Ash vs Evil Dead, Episode 1 “El Jefe”

What took me so long? I was a fan of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series from a way too young age – though I was an adult when I saw the first film (due to it being banned during the ‘video nasty’ scare in the 80s in the UK), I absolutely adored the Looney Tunes-esque gore and comedy of the second film, and was even old enough – and fortunate enough – to see the hilariously cheesy Army of Darkness (or, as it was wittily known before release: Evil Dead 3: The Medieval Dead) on the big screen on its day of release. Bruce Campbell was – is, even – a hero of mine and I was always a fan of Raimi’s output (with just a few exceptions – Costner baseball film For Love of the Game and Spider-Man 3 being notable missteps, though the latter isn’t entirely without merit in my opinion).

I particularly loved how much of an idiot Raimi and Campbell made Evil Dead protagonist Ash into in Army of Darkness. Campbell hammed it up beautifully, with cheesy one-liners (“Yo, she-bitch – let’s go!” and “Groovy” being two notable examples) and OTT action making Ash into the iconic character he is today.

Ash vs. Evil Dead "El Jefe" S1EP1 |

So an Evil Dead TV show with an aging Ash having to take on the Deadites again, with the pilot directed by Raimi? I should have been all over it – and I’m glad that I’ve taken the time to check it out, belatedly (so belatedly, in fact, that the show has – as of its third season – been cancelled) – though it took me five years to do so.

The premise is this: thirty years after the events of Army of Darkness, Ash Williams is living alone in a trailer, working as a stock boy at a department store. He’s getting older, he’s overweight – but still trying to be the ladies’ man he always sees himself as in his own mind. He’s still in possession of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis – the Book of the Dead – which has summoned the Deadites multiple times upon being read out loud, and we’re handily reminded of the book’s power in some neat flashbacks and dialogue from the previous films. Getting stoned with a prostitute, Ash stupidly reads her ‘poetry’ from the flesh covered, inked-in-blood evil tome. Weird, terrifying things start happening – and only Ash knows what’s going on, but will he step up and be a hero again?

Ash Vs Evil Dead 1X01 Review: “El Jefe” | Three If By Space

There’s quite a bit going on in this opening episode aside from the general setup as noted above. We’re introduced to quite a few characters – and a subplot involving police detective Amanda Fisher’s encounter with Deadites is sure to be something that builds up in importance a lot more over the rest of the season. There’s a slightly awkward juxtaposition between Fisher’s plot and Ash’s, given that we’re expected to take her experiences and trauma seriously – they’re not played for laughs at all – whereas almost every single scene with Ash is played for awkward laughs, even when the danger to him and other characters is very real.

There’s some absolutely stunning work from Raimi in terms of visuals – he always was a fantastically hyperkinetic visual director, never more so than when unburdened from major studios and working on his own terms – and some stunningly inventive, often slapstick usage of gore. Some usage of previous footage and dialogue from the earlier films is used in clever ways and there’s a number of callbacks that work really well. The shot with Ash catching a chainsaw (as he did in Army of Darkness in a similar manner) is a work of genius that’ll make you want to cheers and punch the air (much as I did back in 1993 when I saw the third film at the cinema).

Ash Vs. Evil Dead episode 1 review

There’s an over-reliance on jump scares, however – and there’s some atrociously bad CGI work that betrays the lower budget that the show is made on; the killer doll, for example, is really shoddily done. The practical and CG-enhanced gore is superb, however, and far outweighs the moments of badly done effects work.

Campbell is, however, still brilliant as the ‘hero’ Ash – who’s ego is as large as his lack of self-awareness. It’s great – if a little sad – to see him playing his age and that being referenced so many times. I look forward to seeing where the show goes from here – it’s definitely one for the old school fans of Raimi’s films.

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