Ash vs. Evil Dead, Season 1, Episode 1 - Blood, Gore, and a Good Time Too
Welcome back to the world of The Evil Dead. For the uninitiated though, there's nothing to worry about here. In between the gallons of fun that Sam Raimi and the cast are having, the pilot for Starz new hit series is entirely accessible for everyone. Though, it might not be for everyone.
The series opens with an evident old-school vibe, an ageing man, uh, dancing, in his trailer, slapping on cologne and tightening up a corset. From the moment Bruce Campbell appears on the screen, you know he's having a ball. I had one eyebrow raised for a moment, but then I just went with it. And that's the best way to approach it.
The pilot is ridiculous. It has all of the hyper-realistic elements Raimi is going for. He doesn't care if it makes sense, but it makes enough sense. What's more, a clever script ensures that this is a tight opening to a series that's going to have to do a little more than over-the-top action in order to stay on its audience's radar.
Over the course of the episode, we're introduced to a solid cast. We deviate from Ash for a sequence that introduces us to the truly frightening aspect of the show, as two officers follow up a distress call. What ensues is equal parts horrifying and very slightly comical. And that's clearly what it's going for.
Jill Marie Jones plays one of the officers, and the only one that survives of course. She plays her character Amanda's fear absolutely spot on, with subtle touches that make it entirely familiar (such as shaky breathing, tonal changes). While she has little else to do, Amanda Fisher will clearly be dealing with these traumatic experiences but undoubtedly with little time to labour on them as the season progresses.
Ray Santiago plays Pablo (because of course his name is Pablo), an instantly likable youth whose slight awkwardness and in-over-his-head mannerisms make for a worthy companion to Bruce Campbell's silliness (which itself is juxtaposed by his eventual kick-ass handling of a 'house invasion'). Dana DeLorenzo plays Kelly Maxwell, the victim of an early display of creepiness at the hands of Ash. While there are a couple of instances in which she plays a kind of damsel in distress role, she also has a handful of opportunities to show off some serious skill that's going to be fun to see develop later on.
Rounding out the cast is Lucy Lawless, though her role is more of a tease. She gets no introduction and one line of dialogue, but it's great to see her implemented in such a mysterious way early on. She becomes one of many dangling plot threads that Ash vs. Evil Dead leaves us hanging on by episode's end.
Ash could easily have been hard to swallow, an outdated archetype of the role he at one time played so iconically, but while his sneer and his arrogance is a little nagging, Campbell plays it with such enjoyment that I couldn't help but enjoy it too. Ash is characterised so quickly that the rest seems to come naturally.
The brief backstory for newcomers hurriedly ensures that no viewer will feel as though they've missed something. There is only one overt piece of exposition, which comes from Amanda detailing (for us, the audience, and certainly not for the character she's communicating to) the aftermath of her traumatic experience.
There is plenty of blood here. Severed limbs fly all over the screen. Blood splashes in a way reminiscent of recent Tarantino films. Ash fights a demonized doll carrying a box cutter (before the doll is subsequently squashed into a puddle of blood). It's a supremely bizarre series, right from the start, and its perhaps something that's needed. Let's lighten the mood on television, because it's certainly grim enough as it is (and that is in no way a criticism of grittier, more somber shows).
The horror part of this horror/comedy outing is filmed in clever ways. Lights are omitted in the presence of new monsters (who are themselves cheeky beings, which makes them much freakier), and in one particular scene a torch is flung away, left to spin. This brightens and then dims the scene in question in short intervals, though there's not really much in the way of jump scares (which is actually refreshing).
The pilot ends with the word, uttered from Ash's mouth, 'groovy'. If that doesn't tell you exactly what you're in for, then factor in demons and ghouls and whatever else we're being supplemented. I wouldn't suggest putting your feet up and making a cup of coffee before you sit down and relax to a series like this. But settle yourself in for a wild ride of fun and frights. Season 2 is already on its way. I'd be getting on board nice and early.