It’s not even a full five minutes into Ash vs. Evil Dead, Starz’s raucous and riotous extension of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, when a demon starts giving the titular one-handed, over-the-hill clerk-warrior (Bruce Campbell) a hard time. That the ghoulie appears by possessing a random woman our hero happens to be shtupping in a bar bathroom is perfectly in line with the rampantly humorous and aggressively frightening world Raimi has invented. And what’s ultimately so refreshing and thrilling about Ash vs. Evil Dead, whose premiere episode is helmed by Raimi, is how charmingly and giddily scrappy it feels, in both narrative and aesthetic, and the zooming, seemingly effortless pace at which Raimi keeps the bloody, widespread mayhem going.
Indeed, rather than try to dully build up some looming season-long arc to explain how Ash once again comes face to face with the demonic tome known as the Necronomicon, the series remains consistently in the moment, immediately re-sparking the feud between Ash and the plethora of sinister spirits and beings released from the book. It’s a stoned attempt to bed a local lady that causes Ash to summon his nemesis once again, and the rest of the series is similarly led by an impulse which taps more into horror’s tendency toward reckless, volatile emotions and, often enough, total madness. To that end, Raimi deploys a generous variety of dutch angles, zooms, and tracking shots to make the look of the series as seemingly antic as the instincts of the demonic forces or, for that matter, Ash’s own desires.
As Ash reluctantly rallies up with Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), his co-workers at the ValueStop, the same demonic force that originally attacked him begins to spread throughout the city, proliferating and taking over random denizens, an act which is often conveyed through the director’s patented, rushing tracking shot of the evil dead’s POV. These violent possessions lead to at least two exemplary set pieces, each of which is imbued with a kinetic sense of action and brisk, rhythmic editing.
When Ash attempts to hide from the evil dead following their first encounter, that same force transforms a young woman into a cursing, contorting un-dead monster, which attacks police officer Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) and her partner during a routine investigation. It’s a testament to the design of this particular monster, in voice, movement, and language, that an attack from one of the evil dead is still so frightening, aided in no small part by Raimi’s expert sense of escalating tension. Even the obvious computer effects feel seamless in the bold, almost tacky aesthetic that Raimi has fashioned here.
The second episode ends with a rollicking attack on Ash’s trailer, climaxing with him strapping on his chainsaw, and there’s a noticeable focus on the giddy glint in Campbell’s eyes as his salty, iconic character gets back to his role as the most unlikely hero. Amid the out-and-out bedlam that the evil dead rouse, Ash comes into his own and finds his unique talent for violence and blind heroism. In this way, he’s not unlike Raimi, whose immense talents and gonzo artistry only come to full fruition when he depicts the chaos brought on by the forces of hell and the few lunatics prepared to face them.