Continuing my Halloween viewing and Evil Dead marathoning, this week I’m reviewing the more recent elements of the series: Army of Darkness and the TV show Ash vs. Evil Dead. One of these doesn’t really work for me anymore. The other contains the best bits of the entire series.
Army of Darkness
This movie picks up where Evil Dead 2 ended. Ash and his car have fallen through a hole in time and arrived in the year 1300. Ash quickly finds himself captured by knights led by a Lord Arthur who believe he is allied with Duke Henry, the ruler of a neighboring people. Both sides blame the other for the Deadite threat.
Ash escapes the death trap the locals have planned for him, shows off his high-tech toys (the shotgun and chainsaw arm) and reluctantly takes on the role of the chosen one. Ash rides off to find the Necronomicon so the evil can be purged from the land and he can get back home.
He blows it.
Ash avoids the formless Kandarian demon and kills the evil twin it helps spawn. But after failing to say the right magic words when picking up the book, he releases an army of the dead who then march on the kingdom. Ash eventually gets his act together, mobilizes a defense using some steampunk devices and gunpowder and saves the day.
So let’s start with the negatives. The dialogue is terrible and horribly cheesy. The practical effects and stop motion have not aged well which makes Army of Darkness look cheap.
Additionally whereas the first two films aimed for horror first and comedy second, Army of Darkness moves well into camp. My tolerance for this kind of action has diminished over time. I used to love this movie but now seeing it next to the other films and the TV series, it feels like the weak link.
The film also leaves me with a lot of unanswered questions and confusion. Is one of the three books Ash encounters in the graveyard the book from the earlier films (i.e. a future Necronomicon)? How did a Sumerian book arrive in Medieval England? Why does killing Ash’s evil twin (again) end the Deadite threat? Whatever happened to the skeletons fleeing the battle at the end? Did Ash alter the timeline?
Ash vs. Evil Dead
So this series is the whole reason I decided to rewatch the movies. Two seasons are out now on Starz with a third premiering in February. It continues the Evil Dead series into the modern-day with better effects, better plots, and exciting new areas to explore.
The series, especially Season 1, stresses the horror aspect of the horror comedy which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. We also get plenty of physical comedy, splattering gore and other classic elements. Really it is the best of all versions of Evil Dead.
Season 1 picks up with Ash 30 years after the events of Evil Dead. He works retail and lives in a mobile home. He still drives a Delta (the same Delta in fact). Basically his life has gone nowhere. Even so he can still swing a chainsaw and easily seduce woman despite being an old somewhat racist asshole. For a lesser actor or with worse writing the character would be insufferable. But Ash is competent in just the right places and get enough flack for his behavior that you find yourself liking him.
During a recent hookup with a woman interested in poetry, he reads from the Necronomicon. The evil returns and Deadites start popping up left and right. He teams up with Pablo, a Honduran illegal immigrant coworker, and Kelly, the new hire, to defeat the evil once and for all.
Through the season they are pursued by Ruby (played by Lucy Lawless) who is after the book for her own dark reasons and a cop named Amanda who also wants to put an end this threat. They face Deadites, the formless evil, some actual demons, and a few helpful if short-lived allies.
At the end of Season 1, Ash makes a deal with Ruby. He gets his paradise (life in Jacksonville, Florida) and she gets the book and control of Hell’s demons.
Season 2 starts with Ruby losing control. She summons Ash and with his help works to put down the evil she summoned. The only problem is that the evil is in Ash’s hometown. Together with Pablo and Kelly, he has to face his past and his father. Ultimately he reconnects with dad, saves the town and the world (again), and is recognized as a hero. But there are terrible costs. In particular Pablo dies. Distraught Ash returns to the past to undo the events of the original Evil Dead.
It does not go well. But somehow he turns things around and saves the day.
Overall the series is great. Season 1 flows better in my opinion. The second season focuses more on set pieces which tends to break up the story. But those set pieces are amazing: a battle with a possessed car, a bottle episode with a skin wearing demon, the trip to the asylum.
In addition to the body distorting deadites, we also get some actual demons. The demon of secrets is summoned by Ash but briefly possesses Kelly. Later black eyed children turn the tables on Ruby. And finally a lord of hell, Baal, seeks to bring hell on earth when he isn’t stealing people’s skins. With the better budget and some well done CGI, we also get to see the evil chasing ash for once: a face dust storm.
Not everything is great though. The Season 1 romance between Ash and Amanda feels forced in the last couple episodes. I also found the Season 1 ending unsatisfying. Ash takes the easy way out and seems to doom most of the world. Season 2 thankfully ends better even if the final scene creates a very large plot hole.
One thing both Season finales have which I really loved was the cabin. Season 1 sees Ash return to the cabin from Evil Dead 30 years later to end the threat of the Necronomicon. It is beautiful and great see the aftermath of the series revisited. Season 2 has him travel back in time to before the first film. Ash faces Henrietta Knowby again and discovers that Professor Knowby was no mere victim.
Which brings me back to the plot hole. At the end of Season 2, the cabin is destroyed before Ash arrives in Evil Dead. So he and his friends should never had gone there (or at least not stayed and died). So why is the present still the same? Hopefully they’ll address that issue in Season 3 in February 2017.
Either way the series is a great deal of fun.