Available now on Virgin Media and Amazon Video
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. It results in our hero and his companions heading 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 liked the feeling of that one lengthier first chapter to get things going.
There are no superfluous threads about detectives this time around though, it’s right back to Ash and his short lived dream life in Jacksonville where his sleazy antics are quickly concluded. The sinister deal Ruby (Lucy Lawless) made with him hasn’t quite worked out the way she planned, 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 human help to fix the problem before 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 being introduced (Lee Majors) as an older, and even less wise member of the Williams household. We also get some characters in the town of Elk Grove who remember the whole cabin incident from the first movie in a less than heroic light. At this stage there’s a lot of setup up as Pablo begins to feel the ill effects of his meeting with Ruby the last time around, while Kelly and Ash share a few moments which upset the local sheriff, someone who didn’t like them to begin with. There are a lot of pieces coming together, so as I said a longer episode format at least in the beginning would help give this time to be explored.
However this isn’t really about character depth, and the focus on gross moments of spectacle delivers more than you might expect in terms of purely disgusting sequences. Ash and everyone else here get their fair share punishment from violence and stomach churning comedy 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.
One of my first season requests is granted pretty quickly with the introduction of Ted Raimi as multiple characters. His principle role here is Chet, an old college pal of Ash’s who now runs a local bar. He’s a complete putz and has no qualms doing things like drink driving, even after a night of knocking back cocktails which are made with more than just booze. The next couple of episodes see the gang exploring a little more of the past which Ash ran away 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. It’s soon clear that a two part story feature also becomes a thing as we get episodes which 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 two provide a full on homage to Stephen King’s Christine, and later we get the full result of Ash versus the local residents, a visit into his twisted mind, and a return once more to that sinister woodland retreat we all know and love. The recycling of ideas right at the climax from season one and the execution of those plot elements are the weakest segments here I’m afraid, but I will get to that 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 involving its possession by the titular Evil after a gang of teenagers steal it from its oblivious owner… not realising the trouble causing book of the dead is stashed inside. They even throw in an absurd comedy 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 car 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.
It’s a fun detour as we 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 which still manages 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.
The other members of the party get a few moments to shine as Pablo struggles with the mental after effects of season one’s 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 now 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 with a few great set pieces at his childhood home, and things are only exacerbated by the growing 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 solid 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 the problem is of course that 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 this slower moving episode focused on a run down asylum and his time trying to figure out what is real 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 out there, 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 band of heroes are once again in the woods being chased by familiar creatures. A certain development during Ash’s arrival in that fruit cellar once more 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 it starts to reuse one too many ideas towards the end.
The major problem is the grand finale in episode ten, and while this is still entertaining it feels pretty messy as plots 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 though and it does feel like some ideas were slapped together at the last minute. The last few minutes seem rushed to say the least. I do appreciate a good hand to hand throw down, but the reasons for this and the outcome are not very satisfying at all, with some details making 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 many viewers will enjoy. Whether they feel this is as smooth as the first series is up for debate, since it had a couple of low points late on before finishing strong. Personally I think they had the better one liners the first time around, but it had the advantage of novelty value of course. 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. I need to see more of things like Chemistry 101 and Ash’s knack for building random gadgets. We will just have to wait and see what they have in store for his this year.