Ash vs Evil Dead Pilot Review: Constant Surprises Surpass All Expectations

ash-vs-evil-dead-review
(Photo: Starz)

I’ll be honest, I’m not the world’s biggest Evil Dead fan. I enjoyed the movies, saw them once, maybe twice, and that was it. They were part of my life, I dug them, but I didn’t become obsessed like I have my many personal fandoms.

Well, Ash vs Evil Dead may change all that, if the pilot is any indication. The perfect balance of horror and comedy, of camp and action, of new and old; this show will make this franchise my new obsession.

When I talked to Bruce Campbell just a day after watching the Pilot, he told me that he, Raimi, and Rob Tapert went to TV with it very purposefully, saying “all the good stuff goes to TV now.” I think I didn’t realize it before watching this, but half an hour is the absolutely perfect size of Evil Dead action for me. The fact that they’re able to compress everything that made the films a hit into such a small package is remarkable, and also makes this a unique brand of all-killer no-filler entertainment. In a film (and specifically in their films), they had a set story to tell, and had to hit those major points while spreading them out into three acts. This time around, they’re telling complete stories that are also part of a much larger final product, about three movies worth, in fact, and it seems to be just what the franchise needed. In the first episode, every element that made the franchise great is there, and it’s in such rapid-fire in this format that you never get a chance to – or want to – take a breath.

And that’s the thing: all Ash vs Evil Dead was surprise me and surpass my expectations. It was funnier than I thought it would be. It was gorier than I thought it would be. It had more heart and truthfulness than I thought it would. It was campier, then turned around and scared me more than I thought it would. Every scene, often every beat of a scene worked so completely on its own, and also built the story. I hate to use the “edge of my seat” cliché, but it’s most accurate.

Ad for individual performances, well, Bruce Campbell is still the man. Even when Ash is nothing but a lowlife lying and cheating his way through life, there’s still something strangely endearing about him. And when he flips the switch, going to gown on his deadite foes, I defy you to not cheer out loud. Campbell looks at home in Ash’s skin, especially when the action kicks in – and that’s action as in ass-kicking, and action as in action, because it wouldn’t be Ash if he didn’t have a way with the ladies.

Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago, meanwhile, are the virtual devil and angel on Ash’s shoulders – that’s not a perfect metaphor, but one of them believes so wholly in him while the other is so wholly repulsed, that it clicks when you’re watching. Santiago’s Pablo is instantly funny, even if it’s mostly in a setup man kind of way, and if you’re not too familiar with Evil Dead, he’ll make you feel like you should worship Ash in a heartbeat. DeLorenzo’s Kelly, meanwhile, has a hard exterior I can’t wait to see break down a bit, as she promises she’ll get to kick some ass on her own.

The only other principal character who gets significant airtime in the opener is Jill Marie Jones as Amanda Fisher. I like the way she, like Pablo, is sort of a viewer character; if Pablo is there to introduce you and give you the need-to-know on Ash, then Amanda is there to introduce you to the deadite threat, which she does with a bang.

Ash vs Evil Dead is great fun and hits all the right notes, and I’m confident it will make old fans happy while bringing in many new ones. The last word of the pilot is “a powerful word,” Campbell told me. And man, it just puts a perfect exclamation point on an already damn good time.

Grade: A+

Ash vs. Evil Dead premieres Saturday, October 31 on Starz