From horror lovers to genre enthusiasts to fans of horror comedies in all their flavors I think we can all agree the Evil Dead franchise tends to always leave one horrified and/or laughing from first time viewings to the hundredth. A unique franchise that started out in pure horror and ended in adventure comedy mode, and then remade in outright horror again. Bottom line, the Evil Dead movies leave a lasting impression and we can thank Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi and his kin for that, but did you ever in your wildest dreams think they’d create an Evil Dead series?!
And even before the series the Dead gang (mostly Campbell) have been cockteasing us about either a sequel to the remake, or a fourth movie, or a fourth movie that would link up with the remake, or what have you. I took none of this seriously and when word came they were planning a series I scoffed, then suddenly it became a real, tangible, wrap-your-fuckin’-hands-around-it thing!
That blew my thinker into a million pieces! It got blown again when they took the series to cable for unrated fun in the deadite sandbox, because that’s how you properly translate Evil Dead to series—unrated, on cable. No way could they put that on basic cable and win die-hard fans over. In fact fans would have crucified them. I’m sure of it. But that never happened, so let’s not dwell on the horrible outcome that could have been; instead we were delivered five hours (ten 30-minute episodes) of unrated Ash Vs. Evil Dead on Starz!
Need I say more?
I’ve never had a chance, other than the remake, to review the individual movies on disc, so before I throw myself into the deep end of this show I’m going to take some time out to relate to you the first time this franchise entered my life, then touch briefly on memories I have of seeing the other installments. As an Evil Dead fan this is how it must be done.
It was back in 1982 or 1983 when I had this friend named, Rob. He’s the one that got me into Fangoria. He had just discovered the magazine and started bringing it to school. This was the 80s when horror was enjoying an incredible boom and almost every cover of that magazine horrified me. The interior horrified me even more with all the rampant gore shots and it was issue #23 that introduced me to Sam Raimi’s movie. That issue also had photos of the demon from The Incubus, and I was also fascinated by the look of that thing, which is what prompted me to get my mother to drive my brother and I down to the local bookstore, so I could pick up a copy of it. Yeah, in the beginning Evil Dead horrified me in those Fango photos so much it turned me off, but that Incubus photo, that was cool!
I scored it and a horror novel called Creepers by Robert Craig. On the way back home, as I lay in the backseat combing through Fang’spages, our car was hit by a jeep as we crossed the intersection. It came flying off the overpass. I had no idea what happened. One minute I’m looking at the magazine and the next minute I remember being flung to the side. I instinctively curled up into a ball as it happened. When it was over I looked around and thought, what the fuck happened?! The jeep nailed us in the back and spun our car a hundred and eighty degrees. I couldn’t understand why it was facing the wrong way. Luckily none of us was seriously injured. My brother smacked his head on the dashboard and got this huge bump on his forehead. He head to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance, my mother and I rode along. It was later in the emergency room I discovered a small piece of glass embedded in my palm. I plucked it out and that was that. My legs were sore too.
My father came down, but no one could find the guy who hit us. Someone told my father he was racing to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. We were all released later on that night, but strangely no one ever pressed charges, which I still think is weird. Despite that story of why we were hit my mother told us no one could find him at the hospital. It’s still a puzzle to me even to this day. I was 13 or 14.
My mother gave me my book and my magazine when we got home but that accident had so traumatized me I couldn’t bear to look at them. They actually made me nauseas when I did. So I buried the magazine under a bunch of others in my nightstand and shoved Creepers in with my other books on the shelf and chose to forget about it too. I threw the both of them out weeks later, especially the book because my attention always wandered to it on the shelf whenever I was in my room. I reacquired that issue decades later when I grew up, but never the book, though it still sits on my Amazon wishlist to this day.
No, wait, I remember now taking Creepers out and trying to read some of it at some point before I tossed it. The story was about people getting eaten in a subway. No, not the restaurant, an actual subway system. I never got far enough to find out if it was a person or a monster.
You know, I saw Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987) and Army Of Darkness (1993) long before I ever saw The Evil Dead (1981), and that didn’t happen until 1999, I believe, when it was first put onto DVD. I thought it was about time I finally see this movie that had traumatized me so. I had so built this up in my mind that I was braced for a horrific experience like none other, but it didn’t come up to that level. I was actually relieved. Don’t get me wrong the movie actually creeped me out, but it didn’t to the point I imagined it would. Oh, there are moments, eye trauma in movies bothers me badly, and the “eye trauma” in Raimi’s original gave me the fuckin’ willies, and that’s just to name one unsettling moment. It goes without saying I was an instant fan.
I even remember Siskel & Ebert reviewing it on their first show on PBS, Sneak Previews. They stated the movie was so gory they couldn’t show any real clips from the it. The only scene they showed was of the light bulb filling up with blood. (Note: I can’t believe I found that episode on the internet! Check it out here!)
I was in my final year of high school when Evil Dead 2 came creeping into theaters. I have two memories connected with this one. The first one is being in English class and a friend I used to hang out with was seated behind me. He told me he saw Evil Dead this past weekend at the drive-in. I can’t remember if he liked it or not, but I do remember him telling me about the eyeball scene, where this guy kicks this deadite in the head, its eyeball pops out, flies across the room and into the mouth of this screaming chick! He also said he could see the wire on the eyeball and I was disappointed by that. Back then I was less forgiving with movies that showed their “deficiencies” like that on screen. The second memory was seeing it on cable a year later and getting a kick out of it. I even think I recorded it too.
I only have one memory of Army Of Darkness and that was seeing it on pay-per-view back in 1993. I was somewhat disappointed that the trailer showed scenes that weren’t in the movie, but I loved it regardless. I may have recorded that one too.
Now comes the remake. I reviewed the disc back in 2013 for You Won Cannes. In a nutshell that movie ended up being the horrific endurance test I had imagined the first one was going to be. But it’s horrific perfection is only marred by pointless animal violence I’m never a fan of. Take out the death of the dog and it would have ended up in my DVD collection. For the most part, though, I gave it a thumb’s up!
The first thing that went through my mind was how the series was going to connect all three movies. For Season One they only connected the first two (more on Army Of Darkness’ omission later), but there are some continuity glitches with that “connection.” First off lest we all forget Evil Dead II (1987) was basically a remake, for by the end of The Evil Dead (1981) everyone is dead, and I mean everyone, even Ash! In the first flick it’s Ash, his girlfriend, his sister and two other friends vacationing in the now infamous cabin. In Evil Dead II, when he’s recapping those events, history has been re-written, and it was only Ash and his chick, Linda, who were there.
The connection to both films is made in the first episode when Ash recounts to a character that he and his friends (Evil Dead reference) went up to this cabin in the woods. He then mentions how the evil was released and how it possessed his hand and how he had to cut it off (Evil Dead II reference). He also mentions his chick getting possessed and her eventual killing by him. While this recollection is happening, clips of both movies are being shown, but when he mentions his girlfriend it’s Linda from Evil Dead II (a different actress was used in the sequel). But then he says something odd. He says he’s been hiding out for the past thirty years ever since. Hmmm, thirty-years, hey? Thirty-years from last year is 1985, which doesn’t quite jive with the timelines of both movies. It’s hard for me to believe that was a mistake no one caught, which leads me to believe that, perhaps, Raimi and company are re-writing Evil Dead history once again. Since Ash’s recollections in Evil Dead II puts any coherent connection in jeopardy, maybe, they’re saying The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II are one event, and if that’s the case this new event needs a new inception point and putting it in the middle of both movies makes a kind of sense.
Okay, cool. That’s the theory I’ve been going on, but then another continuity issue pops up later in the series, during a visionquest with a shaman. In this quest he’s looking at Jacksonville, Florida, and the shaman asks him why that location. Ash explains he’s never been there but always wanted to go. He was going to with Linda but instead they went up to the cabin. No mention of his other friends, so this direct reference to Evil Dead II kind of throws a monkey wrench in that perfect theory I had.
When Lucy Lawless’ mysterious character enters the picture we learn her parents and her sister, Annie were killed by Ash, or so she thinks. That’s a direct reference to the other characters of Evil Dead II. The parents I assume she’s referring to are Professor Knowby and his wife, Henrietta. Henrietta terrorized the cast as a Deadite, and Annie was one of the only cast members to live right up to the final act of Evil Dead II before she’s killed by Ash’s possessed severed hand. Who is Ruby Knowby? Her origins are dubious until the latter half of the season, and by the final episode we know exactly where she stands. White trash Jake from Evil Dead II is scene is a flashback when Ash comes upon his skeletal remains in the cabin, but as for the remaining two characters from that movie (his sister Bobbie Joe and Annie’s boyfriend and associate, Ed Getley) are never referenced at all.
As I previously mentioned the third entry in the trilogy, Army Of Darkness, was not explicitly mentioned in this season, though they homaged a few elements from that movie in the form of a deadite doll attack in the first episode, which reminds one of Ash battling his miniature selves in the windmill; a mechanical hand is made for him echoing the steampunk mechanical hand he made for himself in Army, a creepy shot of a windmill, an evil doppelganger and the subsequent dismembering of that doppelganger. There was speculation copyrights were keeping Raimi and company from referencing his exploits in Army since it’s a Universal owned flick, but a recent article stated they thought referencing Ash’s time in the 13th century would be too out of place for Season One. Well, according to this new article here it seemed copyrights were indeed the problem, and it looks like they still haven’t cleared them with Universal. It’s also pretty clear the series is based on the ending of the Theatrical Cut of Army Of Darkness, where Ash gets back to modern times in one piece, rather than the Director’s Cut where he awakens crazed with a post-apocalyptic London landscape in the background.
So what’s Ashley J. Williams been doing since the last time we saw him in the epilogue of Army Of Darkness? Pretty much the same thing minus the deadite killing. S-Mart was the store he was working at back then, this time it’s ValueStop and he’s still a stockboy. He still lives in Michigan (series, however, is filmed in New Zealand) and in a trailer park. His free time is taken up with smoking a little weed and carousing for chicks at the local dives. He dyes his hair dark to ward off aging, wears a “man girdle” and uses his Ashen charms to pick up a half tanked chick at the local bar so he can rear-end in the men’s room. But there’s something out of the ordinary this time. The chick he’s nailing turns around and warns him evil shit is coming for him, and to make it worse, she looks like a deadite! Ash freaks, but continues to nail her. Back home he checks to make sure the Necronomicon Ex Mortis (aka The Book Of The Dead) is still packed away, but he soon remembers he fucked up big time. At some indeterminate time in the recent past he and this other chick were getting high and she wanted to hear some poetry, so he pulls out the book, utters a phrase, and we’re off like a bloody shot!
Ash is not without friends. His closest at present is Pablo (Ray Santiago), who also works with him at ValueStop. Pablo has recently gotten a close friend of his hired there as well, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). He’s got a thing for her, but she may not have a thing for him. And she certainly does not have anything in the way of feelings for our man Ash, who tries to come on to her before leaving town. That does not go well at all. The come-on or the leaving of town.
Okay, so, Ash has accidentally unleashed the Evil Dead again, so where is all this supposed to lead him? If you can believe it, right back to ground zero. That’s right, people, by the time this is all over he, along with his new sidekicks, Pablo and Kelly, are going to be right back in that goddamn hellhole of a cabin again. That’s quite brilliant. During the series he gets under the false impression he has to bury the book back where it all started, which in all reality is just putting a band-aid on a gushing wound. Nevertheless, it’s the cabin they end up in for the final three episodes. Three episodes that are packed with enough dismemberment, deadites and otherworldly weirdness you could actually refer to it on some level as an unofficial fourth sequel in the franchise.
Along the way we learn new things about the Necronomicon (episode #3 “Books From Beyond”) that includes seeing new pages, and realizing how truly layered it’s evil is. Something I hope they continue with in the series, showing us new pages and new horrors from the tome.
I was quite pleased and relieved Season One lived up to what I imagined a series based on the Evil Dead movies should be. It’s actually one long, bloody road trip to the cabin and I do mean bloody! For gorehounds you should be quite pleased with the level of gore on display. Now I have to say they did do a mix of CGI and practical effects throughout and for me personally I was all right with the computer effects, outside of two shots. One involves green CG puke which should have been a practical effect, and a fully realized CG scorched, skeletal corpse. I don’t know, I’m on the fence about that corpse. It was decent, passable, but, man, a practical effect might have been better. Maybe, not doable though.
There was only one death that gave me the shivers. It was at this diner, and it was to show us viewers, I think, that even a kid in this show isn’t going to get out of this in one piece. He was in the bathroom, hiding out, the fucker makes a dash for the door, and a deadite grabs him and tosses him up into the ceiling fan. The combination of CG and practical FX was perfect enough to create a truly gruesome death. An ‘Oh-fuck” moment for me.
The series is spread out over two discs.
Extras included . . .
- Audio Commentaries On Every episode
- Ash Inside the World (15:59)
- How to Kill a Deadite (2:31)
- Best of Ash (1080p, 1:27)
The ‘Ash Inside The World’ is a featurette similar to one that’s on the Blunt Talk DVD I recently reviewed (also a Starz series) where select facts/trivia about each of the ten episodes is conveyed.
(Note: the blu-ray comes with a lenticular slipcase. Not sure if the DVD comes with one though)
There have been many horror flicks made into series, but it’s rare when one of them does justice to the movie(s) it’s supposed to be based on, Ash Vs. Evil Dead is one of those rarities . . . and then some.