After three Evil Dead movies, a reboot, several video games, a comic-book franchise, and even a stage musical, one has to wonder if there’s a new, original way to tell a story about a Book of the Dead that releases Deadites out into the world if it’s read from.
That question remains to be seen, because the first episode of Starz’ Ash vs. The Evil Dead doesn’t so much add to the story as it retells it with a few additional characters and a new setting. The good news is, the retelling is amazing and Sam Raimi — who directs the pilot — brings absolutely everything we love about the series into the tight premiere episode. It’s funny, it’s bloody, it’s brimming with one-liners, and it delivers vintage Raimi action sequences. Nearly 35 years after the original, Bruce Campbell may have put on some weight, but he possesses the same slapstick sense of humor and owns the small screen just as much as he did the silver one.
In fact, watching the pilot episode felt like catching up with an old friend. It’s nothing short of an exhilarating, intoxicating and a fitting introductory episode for a television version of the greatest trilogy of all time.
But , and here’s the catch: Catching up with old friends is great for a couple of hours, but there’s always the fear that you’ll run out of things to say and at the end of the night end up awkwardly parting ways, quietly vowing to yourself to wait another 20 years before you catch up again.
It’s hard to say whether that will be a concern for Ash vs. Evil Dead or not, but the pilot episode doesn’t do much by way of introducing anything new to the Evil Dead mythology. It’s a brisk, neck-breaking series of action sequences that sees Ash J. Williams inadvertently read from the Necronomicon while stoned and spend the rest of the episode gloriously fighting off Deadites.
He’s got a couple of new sidekicks from “Value Stop” (instead of “S-Mart”) to join him in this new adventure, a Lucy Lawless character is introduced in a cameo, and there are a couple of other folks who have now been embroiled in the Deadite saga. However, the bare bones of it hasn’t changed much, nor has Ash. He’s still a hilarious, womanizing boozehound, only now he’s 30 pounds heavier. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as we see the character evolve over the course of the series.
As impressive and hilarious as the action sequences are, the series needs a story and a mythology to keep us returning. This is Evil Dead, and as terrific as it is, a monster-of-the-week format simply will not do. If they turn Evil Dead into a horror-comedy “procedural,” there will be hell to pay. They’ve managed not to tarnish the franchise so far, so they best not start now.
On the other hand, an Evil Dead TV series reduced to cases-of-the week is still remarkably better than what Ryan Murphy hosts each week over on American Horror Story. Raimi already has characters we care about, and the potential to bring several more aboard. He and The Chin also bring an original sense of humor and crowd-pleasing special effects along for the ride. All its missing now is a story arc and a real sense of peril for Ash and the rest of the cast.