In 1978, an imaginative and starry-eyed 19-year old Sam Raimi directed wrote, and produced, for only $1600, a horror short film entitled Within The Woods. While it struggled at first to find an audience, it later developed into what has become the legendary, cult classic horror hit known as Evil Dead, a feature length re-do or Raimi’s original short with a much larger budget and scale. The film’s success spawned two sequels: Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, and the unexpectedly slapstick horror-action-comedy Army of Darkness, launching the Raimi’s original concept into a full-fledged horror franchise, spanning across multiple mediums such as comic books and video games. There was even talks of an Army of Darkness animated series in the works years ago. To say that Raimi’s hard work and dedicated to his concept has payed off is likely a massive understatement.
In 2013, Evil Dead was “remade” under the same title. Despite the film’s posters and advertisements literally calling it “THE MOST TERRIFYING FILM YOU WILL EVER EXPERIENCE”, reception from fans of the franchise was lukewarm to say the least. Many found it to be overly indulgent, too self-serious, and that it tried way too hard to one-up the original horror impact.
It is now October 2015 and Sam Raimi, the brain behind the origins of everything that makes up the franchise roots, has brought us Ash versus Evil Dead, a new television series that continues the events of the original 3 films. If you were among those who found Evil Dead 2013 to be too serious, you will absolutely love Ash versus Evil Dead. From its opening, Raimi establishes (or, in this case, RE-establishes) a tone of silly, self-awareness playfulness. We are treated to a cold open in which our beloved Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) finds himself, after 30 years of seemingly normal everyday suburban life, has to once again defend himself and his surrounding town against the Deadites, as the result an incident where he accidentally read out loud the Necronomicon after smoking too much pot.
Seeing Bruce Campbell portray Ash once again for the first time in over two decades is absolutely a delight. Every second he’s in frame, you can feel the one-liner-spewing chainsaw-wielding badassery oozing off the screen. And as you continue watch him slice and blow Deadites to smithereens, the smile on your face will only get wider.
Of course, though, you can’t have this much fun without a little tragedy in between. The pilot introduced to police officer Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones). When things get icky between her squad and roaming Deadites, things turn serious, and, as one would expect, quite creepy. Amanda’s story arc hasn’t yet intersected with Ash and the other supporting characters, but nonetheless, it is here where Sam Raimi continues to one of the things he does best – blend perfectly the two genres of horror and comedy. The balance between laughter and feelings of despair and gloom aren’t exactly even, but they’re right where they need to be. Raimi knows how exactly much sprinkles should go on the cupcake.
If there’s any negatives at all to be found in Ash versus Evil Dead, it’s the use of CG where it absolutely should, and could be practical effects. A large part of the reason why the original Evil Dead films hold up so well after all these years, like so many of the horror films of that era, is their execution of practical gore effects, and how they complement the rest of the film. There is a handful of good-looking practical gore effects here, but most of the blood and guts, something which this series revels in (see the remake if you have any doubts), is computer generated.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently with CG gore by itself, but for a series that has become practically iconic for some of its man-made special effects sequences (take for example, the amazing puppet/stop motion skeletons in Army of Darkness), it’s disappointing to see Raimi chose the easy way out instead. There’s a particular moment towards the end of the episode where Raimi recreates a famous moment from the first Evil Dead, in which a speeding POV shot bursts through the window of a car and breaks through the other window on the opposite end. The windows are different, but the concept is the same, and all the spark that made this original moment impressive is gone like a wedding ring down a garbage disposal.
What made this original moment so notable was the fact that, as far as we know, the entire POV sequence is all one take, and it would have taken a lot of rigging, precision timing, and swift camera movements to (seemingly) break through two plates of glass AND cut through two ends of a car at the same time. In Ash versus Evil Dead, the camera does the same thing, except the glass on the car window is CG, and not very good CG, to tell the truth. This takes out of the moment – the Evil Dead series has never been about realism, sure, and it’s quite true that Raimi has utilized quite a lot of CGI in his recent film work, but in seeing him return to the story that made his career what it is, it comes off as all the more dishonest when he opts for the easy out of something we’ve seen him pull of before.
There were several more moments throughout the pilot, but to dabble on them is aimless. What matters is this — It has been almost 40 years since Raimi’s shoestring-budget original short Within The Woods, and 22 years since the release of Army of Darkness. Decades later, the mythology and the characters have managed to stay relevant without ever seeming overbearing. What Raimi has presented to us in Ash versus Evil Dead is everything we have come to love about the series over the course of its evolution. There’s plenty of guts, more one-liners than you can shake a stick at, and just enough quirky characters and Deadite kills guaranteed to have us crawling back to our TVs for the next nine Saturdays. The modern North American television medium is a melting pot to say the least – filled to the brim with different flavors, spices, and tastes to satisfy just about everyone. In Raimi’s case, he’s put together all the right ingredients.
OVERALL RATING: 9/10 (GROOVY)
all photos courtesy STARZ
Dylan Brandsema is a staff writer for Pop-Break specializing in film and television. When he isn’t writing reviews or spending too much analyzing the medium, he’s writing and directing his own independent films as well as drinking way too much soda. Currently at full-time film major at Full Sail University, Dylan eats, sleeps, and breathes everything related to the cinema. You can follow him on Twitter @SneakyOstrich69.