It has been a very long wait for fans, but Ash vs Evil Dead finally gets a UK DVD release next week. To commemorate its impending arrival I’m going to take a look at how it got the mantle of ‘best horror show on TV’ (according to those in the know *cough cough* yes… us).
Horror TV has recently taken off as a proper genre. In years gone by it was basically a niche thing that was seen as a mere novelty. Sure there were notable exceptions, the superb Buffy the Vampire Slayer for one. Buffy succeeded by appealing to a younger audience and could perhaps be seen as the moment when TV executives started aiming prime time shows towards teens rather than their parents.
Horror in films conversely was always an adult affair, most of the big 80s greats were 18 rated and were often the only chance a young boy like me had to see boobs without visiting certain stores that I would immediately be escorted out of.
To bring horror to the masses on television however, things have recently taken a similar turn for the adult. The Walking Dead and True Blood brought the supernatural out of the murky cinemas and straight into our brightly lit front rooms (just like that horrible bit at the end of Ring). True Blood was basically violent erotica laced with vampiric charm while The Walking Dead is a gritty character study of the break down of society, albeit due to a supernatural plague.
The Walking Dead has become one of the biggest, most anticipated shows on TV and it’s about zombies. Tell someone 20 years ago that a zombie show would dominate the small screen and they would hit you with their Nokia 1610.
Now we have Ash vs Evil Dead and it’s everything The Walking Dead isn’t. Fun, witty, over the top and, most importantly, not in the slightest bit realistic.
The premise of Ash vs Evil Dead alone is just ridiculous. An idiotic man with a chainsaw for a hand and a sawn off shotgun tries to save the world from an unnamed evil that he himself keeps releasing from a skin-bound book of the dead. In all honesty if you read out that synopsis to me, you’d have me at chainsaw.
If you’ve seen the films you know what you are in for. The gore is executed in a half visceral, half cartoonish way. Every evisceration and decapitation is accompanied by a quip so childish that you can’t help but groan marvellously. Some of the deaths are hilariously over the top, The demon child shotgun death in episode 10 made me spit out coffee laughing.
Ash is as deeply flawed and stupid as he ever was in the films, his motto of ‘shoot first and ask questions never’ sums him up well. The supporting cast work really well against Bruce Campbell’s broad horror-acting masterclass. Lucy Lawless is great as Ruby, a knife wielding killing machine. I’ve liked her ever since Xena Warrior Princess made me question my own feelings about whether I might enjoy being hurt in the bedroom. Ray Santiago is very funny as Pablo, Ash’s sidekick/workmate. We have two female leads in Dana Delorenzo and Jill Marie Jones, who follow the Buffy tradition of women who are far more handy than the men in a scrap.
This is, however, the Bruce Campbell show. It takes a certain amount of charm to play the biggest, most arrogant, misogynistic arsehole on TV and still be so damned lovable. He’s older and in bad shape but still chats up every woman unlucky enough to meet him with the kind of confidence you’d expect from Channing Tatum. Replete with man girdle and rosewood hand, Ash even manages to wear the exact outfit from the movies throughout the series.
The other thing that sets Ash vs Evil Dead apart from its horror brethren is the fantastic soundtrack. Whether it’s the end credit music that changes weekly, a la True Blood, or the driving music Ash has on his tape player, it is all just perfect. AC/DC, Deep Purple, Bill Withers, it’s second only to Stranger Things on my favourite series soundtracks list. The series was a labour of love for Campbell and director Sam Raimi. They did it how they wanted and the outcome is a real treat for long time fans and newbies alike.
There’s presently a lot of competition in this genre and some of it I like very much. Newcomer Outcast has promise but once again lacks humour, opting for realism, or as much realism you can get in a tale of deep south exorcisms. I struggle to believe Mr Data as the big bad, I just think back to when he cries after finding out his cat Spot survived the destruction of the Enterprise and I get a bit teary eyed. There I go again.
American Horror Story is a particular favourite of mine with it’s big name cast and anthology format, it’s original and entertaining. I do find that it suffers in going from tongue in cheek weirdness to all out disturbing without much middle ground. I also found it hard to forgive the ‘X-Men as witches’ third season which was comparatively quite shit.
So what I’m really saying is that Ash vs The Evil Dead represents the peak of horror TV. The Walking Dead may have the viewing numbers but that is very telling of how far from true horror it has deviated. Nothing that is popular with that large a cross section of the populace can be that good, Nickelback, Justin Bieber, and Coldplay prove this year in year out.
Ash vs Evil Dead has everything you want, especially if you were brought up on 80s horror films. If your preferred fright-fests were born of the 90s then American Horror Story is probably more representative of that time. However there is no escaping the fact that 90s horrors sucked balls as a general rule and the 80s is where it’s at. You may disagree but you’ll find that you are wrong and an obnoxiously ugly freak.
With season two on its way in October I hope to see a lot more of Ash Williams on our TV screens. Who knows, maybe we will get to see some of the often talked about crossovers with other 80s classics? Who wouldn’t like to see Robert Englund reprise Freddy and go glove to chainsaw with Ash?
Do not miss Ash vs Evil Dead, it will make you yearn for a simpler time when apocalypses could be thwarted with excessive violence and one liners. Groovy.