Review: Ash vs Evil Dead 1×1 (US: Starz)

Man-god Bruce Campbell walks the Earth again


In the US: Saturdays, 9pm EST, Starz
In the UK: Not yet acquired

To many people, Bruce Campbell is a man-god. He is a man. He is a god. He is a god of men. He is a man-god. 

What’s He (man-)god of? He is the living incarnation of straight white American male irony. Anyone claiming that (straight) (white) American (men) don’t get irony need only point at Bruce Campbell and say “May He have mercy on your soul”.

When you discover that Bruce is such an avatar is more about when you are born than the nature of Bruce Himself. For some, it’s relatively recently with his Old Spice adverts.

Going back slightly further, it’s as grizzled lothario and former Navy SEAL Sam Ax in Burn Notice.

Many will remember him as Autolycus, King of Thieves, helping another god on the New Zealand-filmed Hercules: The Legendary Journeys before joining Xena: Warrior Princess on the occasional quest. 

(Park that thought for a moment – it’s important).

My introduction to the Church of Bruce was in the early 90s with The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, where he got to play a cowboy very plausibly in love with Kelly Rutherford, while chasing all manner of sci-fi devices in the Old West.

But even that was a relatively late arrival to the party. Because the Coming of the great god Bruce Campbell first began with The Evil Dead, a 1980s horror movie a few people might have heard of, and which spawned more than a few sequels, including Army of Darkness.

It made a star of Bruce, who shot it with his childhood buddies Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. Tapert went on to run a couple of shows, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, where he ended up marrying the star, Lucy Lawless. Meanwhile, Raimi went to make plenty more movies, including Spider-Man, and with Tapert, created a New Zealand-filmed TV show on Starz called Spartacus, which also occasionally starred Lucy Lawless.

And now everything’s converging again, with Raimi, Tapert, Campbell and Lawless all together on another New Zealand-filmed show, this one a sequel to that very first epiphany, Evil Dead. It sees Campbell reprising his role of Ash, the ironic, semi-idiot hero of the original movies, who’s now 30 years older, 30 years wider, but not 30 years wiser. Trying to impress a girl while high on weed, he accidentally reads out passages from his big book of evil, causing the once-dismissed ‘Deadites’ to once again return to the world. Now Ash must quit his job in the local hardware store, quit his trailer and head out into the world to either face the evil or run away from it. Thank heavens he’s still got that chainsaw he can mount where his wooden hand should go, so he can carve them up with maximum gore.

Yes, the god of irony walks the Earth once again, and he’s NSFW.

About
Bruce Campbell reprises his role as Ash, the aging lothario and chainsaw-handed monster hunter who has spent the last 30 years avoiding responsibility, maturity and the terrors of the Evil Dead. When a Deadite plague threatens to destroy all of mankind, Ash is finally forced to face his demons – personal and literal.

Is it any good?
You might be a little lost if you’ve not seen any of the Evil Dead movies. You might also get a little lost in all the layers of irony. But it’s a funny show that’s also welcome relief from all the serious and/or hyper-modish horror shows of the moment (eg The Walking Dead, Bates Motel, American Horror Story, Scream: The Series, Scream Queens, iZombie). It’s a show for your older horror fan, basically.

Bruce Campbell is the star of the show and there’s almost no point in talking about the other characters, since they’re as generic as any zombie fodder on The Walking Dead. The exception is Lucy Lawless, of course, except she’s only in the pilot episode for a minute.

Those nobodies aside, let’s talk about Bruce. What fun he has, dishing out his lines with the comic timing of a man-god. Even when lines aren’t that funny, you still laugh because they’re Bruce’s.

Sometimes, the lines aren’t that good. At times, Ash comes perilously close to simply being a dick, rather than a comedic dick you’re supposed to laugh at. Only occasionally and only in the first half, but there are moments when you’re not sure you want to cheer for him not – something that should never be the case with a Bruce Campbell character.

Largely, however, they’re good stuff. Not always the laugh out loud jokes you may have just seen in the trailer, but certainly knowing and clever, although sometimes too knowing and clever. Indeed, the show itself has so many levels of knowing and clever, you’re never quite sure whether bits are deliberately bad and whether they’re simply just bad. Given, however, that the CGI and effects are often at a level of poorness it’s actually almost impossible to now achieve with modern technologies, I’m going to err on the side of ‘deliberately bad and satirical’.

Because of that, the horror is never actually scary. There’s plenty of gore, usually comedic, and there are some good nods to The ExorcistThe Exorcist III, Chucky and other famous horror movies, but you’re never actually frightened. This is horror for laughs, and to be honest, that’s the kind of horror I like. It’s probably still a little too gory for me, though, but I’m a wuss – your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Nevertheless, if Bruce Campbell + comedy horror + chainsaw for a hand is the kind of maths you like, watch Ash vs Evil Dead, because we have here something that’s rather rare on Starz: a good show.