Sunday, November 1, 2015

Ash vs. Evil Dead


   What a way to end October and kick off November! I'm probably going to be spending most of November revisiting horror faves of mine that didn't make the cut for my October horror-thon, which most likely means I'll be digging up the original Evil Dead movies. Not to mention I just ordered the Shout Factory release of Army of Darkness, so hell yeah. Bring it on. But, even more exciting than that was the premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead. It marks the return of Bruce Campbell to his most famous role, that of Ashley J. Williams, the protagonist of the Evil Dead trilogy. I don't know what inter-movie connectivity they have going on since the Evil Dead remake, which was apparently not necessarily a remake at all. (Scroll a little more than half way down on the page that links to) So... what does that mean for this show?

   Well, first and foremost... Ash is back! No matter your thoughts on the movies, the not-remake, or whatever- He's back and as badass as ever. He's still the same selfish, cocksure, asshole-hero he was by the end of Army of Darkness. Also carried over from that movie is a lot of the humor. There's buckets of gore in here much like the first two movies, so there's a balancing act going on there for sure. Watching Ash crack wise is as much fun as watching Ash kick ass. It's a wave of much welcome nostalgia for fans, and I'm sure it'll be a blast for newcomers as well. What feels sort of odd to me here is that... this is probably the most downtime we've ever seen of Ash. The Evil Dead movies never lingered long on the normal bits of his life. A bit of driving in the first movie, some tedious work related stuff in the third... and that's it. Barely a full five minutes altogether.

  This pilot episode shows us what life is like for Ash when he's not slaughtering deadites or terror-assing around the middle ages. He lives in a trailer, picks up chicks in bars, lies about how he lost his hand, and works as a stockboy in a value mart. So much exposure to Ash's day to day life was sorta odd. Not that it was tedious or boring in any way, the episode clicks along as a decent pace setting up characters, subplots and story threads it will inevitably revisit later on in the season. There's some really cool moments in here, but if I had to pick a not-so-obvious one, it would probably be when Ash is telling his 'story' to another character, and clips from the movies are splashed across walls and objects in the room via a projector.

   It looks really neat and was a visual treat for sure. At the same time, it was also a neat treat for fans and a cool way to do a recap for newcomers. Beyond that, there's a standout sequence in an old house with a couple of police officers getting a taste of the series' mainstay brand of violence and gore. Fantastic stuff. Then of course there's the climax of the episode which sees Ash step back into the swing of things. It was like watching Clark Kent turn into Superman, Bruce Wayne rise from his chair as he sees the Bat-Signal, or Arnie donning his Terminator shades. It was just badass and made me wanna cheer. The whole episode is equal parts new stuff, and familiar stuff. A welcome balance of both to be sure and I liked it a lot.

  My problem was that none of it (with a very slim possible exception) was scary. We all like the humor the franchise grew into, but it never wholly forsook it's scary roots. Even Army of Darkness had some truly scary moments there. Admittedly not many, but if you're going for a horror-comedy vibe with equal parts scary and humorous- look no farther than Evil Dead II. Why was that tone so hard to nail here? Sam Raimi even returned to direct this! There's a rock n' roll vibe that permeates the whole episode, as if it's wholly unconcerned with being the slightest bit scary- we're only here because Ash is an ass-kicking machine. True, but there has to be some element of seriousness, of danger.

  When the soundtrack is more classic rock, and less bombastic ominous scary stuff- there's a problem. There was no tension or suspense, maybe a few of the uninitiated will react to some of the jump scare-ish moments, but they fell rather flat for me. The episode introduces a lot of cool concepts and has some great moments, but if it has any hope of being a horror-comedy, and not just a flat-out comedy, they need to work on their scary stuff. Gore isn't scary by itself, especially not when set to slammin' classic rock tunes.  This is where they could've borrowed from the tone set in the not-remake, which was definitely creepy as hell.

   All in all it's a no-brainer that I'm in for the long haul. Scary or not, Ash is a fun character to spend any amount of time watching. Whether it's 90 minutes for a movie, or 45 minutes once a week- I'm always down for more. I really do hope they find a scarier vibe to contrast the humor and heroics, but I can't seriously complain either way, I'm so giddy right now it's hard to stay objective. The episode has plenty of gore and badassery even if it's short on scares, this is one bloody good time that no genre fan should pass up. Ash is back! Groovy!

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