Who could have guessed that after all this time, it finally would happen in the year 2015? A hard-living scoundrel born on the big screen decades ago suddenly comes sauntering back into our lives, answering the prayers of generations of devoted fans moved to weep tears of joy over his return? As hard as it might be to believe, it’s really true. Bruce Campbell has reclaimed his boomstick, once again playing wise-cracking demon slayer Ash Williams for director Sam Raimi in Starz’ new series, Ash Vs. Evil Dead. (You didn’t think I was referring to that guy who pilots the Millennium Falcon, did you?)
With its Halloween night premiere, Ash Vs. Evil Dead has now put to rest roughly two decades worth of questions about when Campbell and Raimi might reteam for a new follow-up to the cult horror hit that launched both of their careers (original Evil Dead producer and key collaborator Rob Tapert also returns here). Originally released in 1979, The Evil Dead was a low-budget labor of love for the three friends from Michigan that introduced the world not only to Raimi’s visual genius — with his signature acrobatic camerawork — but also to Campbell as Ash, then an unlucky college kid who finds himself in a living nightmare after a vacation to a remote cabin in the woods with some pals turns deadly once demonic forces are unleashed.
Since that time, Ash has been back to the cabin in 1987’s Evil Dead II, where he again battles the possessed, and he’s even traveled back in time to 1300 AD where he becomes stranded and forced to fight stop-motion skeletons (while perfecting his reluctant hero’s one-liner swagger) in 1992’s Army of Darkness. Despite the fact that Campbell has built a long-running career in film and television, starring in series including The Adventures of Brisco Country Jr. and spy romp Burn Notice, and authoring books that play into his brash, humorous persona (Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor), Evil Dead never left him. Likewise for Raimi, now an A-list director who helped usher in the Golden Age of Super Hero Cinema with 2002’s Spider-man. Both have spent the intervening years saying that the time for a revisit had passed, but sometimes suggesting that maybe, just maybe, if the circumstances were right, they would once again pick up Ash’s tale. And here we are, with Campbell starring in the new series, and Raimi writing (with his brother Ivan) and directing the first installment.
And so, after all that time, where did our Hero From the Sky end up? Turn out, he’s living in a broken-down trailer with a lizard named Eli and last-call Lothario aims (but he’s still got the yellow Oldsmobile). In fact, that’s exactly the sad business Ash is to up when the series opens, grappling with a girdle to rein in his 10 (or 30) extra pounds before heading over to the local watering hole to find some lady companionship. Turns out, being forced to sever your own possessed hand a movie or so ago does have one upside: It can really help sell a tall-tale about risking life and limb to save a young boy from a speeding train to a gullible barfly. Cut to Ash and his new friend having adjourned to the restroom for a private interlude, only to have their encounter interrupted by a familiar voice from his past, promising Ash that demons are once again hungry for his soul.
Apparently having your lover briefly host a Kandarian demon is only a little bit of a turn-off, not enough to, you know, discourage you from curtailing any sexual activity. But it does prompt Ash to flash back to a recent night of inebriation in his trailer and a conversation with a different woman about poetry — and memories of pulling out the Necronomicon to impress his date. (Check it out, it’s bound in human flesh and inked in blood!) Together, they sound out some of the passages that summon the ancient evil, and before you know it, here comes trouble.
In the very next shot, we see the point of view camera that Raimi always used to suggest demonic forces on the move through the woods, as local cops Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) and her partner, Carson, pull up to a deserted two-story home to respond to reports of a woman screaming. All is quiet, though, when they arrive, which Amanda points out, isn’t necessarily a good sign. She’s right! A woman’s body is frozen in a pose of terror, and there’s Ash’s poetry enthusiast, standing covered in a white shroud. As soon as the cloth is removed, she’s out for blood, stabbing Amanda in the hand with a pair of sheers.
NEXT: So long Carson
Fortunately a well-timed blast from Carson’s shotgun helps take the possessed assailant down. Unfortunately, it doesn’t entirely finish the job, and a preternaturally strong shove sends him flying onto the antlers of trophies mounted on the wall (nice Evil Dead II callback!). In that familiar, sinister voice so well known from the movies, poetry gal promises to cut Amanda into little pieces (did we also mention that she turns her own head around backward?) — until Amanda gets off a head shot that fells her attacker. Shaken, she watches goo spurt from the young woman’s remains, then realizes that her partner’s body is no longer hanging on those antlers.
That would be because he’s crawling on the ceiling.
With his body now hosting the demon, Amanda is forced to shoot Carson, too, and though she escapes mostly intact, the nerve-shattering experience requires her to be placed on leave. She’s attempting to come to terms with what she’s seen over a cup of coffee in the local diner, when she encounters a mysterious woman dressed in white, Lucy Lawless’ Ruby (in her only scene in the premiere). During a very brief conversation, she does give Amanda permission to believe her own eyes — which are seeing demon faces in any number of places. She heads back to the scene of the crime where she finds a torn piece of her partner’s shirt. “It did happen,” she says.
Even without an inkling of what’s transpired at the house, Ash has decided it’s high time to hightail it out of town and escape the evil force that’s on its way, though not before placing a call to a rare books dealer to ask for help translating a few particular passages. He asks the kindly older neighbor, Vivian, to help him out and tidy up his place, while he heads over to the store where he works to pick up his paycheck a little early (before he drives away, he does have a momentary hallucination (?) where the demons speak through Vivian, telling Ash his time has come again).
Boss Mr. Roper (nice call back to Three’s Company!) isn’t so inclined, leaving Ash forced to finish “work” for the day— which basically consists of smashing a box of light bulbs, convincing his pal Pablo (Ray Santiago) to help cover for him, and then hitting on new employee and Pablo crush Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). That, predictably, doesn’t go the way he hopes. When he tells her to thank her mother for passing along her genes, she replies, “My mother died in a car accident six months ago.” Oh.
Work gets a little trickier when back in the Value Stop stockroom a tiny adorable doll comes alive, sprouts a mouth of sharp, pointed teeth and bites Ash right on the nose, naturally forcing him to retaliate by smashing flower pots against his own face. It works, but when the teeny demon doll lands on the ground, she just so happens to fall right next to a box-cutter, which she gleefully picks up as she begins running toward Ash. Pablo arrives with a shovel and smashes the possessed pest, giving him his first clue that things are supernaturally amiss. It also makes for the perfect time to fill in some VERY IMPORTANT BACKSTORY, that involves footage from the Evil Dead films, basically explaining how Ash discovered the Necronomicon, how he had to dismember his pals and his girlfriend, and why he’s not sticking around to endure that particular brand of horror again.
Taking notice of a report of a giant sinkhole opening up outside the bar he’d visited, Ash then heads for safety as ominous clouds blow in. Kelly’s ready to go, too, after a disturbing phone call with her dad, who’s convinced that his late wife is back from the dead. She and Pablo escape on his motorcycle, but Mr. Roper… well, odds are he’s not going to be upped to a series regular anytime soon. Realizing that Ash’s know-how might be key to their continued survival, Pablo drives Kelly to the trailer, where Things.Get.Bloody. Axes fly, windows shatter, and kindly Vivian, well, she’s not so kindly anymore. What’s Ash to do but pick up the chainsaw, strap on the shotgun and break out the Book of the Dead, to figure out what spell might possibly undo the curse? Maybe some cardio because “my heart is jack-hammering like a quarterback on prom night.”
How’s Ash feeling about being back? Groovy, natch. Us, too. The only down side is that Raimi didn’t write or direct next week’s installment (Raimi’s longtime editor Bob Murawski, now an Oscar winner for The Hurt Locker, worked on the premiere also). Still can’t wait. And now that Starz already announced that the show will return for a second season, we know that Ash will be sticking around for a good long while.