I didn’t have much on the agenda this year for Halloween – the crutches generally make it difficult to do much of anything and I don’t get any trick or treaters – so I decided to celebrate the holiday with an Evil Dead movie marathon. Starz is debuting a new series, Ash vs. Evil Dead, based on the movies and was airing all three Evil Dead movies before the debut of the pilot. Having never seen any of them, this seemed like as good a time as any to learn more about this cult horror franchise.
I really didn’t know much about the Evil Dead franchise before I started watching; my knowledge was limited to the fact that Bruce Campbell starred in the films and that at some point someone had a chainsaw for a hand. That’s it. That’s all I knew; I wasn’t even sure if the titular evil dead were zombies or demons or some other creation. Since the entire trilogy of movies ran their course from 1981-1992, I lowered my expectations for special effects. The fact that none of the movies was longer than 85 minutes was a plus – horror movies are best when they are kept short and this also meant that my net investment in this activity was fairly minimal. I omitted the 2013 Evil Dead remake because 1) it wasn’t part of the movie marathon and I didn’t feel like looking for it and 2) I didn’t even know it existed until my marathon was complete and I was looking up info on the franchise. I may seek that out later, since I’m a completist.
What I wasn’t exactly anticipating was just how goofy and campy these movies progressively became – intentionally. As the three movies unfolded, they became more and more over the top and were far more silly and funny than really scary. It was a bit of a tonal adjustment for someone like me, who watches a lot of Asian horror movies that are decidedly not funny and much more realistically violent. I finally got into the spirit (ha!) of the films after a while, but at first I couldn’t tell if these movies were kind of terrible or if they were intentionally kind of terrible. Once I figured out that they were in on the joke, it was easier to sit back and enjoy the ride.
When the original Evil Dead movie begins, Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his friends are spending the weekend at a cabin in the woods. You can tell that this movie was done in the age before the internet because I’m guessing that if they had been able to look at this place beforehand, the never would have rented it. Strange noises can be heard, they find Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (The Book of the Dead) in the basement, yada, yada, yada……all of Ash’s friends become reanimated corpses possessed by demons and he has to fight them all. Honestly, I’ve been on worse vacations. The sequel Evil Dead 2 picks up right after the events of the first film and is pretty much a rehash of the series of events – same cabin, people get possessed by demons, Ash has to wield his chainsaw to mow them all down. The finale of the second film sets up the third – a vortex opens up which sucks in not only the evil spirits, but also Ash (and, inexplicably, his car) and drops them all in 1300 A.D. Army of Darkness involves Ash having to help save the medieval people that he endangers when he fails to follow instructions and unleashes the evil spirits once again. Ash becomes a broader and more campy character as the films evolve; he’s kind of a douche, but he’s the only person who seems to be able to combat these demons so he’s the default hero. He’s got the swagger of a Han Solo and he’s a lot of fun to watch. There is a lot of blood in these movies, but it’s so cartoony that I can’t imagine anyone being seriously grossed out or scared of what’s happening.
I primarily watched these movies since I wanted to check out the new series and wasn’t sure how much knowledge of the franchise was needed to jump into the show. While the movies were definitely helpful in filling in the back story and making me familiar with the tone that the series would be taking, it turns out that they weren’t necessarily required viewing. The series does a pretty good job of catching Evil Dead newbies up to speed and establishing who Ash is as a character. Fans of the franchise will probably be more excited for the series, but if you wanted to pick it up without any prior knowledge, you wouldn’t be lost. I don’t know if it was because I watched it last or because it was the most modern piece that I saw, but I actually enjoyed Ash vs. Evil Dead the most out of all of the installments I watched. Bruce Campbell is clearly having a fabulous time playing a now 50+ year old Ash and he’s definitely the best thing about the pilot. None of the trademark gore and blood splatter have been toned down for television, so Ash vs. Evil Dead relishes in all the disgusting gore that it can get away with. The series seems to hit my sweet spot for how much campiness I can tolerate; it’s just the right balance of silly, funny, and entertaining. There are parts of Ash vs. Evil Dead that don’t make a ton of sense, but I was willing to let them slide because it didn’t really matter.
I don’t know that I would go so far as to call myself an Evil Dead fan (aka Deadites), but I’ll be sticking with Ash vs. Evil Dead for the foreseeable future. Honestly, it’s worth 45 minute or so of my time every week just to watch Bruce Campbell do his thing; he so owns the role of Ash and it’s fun to watch someone who is having such a great time playing a character. If you like the Evil Dead franchise, I can’t imagine you not loving the series. All in all, Ash vs. Evil Dead is definitely groovy.
Ash vs. Evil Dead airs on Starz Saturdays at 9 pm (ET). You can watch the pilot episode for free online