Ash Vs. Evil Dead. Starz. Saturday, October 31, 9 p.m.
The only real question about Ash Vs. Evil Dead is: What took them so long? The Evil Dead uber-splatter franchise stretches back more than a third of a century, through four films (plus at least four others announced to wild fanboy excitement but never produced), several dozen comic books, six video games and even, God help us, a stage musical.
Then there's other such unclassifiable ephemera as the McLuhanesque meltdown My Name Is Bruce, the 2007 film in which Evil Dead's only continuing star, Bruce Campbell, plays himself, hired to fight a demon by fans who erroneously believe he's as handy with a chainsaw as the character he plays. Now that Evil Dead is finally a TV show, too, about the only remaining things on the agenda are statehood and Catholic Church canonization.
How a cheesy and virtually plotless splatter flick—five college kids get variously raped, dismembered and generally disrespected by a bunch of intemperate spirits haunting the rural Tennessee shack where they are inexplicably spending spring break—made for a couple of hundred thousand dollars has turned into a major American industry is one of the more profound cultural mysteries of the millennium.
Ash Vs. Evil Dead, which debuts Halloween night on the premium cable channel Starz, sheds little light on the question. Its bounteous budget for grisly special effects—I counted one antler impalement, two gunshot decapitations, one scissors-through-the-hands piercing and one Exorcist-style headspin in the first 11 minutes—will likely delight the legions of Deadites. For the rest of us, the show is mostly useful as a vengeful reverse prank on greedy legions of trick-or-treaters. Make sure your tube is prominently visible as you open the door to the kids, and give them a compulsive need for years of therapy along with their Butterfingers.
The nominal plot notion of this chapter of the saga is that Ash Williams (Campbell), the only survivor of the encounter three decades ago, has been keeping a low profile and hiding out from the spirits in a small Michigan town all these years. But he inadvertently breaks cover when, to impress a late-night bar pickup, he reads aloud some "poetry" from Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the little blood-inscribed volume that caused all the unpleasantness back in Tennessee. Cue half an hour of CGI set pieces, heavy on eviscerations and gouts of blood, light on distractions like dialogue. Spoiler alert: Anytime a chainsaw is present at the beginning of a scene, it's likely to end indelicately.
Somewhere along the way, the Evil Dead series has picked up a reputation for comic wit. But its bon mots have always been along the lines of an animated corpse shouting "I'll swallow your soul!" and Ash, brandishing a shotgun, shouting back, "Swallow this!" Ash Vs. Evil Dead does not break new intellectual ground.
There are various other characters along for the ride, including Jill Marie Jones (Girlfriends) as a dead-dodging cop and genre queen Lucy Lawless as a stalker who holds Ash responsible for the massacre of her family. But their main purpose seems to be allowing Campbell to take an occasional coffee break on the set.
That coffee was no doubt brewed by a member of the Raimi family. The original Evil Dead movie launched the directing and producing careers of clan auteur Sam (so, yes, the Deadites bear the moral responsibility for Zombie Roadkill and M.A.N.T.I.S) and the franchise has since turned into a kind of Raimi full-employment program. I counted at least three of them in the credits. So at least The Evil Dead is keeping the welfare rolls down.