The best show on television begins airing its new season in a few weeks. It airs on the Starz network, a channel not normally known for its original programming. Forget about other shows that purposely manipulate your feelings, tug at your heartstrings, or dive into convoluted storylines. Or shows that continues with an every-changing mythology just for the sake of shock, or perhaps writers that had run out of ideas and attempt to cram a show with whatever they can to see what sticks. No, no. Give me this show. A straight up horror show that bares all, keeps it simple, is nostalgic at the right moments, yet keeps it fresh with new characters and engaging storylines. Ash vs Evil Dead, the perfect show and binge-worthy treat.
For those not familiar, Ash vs Evil Dead is based on the horror/comedy trilogy from the 80s & 90s from creators Sam Raimi (directed the original Spider-Man trilogy) and Bruce Campbell (who plays the titular Ash Williams). The films follow the journey of Ash Williams and his fight against the undead. No, not zombies, but deadites, beings that possess human beings. The first movie, The Evil Dead, was a very small-budget film released in 1981. It was met with a lot of resistance when released, even being banned in some countries when it was labeled as a “video nasty.” The second film, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn released in 1987, was basically a re-make of the first film but with more of a horror, comedy, slapstick angle. It was received with a huge cult following, which lead to the third movie in the trilogy, Army of Darkness. The third film took the series’ anti-hero into the Middle Ages to battle an army of undead to get back home. While completely bonkers in its premises, the movie was poorly met when it was released in 1992 yet has gained a huge cult following since then. After being dormant for over two decades, the first film in the series was remade into the successful and well received film Evil Dead in 2013. All this has lead to the series that should be a crown jewel for the horror community, as well as receive recognition overall from the critics.
The series, which premiered in 2015, follows Ash Williams as he deals with life since his days battling evil in the first two films. Older and not so much wiser, he basically has lived his life in a trailer home, moving constantly, since the 80s. In Ash, I see myself in him a lot, and perhaps a lot of people do as well. Here is a man, well into his middle years and approaching the twilight of his life, and still stuck in a time that is long gone. The 80s has been behind us for almost 40 years, but for Ash, the spirit of the decade lives on inside of him. Still with his car, and forsaken modern technology, the man as no more aspirations than working is low-waged job, smoking weed, getting drunk, and getting laid. Ok, so I have more aspirations than that, but the spirit of a bygone era lives on inside of me. Living through a decade shapes and forms a person, and for Ash Williams, that is the 80s. It is who he is. As he lives his depressing life, he accidentally unleashes the very same evil he had battled oh so long ago. The problem is, he is not the same person he was 30 years earlier, at least not physically. Older, heavier, and creaking a lot more, he realizes he eventually needs help in his quest to save the world.
He reluctantly recruits two co-workers (played by Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo) who are in their 20s to help me as he tracks down and destroys the evil forces in the world. From the first episode and carrying on throughout, this show never holds back. There is gore aplenty in every episode, from decapitations to the use of body parts and body organs in fight scenes. The show is completely un-PC in this sensitized and politically correct world. Thing is, the main character Ash Williams knows he is UN-PC. He is, after all, a man from the 80s when things were different, and people often said what was on their mind, unfiltered or unafraid whose feelings gets hurt. I would think the idea of a “safe space” would have made me angry.
Every episode is a fast-paced thrill ride. Which is why one of the smartest things to happen was making this show consist of 10 episodes a season, with a running time of 30 minutes each episode. Quick, condensed, and to the point, there is no time for filler or contrived side stories that eventually go now where, much to the joy of viewers. Call it the Anti-Walking Dead show, as there is not much to frustrate its fans. Where the Walking Dead toned down its violence due to the reaction from fans stemming from the Season 7 premiere episode, Ash vs Evil Dead ramps ups its violence (albeit cartoonish at times) without stop. It completely embraces the camp, violence, and gore because that is what its fan base wants. Everyone else be damned, at that is a good thing.
The other way that Ash vs Evil Dead is different from The Walking Dead (and I use TWD as comparison due to its popularity and polarization from the fan base) is the pacing. Where TWD drags each episode, and in turn its seasons, over the long haul of hour episodes and a 16-episode season, Ash vs Evil Dead hits the accelerator button from the start and doesn’t end till the final frame of the final episode of the season. As a bonus, Ash vs Evil Dead doesn’t trick its audience with tricks and stunts with it’s characters or story arcs. Yes, Ash vs Evil Dead is a show made entirely for its fans and all horror addicts.
Another reason to watch Ash vs Evil Dead is for its nostalgia. For a show made in current times, it is a throwback to its source material in the 90s. The outfits and vehicle used my Ash Williams are throwbacks to a by-gone era, but that is just the beginning. The show has an 80s feel to it, utilizing small scale sets and live-action effects for its monsters. Yes, there is (perhaps too much) the utilization of modern special effects, and not to remarkable results. But the show’s spirit is still in the 80s. Having Ash go back to the cabin where he first encountered the monsters is met with great fan-fare, and even went as far as bringing back original characters (and their original actresses) to the storyline. This bit of nostalgia hits a sentimental note but does not rely solely on sentimentality. The returning characters brings heart and soul to a man who lost both a long time ago. As a fun bonus, Lucy Lawless co-stars in the series as a bad-ass companion, and nemesis, to Bruce Campbell’s character. If there is a better actress who could have pulled this role off, I don’t know what it would be as Lucy Lawless is perfect in this series.
All told, Ash vs Evil Dead is a joy ride for horror fans but can be enjoyed by all. Yes, there are moments of over-the-top gore and lots of cartoonish violence, but there is serious heart at the center of this show. Ash Williams is a man who continues to think of himself as the man from 30 years earlier. There are growth moments for his character from time to time, but in the end, he is an everyman who wants his day in the sun and a glorious retirement for his golden years.