This Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 premiere review contains minor spoilers (all of which are in the trailer).
Alright, listen up you primitive screwheads, Ash vs Evil Dead’s demon force-paced second season debut only has time for two things: Jack and fun. And Jack left town.
This is at least the tone of Grand Guignol merriment that Craig DiGregorio, the showrunner of Ash vs Evil Dead, and fellow producer (and lifelong Deadite-summoner), Rob Tapert, strive for with the season 2 premiere. For while the first season was quick on its wits and enjoyed enough gore to satiate even the Overlook Hotel’s spacious appetites, it often veered more toward the comedic side and even (gasp) used a fair amount of digital blood. Thus when Bruce Campbell and Tapert were on hand to introduce the Ash vs Evil Dead season 2 premiere at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday night, they were quick to note that the show has switched more toward practical gore effects than ever before. And boy, were they not kidding.
Within the first two minutes, we see Lucy Lawless’ villainous Ruby discover that her beloved putty-children grew up way too damn fast. They might still be blind, but they are adult-sized when they vomit enough black goo and blood down her throat to make even the old witch from Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell cringe. A few moments later, Ashley Williams’ paradise in the Redneck Riviera of Jacksonville is turned apocalyptic when a local mother and daughter double act (whom Ash was close to showing his chainsaw) become possessed by Deadite demons. So, Ash must instead settle for disemboweling them with his Jeffe blade (though Kelly gets a nice moment of finishing one off with a broken beer bottle).
The grisly horror is bountiful, but honestly it is a slight shame that in addition to turning up the gore, the direction of the Ash vs Evil Dead season 1 finale is also going through a metamorphosis. The end of Ash vs Evil Dead’s old freshman try enjoyed the subversive shock of the hero, an ostensible chosen one according to prophecy, electing to let Lucy Lawless’ villainess win for a slice of the good life in Florida. Granted, Ash’s idea of the good life is personally chugging a keg every night (even on Mondays!), but that was enough to surrender the Earth to the woman who wrote the Book of the Dead. Somewhere along the way in the planning process for season 2, it appears the idea of Ash learning to live with the fallout of that decision was pushed aside for a second season with Ruby now joining the Scooby Gang—because her demon seed beasties want the Book of the Dead for themselves and will kill her to get it—and Ash returning home.
Yet, this pivot does admittedly allow for the best moments of the premiere. In the beats between boomstick blasts, we are introduced to a rather nifty addition in Evil Dead canon: Ashley J. Williams’ hometown. As it turns out, Ash comes from Elk Grove, Michigan, which looks content with epitomizing every negative cliché about Small Town, USA life imaginable. But the show takes it one step further with Ash trying to navigate in the spaces where old flames and old victims (are we really surprised the Chin was a big bully back in the day?) now run the few local institutions: a bar and the sheriff’s department, respectively.
Amusingly, Elk Grove feels intentionally like a red state version of those old villages from Universal Horror movies. You know the ones, where Lionel Atwill (or Kenneth Mars) are the native strongmen that say exactly when the villagers need to start lighting up their torches. Just instead of “Kill the Monster,” they’re probably saying, “Make America Great Again.”
In any event, they don’t take kindly to Ash’s return home after 30 years. This is due to the fact that they all know roughly the events that occurred in the original Evil Dead movie and they all think Ash slaughtered his co-ed buddies. But even decades later, Ash is defiant. When accused of going crazy and cutting up his friends, he shouts back, “Oh no, I was completely sane when I cut up my friends!”
Apparently, in the years since his fateful weekend at the Cabin in the Woods, Ash became to Elk Grove what Freddy Krueger is to the fictional Springwood, Ohio in A Nightmare on Elm Street. He’s an urban legend meant to scare kiddies into line. They even have a children’s nursery rhyme about him called “Ashy Slashy.” We only heard a few bars of it when one of the possessed Deadites in the opening sequence taunted Ash back in Florida with the nickname (it is what led him to realize that Ruby and the Book of the Dead are in his hometown). But hopefully, this story thread will continue to be expanded upon, eventually with a full-blown musical number.
This development of Ash dealing with the actual aftermath from the earliest films is the most tantalizing narrative element introduced for the first time here. It also led to Lee Majors’ first scene in Ash vs Evil Dead where he is shown to be the disapproving, racist, and all around unpleasant father that has long been estranged (he’s also every bit the horn dog as his spawn). Like his town, he thinks Ash is a madman, but he does appreciate the new metal hand his son has made for himself. “It’s made me stronger,” Ash declares. “Faster?” his father asks. Yep, Ash is bionic.
Kelly and Pablo have less to do in the premiere itself, but some seeds are planted for story threads moving forward. Beyond being the subject of Papa Williams’ racist epithets, Pablo is also suffering PTSD from the time the Book of the Dead was on his face, and he continues to have witching visions of Ruby. Hence why he and Kelly are not so onboard with the third act decision by Ash to team with their foe from last season. But you have to understand… she gave Ash “deer eyes” while in danger, so that is that. Obviously.
The third act features Ash and his buddies doing battle again with the aforementioned adult-sized Deadite children, and the scene feels like a really well done set-piece from the later Resident Evil games (and with more effective atmosphere than actual Resident Evil movies). But still, one senses the real juice of season 2 doesn’t start flowing until the last blood geyser pops within this installment. The new dynamics are set up in the closing moments when Ash, ignoring the disdain of Kelly and Pablo, welcomes Ruby into the fold as they prepare for war against a new unseen big bad pulling the strings of all these evil forces.
Between that and more scenes of Ash stumbling through his tortured homecoming, season 2 has every opportunity to build and even surpass the first season. This half-hour, though, was mostly for the fans to revel in the carnage. While I was hoping for a little more of the stuff hinted at in the margins, who am I to begrudge such ferocious frivolities?