It had been over 20 years since Army of Darkness had been released until we saw something else from the cabin in the woods, deadites and the necronomicon when the sort of reboot Evil Dead was released in 2013. A post credit clip of Bruce Campbell turning towards the screen and echoing one of his immortal words “groovy” to the screen sent tingles down fans spines, the possibility of a new sequel, the return of Ash, and another descent into the mad mad world of The Evil Dead. Rumours spiralled, changing answers to the same questions by the team behind it but alas no sign of anything. Then over the hill, after we had given up hope, came the shadow of a monster. This monster was the promise of a TV show featuring the return of Ashley J. Williams and the return of the evil dead.
So locked, stocked and with two smoking barrels Ashley J.Williams returns 30 years after the turmoil he experienced at that remote cabin in the woods, just now he is living in a trailer park and working in an electronics store letting life pass him by. However it appears the evil force that once wreaked havoc on his life has returned, probably because it had something to do with him foolishly recanting a verse from the necronomicon, whilst intoxicated of course, to impress a lady… With deadites returning, and friends now in the firing line Ash seeks for a way to stop this evil once and for all.
So, how does the series fair going from feature to a ten episode run? Honestly, it’s a real hit and miss. There are flashes of classic Evil Dead strewn throughout the series, from slapstick comedy, Ash and his one liners, to the wonderfully lavish gore splattered on every episode. It is in these hints of the films where the series really excels, and with an overarching story that is simple enough to give the production team carte blanche on where to take Ash and what he will do. Actually the series itself is very much like a short run of comics, of which there are a great many for Army of Darkness, with it’s simple story woven together through episodic escapades that are light on detail and heavy on blood as the heroes try to put an end to the deadites.
A key word in that last sentence was heroes…yep you heard me, heroes. For this journey they must have felt Ash couldn’t carry a 10 episode series, or maybe it was just to much work for Bruce Campbell, either way they gave the hero of humanity not one, but two sidekicks to tag along (Even gets to three at one point) with Pablo, Kelly and Amanda. Maybe it’s because I love the original films too much, but I just did not like a single one of these new characters. Pablo, is a co-worker of Ash and believes him to be a heroic figure called ‘El Jefe’ and inexplicably tags along for the ride, Kelly is also a co-worker whose parents are possessed by deadites and who Pablo happens to have a crush on, and finally there is Amanda a policewomen who looses her partner to deadites and is hunting down Ash. This series did not need a single one of these characters at all or at any point, sometimes they were present just to fill time and others they were simply plot points that Ash had to either save or follow to progress the story, and the rest of the time they were just plain annoying. Not only were the characters rubbish, their dialogue was at times appalling and the acting was flatter than deadite roadkill.
At times I thought I was being too harsh in my judgements, but then these half baked characters would keep popping up and ruin any good that came before it. Not all of it is their fault, because the development of the roles is simply poor. It’s tough due to it being a 10 episode run with 30 minutes per episode, but the fact is they don’t even endear themselves straight away making all future presence something to dread. The one new character who had some intrigue, and was reasonably well acted is Ruby Knowby played by Lucy Lawless. Ruby is also on the hunt for Ash, but with a mysterious agenda, and one likely not good for Ash. Unfortunately she just isn’t in the series enough as we mainly come up against generic deadites each episode. To be honest, even Ash has some weird character development. He may older, and he certainly isn’t wiser, but he is getting softer and choosing to go along with these supporting characters just seems out of character for him.
Speaking of demons and deadites, they stay true to the appearance and ways of how they were portrayed originally making the majority of encounters with them entertaining and usually winding up with them all becoming literal minced meat. Though it’s a touch repetitive with every new character essentially winding up possessed by the end of the episode and the team has to mutilate them one way or another, the demise of the deadites is always something to look forward to. Unfortunately as entertaining as it is to watch some slapstick violence, there is a horrendous use of some of the sketchiest CGI I have seen used in TV, budget be damned. Animated squirting blood and CGI body parts getting chopped off just doesn’t have the same effect as actual models and physical animation, say what you will about difficulty and restrictions of that type of special effects but it pays off in bucket loads, just look at The Walking Dead. Thankfully it isn’t used all the time but it just looks cheap every time you see it on screen and it detracted from watching it every time as well.
The episode highlights in the series belong to the numbers 3 and 5 ‘Books From Beyond’, ‘The Killer of Killers’. Episode 3 features a new type of demon that Ash has never fought before, and it’s pretty damn good from its physical appearance to the abilities it possesses it certainly is a force to be reckoned with. Episode 5 features some rather naff character development, but thankfully ends in a bloody brawl in a diner full of deadites. The climactic three episodes though are by the far the best, they all take place at the cabin, feature numerous fan-tastic references to previous films and other horrors, and characters all begin to show their true colours.
Overall, for Evil Dead fans I think there is enough to satisfy the blood lust and craving for adventures of Ash, however I don’t think it will win any new fans. It has everything that would be required from the proverbial checklist to appease its followers, Ash, Boomstick, Chainsaw, deadites, demons, guts, blood etc etc, but it’s the unnecessary extras that let it down badly. Rubbish sidekicks and dodgy CGI are my two biggest gripes with this series, but it still put a smile on my face now and then thanks to Bruce Campbell and some well directed episodes. Admittedly though I couldn’t help but think the entire way through the show that it would have been much better, and more effective, and fun to just make a sequel like we had been teased about for years. No Evil Dead story should take 5 hours to come to a conclusion should it?