Fall TV Preview

Ash vs. Evil Dead Review: Schlock, But Not Enough Awe, in Starz' Revival

grade_C+It’s telling that the best scene in Ash vs. Evil Dead — Starz’ continuation of writer-director Sam Raimi’s campsterpiece horror franchise — finds Bruce Campbell’s titular hero facing off against a possessed doll.

The demonic little princess goes straight for his nostrils, chips one of his veneers, bites down on his thumb with her razor-like teeth, all while Ash repeatedly smashes terra cotta pots into his own noggin in an attempt to dislodge her. With very little dialogue and no other human actors involved, it’s essentially a showcase for Campbell’s singular brand of cornball sparkle. He’s in on the joke, and even as he fights for his life, he’s winking through the screen to make sure the audience is, too.

For Cambell superfans, his charms might be all the fuel that’s needed to drive this weekly series. Those who want some sharply written zingers, intriguing characters or perhaps even genuine scares, however, might find Ash vs. Evil Dead is running on fumes by the end of its supersized, 45-minute premiere (airing Saturday at 9/8c). (Future installments will run 30 minutes apiece.)

This might be a good place to warn you that I hold no great affection for The Evil Dead, the low-budget 1981 splatterfest that started it all — and I wouldn’t argue too vehemently with you if you said, “Dude, you just don’t get it,” then headed down to the comments section to hack this review to bits with a chainsaw. But given that I absolutely, positively adore Drag Me to Hell, Raimi’s 2009 comic horror flick, I don’t think I’m completely outside the target audience for Ash vs. Evil Dead, either.

In any event, here’s the setup: Some 30 years after his last battle against the walking dead, we find Ash at his local saloon, using his wooden hand to pick up a comely stranger and give her the business in the women’s bathroom. Her cries of passion (“I’m coming!”) take a turn for the dark side when her face goes all zombified and she changes her tune to, “We’re coming for you!” Ash knows this is Very Bad News, but it doesn’t stop him from finishing what he started with his conquest, either, at least once she returns to human form. (Badum-bum!)

ash-vs-evil-dead-dollTurns out, a few days earlier, a verrrry stoned Ash tried to impress a poetry-obsessed hookup by reading her passages from The Book of the Dead, which fans of the movie know is Step 1 in causing a zombie uprising. Unfortunately for Ash, he can’t collect his Value Stop paycheck and flee town until he finishes his shift, which mostly involves sparring with his boss and dropping boxes of loose lightbulbs on the floor. There, his coworker buddy Pablo (who has a shaman uncle) and Pablo’s newly hired friend Kelly (whose dead mother has seemingly returned from the grave) discover what Ash already knows, leading to a climactic battle back at Ash’s trailer in which the trio are besieged by Ash’s comically grotesque old neighbor Vivian. (As Pablo and Kelly, Raising Hope‘s Ray Santiago and newcomer Dana DeLorenzo get little more to do than look on in awe at Ash’s zombie-slaying skills, and also get splattered with gore.) Ash’s chainsaw hand and Vivian’s bloody demise work as shock paddles to keep your interest alive even when Campbell has to deliver hammy one-liners like, “The other first thing I gotta do is some cardio — ’cause my heart is jackhammering like a quarterback on prom night.”

Meanwhile, we also get a subplot involving Det. Fisher (Girlfriends‘ Jill Marie Jones) losing her partner (and, temporarily, her badge) in an undead attack, then encountering a stranger in a diner (the always magnetic Lucy Lawless) telling her, “Sometimes what you think you saw is exactly what you saw.”

To me, Lawless’ line holds true of the entire Ash Vs. Evil Dead enterprise. Because as much affection as you might muster for the sight of Campbell returning to the role that made him famous, and as much giddy nostalgia Raimi delivers in the episode (calling back to the movie’s ground-level, entity’s-eye-view camera work and “things hidden behind sheets” suspense), the end product here is slight, and slightly stale. You just have to trust your eyes.

The TVLine Bottom Line: There are intermittent amusements in Ash Vs. Evil Dead, but an entire TV series can’t exist on Campbell’s soup alone.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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23 Comments
  1. DavidJ says:

    Yeah I have a feeling one’s enjoyment of this show will depend greatly on how much affection you have for the original movies and how giddy you are at the prospect of seeing Campbell play Ash again.

    Thankfully I’m one of those who fits that category perfectly, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy the heck out of it.

  2. Mark D. Moss says:

    Haven’t seen it yet, so maybe Slezak is right … but when he begins by admitting that he doesn’t like or get the source material, probably the rightest thing he wrote in the whole piece was the suggestion to just head down here and comment. I slogged through the review, but nothing else he noted makes me think he has any helpful insight for those of us who *do* love the franchise. That’s ok … but I’d sure rather a review from someone who *could* like it.

    • Agreed, since the episode perfectly blended the scares of Evil Dead and laughs of Army of Darkness you would have to have at least some love for the genre that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell helped cultivate.

  3. j Sturm says:

    I think your opinion on Army of Darkness is much more important that either of the first two Evil Deads. This looks much more in line with the last of the series rather than the first.

    • Wooster182 says:

      Agreed. If you’ve only seen the first film, then you’re completely missing out. As the filmmakers grew more confident, the films just got better and better.

      • It’s funny because when I first saw Evil Dead 2, I thought it was terrible and derivative of the first. However, when I rewatched it recently in preparation for the premiere I saw the creepy and sinister brilliance of it.

    • You would be surprised how many jump scares and unsettling horror there is but that mostly comes from everyone else’s storylines”

  4. I saw the pilot at NYCC and I have to say that you’re Deadite wrong (…Sorry) that Bruce Campbell is the only reason to watch. However, I will say he’s definitely the top reason but I thought Ray Santiago, especially in that possessed doll scene, and Dana DeLorenzo, and her chemistry with Ash, we’re given way more to do than gawk.

  5. Imagecrafters says:

    A nostalgic, campy romp. I love Campbell but also his sidekicks. The scene with the *SPOILER* the doll attached to his face was priceless!

  6. Sad that there’s no fans of the original films on staff who could have done the review. Evil Dead 2, the best of the trilogy, is the comparison to make, not Drag Me To Hell, Spider-Man or anything else. That’s like comparing 2001 to Dr. Strangelove or Monty Python and the Holy Grail to 12 Monkeys.

  7. blonde21212 says:

    only reason why I would watch this is lucy but after watching the first episode I couldn’t put myself through a whole season

  8. Jimi129 says:

    I personally enjoyed the original three movies. Some people do not have an imagination and lack the capability to enjoy a unique approach of telling a story. For the review, I’m very upset that TV Line would use someone that is not a fan of the original movies. The only people that are reading reviews on Ash vs The Evil Dead are loyal fans of the original movies! I never post on any websites but this just burned me. If you are going to post a FAIR review, don’t use someone that is heading in with a negative opinion. This is one of the main reasons why so many movies fall short at the box office. I watched the first episode and it FULLY delivered! For the true fans out there, ignore the review above! A possessed doll kicking Ash’s butt is just one of the reasons why we all love the original movies along with the premier on STARZ. Combine the insane evil with Bruce Campbell’s smart axx attitude…..you FINALLY get a breath of fresh air after 30 years! The show was AWESOME! I’m sure this season will continue to deliver entertainment that has been long overdue for all the Evil Dead fans! Sorry for venting and poor writing….just upset and flew through this post.

  9. THRobinson says:

    I’m also not a fan of the original Evil Dead, though I did like the 2nd one that the series seems to follow, and I absolutely LOVED Army of Darkness, which the series seems to mimic more for the humour. I was disappointed though to see that (from the flashbacks and lack of mechanical hand) Army of Darkness in this story line doesn’t exist. I hope I’m wrong, and it’s mentioned later on, it’s hands down my favourite movie and a shame if it’s simply ignored. @AshvsEvilDead

    • Britta Unfiltered says:

      I think I read somewhere that they couldn’t get the rights to Army of Darkness, and that’s why events in the movie are ignored in the series. It’s annoying, right?

      • THRobinson says:

        Well… still a chance of Medieval stuff, just different than the movie. Although (if you’re correct) Army of Darkness rights were a no-go… Evil Dead still ended with Ash in Medieval times.

  10. After seeing it in all it’s glory, I think this reviewer should find a new line of work.

  11. "Name's Ash. Housewares." Or you can call me Britta Unfiltered says:

    This review was not groovy. It makes me sad you didn’t like the series premiere, Slezak. You know you’re the only rotten review on Rotten Tomatoes, right? :) I think you need to give it another chance. Go through and watch the trilogy again and then try the series premiere a second time. Better yet, throw in some episodes of Jack of All Trades, and the Bruce Campbell episodes of Xena and Hercules. Part of the secret to the love for the Evil Dead movies and now TV series is a serious appreciation of the Shatner-like acting skills of Bruce Campbell. I’ve been in love with that giant ham since 1998, which was when I was first introduced to Army of Darkness as a college student. Hail to the king, baby.
    .
    “Shop smart. Shop S-Mart.”

  12. Mike Beaton says:

    I’m pretty sure this review is the way it is just to drive clicks. After so many glowing reviews, everybody HAS to click on the one negative review.

    Hope it pads your AdWords cheque this month.

    • C. Cook says:

      Mike, you have no idea how right you are. We all want to laugh at the one reviewer who doesn’t “get” the movies and why they work.

  13. Bill thorley says:

    I love everything evildead from the first movie through to the third.
    I even enjoy playing the evildead games. So it would only be Wright to love the new evildead series I can’t get enough of it. Been weighting for something like this for to long.
    Only one problem 30 minutes is not long enough.
    I would love to see it run for a hour.

  14. Bryan says:

    Wow, checking back through Rotten Tomatoes this is the ONLY rotten review. I guess the whole class needs someone to laugh at…not in a good way, um, YOU. Talk about dead wrong. This is the freshest old/new show on TV and everyone loves it. Gotta be different to get that clickbait huh. This show is top notch in every way and hilarious, scary, gory….everything we as fans of the movies have wanted for years. Even if you haven’t seen the original movies, they designed it so you can jump right in and not miss a beat. I’m gonna suggest you find another career field because you can’t forge forward in this one with your opinions. Everyone else…..go see this show now. Go ahead, I’ll wait. It’s highly rated because it’s good! The TVline staff should’ve picked a reviewer who actually enjoyed the movies and could constructively compare them to those. Drag Me To Hell? Really? You are definitely outside the target range, not just because it’s the horror genre. Hey, George Lucas directed THX 1138 so that means you should like Star Wars right? I think the National Enquirer is hiring.

  15. Derek Eagles says:

    Leave it to this jackass to have the ONLY rotten review on rotten tomatoes. Do the world a favor and review art house crap you aren’t worthy to put words to paper or on a screen when it comes to anything worthwhile or awesome like this show.

  16. Bill Hoskin says:

    You are the ONLY person giving this show a bad review. You might want to either delete your review or revisit it as it makes you look foolish and clearly not knowing what you are talking about.