With the news that Starz is going to be making an Ash Vs. the Evil Dead series, you may have noticed certain segments of the Internets saying things like “Groovy” or “Listen up, you primitive screwheads” or even “Workshed.” (That last one is probably just me.) But perhaps you did not relentlessly rewatch VHS copies of Evil Dead II throughout the ’80s and ’90s; perhaps you weren’t, like, born then. Perhaps you only know Bruce Campbell from those Old Spice commercials, or as the FBI guy on Burn Notice.
It’s OK, your Bitter Critic is here to tell you what you need to see, what you need to know about, what you don’t need to see, and why you should care.
The cliffhanger question about Ash vs. the Evil Dead is “Which Ash is going to show up?” Ash is iconic in a way that Bruce Campbell’s other screen creations aren’t: to the point where they made a film about how much his fans identify him with the character. (SEE: My Name is Bruce (2007), or at least, see it if you really like Bruce Campbell.) Ash is so iconic that at one point there was serious talk of a Jason vs. Freddie vs. Ash flick. There are comics about Ash. There is an Evil Dead musical. There are action figures. In fact I’m starting to think that there is no excuse for you not to know more about this already.
What It Is: Five college kids head to a Cabin In the Woods (if you’ve seen that movie, you’ve seen half of The Evil Dead) and end up battling demon possession and the evil woods themselves.
Why It’s Important: Made on a shoestring (the initial budget was about $90,000), TEV is a landmark for indie horror as well as for the principals involved: Bruce Campbell, the film’s rubber-faced star, who would go on to appear in everything from Xena: Warrior Princess to two Coen Brothers flicks (three if you count Crimewave); Rob Tapert, co-producer, who later became the guiding hand for the aforementioned Xena and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, the more recent Spartacus; and Sam Raimi, who went on to direct everything from Gene Hackman shooting Leonardo DiCaprio to Kevin Costner throwing a perfect game to whatever the hell Tobey Maguire was doing when he went bad/cool in Spider-Man 3.
Should You See It? If you’re a horror buff or an aspiring filmmaker or a completist, then sure; there’s plenty to be learned from Raimi’s innovative camera techniques, for instance. But the story lacks the humor of the later films and plays mostly for straight horror, including a sequence with a tree that needs pretty much every trigger warning there is.
What It Is: The Internet and other more reasonable entities disagree over whether this is a sequel to, a continuation of, or an expanded remake of the first film. It doesn’t matter; the result is hilarious, gross, and manic, with effects that are variously impressive and laughable, and about 900 gallons of obviously fake Karo syrup blood.
Why It’s Important: Because everybody involved got better at what they were doing, and the result is the kind of film that stands up to rewatch after rewatch, whether or not you are under the influence of the mood-altering substance of your choice. But also because Ash emerges as the fully-fledged bizarre superhero he was always meant to be; a goggle-eyed, chainsaw-wielding, this-close-to-losing-it lunatic who survives not by being virtuous or smart or kickass but mostly because he just Won’t. Stay. Down.
Should You See It? Unqualified yes. This is at least half of the context that even the casual fan requires, and it’s the source of the majority of the franchise’s most quotable lines. They’re better in context, I promise. (Workshed! I just really love the way Campbell gasps that one out so unnecessarily.)
What It Is: The first true sequel of the bunch finds Ash skipping through time to stock-medieval Europe, where the Deadites (the first time the undead are given a name in the franchise) are besieging the castle of “LORD” Arthur. This one has pit-fighting, evil Lilliputian Ash doubles, and something resembling romance.
Why It’s Important: This time Raimi had a serious budget ($11 million) and an opportunity to expand and ground the franchise beyond that cabin in the woods. The film wasn’t a blockbuster, but it did well enough to sustain the fandom and everyone’s belief in the viability of the franchise, at least in some form.
Should You See It? Qualified yes. Some fans feel that AoD represents a pendulum swing too far from the franchise’s horror roots, and that the increase in Stooges-style slapstick is too self-conscious. Maybe, but Ash’s stubborn ineptitude/ingenuity is on full display, and Raimi allocates the big money in the right places–the big battle scene is a lot of fun, as long as you realize that they wanted the skeletons to look that cheesy.
What It Is: Rather than make another sequel, Raimi and Tapert and Campbell decided to remake the original story in a more contemporary style without any Ash, but a female heroine named Mia instead. The result is gory and brutal, much more in the vein of contemporary ultra-horror than the horror-comedy of the previous two films.
Why It’s Important: …because Jane Levy should be getting more work? Honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss, here. It’s not that there isn’t an audience for this sort of film, but this film doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the generalized static of Hostel/Saw/The Hills Have Eyes.
Should You See It? If you like the gleeful bloodlust prevalent in modern horror, then sure. (Did that sound judgy? It felt a little judgy.) As an installment in the franchise, likely not, unless the rumored sequel materializes and the plans to merge Ash and Mia’s storylines come to fruition. Hollywood is full of dreamers, man.