Episode: 101
Airdate: October 31, 2015
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Showrunner: Craig DiGregorio
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, & Tom Spezialy (written by); Nate Crocker, Zoe Green, & James Eagan (staff writers)

It’s been more than thirty years since a group of teens/twenty-somethings went camping in a cabin out in the backwoods, where they found a copy of the Book of the Dead, only to awaken something; something…evil. Now, the sole survivor of that group, Ash, has inadvertently reawakened that same evil, and he’s the only one that can put things right. The two Evil Dead movies, along with their sequel Army of Darkness, have developed a strong cult following over the last thirty-four years, and given near godlike status in nerdom for the star of the three films, Bruce Campbell. That he and Sam Raimi (the director of the films) have decided to resurrect the story after all this time speaks volumes to the story – and the character’s – ongoing popularity. Tonight saw the premiere of the new series based on the films – click through for my full review.

<<Spoiler Alert: This review will be talking at length about plot points from Ash vs. Evil Dead Episode 101, “El Jefe” – read through at your own risk!>>

The episode begins with a day-in-the-life perspective, as we see Ash [Bruce Campbell] struggling to fit into a girdle as he prepares for a night on the town. He’s 100% all-American cheese right from the get-go, which is exactly what fans of the movies will be hoping for. He heads to a local bar (the Huntsman), where he uses his wooden hand to garner sympathy, and some quick sex in the women’s restroom. Before he can finish, however, his hookup suddenly turns into a deadite, warning him that they’re back. Despite this, he still decides to continue having sex with the woman, which is purely typical of Ash’s utter inability to take anything beyond himself seriously. This is not a bad thing – it’s what leads to most of the humor of his character.

Rather than dealing with the deadite situation, Ash decides to run. He retrieves the Book of the Dead, which is conveniently kept in a bench bin in his trailer, and finding a nearly empty baggy of pot, realizes how things got started – he got high with a random one-night stand, and read to her from the Book, as she loved poetry.

She shows up a little while later, at a house to which two State Troopers have been called. There were reports of a screaming woman, so officers Amanda Fisher [Jill Marie Jones] and Carson [Mike Edward] have been dispatched. They enter the premises, and Fisher finds a woman who appears to have screamed herself to death. Further into the house, the two cops reunite, and finds a woman who is strangely unresponsive – it’s the woman we saw earlier spending time at Ash’s house. Only now, she spins her head full around, and goes after the two cops, impaling Carson on a deer’s antlers, and stabbing Fisher right through the palm of her hand. After dispatching the woman, Fisher also has to deal with her now-deadite partner, as Carson turns and goes after her as well. We see her later in a cafe, haunted by what’s happened, seeing a young girl momentarily turn into a deadite. Another woman, Ruby Knowby [Lucy Lawless] tells her that “Sometimes what you see, is really what you see.”

Ash heads to his shift at Value Stop (no, Ash isn’t working at the famous S-Mart – “Shop smart – shop S-Mart” – but he’s clearly been here for a long time), hoping to pick up his paycheck early, and to head out of town (he wants to go see a scholar about the Book, to see if the deadite incursions can be reversed). In the back of the store, a doll comes to life, biting him on the nose before grabbing a box cutter and coming at his throat – but not before Ash’s co-worker Pablo [Ray Santiago] smashes the doll, saving Ash. Pablo’s response to the situation is as expected: “What the hell was that?”

Pablo admires and idolizes Ash, calling him Jefe, and pointing out all the ways that he covers for him – when he’s late, when he naps, when he simply decides not to show up for work. He’s hoping his neighbor, Kelly Maxwell [Dana DeLorenzo] will be able to share some of the workload, as he’s recently got a job for her at Value Stop. Ash lays on the charm pretty thick, but she sees right through him. However, when she sees her recently deceased mother arriving at her father’s house on a Facetime call, Pablo tells her that Ash is their only hope.

Events begin to unfold faster and faster at this point, but I’m not going to give away details – suffice it to say that there is a ton of gore, plentiful one-liners (the best of the night comes as a deadite crashes into Ash’s trailer. Ash points his shotgun at the deadite’s head and says, “Didn’t your mother teach you to knock?” before pulling the trigger), some great deadite effects, and Ash getting all Ash. This is not to mention that his two most important props both make appearances: the chainsaw, and his boomstick.

The pilot episode introduces us to the main recurring characters – Ash, Pablo and Kelly from Value Mart, as well as Fisher and Knowby – and immediately establishes the fine blend of humor and horror that the Raimi/Campbell team made famous in the earlier movies. Scenes are shot with quick, jerky camera movements, and the Foley artist was working overtime, as noise effects constantly indicate things just out of view. There are some jump shocks, tons of humor (all of it dark), and I found myself buying into the show right from the start. Production values easily surpass those from the original films, largely because of the intervening years and the advances in special effects and CG that have happened, and neither Campbell nor Raimi – who helmed this pilot episode – appear to have lost their touch in the slightest.

The fact that Campbell is consistently playing up his age, while still trying to be an uncaring twenty-something, is where the brilliance of Ash lies. He’s an unlikable, wisecracking, self-absorbed coward, who somehow manages to rise to the occasion when the deadites are in town – and this is why we love him. Few actors do physical comedy in a horror setting as well as Campbell does (perhaps only Jeffrey Combs comes close), and his particular brand of over-acting and scene chewing hits all the notes just right.

The fact that this sequel to The Evil Dead franchise is getting the series treatment, as opposed to another filmic sequel, is wonderful news to those of us who need our Ash fix. Rather than 90 minutes, we’re going to get ten full episodes (this one came in at right on 42 minutes, so I suspect they’re thinking long-term here, bringing it to a non-pay channel at some point). The Starz network (it’s playing on Super Channel in Canada) appears to have put a considerable budget together for the show, which really comes through in the quality of effects and locations, and the network’s (or perhaps showrunner Craig DiGregorio’s) decision to film in New Zealand will further stretch their funds.

This was an excellent pilot, recapturing all that made the Evil Dead movies the cult classics they are today. I can’t wait to see where they take this show next.

Steve’s Grade: A
A thoroughly entertaining camp-fest starring the greatest B-movie actor of his day, directed by one of the greatest B-movie directors of the eighties, expanded into a full ten-episode series – what could be better? If you’re a fan of The Evil Dead – or appreciate cheesy horror/comedies in all their glory – order your subscription to Starz (or Super Channel) now.

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