This Ash vs Evil Dead review contains spoilers.
Ash vs Evil Dead Season 1 Episode 8
Back when it was first announced that Evil Dead was making the leap to the world of serialized television, I was pretty damn excited. Bruce Campbell back to what he does best, revisiting a character, making cracks both in skulls and in jest? Yes, please. It was time to resurrect the Evil Dead franchise after its mediocre reboot earlier this decade that left it in a shallow grave. It sounded like a literal dream come true, something that 15 year-old high school freshman me would have lived (and probably even died) for. What kind of stories will it tell, will it be scary, will we get time travel hijinks, is he going to dye his hair? All kinds of mangy questions ran amok through my head, and I couldn’t wait to see how the show itself would play out and what it would contribute to the fast and loose mythos the franchise had already established.
Now that we’ve got a full season of Ash vs Evil Dead under our skins, I can safely say that it’s been a not-so-long but very strange trip. Each week, we’ve had the unholy delight of witnessing yet another experiment with the Evil Dead formula, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and watching a show based one of the most notoriously violent and wacky movie trilogies find its identity in a television format. Yes, there have been more than a few distracting potholes along the way. Some episodes worked better than others some gags fell flat; certain characters were worthless robots programmed to move the story along; the tone was never consistent; and sometimes the major story arc could have had a clearer direction (or purpose.) But even if it is rough around the edges, the first year of Ash vs Evil Dead has never, ever been boring. And that’s what really counts.
Was it a good idea for me to watch “The Dark One” alone, in the middle of the night, right before heading to bed? In retrospect, probably not. This is the scariest episode of TV I’ve seen in a long time. No, I didn’t lose any sleep over it, and yes, I did have to change my underwear afterwards but only because I took a shower, not because they got soiled from my bowels or anything. But I did feel that general feeling of uneasiness you get after you sit through a horrific, nasty splatter flick by yourself. In fact, it was a lot like the feeling I got after watching the original Evil Dead film, alone, in my room, also in the middle of the night. Ah, that feeling. It’s somewhere between paranoia and feeling spooked. The Italians probably have a word for it, right? They have to.
Boundaries were pushed in this episode that Ash vs Evil Dead needed to break free from. This was made exactly like the modern day equivalent of a video nasty horror movie, without any mercy or tact. Heather, the new character that had the personality of a keychain, met an awful end here, the first major victim of the cabin itself. To put it lightly: it f***ed her up. If getting her fractured leg hit by a flying couch didn’t hurt, she also had those nails jammed into her tender flesh. And if that wasn’t enough, she also had to be ripped apart by something we didn’t see and spewed out the front door. Ouch. Not going to forget her screams anytime soon. And what about the roaches coming out of her…uh, yeah. Never mind.
What else am I not going to be able to forget about? Oh yes. Pablo hunched over the basement floor, puking blood between incantations with the Necronomicon’s cover stuck to his face, begging Ruby for mercy whenever he caught his breath. And then, ultimately, vomiting up an ungodly wormlike pupa made out of Satan’s placenta, containing the evil toddler known as the dark one. (And Ash’s classic reaction, “That’s why I never had kids!”)
“The Dark One” is not only the scariest episode, it’s also my favorite so far. This is the kind of show I had pictured when I first heard that the series was greenlit: edgy, ominous and hysterical. There are genuinely hilarious moments to be found throughout the whole season, no doubt. Everything clicks. The direction is masterful enough, the lighting was incredible and the performances are so outstanding that I thought Sam Raimi was back in the director’s chair. The biggest shock of the hour (for me) was that he wasn’t; Rick Jacobson was behind the camera this time.
Jacobson emulated Raimi’s visual style so incredibly well, it was practically indistinguishable from the icon’s signature camera work. I wonder if Raimi was more involved with the storyboarding here, as this was the big season finale. What makes Evil Dead so special is its unique sensual language — how it is always more preoccupied with having us experience something with our senses to achieve a visceral reaction. It’s about innovation, really, and that’s why it will continue to have a strong legacy. That said, I’m wondering why this signature flair of the ED franchise is saved up for the premiere and the finale and sparingly used in the episodes in between? Why can’t the series have more of Raimi’s trademark touches? We’ve been missing this kind of stuff!
For most of the adventures this season, Ash’s character has been…well, all over the place. He’s been an a**hole, a bigoted a**hole and a loveable a**hole. Just kidding; he’s become a mentor, a father figure, a lover, and a hero. But most of all, Ash is not alone anymore, and that’s more important than we realize. He’s lived in isolation for decades, recovering from the trauma of the cabin and of being stuck in the Middle Ages (we think.) He’s on a journey from being anti social to social, of walking alone and having a family. That’s what Pablo and Kelly are now, and I’m perfectly okay with that. The time we’ve spent together has been, again, pretty weird, but I can certainly say that I’ve enjoyed getting to know them. Pablo is still on the Napoleon Dynamite side of the character spectrum for me to take completely seriously, but he has a place in our hearts now, much like Kelly herself.
By the way, she was a badass in this episode. Kelly almost stole the show away from Ash himself, who was on fire with every line. Both had some very funny lines and had such a larger than life screen presence that I’m probably going to be rewatching those bits whenever I need a good laugh. She definitely holds her own against the forces of darkness, that’s for sure.
I noticed that she didn’t successfully burn the cabin down. So I’m sure we’ll be coming back to that soon enough next season. And Ruby? I’m glad she’s the master of evil now, because we need a really good villain to play off of Ash and Lawless is perfect for the job. But the way the big conflict was resolved felt a little too rushed and a convenient way to keep the story going. “I have a chance to kill you but I’m going to let you go anyway, even if it might save the world!” That kind of thing. Well, it’s got to happen anyway, and Ash’s choice to go to Jacksonville, FL to have a normal life with Pablo and Kelly is an understandable one. He has a family now. They lost theirs. He’s not going to let them go anytime soon. If he were alone in this war, he probably would have taken Ruby out. But he has to think of the kids now.
And so, Ash vs Evil Dead’s first season comes to a close, as does an exciting new chapter in the Evil Dead saga. It reminds me a lot of the first year of another horror spinoff series – Angel. I’ve made the comparison in these reviews before, but hear me out. Angel’s first season is like watching a creative trial and error process in real time. You have this huge, mythic, recognizable character with an established cult fanbase that gets put into his own ongoing show, chronicling his everyday adventures. What does he get up to? Who are his friends? Who are his enemies? What is the show saying? What kind of stories can you tell? Ash vs Evil Dead is figuring out the answers to the very same questions, and it’s having results that are just as varied as Angel’s first attempts at being a serialized anthology program. But they’ve been incredibly fun to watch so far, and I’m looking forward to what lurks around the corner for season two.
– I just realized that the Jacksonville, FL thing is a meta-reference to Bruce Campbell’s home in Jacksonville, OR. Nicely played.
– I can just see someone out there trimming out some of the filler subplots and making a huge Evil Dead 4 fan edit in the interim this year. Yes, I’m giving you ideas.
– Part of the reason this was so scary was because of the atmosphere it built. A lot of effective techniques were used to build tension and dread here. Take notes, potential aspiring horror directors who are reading this!
– Loved that Ash ran into Jake’s corpse from Evil Dead II!
– Also, Evil Fisher’s demise? Yep. Loved that too.
THE NOT-SO GROOVY
– What the heck am I going to do until Halloween?!