In 1979, a group of college students from Michigan State University visited a cabin in the woods. What happened next changed the horror genre forever with the 1981 classic, “The Evil Dead.” Made on a shoe-string budget, “Evil Dead” catapulted star Bruce Campbell (“Burn Notice”) and director Sam Raimi (“Spiderman”) into the spotlight and has since been cited by no less than Stephen King as one of the defining horror films of all time.
Over 30 years later, series hero Ash Williams and the creative team that brought him to life return in “Ash vs. Evil Dead.” The Starz original series continues the story of the franchise, ignoring the well-meaning but unfulfilling 2013 remake directed by Fede Alvarez (“From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series”).
It’s difficult to express the sheer joy in seeing Raimi come back to the franchise, bringing with him the gleefully cartoonish sensibility for which he is known. The key to the show’s success, however, lies with Bruce Campbell, who combines old-school coolness with slapstick humor, but keeping just enough madness to make the whole thing scary.
The story picks up three decades after “Army of Darkness,” with Ash reading from the “Necronomicon Ex Mortis” after a night of smoking pot and fooling around. Ash’s carefree attitude with the series’ iconic Book of the Dead is one of the few weak points of the pilot. As funny as it is to imagine Ash doing something so thickheaded as use the Book of the Dead to impress a woman, it’s surprising that he wouldn’t be a little more careful after the tome murdered all of his friends and ruined his life.
The series doesn’t do much to fill in newcomers to the franchise — then again, if you haven’t seen the “Evil Dead” films, maybe you deserve to be confused.
As much as the series has to do with the franchise’s past, Raimi and team still find a way to tell a fresh story with some new faces. Ray Santiago (“Dexter”) co-stars as Pablo, Ash’s friend at the electronics store where he works, while newcomer Dana DeLorenzo stars as fellow store employee Kelly Maxwell who can more than hold her own against Ash’s old-fashioned bravado. Also starring is Jill Marie Jones (“Sleepy Hollow”) as a disgraced Michigan State Trooper whose early scene involving the death of her partner at the hands of Deadites provides the episode with one of its more frightening sequences.
“Ash vs. Evil Dead” feels like an anomaly — a show so unabashedly old-school in its sensibilities, yet so interesting in its potential. To have the same creative team behind the original films in charge is an undeniable asset to the series, making sure its content transcends simple fan service. Those who are unfamiliar with the world of “Dead” might be turned off by its idiosyncratic style and old-school tastes. That being said, these qualities are precisely what makes the show feel so different from the rest of the pack. “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is delightful; a gory, unfiltered awesomeness that brings fans back to the wonderfully twisted world of Deadites, boom-sticks and never tiring of hearing Bruce Campbell say, “groovy.”