Bruce Campbell is the Lord and Savior of ASH VS EVIL DEAD

by Ed Travis

Ash Vs Evil Dead continues the 100% enjoyment rate I’ve thus far experienced regarding the Evil Dead film and television franchise. Yes, this is a property for which there have now been 4 theatrical films (three starring Bruce Campbell as the titular Ash, and one remake) and a television show. And they’ve all been enjoyable. Very few properties are able to claim that mantle. So the creative minds behind this property, most notably director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell, truly have something to be proud of.

That said, Ash Vs Evil Dead very much feels like the weakest entry in the much beloved franchise. Which is all well and good, but what really matters when assessing a series like Ash Vs Evil Dead is whether or not it justifies its own existence. Bruce Campbell’s Ashley J. Williams character has lived on in fandom since his last feature film, Army Of Darkness (1992). There have been comic books galore, endless swirling rumors of crossovers with other horror icons… it’s a beloved character who has never ceased to be in high demand. But 1992 was a long time ago. So one really has to weigh a return for this character alongside other long dormant characters returning and grasping at former glory, such as Bruce Willis’ John McLane, or Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. Fans always hunger for more, but we’re often the first to tear a property to shreds when it results in hugely diminished returns.

So was the wait worth it? Does Ash Vs Evil Dead provide a glorious return to form for Bruce Campbell and Ashley J. Williams? Well that’s tricky. Because the answer to the specific above question is a hardy “yes”. Bruce Campbell was born to play this role, and while I greatly appreciate him as an individual and as a celebrity personality, it was very much his stepping back into the role of Ash that brought me to this series in the first place. And if I’m being honest, I’ve missed a lot of his non-Ash roles, even if I am a fan. There’s a “lightning in a bottle” quality to this actor/role/creator pairing that can’t be ignored. And Campbell brings his A game to Ash Vs Evil Dead. Ash is 30 years older and, true to form, hasn’t matured a day. He’s every bit the blowhard, cocksure oaf of yesteryear, and it is glorious. From his girdle to his ethnic insensitivity to his broad physical comedy and one-liners, every time Ash is onscreen in this series, it pops. When he refers to himself as “an alone wolf”, I howl. When he’s slamming pottery into his face over and over to get a possessed doll creature off of his nose, it feels just like old times. When he points out that very few people have a functioning chainsaw arm to a skeptical Lucy Lawless, it brings just the right amount of self-awareness to the table. Simply put, Ash Vs Evil Dead passes the test of whether or not it deserves to exist based on Bruce Campbell’s embodiment of the character alone.

The other elements of the show are far more hit or miss. Starz does not skimp on the language or the gore, so there’s not any censorship restraints that can sometimes be the case with television adaptations. But modernity and budgetary restrictions did seem to require a whole lot of CGI effects, which feel out of place in this previously practical universe. This isn’t uniformly true, however. Practical gore seems to have been utilized as often as possible in the show, much to my appreciation. And even some of the computer effects, such as one demon who plays a prominent role in the show, are wonderfully executed. But it’s always the weak stuff that stands out when it comes to rushed visual effects, and there are many instances of ugly-looking CGI here.

On top of the visuals, the format of the show itself is also hit or miss. Each episode is a brisk 30 minutes, and there are only 10 episodes. But even then the expansion of a story that is necessary to make the jump from feature length films to television feels mostly wrong for this property. I’d much rather have seen this “30 years later” Ash up on the big screen, being an alone wolf, and trying to squash the Deadites once and for all after accidentally re-summoning them to impress a girl whilst high. Instead we get an “expanded universe” kind of approach, with travelling companions for Ash along the journey. And honestly Ray Santiago as Pablo and Dana DeLorenzo as Kelly are perfectly fine “younger generation” presences in the show. The actors hold their own, inhabiting characters that don’t have half of the magic that Ash has. And the way the writers manage to simultaneously mature Ash into someone who appreciates his new family while at the same time not allowing him to mature at all is refreshing.

But there’s a “rinse and repeat” feel to the series format, in which Deadites are sure to pop up at some point, over and over. And even at 10 episodes, there feels like a better show within this one that perhaps could have left out three or four episodes in the middle. The showrunners seem aware of this and pad out a lot of those issues with knowing humor, which is appreciated, but doesn’t necessarily fix the issue so much as simply address it.

In the end, TV networks are clamboring for content right now. Ash Vs Evil Dead probably only saw the light of day at Starz because of those market forces in play. So since a new big screen Ash tale probably wasn’t ever going to happen, I’ll take the bad with the good and be happy that Ash Vs Evil Dead exists. Fans of Bruce Campbell’s schtick as Ash won’t be disappointed, and his presence alone elevates this series to a recommend.

The Package

Every single episode of the series has a commentary track, which is a wonderful bonus feature I simply haven’t had the time to indulge. Original series creator Sam Raimi is very much involved in this series and directed the first episode as well as produced. Time limitations kept me from finishing his commentary track, but as is often the case with anything Raimi-related, the banter here felt fun and filled with history.

The several bonus featurettes on the Blu-ray set were exactly what I wanted. Brief and to the point, but providing a more full picture of the creation of the show and the dynamic on set. It seems like this series was a blast to make, and that does translate onto the screen. Even if that’s in stark contrast to the miserable conditions on the set of the first Evil Dead film which seemed to create magic for the exact opposite reasons.

This set has everything a fan might need, with all 10 episodes and commentary for each. The show swings wildly between looking fantastic and old school and looking cheap and digital. So the high definition presentation has its pros and cons just like the show itself does. Fans of Ashley J. Williams should flock to Ash Vs Evil Dead. The non-initiated should probably just go watch Evil Dead II and see if they want to keep going from there.

And I’m Out.

Ash Vs Evil Dead is now available on Blu-ray & DVD from Starz

Previous post THE INTERVENTION: A Weekend with Friends
Next post THE NICE GUYS: Crowe and Gosling get Down and Dirty in this Hilarious ’70s Crime Caper [Blu-Review]