Why isn’t Bruce Campbell in everything?
That’s the question I asked myself after watching this self-proclaimed B movie actor absolutely nail it — make that stab it, chainsaw it and shoot it with his boomstick — in Starz’s highly entertaining new series, “Ash vs Evil Dead.”
Set against today’s plethora of bleak and grim horror shows, “Ash vs Evil Dead” feels remarkably fresh and different despite its relatively ancient origins. Keep in mind the first “Evil Dead” movie was filmed before Ronald Reagan was elected president.
In the new horror-comedy hybrid series, Campbell, 57, reprises his role as Ash Williams, a reluctant hero who unwittingly unleashed holy hell three decades earlier when he and his college buddies took a trip to a cabin in the Tennessee woods. They stumbled upon the Necronomicon, or Book of the Dead, in the 1981 cult classic “The Evil Dead.” Passages were recited. Evil spirits were awakened. Deadites went on a gruesome, bloody killing spree rife with over-the-top special effects and then-unknown director Sam Raimi’s innovative camera work.
Many of these same hallmarks — swirling camera shots from evil’s POV, humorously epic fight scenes, an obsession with eyeballs — their bloody fingerprints are all over the 41-minute series premiere, directed and co-written by the now very well known Raimi.
Most importantly, Ash is back. And he’s better — and groovier — than ever.
This aging Lothario may be a little grayer and a little heavier, but he still has an uncanny knack for getting into — and out of — trouble. He’s like a lovably stupid superhero.
When we catch up with Ash, he’s living in an Airstream trailer, avoiding responsibility and using his fake hand to pick up chicks, as our girdle-wearing ladies’ man would say. His unique blend of bumbling cockiness and lack of self-awareness packaged in a 50-something-year-old, slightly sagging frame plays especially well against a 21st century backdrop.
The TV series, whose first season is made up of 10, mostly half-hour episodes, has the added benefit of surrounding Ash with two compelling sidekicks, Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). The three of them work together at a Value Stop big-box store in Michigan. (Fans of the “Evil Dead” films are going to squeal with delight at the Deadite montage projected on the cardboard boxes in Value Stop’s warehouse, where Ash gives Pablo the evil backstory.)
Pablo is Sancho Panza to Ash’s Don Quixote. The enthusiastic, puppy-like native of Honduras brings out the best in Ash. He’s the guy prodding our protagonist to literally face his demons in the wake of a recent evil outbreak.
Kelly, on the other hand, provides just the right amount of eye rolling in response to Ash’s antics.
“You’re kinda like me,” Ash tells her in the second episode. “Deadites ruined your life and you’re hot as hell.”
Not many actors could pull off a role like Ash. Campbell makes it look easy, even after all these years.
Rating: (4 / 5)
“Ash vs Evil Dead” officially premieres at 8 p.m. (Central) Saturday on Starz. The premium cable network is kicking things off at 7 p.m. Friday with “The Evil Dead,” followed by the 1987 sequel, “The Evil Dead II,” at 8:30 p.m. and the third film, “Army of Darkness” (1992), at 9:55 p.m. A special preview of the series premiere caps things off at 11:17 p.m.