthen that tight editing and fluid pacing, ensuring that the show essentially goes from one meticulously crafted bloodbath of a set-piece to the next.
I also suggest watching the brief “inside the episode” clip following each episode, as the way Sam Raimi shoots these sequences is nothing short of fascinating. As previously mentioned, it’s all old-school, and honestly, that’s the only way to go. Especially for Evil Dead.
Rating: A solid 8/10. “El Jefe” succeeds at proving that modern-day Evil Dead can stand on its own as something both refreshing and nostalgic, in an era where riveting drama is overtaking television alongside the zombie subgenre in general. Ash is still a wisecracking, womanizing, Deadite slaying bad-ass despite getting up there in age, which Bruce Campbell isn’t afraid to mock in self-deprecating fashion. The show is promising to be everything Evil Dead fans could want.
Grooviest Moment: This episode’s Grooviest Moment will be a no-brainer. How can you not burst into cheer and applause when Ash is reattached to his trusty chainsaw, proceeding to obliterate Granny?! Not that this show is very subtle regarding its thematic content, but it also marks the point where Ash comes to acceptance that running is not an option, and that he must undo this once and for all. Most shows would write an entire season around a character coming to that self-realization, but there is no time for sappy drama and emotional character arcs here. This ain’t The Walking Dead, it’s fucking Ash vs. Evil Dead, so someone tell Rick Grimes to hail to the king bitch!