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“ASH VS. EVIL DEAD: Season 1, Episode 1” (TV Review)

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When watching the pilot episode of ASH VS. EVIL DEAD, one can’t help but feel that this entry into the franchise is truly a culmination of all that came before it. Whether it be the hallucinatory, slow-burn dread of the original film, the over-the-top gore and demonic possession of EVIL DEAD II, the slapstick/one-liner friendly humor of ARMY OF DARKNESS or the gut-wrenching viscera of the 2013 reboot, ASH VS. EVIL DEAD is a carefully crafted mixing pot of any and everything an EVIL DEAD fan could want from Ash’s grand return. But even beyond the carnage on display, the reason why ASH VS. EVIL DEAD evokes such a potent sense of nostalgia is that Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert are still finding new ways to have fun and fright in a universe with 30 years of familiarity behind it.

Luckily for us, that fun translates tenfold onto ASH VS. EVIL DEAD, and when Campbell re-emerges as his trademark reluctant hero, there’s an undeniable excitement at seeing Ash back in action. Although ASH VS. EVIL DEAD more or less eschews the events of ARMY OF DARKNESS (at least explicitly), the Ash of ARMY- complete with corny braggadocio and shades of cowardice- is front and center in the series, armed with a wooden hand and a cavalcade of call-backs. However, as much as fans will show up for old school EVIL DEAD, they’re likely going to stay tuned for the new, as half the fun of ASH VS. EVIL DEAD is getting to explore Ash’s unique universe.

While spoiling anything about ASH VS. EVIL DEAD’s hysterical and bloody pilot would be absolutely criminal, especially the laugh-out-loud funny way Ash summons the dead once more, it doesn’t necessarily take a rocket scientist to figure out the general construct of the series’ inaugural entry. Yes, Ash is older, prowling bars for easy tail and taking advantage of his younger coworkers. Yes, the deadites show face and throw characters into a literal living hell, allowing gruesome violence to be dished out left and right. But lest you think ASH VS. EVIL DEAD is a brainless exercise in gory horror comedy, it’s clear that Raimi and Co. have something much bigger up their sleeve, and cut no corners in providing the series with emotional stakes, characters worth their while and organic reintroduction of the series’ most iconic moments.

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In fact, ASH VS. EVIL DEAD’s strongest asset, aside from Campbell who adds a bit of his natural “Con king” swagger to Ash this time around, is having Raimi behind the camera for the pilot, who brings filmmaking flourishes and a confidence oft unseen in the TV space. When Raimi decides he wants to scare you, he’s going to scare you, whether it be through loud jump scares or the ever-creepy slow-burn moments. When Raimi decides he wants to make you laugh, he lets Campbell off his leash and plays to the strengths of his script. In fact, Raimi’s love for the property is so palpable that it makes the less-glamorous elements of the pilot- including a brief fight with a CGI creature that evokes ARMY’s cottage free-for-all- all the more forgivable.

Yet ASH VS. EVIL DEAD also works as well as it does based on the all-around excellent performances from its cast, anchored by a pitch-perfect Campbell. Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago are genuinely top notch as Campbell’s unwitting sidekicks, with DeLorenzo’s no-B.S. gumption and Santiago’s wide-eyed enthusiasm providing a terrific counterpart to Campbell’s bravado-laced heroics. Jill Marie Jones is also fantastic as a detective caught in the middle of the Deadite resurgence, getting the first true badass moment of the series as well. And while her time in the pilot is limited, Lucy Lawless’ brief appearance establishes her character with the right amount of mystique to allow her to ostensibly be a believable wild card in the series.

Overall, ASH VS. EVIL DEAD starts off with a bang, literally and figuratively, and if the pilot is any indication, the series will easily be a contender for the most entertaining show currently on television. Through Raimi’s sheer directorial finesse, Campbell’s inimitable revival of Ash, the spectacular use of suspense and gore, and the outstanding newcomers to the EVIL DEAD universe, the first episode of ASH VS. EVIL DEAD delivers an action-packed, hilarious and compelling first episode guaranteed to impress newcomers and franchise fans alike. And if ASH VS. EVIL DEAD can keep the ball rolling and push the story into deeper, darker and weirder territory, there’s a a definite chance that the series will live up to the good will of the films that came before it and become its own wild animal.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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