Ash Vs. Evil Dead? Yeah, Baby! Episode 1: El Jefe is an incredibly intoxicating short film from a master storyteller. It builds with a rush of fire, delivering scene after scene in a tsunami-like punch of sure-to-be iconic images that fall right into place with the first three films in this legendary horror franchise. It delivers exactly what fans have wanted and waited for these past thirty years. And it does so at a hectic trot that never slows down. The episode comes to its crescendo with an action packed encore that is better than anything we've seen at the movies this year. Though, it's hard to image that following episodes will be able to keep up this hurried and frantic pace. If the entire first season barrels along at this momentum, we could be looking at the single greatest horror series ever created for the small screen. The agonizing part is gong to be wading through the next ten weeks to get there. You've waited thirty years. Perhaps you should wait a few weeks more. This is one show you'll definitely want to binge watch.
That said, it's not without its problems. Ever meet back up with a friend you haven't seen in ages? Ash Williams looks good. Maybe he's put on a few pounds. Perhaps he's even dumber than when you last crossed paths. But it's obvious he's also been working out. And perhaps he suffers from borderline personality disorder. At times he's a bumbling doofus that dooms the world to eternal damnation. On the drop of a dime, he's a kick-ass soldier of God here to save humanity from possibly it's greatest threat. He moves like a lion in times of need. But when the world stops spinning for a second, he's out of breath and in pain, writhing on the floor like the 60 year-old man he truly is. At times, Ash Vs. Evil Dead feels a bit disjointed, but that never gets in the way of the fun being had by everyone involved with the making of this electrified bolt of sheer entertainment.
Re-entering the world of Ash Williams is a bit disconcerting at first glance. Here's a guy who's been stunted by his past experiences. But as we'll quickly learn, he's also been in secret training. Guess he always knew he'd be the one to unleash the Deadites back onto an unassuming population. Ash is a wannabe ladies man. And at first glance, the women at the local watering hole, The Woodsman, want nothing to do with him. Until they learn that he saved a small child from being obliterated by a train (not true, of course). That accounts for the wooden hand. Within a few moments of reacquainting ourselves with Mr. Williams, he has invited us into a bar bathroom, to watch him take a woman from behind. Maybe this is the most freighting moment in the entire 40 minute opening act of this ten hour movie. It seems a bit out of character from what we've seen before. Though, we haven't ever really seen Ash interact in modern society. While there were other characters in those first two movies, he was usually alone. And in the third movie, he was locked in a world of medieval mischief.
Hot banging a once beautiful woman against a cast iron sink, she turns into a grotesque demon that warns him of the dangers to come. It's the pure face of evil. One he hasn't seen in thirty years. What just happened? How did this occur? Oh, wait. Oh, shit! Back at his Airstream in some cheap and dusty old trailer park, Mr. Williams has kept the book of the dead in an old army locker that doesn't even have a lock on it. A few nights back, he invited a young woman to his place. They shared some pot. They got high. She wanted to hear some poetry. Ever the cocky lunkhead, Ashley made the poor decision to read some incantations to hear aloud. And thus, a time portal opens up in the sky, a sinkhole appears in the ground, and it's on! Welcome to Evil Dead Part 4, bitches!
The show smartly opens with Ash unleashing the undead. There's little time wasted. As soon as that bit of exposition is over and out of the way, we get to the really fun stuff. But at first, there may be a few groans in the house. As we're introduced to a new character we don't immediately care about. I know my thoughts were, "What is this horse shit?" As soon as Jill Marie Jones comes on the scene as police detective Amanda Fisher, it seems out of place in an Evil Dead movie. But this isn't a movie. And Sam Raimi quickly utilizes this never before seen character in setting up what is the best moment in the entire episode. It heavily curbs from Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, with Deadites springing to glorious life in cruel and unusual fashion. One of Ash's former lovers resides here, in this house under investigation for reasons unknown and never explained. A creepy young woman with ominous tattoos. Soon, her head is spinning around, and she's lurching forward in a backwards walk that is the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Both Fisher and her partner are brutally attacked, and it becomes quite clear that the series isn't just going to rely on humor in selling the further adventures of Ash home. This is some scary shit! And it ends with a lot of blood spilled.
While Ash is presented as a bumbling baffoon, which stays in-line with the previous three movies, he's no dummy. He knows he's responsible for the shit storm coming his way. And he wants to get out of town with his pet iguana Eli. But first, he must stop by work and pick up his check. He no longer works at S-Mart, but still holds down the position of stock boy. Only this time, inside an electronics store. He gets a few great slapstick moments here at his place of employment, as we're introduced to his two new sidekicks for the first time. Neither are annoying, and should prove to be a lot of fun as the show continues on into the future. Ray Santiago plays Pablo Simon Bolivar, a co-worker who looks up to, and looks out for, Ash. He knows of the coming evil. And he knows that only El Jefe can stop it. He quickly comes to believe that Ash is this El Jefe. The other sidekick is Kelly Maxwell, played by Dana DeLorenzo. She is a tough chick who threatens to eviescrate Ash's good hand if he keeps flirting in her direction. Of course, her attitude will change before the end of the episode, offering up a possible love interest.
In the show's third best scene, Ash comes face to face with a demonic doll in the store's stock room. This moment brings the true, unfiltered Evil Dead psychical comedy that we love to see Bruce Campbell engaged in. And it's just plain weird. This little dolly chomps down on Ash's nose with its sharp teeth. It attacks in ways that are both funny and very frightening. He pummels his own face with flower pots hoping to stop the violence. And for awhile, it looks like Mr. Williams may have met his match. That is, until the animated toy meets Pablo's shovel. The scene ends with some unexpected gore while showing the audience that these two fools, Ash and Pablo? They were made for each other!
While this is all going down, we see that Detective Fisher is having a problem recuperating from her bout with the Deadites, which saw the death of her partner. She can't even enjoy a good meal without being tormented by the evil that has suddenly overtaken her town. But there's someone who knows exactly what's up. She is introduced only as Ruby, and she is played by Lucy Lawless. Ruby only gets a few quick minutes of screen time in a tease that's perfect in setting up the second episode. Who is this weird woman? Why does she know what's happening to Fisher? And what is her connection to Ash? We don't know, but we're sure to learn when Episode 2: Bait makes its debut in November.
The end of this first episode finds Ash, Pablo and Kelly back at the Airstream. Ashley is looking to scoop up his lizard and hit the road. But Kelly's dad is in trouble. Her mom has return from the grave. And she needs Williams help. He's more than reluctant, until his home comes under attack in what is one of this year's best climaxes in any medium. The Deadites are out in full force, and they quickly overpower our three heroes. It's here that Ash's iconic chainsaw is reintroduced. And after some well choreographed violence that will have you on the edge of your seat, cheering, Williams battles his old neighbor lady to the death in a match made for the big screen. With these particular Deadites vanquished, Ash stands from the wreckage and recognizes his true calling. Bring in the title, end scene! And we have the first act of what is sure to be a spectacular 10 episode run.
Though, one thing that strikes me as off about this climax is how quickly Kelly falls for Ash once she sees what he can really do with his stumpy arm. She's such a cool, tough girl, it seems wrong that she'd want anything to do with Ash on a romantic level. And hopefully this gets sorted out as the episodes continue. Episode 1: El Jefe is certainly helped by the fact that it was helmed by true cinematic master Sam Raimi, who directed the first three movies and co-created the franchise. The question now, is, can the other directors coming in be able to carry the manic energy and action flowing at this breakneck speed? The show was just renewed for Season 2, so I sure hope so. The first episode of Ash Vs. Evil Dead is a non-stop blood-soaked blast that does not disappoint. I can't wait for the rest of the episodes to get here! Though I will warn again, you may be better off waiting for all the episodes, because this is something you'll definitely want to binge-watch as one giant mega-movie (we've heard that these will be half hour episodes, but the first episode runs 40 minutes).