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So in what seems like no time at all, the second season of this show has landed and a third is already scheduled. With the promise of more chainsaw related injuries, silly dialogue and monster mayhem, it’s a good time to be a deadite. By now everyone knows what to expect as they ride the line between the gruesome original movie and the more ridiculous moments from Army of Darkness. But can they keep up the momentum, or the shock factor for so long? Will monster of the week fatigue begin to set in or will things take new and imaginative directions? And what of the behind the scenes drama regarding the season finale? There isn’t a Sam Raimi directed start to the show this time around which is disappointing, but let’s take a look into how the rest of this blood soaked saga pans out.
STARTING OUT – ON THE ROAD AGAIN
The opening of the series is a little rocky as events transpire which inevitably undo the ending of the previous finale, and any short term gains Ash was hoping for are soon lost down a large sinkhole. Our hero and his companions now head back to his home town in Michigan where he has been absent for many years. The longer running time of the initial first episode isn’t repeated here, which would have allowed some more breathing room and a little extra time for things to build up. It’s a weird complaint, I know. The break neck pacing means they hit the ground running and heads are removed from their shoulders almost immediately, but I really enjoyed the feeling of having one lengthier first chapter to get things going.
However there are no superfluous threads about detectives this time around, it’s right back to Ash in Jacksonville, Florida. His shallow dream life and his sleazy antics are quickly concluded and it’s clear that the sinister deal Ruby (Lucy Lawless) made with him hasn’t quite worked out. Her carefully laid plans have also gone awry, and right off the bat we get more flying limbs and evil creatures. It’s soon apparent that her evil spawn have turned on her after that whole Pablo book melding nightmare, and for reasons that are unclear she needs a human touch to fix the problem. She now fears the arrival of their diabolical father – the mind twisting demon Baal (Joel Tobeck).
Early on there are plenty of moments that allow for a tease of things to come including Ash’s father (Lee Majors) being introduced as an older, and even less wise member of the Williams household. We also get some characters in the town of Elk Grove. As you might expect they remember that whole cabin incident from the first movie in a less than heroic light. At this stage there’s a lot of setup up – Pablo begins to feel the ill effects of his previous meeting with Ruby, while Kelly and Ash upset the local sheriff, someone who already had an axe to grind. There are a lot of moving parts, so as I said a longer episode format at least in the beginning would have helped to give this more time.
However this isn’t really a story about character depth, and the focus is still gross spectacle. At some points they deliver more than you might expect in terms of purely disgusting sequences. Ash and everyone else involved get their fair share punishment from slapstick violence and stomach churning splatter, in new and amusingly horrible ways. At times they veer right into what is almost old-school Peter Jackson territory, to great effect. A few things are almost too much for the tone of this show, but even I can’t complain about that – where else would you find things this vile for just a comedy horror series.
One of my post one season wishes is granted pretty quickly with the introduction of Ted Raimi, and he even gets to play multiple characters as requested. His principle role is Chet, an old college pal of Ash’s who now runs a local bar. He’s a complete loser and has no problem with things like drink driving, even after several hours of downing cocktails which are made with more than just booze. As things progress we find the gang exploring a little more of the past which Ash ran from after his sister and their friends all ended up being hacked to pieces in 1982. Later there are even jokey references to the continuity problems between the films which really fits the tone, along with a big surprise or two for long time fans of the franchise.
The new setting makes picking up on these old threads an easy task as we visit the old Williams home and see what kind of reputation he has amongst the locals. In terms of the series format it’s soon clear that episodes share story beats in pairs and they focus on one major idea spread over two halves, more or less. While the first few chapters settle on Ruby and her demonic spawn, the next couple provide a full on homage to Stephen King’s Christine, and later we get the full result of Ash versus the local residents. There’s also another visit into his twisted mind, and a yet another return to that sinister woodland retreat we all know and love. Certain recycled ideas from the climax of season one and how those plot elements come together to provide a second conclusion are the weakest segments here I’m afraid, as I will get into shortly.
GETTING UP TO SPEED – FULL THROTTLE MAYHEM
That rickety Oldsmobile Delta is pretty iconic after all these years, and as we all know it’s had a lot of movie appearances over time. So it’s not a big surprise when it gets some extra screen time this time around. To change things up a little they have a major sequence where a gang of teenagers steal it from its oblivious owner… not realising that the trouble causing Necronomicon is stashed inside. They even throw in an absurd day dream about ‘the classic’ which is one of the funniest moments of the season as Ash sits reminiscing about his only one true love. Some of the demonic effects here are a little distracting, but while a few shots are kind of ropey it’s never quite as sloppy as the CGI in season one.
We also get to spend time with Ash and Chet, who throw together a haphazard plan to lure the thieves back to the bar with a party, while daddy Williams shows up to cause embarrassment in a variety of ways. It’s not classic monster action, but the change is a welcome one. They still manage to include plenty of gory moments along the way. The local sheriff is amongst the other antagonists the season has to offer, and soon enough the party atmosphere is lost and the gang have to contend with a growing number of angry locals being baited by Baal after his entrance from the underworld. His psychic powers are interesting but the real highlight is his ability to get under the skin of people – quite literally in some cases. The effects go into full Hellraiser mode at times which is a pretty gnarly visual and keeps the effects variety fresh.
The other members of the party get a few moments to shine. Pablo struggles with the mental after effects of that whole … face birthing sequence, while Kelly has to figure out whether she’s up to the challenge of taking the lead, despite her obvious aptitude for automatic weapons. Both have plenty of interaction with the supposedly amicable Ruby as things progress to keep it interesting, but of course the star of the show is always the fool who started this whole mess. His domestic problems continue to provide links back to the original movie. There are some great set pieces at his childhood home, and things are only exacerbated by the gathering angry mob on the front lawn. Obviously we’re not here to see Ash Vs Elk Grove, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome and there are some good moments for everyone to shine during a solid siege sequence.
SHIFTING GEARS – CHANGING PACE AND CLOSING THOUGHTS
The big change in pace comes along around part seven and eight where Baal and Ash finally come face to face, however his abilities result in this whole being presented as a delusion. Does Ash really have the kind of brain which can be brainwashed? The results are probably not a huge twist for anyone watching, but a slower moving chapter focused on a run down asylum is interesting anyway. Plus, we get time with hand puppet Ash. It’s not a very original premise for a storyline, and the way it plays out isn’t going to sate those with a real thirst for visceral horror. But it’s a quick pit stop along the way that stands out for being low key.
The dramatic ending to this section leads directly in to the final two chapters which at last reference that whole medieval adventure Ash took part in. Here certain sequences and ideas are taken directly from Evil Dead II as the gang find themselves in the woods again. A development during Ash’s arrival in a certain fruit cellar is certain to delight fans, but to say more would be giving too much away. On top of this a number of fun practical effects are thrown in to make up for the slower moments earlier on; it’s fun even if they start to reuse one too many ideas towards the end.
The major problem is the grand finale in episode ten. While this is still entertaining it feels pretty messy as all the plot threads are wrapped up and a conclusion is reached. Stories of clashes between writers and producers have already been published online which explains some of the less than consistent moments, though we will probably never know all the details. A lack of direction is clear, and it does feel like some ideas were slapped together at the last minute to replace those which were canned. The last few minutes seem quite rushed to say the least. I do appreciate a good hand to hand throw down, but the reasons for this and the consequences are not very satisfying at all. Some details make less sense than others at this late stage; even in a show this silly.
On the whole this season offers many fun details and throws in plenty of new and old elements from the series. Whether viewers feel this is as smooth as the first series is up for debate, since it had a couple of low points of its own before finishing strong. Personally I think they had better one liners the first time around, but it had the advantage of novelty value. I’m hoping for a push towards the unknown and a few ventures into the stranger side of the series with time travel and mental collapse being touched on so briefly here. At the very least I need to see more of things like Chemistry 101 and Ash’s knack for building random gadgets. We’ll just have to wait and see what they have in store for us in 2017.