If you have a pulse, internet access, and a sense of nostalgia, then it’s safe to say that you’re excited about the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. How could you not be? After all, those trailers inspire warm n’ fuzzy tingles up the spine for anyone reared in the ways of the force from an early age. I’m one of you; I can’t pretend otherwise. However, I also have to admit that there was another long-awaited franchise comeback this year that made me just as excited: the return of a certain man who works in housewares and has a knack for chainsawing demons before dispatching them with a one-liner. What Star Wars meant to me as a child, the Evil Dead series meant to me as a snotty-nosed teen and I probably watched Sam Raimi’s trilogy just as many times then as I watched Lucas’ trilogy as a child (shockingly, there weren’t many date nights or friends to distract me from movie marathons in high school).
From the moment it was announced that Campbell and Raimi were getting the band back together for a TV series reunion, I honestly couldn’t quite believe it was real. After all, Army Of Darkness wrapped up that cinematic series over twenty years ago and there had been so many rumours and false starts surrounding an Evil Dead 4 since then that I’d pretty much given up hope on any of those blood-soaked beauties actually getting made. Then, just as suddenly as there was new Star Wars in the world, Campbell and Raimi flew to New Zealand and made my dreams come true. From the moment I saw the trailer for Ash Vs. Evil Dead, I had a feeling that it might work. However, it wasn’t until I finally gazed upon the glory of the pilot that I realized just how perfectly everyone involved raised Ash from the dead.
If you haven’t seen the Ash Vs. Evil Dead pilot, do so immediately. Of course, it helps if you’re already a bit of an Evil Deadhead. Newcomers might still be charmed, but there’s no way for me to know for sure since I’m far too lost in my Evil Dead love to remember a time when I wasn’t fully engorged in the franchise. Anyhoo, what’s most amazing about that first episode of Ash Vs. Evil Dead was the ways in which Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell resurrected their old girl without missing a beat. From the pre-credit sequence, the show was right on point. Campbell’s Ash was more idiotic and wildly confident than ever. His cheesy bar pick-up lines were hysterical, the sudden shifts to mocking deadite horror delightful, and the stoned origins for Ash bringing back the dead again was absolutely brilliant.
Perhaps best of all, the show never attempted to do something big or different to reinvent the franchise. They just dove right back into what made the movies so much fun: a magical mixture of slapstick comedy and gore horror, and an idiot protagonist who only accidentally assumes his role as hero. If anything, Campbell and Ash are even funnier all these years later. While some actors struggle to slip back into iconic characters due to age (here’s looking at you Harrison Ford!), Campbell and Ash only get better with age. After all, he’s supposed to be incompetent and his arrogance completely unjustified. A few extra wrinkles and pounds only add to the character’s inappropriately heroic nature. Watching Campbell flirt with a wooden hand or perform a Three Stooges routine with broken lightbulbs was a total delight. The actor’s natural hamminess has always been best served in Raimi’s guiding hands and was absurdly fun to see them dance again. It also doesn’t hurt that his years of entertaining fans on the convention circuit have only enhanced Campbell’s comedy chops. If anything, he’s more suited to play Ash now than he was in the 90s.
Despite having a lower budget on television that the blockbuster specialist is used to these days, Raimi also delivered all of the swooping cameras and radical tone shifts that made Evil Dead so special with ease. Drag Me To Hell proved that the director could still get up to his old tricks, but seeing Campbell at the centre of that wacky horror magic made it all flow beautifully. In the scenes when Raimi went after real scares and gross-out gags (like the cops vs. deadites sequence), the loud, splashy, more-is-more tricks were just as fun as always. I’m no Walking Dead fan (sorry), but that show broke down the gore barriers on television to such an extent that full-blown Evil Dead bloodbaths that once had to be released unrated in theatres can now splash all over your TV at home without a batted eyebrow. Yep, it’s a great time to be alive.
The setup for the series was surprisingly simple: deadites are back and Ash will do what he can. What more do you need? It would have been a mistake to over complicate things too early. The Evil Dead movies were always more defined by tone and style than narrative. That’s what the show needed and that’s exactly what Raimi and Campbell provided. New characters/actors showed just the right tongue-in-cheek tone to share the screen with Campbell and there’s no denying that this thing already shows tremendous promise. The second episode might have reverted back to a more standard TV aesthetic, but the humour, bloodshed, and wild tonal shifts remained (with a few Raimi-influenced visual flourishes). Just like the non-David Lynch episodes of Twin Peaks, the other writers and directors of Ash Vs. Evil Dead clearly revere and studied Raimi’s directorial playbook and will imitate and emulate it well. The more contained plot still served up all the one-liners, irony, and bloodshed necessary to feel like an Evil Dead joint. Given that Lucy Lawless hasn’t even become a major factor in the series yet, this thing is clearly only going to get better.
So, even though it happened on television, it appears that we finally have that Evil Dead 4 we’ve all been clamouring for. Even better, it’ll keep coming weekly for at least 2 seasons. Campbell and Raimi clearly put a lot of effort into ensuring this show feels right, and if the staff of writers and directors they hired can maintain that standard, it’ll be a gift from the geek gods. It’s strange to see the series shift mediums, but given that low budget inventiveness and deliberate cheese were always part of the Evil Dead recipe, the franchise should actually transition quite well. It already has and, God willing, the boomstick brilliance will continue. This is a product of pure fan service made by people who love the source as much as the audience (that mic drop “groovy” moment? Unbelievable). God willing, this thing will keep trucking for a while, but even if the audience never expands beyond a cult of hardcore fans and Starz lets the series slip away after the planned two seasons, Ash Vs. Evil Dead will qualify as a victory. Somehow, a series of cult movies that barely broke even at the box office have returned 20 years later and taste just as sweet. That shouldn’t be possible, but it happened. God bless Bruce Campbell and his cornball, chainsaw-slaying ways. You truly are the king, sir. Hail.