Saturday, 31 October 2015

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S01E01 - 'El Jefe'

For fans of the Evil Dead franchise, the anticipation of a new series which continues to adventures of the unlikely 'hero', Ash Williams, has been difficult - and, the expectations for the show have been high. Halloween is, really, the perfect time for a show like Ash vs Evil Dead to premiere - and, now, fans finally get their chance to find out whether Ash vs Evil Dead can meet the lofty expectations set for it.

In the 30 years since Ash Williams found himself confronted by strange demonic entities, called Deadites, in an isolated cabin in the woods, Ash has settled into a quiet life living in a trailer-park and working as a stock-boy at the local ValueStop super-market. Ash seems perfectly willing to leave his trouble part behind him - instead focusing on barely doing enough work to hold on to his job, and weaving tales of false bravery to impress women he meets at bars. It is during one such encounter, though, that Ash first learns that the Deadites he fought so lone ago have, somehow, once more returned - and, that they have turned their attention toward him.

For much of this first episode, we find Ash very much in the classic 'reluctent hero' role. He's clearly the only person around who has any first-hand experience with this sort of thing - but, his first thought on learning that the Deadites are back, and that they are after him, is to try to run. It's really only when he finds himself trapped that Ash is finally prepared to turn and fight. Even the realisation that it was actually Ash, himself, he was responsible for the Deadites' return (hilariously reading from the Necronomicon while stoned and trying to impress another woman) isn't enough to get him back into the fight against the Deadites right away.

It's a perfectly fitting reaction, of course. Ash Williams was never a particularly heroic figure - he was never the sought to deliberately seek out dangerous situations. Ash has always been a survivor, more than anything else - the sort of person who can find himself in a dangerous situation, and could somehow find a way to get through it.

When Ash finally does find himself forced to confront the Deadites once again, though, the results are as violent and bloody as any fan of the franchise could hope for. The strange blending of bloody violence with moments of slap-stick style humour should also be very familiar to fans of the franchise - with Ash's fight against a possessed doll, in particular, playing out as straight-forward comedy.

Of course, Ash isn't alone in his battle this time. By the end of the episode, he is joined by Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo) - two co-workers who are caught up in Ash's fight against the Deadites when they find themselves trapped alongside him during an attack. Pablo is instantly likable, in a goofy sort of way. He is, basically, the perfect side-kick - and, he seems to settle quickly, and easily, into that role, being the one most insistent that Ash needs to take up the fight against the Deadites. Kelly, on the other hand, hasn't really been able to make a very strong impression, yet - though, hopefully that will change in future episodes. For now, she is little more than the attractive object of Pablo's affections - though, her disgust with Ash's sleazy attempts to hit on her was certainly amusing.

It would probably be fair to say that this was mostly Ash's episode, though - and, Bruce Campbell seems perfectly at ease returning to a role that he has not played for many years (it hasn't actually been as long as some people think, though. Bruce Campbell did, after all, provide the voice for Ash in a few Evil Dead video games - the latest of which was released back in 2005). In terms of attitude, the Ash we meet here is much closer to the one you may remember from Army of Darkness (though, interesting, there's no clear indication about whether Ash's time-travel adventures in that third film are actually canon for this series, yet). He's brash, clearly has a high opinion of himself - and, when the time does come for him to fight, his trusty chainsaw and boomstick are close by.

On a more serious show, the speed of Ash's rapid transition, from someone desperate to run to someone willing to fight, might have come across as happening too fast - though, one thing that becomes clear very quickly (assuming you didn't already know, of course) is that Ash vs Evil Dead isn't going to be an entirely serious show. Here, a single fight against Deadites, and a single utterance of the word 'groovy' is all we really need to accept that Ash is ready to fight once more.

There is a noticeable change in tone when the episode shifts focus to Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones), though. A young police officer who has left traumatised by her own encounter with Deadites, Amanda has been suspended from active duty after being forced to kill her possessed partner - and, now, she finds herself down into her own investigation of the supernatural threat. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, though, the Deadites also seem to be as interested in her as she is in them.

While Ash's arc in this first episode is, mostly, played for laughs, Amanda's provides a source of much more genuine horror - as, while Ash has previous experience with Deadites, Amanda quickly finds herself in over her head. With these two arcs set up to feel so different from each other, I'm definitely interested in seeing how they eventually come together. It is also here that we get our first, brief, glimpse of Lucy Lawless's character, Ruby - with the implication clearly being that the two women are set to join forces, eventually. Though, for now, we know even less about her than we do about Amanda - she hasn't even been introduced by name, yet.

The practical effects, and make-up work, that went into creating the Deadites are also very impressive - and, the Deadites who appear in this episode, themselves, manage an entertaining balance between comical and genuinely threatening. There is a deliberate edge of silliness to the performances given by the actors made up as Deadites here which, while it may undermine the actual horror of the situation somewhat, makes them very entertaining to watch. The possessed doll that Ash is forced to fight being a CGI creation may feel like a strange decision in a franchise that has always relied on practical effects - but, there are limits to what can be easily done with practical effects.

Ash vs Evil Dead has got off to a fantastic start with its first episode. Its strange blend of extreme violence and goofy comedy should be exactly what all of those who have been eagerly anticipating the series have been hoping for. The episode also manages to go some way toward setting up an interesting supporting cast alongside the already popular Ash Williams. Also, with a large-scale Deadite invasion seemingly in set in motion, it promises some great developments in future episodes. We will just have to hope that it can maintain the impressive level of quality that has been established here.

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