Halloween this year brought fans of the Evil Dead franchise some beloved old tricks and a lot of new treats in the premiere of Ash VS Evil Dead on Starz. The cult-classic trilogy from Sam Raimi may not have needed a sequel series, but fans might tell you otherwise, claiming there is simply no more deserving series of films to receive the television revival treatment. Expectations for the series were almost impossibly high, with fans clamoring for something bigger and better but that would not abandon or sacrifice the gritty garishness that made the original films so beloved in the first place. To anyone who isn’t a fan, this new series comes on a bit strong, with Bruce Campbell back as our corny, womanizing oaf of a hero, and makeup and special effects that would seem cheesy to the uninitiated. But to Evil Dead fans, who arguably make up nearly the entire demographic of the series anyway, those elements will prove perfectly up to par with the original films in terms of tone and aesthetic.
The campy quality that started out as an economic necessity became the trilogy’s most distinct, defining, and endearing characteristic. But with more advanced technology and a more generous budget available, visual effects in the series would logically be of a higher quality than what the original trilogy boasted. With a slapdash quality and a frenzied energy, the original trilogy also became known for its increasingly humorous approach to horror, and the translation to TV would need to maintain that balance in order to make fans happy and stay true to its roots. The Evil Dead trilogy of films enthusiastically embraced its own silliness, and in doing so revolutionized the idea of genre hybridization by breaking down the boundaries between horror and comedy with every gory gag. So, again, the show had quite a lot to prove in the first episode Would they indeed stick to that genre hybridization that made the films so classic? And if so, how would they achieve this? Luckily, and most importantly, the show seems concerned with using its abundant resources to enhance the camp factor rather than polish or replace it. Everything seems to be heightened in the series, with a slightly more glossy sheen, to be sure, but with the same gritty, giddy, gratuitous spirit as the films.
On a technical level, the bigger budget only results in bigger buckets of fake, bright-red blood and some crazier kills. The makeup is better as well, but the deadites still look like deadites, with their white eyes, spinning heads, poor dental hygiene, stark wrinkles and sickly pallor. And Sam Raimi himself directed the first episode, so the cameras move in the same slanted, frantic way through woods, parking lots, and trailers. The sound quality of the deadites’ voices is just as cheesily distorted as in the movies. This is a series which cares deeply about its built-in fanbase, never missing a beat or forgetting any detail.
There are even plenty of specific references to moments from the original trilogy for fans to get particularly excited about, like when Ash has to battle something just as tiny — and goofy — as the miniature versions of himself he must fight in Army of Darkness. His “boomstick” makes an appearance as well. And there are those classic fake-out moments where the possessed pretend not to be; the deadites, after all, are just as mischievously evil as ever. There’s even a scene in which clips from the original films are projected onto a wall while Ash recounts the tale of the house in the woods, the book of the dead also known as the Necronomicon, and of course, how his iconic chainsaw-arm came to be. This sequence is over-the-top in a meta kind of way, but also perfect for bringing new fans into the fold.
Even though there are plenty aspects of the show that might make it seem like it’s for fans only, the show doesn’t come across as totally exclusive. There are actually quite a lot of aspects of Ash VS Evil Dead that are fresh and new, and therefore welcoming to new audiences and interesting for fans, as well. There are new characters, like Pablo (Ray Santiago) who is Ash’s coworker at Value Stop (the show’s answer to S-Mart, which was the similar store where Ash worked in Army of Darkness). Pablo looks up to Ash, even though it’s made clear in the opening moments of the episode that Ash has spent the last 30 years as a cocky slacker, one who initially doesn’t want to resume his role as savior of mankind until Pablo helps convince him to do so. Then there’s Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), who quickly proves that she’s not merely an object of Ash and Pablo’s affection (or objectification) but is a force to be reckoned with, just waiting to be provoked by the deadites. There are more awesome ladies in the show besides Kelly, such as Amanda Fischer (Jill Marie Jones), a police officer who comes into contact with the deadites early on, and Ruby (Lucy Lawless), who we only meet briefly in the first episode but whose role is one of the most anticipated and mysterious things about the series.
Even with all of these new players, it’s hard not to feel like the series will be “The Ash Williams Show” in a lot of ways, and it’s hard not to be excited about that prospect despite the promise and potential that these new characters pose. But maybe a balance can be struck, just like the balance between genre sensibilities that the show strikes so effortlessly in the first episode alone. Only time will tell. Either way, the stakes are higher in this series than in the films, and the production value far better. Yet the overall tone of the films carries through, which is in fact more exciting than any individual references that have popped up so far (and which will no doubt continue to appear throughout the series). Judging from this first episode, the series will continue to expand upon what was established in the trilogy, while mixing in new elements to keep fans guessing and to potentially entice new fans, too. Or, put another way: The show honors the legacy of the films by paying homage to them, while not simply recreating them, and that is very groovy indeed.