The first time I saw an Evil Dead film I was stuck at my mom’s boyfriend’s trailer and Army of Darkness came on Starz. Bart, my mom’s boyfriend’s son, told me that in no uncertain terms that we were going to watch the movie because it was “fucking awesome.” Bart was never a guy whose judgment you could trust. He spent his late teens and early twenties moving in and out of jail for various drug related offenses and he supposedly once lived on an island in the middle of a lake. I say all of this not to tear him down as an individual, but to let you know why I was skeptical of his taste in film. I was wrong. Dead wrong if you wanted to make a pun. The film opened my eyes to horror in a way that no other film could have at that time. It had everything I, as a 12 year old boy growing up in Texas, loved: zombies, swords and sorcery, stop motion animation, and a pile of old timey jokes. I would later come to realize that this wasn’t really an Evil Dead film. Well it was, but you know what I mean. h
In Army of Darkness Ash is cool, he has a chainsaw for a hand that he can seemingly attach at will while flying through the air, and chicks love him. He’s the perfect character for a 12 year old boy. But the true Ash of the Evil Dead series is the Ash of Evil Deads 1 & 2. In those films, Bruce Campbell plays the character with less John Wayne bravado and with more sincere desire to stay alive. Even when he has a chainsaw attached to his arm he’s not throwing out zingers (okay, he might throw out a few). If I remember correctly, most of the dialogue post chainsaw in Evil Dead 2 is screaming.
I just finished watching the first episode of Ash VS. Evil Dead and I hate to say it but I’m underwhelmed. Actually, I’m overwhelmed. The visual style of the series hasn’t changed much in the years between Army of Darkness the new series, although it’s still a little CGI heavy for my tastes but budgets being what they are, what are you going to do? The demons look more ferocious than they ever have, and the amount of references to Italian horror cinema and the last decade of gonzo Asian martial arts caper movies like The Good, The Bad, The Weird, and The Raid that were fit into 40 minutes is astonishing. Sam Raimi even managed to make a phone call compelling, but the episode still felt like a wash to me. Here are the two reasons why.
First of all, the women in this show are troubling at best. They’re either annoyed, or inept, or they want to fuck Ash. There is no in between. Dana DeLorenzo’s character goes from being annoyed at the overt sexual harassment from Ash, to wanting to fuck his brains out after he kills a demon. I know it’s a show about a douchebag fighting demons but you can have a middle ground. Hopefully the show proves me wrong, and with the addition of Lucy Lawless to the cast I’m hopeful that we’ll get to watch a female protagonist that isn’t trying to fuck Bruce Campbell.
Which brings me to my second reason: Is Ash the only character in Western cinema whose real life counterpart has informed his character? One could argue that all of John Wayne’s characters were based around his persona in some way, but he never played a character more than twice (that I can think of) across a multi generational film and television series (so eat it, Duke). By all narrative logic, Ash shouldn’t be a skeevy, down on his luck Han Solo wannabe. I’d buy that he was living in a trailer waiting out the apocalypse, but this version of the Ash character is suspiciously similar to Campbell’s character in My Name is Bruce. If you haven’t seen MNIB, Bruce Campbell plays Bruce Campbell, a paunchy, ex star of the Evil Dead films who’s forced to pick up his mantle as “the chosen one” and fight a demon. Sound familiar?
While watching the episode I began to wonder if the Evil Dead television series would be better off without Ash. The last Evil Dead film was a spectacular cinematic experience that you’d think would either be a good way to end the series or a new rubric to follow. But that’s why I’m sitting on my couch writing about Evil Dead. Maybe I should call Bart and see what he thinks.