Release Date(s)2015 (August 23, 2016)
Studio(s)Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: C+
After the remake of Evil Dead in 2013, it seemed unlikely that another sequel to the original Evil Dead trilogy (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Army of Darkness) would ever come into being. Not only had it been almost twenty-five years since the last entry, but most of the main people involved with it had gone on to do other, more successful things, namely its director Sam Raimi and its star Bruce Campbell. But, after various industry rumblings and internet rumors that something was in the works, the much-anticipated Ash vs Evil Dead TV series was finally unleashed on the Starz channel in October of 2015. Much to the excitement of fans, Bruce Campbell was set to reprise his role as Ash, Sam Raimi was directing the pilot episode, producer Robert Tapert was on board to help oversee the series, and the show wouldn’t shy away from tossing out gallons of blood and gore. This was the horror event of 2015, without question.
Due to the show not having the rights to include story material pertaining to Army of Darkness, the show is set many years after Ash’s last encounter with the Deadites from the original Evil Dead. We find him as a low-life womanizer, living alone in his motor home with little to no responsibility and squeaking by on a meager salary from the local ValueShop (standing in for Ash’s previous place of employment S-Mart). After a night of heavy drinking and smoking up, Ash inadvertently (and stupidly) opens and reads from the Necronomicon, which he has had hidden away amongst his possessions. Once read, it opens the world up to the Deadites to create terror and mayhem for the living once again. It’s now up to him and his companions Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) to seal away the darkness once and for all while avoiding a tenacious detective (Jill Marie Jones) and a mysterious woman (Lucy Lawless), the latter of whom is tracking their every move.
After the gut punch of visceral horror brought on by the Evil Dead remake, fans had been wanting the series to return to its sometimes schlocky but still horrific roots. They also wanted much of the black comedy seen in Evil Dead 2 to return as well. What they got was a show that mixes the horror and the comedy elements together quite well, always with one eye open and tongue planted firmly in cheek. Many of the show’s monster effects are top of the line, including the demon Eligos which, combined with how it’s presented, is the most successful and unnerving effect in the show. And while there’s still plenty of creepy imagery and Ash cracking some great one-liners, the show also manages to leave the door open for more ideas outside of the box, including a drug-induced trip through a collage of various images, sights, and sounds. To add to all of that, the new members of the cast are terrific and are immediately engaging, bringing something new to the table, as well as a surprising bit of heart.
Many of the criticisms laid against Ash vs Evil Dead have mostly involved Ash’s character, the use of CGI, and the length of the episodes, which are usually around thirty minutes (not counting the pilot). As far as Ash’s character is concerned, the assessment that he feels like a different character are completely warranted, but it does serve a purpose. He has always been a bit of a womanizer and a braggart, and seeing him as an older character who hasn’t changed much, those traits can only be amplified. The arc of his character is that he hasn’t learned to grow as a person since the horrible events that he’s been a part of, and as the show goes on, he has the chance to be less of an over-the-top personality, have some substance to him, and generally be a more complete human being. As for the CGI, some of the decisions as to why it was used are a bit baffling at times and acceptable at others. There are effects that couldn’t have been done within the style of the show on a practical level, specifically some of the CGI creatures that show up from time to time. However, when a CGI blood splatter appears on screen, it completely ruins the overall practical aesthetic that had been previously established. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and the rest of the show is steeped in practical effects, including prosthetics, make-up, gore, and blood... and lots of it.
Then there’s the thirty-minute length of each episode. Initially, many people were taken aback by how short the show was and how quickly it seemed get through its story, but after marathoning the show once more, the argument begins to feel invalid. This was never going to be a show that people were only going to watch once a week and never watch again. It was always going to be a binge-watched kind of show, and it’s to its benefit. Because of the shorter running time, the show doesn’t waste much time on things that don’t really matter. If the show was a little longer, say forty-five minutes to an hour, it probably wouldn’t be as impactful as it is. It doesn’t have a frenetic pace, per se, but it does move fast, keeping viewers absorbed at all times. In other words, there’s no time for loitering, and as mentioned on one of the commentaries, it was more satisfying to “leave them wanting more”.
Ash vs Evil Dead is certainly not perfect on all sides, and not all episodes are true winners. Unfortunately, that’s just how TV shows work, and some episodes are usually better than others. And besides the remake, it had been over twenty-five years since we had had an entry in the original series. So for this reviewer’s preference, any and all flaws really don’t matter all that much. One should just be happy that it exists at all, let alone being as good as it is and having so much thought and care put into it. There’s roughly 5 1/2 hours of content to be had, which is basically the length of three or four horror movies, and having that much Ash kicking demon ass is reason enough to celebrate. The show can be summed up in one cliché-ridden word: “groovy”.
Much like the show itself, the Blu-ray presentation of Ash vs Evil Dead is quite strong without being perfect. Shot digitally, the presentation soaks up all of the gory details. Things appear to be a little too smooth at times, and some occasional digital noise can be observed, but it’s never burdensome. Even though much of the show was obviously shot in a studio, there’s still a great amount of fine detail to be had. Skin tones look terrific, and the rest of the color palette has plenty to offer from episode to episode as well. Blacks are very deep with some great shadow detailing, and both brightness and contrast levels are virtually perfect. Unfortunately, the bad CGI stands out even more than it did upon its initial broadcast, which is not so much a negative against the transfer itself as it is an observation worth noting. A wonderful presentation, overall. For the soundtrack, you get three options, including English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Surround, and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. The 7.1 track packs quite a wallop, and is one of the more impressive surround presentations of recent memory. Evil Dead has always been a series with sound as one of its best attributes, and the presentation for its TV counterpart just further confirms that. Dialogue is consistently crisp and clear, while the score and music selection always has plenty of heft to it. Also robust are the sound effects, including everything from the traveling evil force, rushing gusts of wind, glass breaking, wood creaking, and of course, the squishy, gooeyness of the blood-soaked carnage. There’s also a great amount of speaker to speaker activity, ambience, and plenty of low end moments. It’s a fantastic and very aggressive soundtrack, overall. There are also subtitles in English SDH and Spanish for those who might need them.
For the extras, there are audio commentaries on every episode with various members of the cast and crew. For the pilot episode, there’s creator/executive producer/director Sam Raimi, co-executive producer Ivan Raimi, executive producer Robert Tapert, and executive producer/actor Bruce Campbell. For the second episode, there’s Tapert, Campbell, and actors Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago. For the third, fourth, and fifth episodes, there’s Campbell, DeLorenzo, and Santiago. For the sixth and seventh episodes, there’s DeLorenzo, actor Jill Marie Jones, and Santiago. For the eighth episode, there’s Campbell, DeLorenzo, Jones, and Santiago. And finally for the ninth and tenth episodes, there’s Campbell, DeLorenzo, actor Lucy Lawless, and Santiago. In addition to the commentaries, there’s the fifteen minute Inside the World: Ash vs Evil Dead featurette, the brief How to Kill a Deadite featurette, and a Best of Ash montage promo. Sadly, not all of the featurettes that ran on Starz during the show’s original run have been included, nor have the Bruce Campbell hosting the Evil Dead trilogy segments, the “next on” episode previews, and none of the trailers or TV spots. There are also no outtakes, gag reels, or deleted scenes included either. Still, the cream of the crop here are the commentaries, including the one for the pilot. Besides it just being great to hear this group of people together again chatting about the show, they also discuss the genesis of the show, and the various ideas for Evil Dead 4 that were thrown out. It’s easily the best extra in the set. This release is also housed with a lenticular slipcover.
If you’re an Evil Dead fan, there’s no way in Hell that you’re not going to love Ash vs Evil Dead on some level. It’s nearly everything that fans wanted for years, and even though the extras are a little slim (besides the commentaries), it’s still a great release to pick up. I do think a more extras-packed release could be dropped sometime down the road, but for now, this will not only do, but satisfy as well. Great show, great release. Highly recommended.
Now bring on Season 2.
- Tim Salmons