When the Evil Dead reboot premiered in 2013, it opened to mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike. The main complaints among fans seemed to both be that the film wasn’t as terrifying as the initial Evil Dead film, and that it wasn’t as campy as its sequel. In the end, the Evil Dead reboot wasn’t built to please; It was its own entity, one that took the basic outline of an 80s franchise and gave it a gritty, modern touch.
Ash vs. Evil Dead is another story. In its premiere episode, “El Jefe”, the show demonstrates a welcome devotion to its source material. It combines the wackiness, horror, and action of the original trilogy to become something excitingly new and yet endearingly familiar.
The episode opens with Ash Williams going out to a bar ten minutes before its closing- an indication of the character’s fall from grace. He isn’t a gun-toting hero anymore, he’s a juicebox-guzzling loser looking for desperate women to take advantage of.
Since this is the first time we as an audience are meeting Ash outside of the context of the cabin (or the skeleton war in Army of Darkness), it is quite jarring to see his character interacting with a normal world. Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams in the original films never came across as a ridiculous lunkhead until the third movie, and to see that characteristic so highlighted in this new series comes across as a bit of a disappointment- the humor tends to undercut the drama of his situation. Never once does Campbell actually revert back to the tragic survivalist from Evil Dead II. Instead, we get the cartoonish cutout from the rest of the franchise.
The episode can be a little full of itself- it seems sometimes that Bruce Campbell is actually playing Bruce Campbell instead of playing Ash Williams. Fortunately, it doesn’t spend too much time lingering on chainsaws or cheesy one-liners.
There’s no breathing room to be truly dramatic in this episode, despite Ash’s quiet and somber recap of the original movies. This isn’t a strictly bad thing; The show is distancing itself from the original movies by creating its own identity. The goofiness works for it. In fact, despite being hammy as all hell, the episode blessed us with some truly terrifying moments.
Ash’s slow realization of his drug-induced summoning of the evil was played for laughs, but the quiet beat of the original soundtrack accompanying the sequence made it more than just funny.
When we were introduced to newcomer Jill Marie Jones’s character Detective Amanda Fisher, she came across two deadites: one was a victim of Ash’s terrible mistake, and the other was her partner. The entire fight between the three was horrifying enough to be pay tribute to the original Evil Dead, but the real highlight was the scene that closed it out. Mike Edwards’s Deadite-possessed character, laughing hysterically in the wake of a rolling flashlight, was a sight that won’t soon leave anyone’s minds.
Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo join the series as Pablo and Kelly, respectively. So far, they don’t seem to have much depth of their own, but both Kelly’s past and future seem to promise genuine tragedy. Pablo, in this first episode at least, felt like more of a fourth-wall-breaking stand-in for the audience, egging Ash on to become the hero he once was. However, he too teased some depth- is he from Honduras or New Jersey? And how much exactly has he learned from his shaman uncle?
In its first episode, Ash vs Evil Dead proved to be able to handle its own hype without succumbing entirely to its legacy of 80’s campiness; It, just like the Evil Dead 2013 reboot film, managed to transcend its source material without treading too far. Hail to the king, baby.