It is a truth universally acknowledged that horror franchises are rarely a good thing. No matter how good the first film in the series is, the follow-ups are nothing but endless disappointments. There is one exception to that rule though, and that is the Evil Dead franchise. Not only are all three films acknowledged to be classics, even the remake of the first film is a successful piece of insanity all of its own, and now the battle between the malicious Deadites dragged up from Hell and the goofy loser with the chainsaw arm named Ash have moved into the realm of television. But is there still enough juice in it to keep the franchise from faltering?
Ash (Bruce Campbell, obviously) sees his retirement from fighting Deadites come to an end when he gets high and stupidly reads again from the Necronomicon. Forced back into action, and with his workmates from his electronics store, Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) in tow, he tries to find a way to send the Deadites back to Hell, a journey that leads him right back to the cabin where it started. Hot on his tail though are police officer Amanda (Jill Marie Jones), convinced that Ash is a murderer-at-large, and Ruby (Lucy Lawless), a mysterious woman who might know a bit more about what’s going on than anyone else.
Without wasting any time, ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’ bursts from the gate in its first episode with all the humour, suspense, depravity, goofiness and gore that made the Evil Dead films so memorable. The first episode (directed by creator Sam Raimi) sets the tone in place, giving it a sure footing that subsequent directors follow and build on. It’s fast, furious and incredibly funny, filled with lighting-fast one-liners mixed in with buckets and buckets of blood. The same can be said for the aesthetics of the show, which prefer cheap and nasty over anything polished, which somehow makes it more fun and authentic. The Evil Dead films always relished in the ridiculous, and the series takes full advantage of the liberal freedom of cable television. Some of the violence in the show is amongst the most graphic I’ve seen on TV, but what makes it work is that it knows it’s ridiculous and celebrates that. In a weird way, the show almost functions a bit like a sitcom, the set-up just happening to involve evil undead creatures. The great surprise though, and what makes it a true successor in the legacy of the films, is that it’s also genuinely affecting and disturbing at points, especially in the latter half of the series once we've grown to love the characters. The images get darker, the circumstances more dire and the attacks from the Deadites more personal and vicious, and that same sense of drama and peril that made the films so unexpectedly powerful comes into the show in spades.
'ASH vs EVIL DEAD' SEASON 1 TRAILER
Of course, Bruce Campbell is still such a joy top watch as Ash, now at a point where he knows this character so well that he can indulge in his eccentricities and inadequacies. The show doesn’t rest on Campbell though, filling the ensemble out with a terrific cast, especially Santiago and DeLorenzo. The three actors have such wonderful chemistry and timing with one another, and the writers give them all lots of material to work with. Lawless remains enticingly in the shadows for much of the series, but she’s so enormously wonderful to watch that it’s worth the wait for her to step properly into the story.
The great surprise of this first season of ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’ is how much it just fits into the Evil Dead story. It feels like a logical continuation in every way, as well as something new and distinctive enough to let new viewers in. Its energy, sincerity and irreverence make it a breath of fresh air for genre television, most of which has become serious and overly dramatic. There’s something so dangerous and hypnotic about every piece of the Evil Dead puzzle, and this series is no exception. I’m already dying to jump into the second season and see where the hell they take this crazy thing next!
‘Ash vs Evil Dead’ bursts from the gate in its first episode with all the humour, suspense, depravity, goofiness and gore that made the Evil Dead films so memorable.
PICTURE & SOUND
The show looks slick as hell on Blu-ray, with the 10 half-hour episodes spread across two discs. This local release is identical to the U.S. Anchor Bay release, even to the point where the Anchor Bay logo opens each disc. The 1080p 1.78:1 transfers are poppy and colourful, and have excellent clarity throughout, even if they do betray the show’s budget shortcuts. It doesn’t have the cinematic depth of image that something like ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Hannibal’ does, but it still looks sharp as a tack. Each episode is also accompanied by a thumping TrueHD 7.1 track that’s obnoxious and aggressive in all the right ways. The sound design and score are as ridiculous as the visuals, and while balancing that with the dialogue is often a bit off, generally the track has a bass and clarity that pulls you right into the sonic world of the show.
All ten episodes include audio commentary from various members of the cast and crew, something that compensates enormously for the lack of video features included. There’s a lot to discuss with the development of the show, and you’ll find most of that information in the commentaries. Otherwise you have ‘Ash Inside The World’ (15:59), where series showrunner Craig DiGregorio talks through the making of each episode, with other interviews thrown in. The rest of the extras take advantage of Campbell, with the actor guiding us through ‘How to Kill a Deadite’ (2:31), and ‘Best of Ash’ (1:27) showing off his best moments from the season (though I’m not even sure why this would be necessary when you have probably already watched the whole season anyway).
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