Unsolicited Advice is the column where I tell you to check something out, although though you didn’t ask for recommendations and who am I to give you advice? This week, I’m strongly advising you check out the first season of Ash vs Evil Dead, even though who asked me, anyway? This is a spoiler-free review.
Sam Raimi’s seminal Evil Dead, the story of a group of teenagers who travel to a remote cabin and learn that books aren’t always your friends after they summon demons by reading aloud from the dreaded Necronomicon, was released in 1981. Starring Bruce Campbell as protagonist Ash, Evil Dead quickly earned cult classic status, and was followed in 1987 by the more comedic (but still decidedly horrific) Evil Dead 2. Due to legal issues, the third movie in the Evil Dead trilogy – Army of Darkness – by necessity remains unmentioned by the series.
While the uninitiated may find this history daunting, they needn’t be concerned –Ash vs. Evil Dead picks up the narrative thirty years after Ash and his friends visited the cabin in the woods, and while that event is referenced throughout the season, an early expository scene fills in any blanks. That being said, the series does an excellent job of preserving the tone of Evil Dead 2, routinely combining absurdly gory horror action with laugh aloud comedy, while also incorporating the playfully experimental cinematography that characterized Raimi’s trilogy.
Why bother picking up a series that’s a sequel to a movie you might not have even seen? Topping the list are the characters, as the narrative possesses an infectious affection for its protagonists. The main trio is lead by Evil Dead steadfast Ash, a charismatic oaf who toes the line between heroism and anti-heroism as he does what he does best: shredding Deadites with his sawed-off shotgun and chainsaw hand. Ash is joined by Pablo, the wide-eyed retail store coworker who has turned his back on his shaman heritage, and Kelly, a character who becomes increasingly interesting once the show begins examining how her character runs parallel to Ash. All three characters are interesting and well performed, and the evolving dynamic among the trio is engaging throughout the season.
Ash vs Evil Dead also excels at presenting action sequences honestly without sacrificing tension. An early scene in the second episode sees Kelly steal the Necronomicon and flee to her parents’ house. Pablo and Ash are pursuing her in the Oldsmobile, which is towing Ash’s Airstream trailer, when their former boss – now a soulless Deadite – pops up in the backseat and seizes Ash as he attempt to drive. It’s an exhilarating scene that presents the situation to the viewer and then lets it play out, allowing tension to build from the characters and situation, rather than attempting to establish it by withholding details or presenting the events out of chronological order. It’s an ethos that the show carries throughout the first season, and it serves it exceptionally well, allowing the audience excitement without disorientation.
On top of this, the series features one hell of a soundtrack, packed with rocking songs like Alice Cooper’s “Is it My Body,” Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Knife Edge,” and PJ Harvey’s “Down By the Water.” Even more well-worn entries like AC/DC’s “Back in Black” seem to have new life breathed into them when set against Ash’s Deadite slaying.
The first season of Ash vs Evil Dead is ten episodes of pure awesome, featuring loads of horrific Deadite action, an interesting and unusual story, fascinating characters who each have their own arcs and development, all topped off by a rocking soundtrack. As the season barrels towards its unexpected but almost inevitable conclusion, you’ll have a hard time tearing yourself away from this series once you’ve begun. Mercifully, the second season is already in production. Groovy.
Where to watch: As of writing, the first episode is available in its entirety on the Starz website. Those with a Starz subscription can watch full episodes on the Starz site or though Amazon Video streaming services. The series is also available for purchase through iTunes.
Next up: Tomorrow is New Comic Book Day, so look forward to continued coverage of Marvel’s Avengers Standoff!