Explaining the history of The Evil Dead movies would be an article in itself, and a long one at that, but I’ll try and do this as briefly as I can – back in 1981 director Sam Raimi released a very, very low budget cabin in the woods horror flick where our bolshie hero Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) partied with friends until they became demonically possessed (and thus known as deadites) and tried to tear him apart. Then in 1987 Raimi essentially remade the film as a gross out horror comedy, and a third film followed in 1992 which was a more slapstick affair as Ash was transported back to medieval times.
The trilogy quickly became a cult favourite and there was rumours of a planned fourth film for a long old time, until suddenly a tv show based on the films was announced. No one thought it would really be able to capture the madcap, zany insanity of the original films but as it was on cable network Starz it turned out that a) Yes they could, and b) In fact they’d go far, far further than the movies did and feature scenes which were unbelievably disgusting but also hilarious at the same time.
The series still revolves around Ash who is now in his fifties, though he is something of a reluctant hero initially having enjoyed a couple of decades without any deadites attempting to murder him. And to appeal to a younger audience Ash was teamed up with sidekicks Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), while Xena Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless was brought on as a villain, though each season tended to have it’s own big bad as well, or at least a few other monstrous creations to keep Ash and co way too busy.
The show is one of my favourite ever tv series but that’s not to say it wasn’t a little flawed in places, the first season takes a while to get going and after showrunner Craig DiGregorio was fired at the end of season 2 while still a lot of fun the third season never quite captured the glorious madness of what came before. So it’s from that second season that I’ve chosen what I think is the best episode of the entire run if only because it features a set piece which needs to be seen to be believed, and even then I can’t promise that you will.
We’ll get to that in a short while though, as initially thanks to a brief recap at the start of the episode we learn that in this second season Ash has returned to his home town of Elk Grove as an at this point not completely evil Ruby has asked for his help. Unfortunately for our heroes she summoned some demons (who she refers to as her children, it’s a long story) but they’ve gotten out of control, and so Ash and co need to track down the Necronomicon (the book of the dead which started all of this off to begin with) and use it to send them back to hell. Unfortunately for them said book is in the morgue, and to further complicate matters, Ash’s surly dad (Lee Majors) isn’t exactly pleased that he’s back in town.
Beginning with a quick tour of Ash’s former home (with some great flashbacks to the original movies with the tv series incorporating footage from the films in a really unsettling manner), Kelly gets the chance to mock Ash’s former LSD use and we see an all too brief glimpse of Ash’s trashy bedroom which hasn’t changed in over thirty years, with both elements being gleefully effective. Then we cut to the morgue as a lab assistant slices open a dead body and weighs a brain and fails to notice that one of the dead bodies is, well, a little more sprightly than the deceased tend to be, and given the horror element of the show he’s sadly not long for this world.
Cutting back to Ash’s bedroom the show highlights the great bond between Kelly and Pablo with the former teasing the latter in amusing ways, the best being where she claims that her comparing him to a vagina is a compliment as “Vagina’s are powerful and life affirming”, which is something you can’t argue with. So that the episode has two plotlines Pablo is given the task of babysitting Ruby while Ash and Kelly go off to get the Necronomicon, which as Ruby hid it in a dead body involves slicing up many a corpse at the morgue, unaware of the now deceased lab assistant. Upon finding it unfortunately for Ash the book’s a feisty so and so and causes the intestines of the body it was inside of to come alive, grow teeth and attack him, which leads to lots of blood splattered violence, but worst of all (or depending on your perspective, best of all), is that the intestines wrap themselves around Ash’s body and neck and drag him in to the body they came from, anus first.
Yep, you read that right, as in this episode Bruce Campbell is dragged in to a dead body by having his head shoved right up the corpse’s arse, and if you think that sounds outrageously repugnant you’re absolutely right, but it’s also bloody funny. Slapstick of the most extreme and revolting manner follows as Ash’s head pops out of the carved open stomach as he tries to get out of the body while the intestines continue to bite away, it’s a tour de force of physical comedy from Bruce Campbell, and comes with some very funny dialogue like “This town is only big enough for one arsehole, and that arsehole is me”, as Ash is never anything less than honest.
While all of the above was going on there’s some intriguing plot development between Ruby and Pablo with a gorily funny hallucination thanks to Pablo’s previous encounter with the Necronomicon, and the craziness doesn’t let up just because the corpse in the morgue is soon at the receiving end of a shotgun bullet, as Ash discovers that his father’s girlfriend, Lillian Pendergrast, should be in the morgue, and that as she isn’t it means she’s now one of those bastard deadites as well. While Ash and Kelly race to save the day a rather vomity Lillian does her best to kill Ruby and Pablo, but just as they arrive Ruby decapitates her because she’s nice like that.
I consider myself reasonably desensitised to over the top gore as when I was fourteen my local video shop manager was more than happy to rent me everything and anything with an 18 rating and that led to me seeing things no young teenager ever should (and I know thanks to Netflix that describes all teenagers now, but back in the 1980s I was the only one out of my friends to see such films), but the main set piece in this episode is so ridiculously twisted that it made me gasp in delight, and laugh an enormous amount, which is why I love it so and also why I singled out this episode as being one all should see.
While the over the top gore and slapstick are the highlights it also has some superb dialogue as well though, the exchanges between Pablo and Kelly are never less than endearing, and okay, while there’s a slightly crude element to some of the humour, with Ash boasting about how he once boned Lillian Pendergrast in the back of his car, and when he sees a naked dead woman he exclaims “What a waste! What a waste!”, the show has enough charm for this not to be a problem. Plus Ash has always been portrayed as occasionally a bit sleazy and not exactly someone you should admire, so it’s in keeping with the character established in the movies.
If you’re not a fan of gory horror than this isn’t the show for you, and no one will ever try to claim that this is sophisticated comedy of a cerebral nature, but then it would be a dull, boring world if that’s all that ever existed. What it is however is a very knowing, very tongue in cheek, often deranged slice of twisted, visually inventive, dark humoured horror that comes with some incredibly memorable and lovable characters, with Kelly and Pablo making for fantastic sidekicks for Ash and who both brought a lot of essential elements to the series. Plus Lucy Lawless is great as the villain too, and if I’ve any complaint it’s that Lee Majors was a little underused, but that is a minor issue.
The series came to an end after the third season because of low viewing figures, partially due to the long gap between seasons 2 and 3 and partially because people are rubbish and sometimes ignore really great comedy. Bruce Campbell has claimed he’s retired from the role now too, which is understandably given what was asked of him physically, but a new movie is apparently in the works with a new cast (and hopefully Santiago and DeLorenzo, but nothing is yet known on that front), and I hope that’s true as while there’s a lot of great horror comedies out there, there’s nothing quite like the beautifully fucked up and truly hilarious Evil Dead series.