How Ash vs Evil Dead mirrors the original Evil Dead trilogy

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Ash vs Evil Dead – The Mettle of Man – Bruce Campbell – Courtesy of STARZ

Evil Dead fans were given a brand new trilogy with the three brilliant seasons of Ash vs Evil Dead. This TV trilogy mirrors the original film trilogy in many fun and unexpected ways. 

Ash vs Evil Dead was an unexpected gift to horror fans who waited over twenty years to see Bruce Campbell reprise the iconic character of Ashley J. Williams. The show was a big hit with fans and critics, and it introduced two new beloved characters in Dana DeLorenzo‘s Kelly Maxwell and Ray Santiago‘s Pablo Simon Bolivar.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to save the show from an untimely demise. To many fans, including this writer, the nixing of Ash vs Evil Dead was the most painful premature cancellation in the history of television. While many of us are still mourning the loss of this incredible series, we are all eternally grateful that we somehow received 15 new hours of Evil Dead bliss.

Interestingly, Ash vs Evil Dead ran three seasons, so we now have a new Evil Dead trilogy. What’s even more interesting is the fact that this new trilogy shares many tonal and structural similarities to the original film trilogy. Specifically, each season of Ash vs Evil Dead mirrors its film counterpart.

Ash vs Evil Dead – The Last Jefe – Courtesy of Mike Kryshuk

Ash vs Evil Dead vs The Evil Dead

Tonally, the first season of Ash vs Evil Dead and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead bear a bit of a resemblance in that they are both the most serious installments of their respective trilogies. Make no mistake, Ash vs Evil Dead is a highly comedic show that never aspired to be the “ultimate experience in grueling terror.” Sam Raimi and company, on the other hand, went out of their way to produce the most viscerally intense, unfettered cinematic experience with The Evil Dead.

The Evil Dead employed a take no prisoners approach; nothing was deemed too disgustingly violent or offensive for this film. Like it or not, a scene like Cheryl’s (Ellen Sandweiss) assault by the forest demonstrates Sam Raimi’s fearlessness in crafting The Evil Dead. This audacious, uncompromising approach is what has allowed the film to stand the test of time despite the occasional impediments of its acting and dialogue.

Ash vs Evil Dead Is certainly miles ahead of The Evil Dead in terms of budget, acting, scope and production values. Where it is similar to The Evil Dead is in its fairly dark tone. The first season of Ash vs Evil Dead, while often hilarious, has an edge that subsequent seasons lack.

A prime example of this darker edge is in Amanda Fisher’s (Jill Marie Jones) death. Unlike the deaths of Pablo and Kelly, Fisher’s death was permanent, and it was a brutal, protracted experience for the viewer. Evil Ash’s psychological and physical torture of Fisher leading up to her slow, painful death by antler impalement is the type of brutality that would have been right at home in The Evil Dead.

In fact, once we arrive back at the cabin for the final three episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead season one, the show somewhat eschews humor in favor of grisly horror. At this stage, all the characters are put through the wringer. These episodes feel like a return to the unadulterated horror and grimness of The Evil Dead and Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake. Nothing is too cruel or macabre for these episodes.

Ellen Sandweiss in The Evil Dead (1981)

The characterizations are also a little more earnest in season one than they are in the second and third seasons, especially that of Ash. While it is by no means a return to the sensitive, soft-spoken Ash of The Evil Dead, Ash vs Evil Dead’s iteration gives us a new dimension to the character.

It should be noted that Sam Raimi’s Ash vs Evil Dead pilot was conceived as somewhat of a remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. In a 2014 interview right before he shot the pilot, Raimi stated that he was “approaching it like [Ash] is the Clint Eastwood of monster fighters. He’s the Unforgiven of monster fighters.

At the start of the pilot, Ash is not unlike Eastwood’s William Munny in Unforgiven; a bit of a surly drunk and a loner whose pathetic facade masks a lethal skill set. Both characters are reluctant killers (Munny, a gunfighter and Ash, a demon slayer) who are forced back into the world of violence they fled for decades.

Once both men return to their killing ways, they discover that they haven’t lost a step; they can’t escape who they are. In Munny’s case, his killing is meant to be tragic and it represents a repudiation of the archetypal western hero. In Ash’s case, however, it is meant to be a moment of celebration and catharsis. Once Ash dispatches Deadite Mrs. Johnson (Sian Davis) and utters his first “groovy” in decades, we are witnessing a moment of triumph for the character. Ash now has a purpose, and he has an opportunity to get his life back on track by fulfilling his destiny as the prophesied one.

The introduction of Ash as a something of a retired gunfighter was a very astute move on Raimi’s part as it gave the character much more depth than he had in any of the films (a necessity for a multi-season series). Bruce Campbell now provided more shading to Ash as he struggled with fear, regret, and an overall weariness.

I bring up the Unforgiven connection to illustrate how Ash’s initial reticence and palpable fear is akin to that of young Ash before his indoctrination into demon killing. More than anything, I illuminate this fascinating connection to establish Ash’s relative restraint and slightly muted braggadocio compared to latter seasons.