“How does it feel to be back?” “Groovy.” Ash vs Evil Dead nails its homecoming in its opening episode – and this series does feel very much like a homecoming. Small-screen spin-offs from popular movie franchises have become two-a-penny in recent years, but many are made by a different team to their source material. Sam Raimi is involved with this new show from the ground up – and you feel it in every splatter of blood.
The show catches up with Ash 30 years after the events of the first film, which plays out in brief visual recap for newcomers. He’s exactly as you remember him: not exactly PC, slightly dim, but darn good with a chainsaw. What does the saviour of the world do now? He spends his time getting high in his trailer and working in a hardware store. So far, so Ash. One night, a stoned attempt to impress a girl sees him reaching for the Book of the Dead – “bound in human flesh, written in blood”, he trills off casually – and unleashing the apocalypse. Again.
The ensuing onslaught of Deadites starts slowly, with both Ash and kick-ass cop Amanda (Jill Marie Jones) left to wonder whether they’re imagining things or not, but by heck, it does so in style. Heads turn 360 degrees, scissors impale hands and brains explode all over the walls. There’s a nice mix of CGI and practical make-up, as you’d expect from a Raimi project (he directs the first episode), with any low-budget edges swooped around with a camera that crawls along floors and hurtles through the air with a familiar, groaning whoosh: it’s exactly how you’d imagine an Evil Dead TV show to look and sound.
There’s not much higher praise you can give a spin-off. Sam and his co-creators Ivan Raimi and Tom Spezialy smartly lurch towards the comedy of Evil Dead 2 than the gritty first outing: it’s telling that, unlike AMC’s serious, hour-long Fear the Walking Dead, Starz’s Ash vs Evil Dead plays as a 30-minute comedy, a format that allows for fast-paced gore and gags without too much thinking time.
That also means it’ll take a while for the supporting characters to become more than stock types. It’s promising that we spend almost as many minutes with Amanda as Ash over the first 60 minutes, as she faces internal investigation from her department, even if our introduction to Ash’s workmate, Pablo (Ray Santiago) – someone who struggles to think of his friend, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), as a person not a sex object – is less so. (Santiago, though, wears the silly sidekick schtick well.)
For Ash, of course, that kind of sexism is the norm: one scene where he hits on Kelly sees him put wonderfully in his place. That faithful treatment of his character is key to the show’s success: Campbell is a joy to watch as he swaggers around, deluded, like he hasn’t stopped playing the part for the past three decades. He’s a whale out of water in an ill-fitting corset, his cheesy, movie matinee grin now a pair of false teeth and his way with women mostly relegated to Vivian, the old lady in his trailer park. That juxtaposition between the 1980s and modern day brings constant guffaws as much as enjoyably old-school effects: DeLorenzo’s Kelly really shines in a hilariously awkward visit to her parents, which sees Ash take a chainsaw to every page in the dinner table etiquette book. He’s not the nicest guy in the world. He’s not the smartest guy in the world. And he’s certainly not the kind of guy you’d choose to star in a typical, modern show. But when the undead crap hits the fan, dammit, he’s exactly the guy you want on the telly. How does it feel to have him back? Groovy.
Ash vs Evil Dead: Season 1 is available to stream on-demand on Virgin Media. It is also available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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