Starz is hoping TV viewers close out their Halloween with one final treat, by unwrapping its new horror comedy Ash vs. Evil Dead. The series debuted Friday, October 30, but re-airs its first episode in its normal time slot — Saturdays at 9 pm Eastern — on October 31.
The gruesomely hilarious series returns Bruce Campbell to Ash, the wisecracking monster slayer who made him famous; unleashes hell on Earth; and soaks its cast in gallons of fake blood. It's a whole lot of fun.
Truth be told, there's no good reason to revisit this story 30 years after the events that made up the Evil Dead film trilogy. But Campbell is having such a ball in the part of Ash, and the series so beautifully captures the manic horror energy of the films, that it's hard to be too upset. The show is a smart update of a trio of movies that always kept one foot in the world of Looney Tunes.
It's also surprisingly welcoming to those who've never seen an Evil Dead film and just want to end Halloween with buckets of gore and blood. Ash vs. Evil Dead neatly layers in exposition related to the movies when needed, and otherwise establishes the character of Ash and the world he inhabits in ways that don't require too much explanation. (In short, if it's trying to kill you, you should probably kill it instead.)
Regardless, you might be worried you won't be able to keep up with the series. Here are five things you need to know.
1) A book called the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis can summon demons and raise the dead and stuff
The "rules" of the Evil Dead universe are pretty loosely applied throughout the three films in the original trilogy and a 2013 film that mostly seems like a remake but ends up being a sorta sequel. (Campbell appears as an older Ash, but only in the very final scene.) The basic idea is that the gruesome tome named above, a Sumerian "book of the dead," can summon demons that then reanimate corpses, possess human beings, or do a bunch of other things.
Those who are under its sway are called "Deadites." They're sort of like zombies, in that they're relentless and all but impossible to kill, but their bite doesn't always infect you with their evil. Ash himself once found his hand possessed by these spirits, to the degree that it tried to kill him, but he cut it off and came up with a nifty method of attaching a chainsaw in its place. (More on this in a moment.)
Ash vs. Evil Dead introduces a couple of new wrinkles to this mythology (like playing up the idea of Deadites effectively going "undercover"), but for the most part, the series' mythology is just an excuse to do what the Evil Dead films did best: let Bruce Campbell kill monsters with a shotgun, chainsaw, or other implement of destruction.
2) The series' tone is an equal blend of horror, action, and comedy — all three relentlessly applied
As you might have guessed from Ash replacing his hand with a chainsaw, this is a franchise that doesn't particularly care about verisimilitude. If many horror films are tragedies where the characters relive the awful secrets of the past, the Evil Dead films are rollicking, jolting comedies. The first, released in 1981 and filmed on a very low budget, is a bit more straightforward in its scares, but the second (Evil Dead II, 1987) and third (Army of Darkness, 1993) make ample use of Campbell's facility with a wisecrack and a smirk.
That may be why the movies have never been huge successes but have garnered massive cult followings. Horror comedy that produces actual scares (rather than simply being scare-adjacent) has never found a significant audience, but the type of people who dig that sort of thing really dig it.
And Ash vs. Evil Dead is a ripping good version of this. Once it starts, it doesn't really let up through its first two episodes, and it manages to find a fun, sitcom-esque structure where every episode drops the characters into a situation where Deadites have to die, amid all of the other sight gags and blood explosions. Also, a tiny doll attacks Bruce Campbell's face. If that's not worth tuning in for, what is?
3) The Evil Dead franchise is a blue-collar Americana fantasia
Ash begins the film trilogy in his early 20s, but by the time we get to Ash vs. Evil Dead, he's a guy living in a tiny trailer and working at a mega-discount store. He goes out to bars to hook up with women by making up stories about how he lost his hand, and he unleashes demons upon the Earth in a moment of supreme stupidity and weakness.
Ash, see, is kind of an asshole. But he's our asshole, dammit, the guy you want in your corner when the chips are down and the demons rise. The TV series makes frequent light of the way that Deadite-killer Ash is enormously different from the doofus side of the guy who navigates almost every other social situation.
But he's also a uniquely American kind of blue-collar folk hero, the braggart who works in some otherwise unheralded field but possesses secret skill. Ash, in many ways, is an extension of tall-tale heroes like Paul Bunyan or John Henry. He talks a big game, but because he can back it up, you don't really mind.
4) Ash vs. Evil Dead finds smart ways of looking beyond Campbell
Ash, of course, is the reason most people will tune in for Ash vs. Evil Dead. He's the one unifying figure in all three of the films, and the only character viewers hoped might make an appearance in the 2013 revival. (That he did almost singlehandedly gave fans hope that film would spawn a new trilogy, focusing on Ash teaming up with the new film's heroine.) Evil Dead without Ash would seem a bit blasphemous.
But Campbell, who was in his early 20s when he made the first Evil Dead, is closing in on 60, and if Ash vs. Evil Dead has fun with anything, it's the notion of Ash becoming an old man. He straps on a corset. His heart threatens to let him down. And he can't always keep up with the young kids he pals around with.
But in those kids and a handful of other characters, Ash vs. Evil Dead has begun sketching in the edges of a full world. None of these characters is yet as vivid as Ash, but showrunner Craig DiGregorio has done a smart job of modifying a film series for TV. (DiGregorio's most famous earlier work was on the series Chuck, and at times, Ash vs. Evil Dead bears a surprising resemblance to that earlier series.) The two forms require very different things, and by surrounding Ash with a motley crew of monster killers who are all of the things he's not (young, primarily), he's got the beginnings of an ensemble cast.
(Lucy Lawless is in the cast, but I can't yet tell you much of anything about whom she's playing just yet.)
5) Fans of the movies will enjoy the TV show, but it will likely satisfy those who are new to the franchise, too
Sam Raimi, who directed all three Evil Dead films, directs the TV series' first episode, and it's chock full of homages to the movies, right down to that restless camera roaming along the ground, taking the point of view of evil about to possess one of its unsuspecting victims.
Raimi's direction of the films felt like he'd taken a bunch of his favorite B-movies, chopped them into bloody little pieces, and thrown them in the sky like confetti. In its best moments, Ash vs. Evil Dead manages the same. (It doesn't always, but most of that stems from the grim necessity of laying out the groundwork for a new TV show.)
But the thing that keeps Ash vs. Evil Dead from feeling like a weird vanity project is the way that it invites in new viewers. Raimi, DiGregorio, and company know how to float exposition along so that new viewers will get it and experienced viewers won't mind it. Ash vs. Evil Dead is a show that's always moving, and that's the foremost thing you need in a horror comedy. This is full-throttle, blood-soaked television, and even when it's not hitting every mark, it's still a great time.
Ash vs. Evil Dead debuts Saturday, October 31, at 9 pm Eastern on Starz. The first season consists of 10 episodes.