“The Evil Dead” movies are known for striking a weirdly entertaining balance between gore, horror and comedy. The first two in the franchise, “The Evil Dead” (1981) and “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” (1987) were critically acclaimed across the board, but the reboot in 2013, “Evil Dead,” complete with a new cast, didn’t quite impress fans. The noticeable absences of Bruce Campbell as protagonist Ash Williams, and director Sam Raimi are probably to blame for the disappointing resurrection of the beloved franchise. To the delight of fans everywhere, the spinoff television series “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” which premiered on Oct. 31 and takes place 30 years after the original movies, brings back the missing alumni of the original movies.
For someone who hasn’t seen any of “The Evil Dead” movies, the pilot of “Ash vs. Evil Dead” may seem absurd. Viewers meet Williams, who is, frankly, a pretty lame 40-something loner. He might have been a cool guy back in the day, but viewers can see he’s well past his prime. His introductory scene is of him struggling to put on a girdle before going out to a bar, where he picks up a woman. In the middle of this scene, Williams is shocked when the woman’s face momentarily turns demonic and then, all of a sudden, turns back to normal. It’s clear that, despite his shock, the image is one he has seen before. Later that same day, Williams reads from an old, creepy book, which viewers later learn is “The Book of the Dead.” By reading from this book, Williams sets off a series of demonic possessions all around town.
Viewers get the necessary background on the book later when Williams explains its history to his co-worker and friend, Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago). It turns out that Williams, 30 years ago, while staying at a cabin with his friends, read out of the “Necronomicon Ex-Mortis,” an alternate name for “The Book of the Dead,” and, in doing so, released demons into the world. All his friends were possessed, and he had to kill his own girlfriend. Williams was the lone survivor of the event, but only because he chopped off his hand to escape. He has been hiding away for the past three decades hoping to forget about this incident, but it has now come back to haunt him.
Scenes from the original “The Evil Dead” movies play while Williams performs his dramatic retelling — a curious cinematic choice. Santiago’s presence, meanwhile, is a welcome one — he makes for a charismatic addition to the cast. Bolivar is extremely loyal to Williams, seeing in his friend a bravery that isn’t apparent at first glance.
This show is kind of a mess, but this is because it is intentionally staying true to the themes and atmospheres of the original movies. Some of the action sequences are borderline laughable but entertaining nonetheless. At one point, a possessed elderly woman jumps in mid-air about to attack Williams, who, in slow motion, attaches a chainsaw tossed to him by Bolivar to a contraption on his handless arm. He then proceeds to decapitate his would-be attacker. The show does not shy away from gore, racking up a number of decapitations, brutal gunshots and stabbings in the premiere. The spurting of blood, however, is so overdone that these scenes don’t come off as scary or horrifying like they would in any other situation.
The music, which can be described as upbeat rock, is well-timed to augment overly dramatic scenes and exaggerated acting. Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo), a co-worker of Williams and Bolivar, plays the token female character. Grossed out by the protagonist at first, she will likely become romantically interested in him, especially since Williams saves her life. Hopefully DeLorenzo’s character is given more substance through the season because, right now, she isn’t as memorable as the other two in this trio. A less interesting side plot is that of officer Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) who killed her he own partner after he became possessed while they were investigating mysterious deaths related to the “Necronomicon Ex-Mortis.”
The entire “The Evil Dead” franchise is an acquired taste, and “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is no exception. Some may not be able to look past the campy vibe of it all and take it seriously, but those who aren’t bothered by the atmosphere will enjoy the wild ride.