There we were… now here we are. After a few short years the entirety of Bruce and Sam’s return to the world of deadite decapitations and gushing blood geysers has come to an end once more. For a while it felt like everything was new again. Well as much as it can do for a show that went back to the past and dug up a few old favourites once last time. But ultimately after three fun seasons it’s somehow ended up the way things were in 1992… a post apocalypse finale that nobody wants to follow up on.
I kinda feel bad that the film makers involved still don’t get to have their wasteland romp after taking the time to build up to it again. And with the apparent retirement of the central character there’s no chance another season financed by Netflix or an Evil Dead 4 will pick up the baton and bring us what was teased. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Does the third chapter of this ridiculous saga (originally said to be five seasons) deliver enough to make it feel at least partially like a fitting send off?
OLD STAPLES – PRECIOUS BODILY FLUIDS
The third and apparently final chapter starts as it means to go on. It’s odd that this is the place that the executives at TV production company Starz decided to axe things, since beyond declining audience figures this is the most confident season yet. I understand that the numbers matter but they could have at least taken other matters into consideration. Briskly glossing over that wobbly ending to season two the writers double down on what made this so much fun when things were moving at their fastest; weird and disgusting horror comedy set pieces fuelled by gore and slapstick. Maybe it could have done with more classic Army of Darkness music instead of Bony M. and a-ha… but they knew what tone works by now.
The opening is for lack of a better term… gnarly as hell. There’s a great Antiques Roadshow gag where an expert discusses the Necronomicon on TV, there’s an even sillier series of jokes about Ash (Bruce Campbell) re-opening his late father’s hardware store after becoming a local hero. It’s violent and juvenile as you’d expect by now. This is all followed up by a series of bizarre incidents at the local high school where apparently Ash actually had an education, much to the surprise of his companions. They do retread material from the last two instalments with normal life and attempts at running businesses falling apart when the powers of darkness show up, and this is something that crops up as things progress. It’s just not fresh any more and the limitations of the material start to creep in. But does that really matter? Not really.
Ruby (Lucy Lawless) is also back with yet another evil hell child (who later turns into yet another Evil Ash) as she attempts to thwart The Dark Ones who want to take back her powers and her book. It’s a shame that bad CGI effects show up again in the form of said evil child’s stretchy demonic mouth, but they do at least throw in some genuinely stomach churning yet hilarious scenes involving his birth. The cabin in the woods is revisited (to some degree) and various characters become possessed or replaced by evil clones. They really settle into the whole monster-of-the-week setup here and while the typical chainsaw related deaths and blood spewing spectacles are ever present, there’s at least a great sense of creativity throughout.
NEW INCLUSIONS – DADDY ISSUES
The main new plot thread is here that Ash discovers that he’s a father. Or at least that’s what his one time wife Candy (Katrina Hobbs) says, since he barely remembers the relationship at all. Or the wild times they had in Las Vegas. As a source of development and division it’s not the most imaginative idea ever presented, but it does at least offer some solid dramatic and comedic scenes as things progress. The drug addled wedding flash-backs are particularly fun. It’s also an amusing parallel to Ruby’s scheme in which she plans to erase Ash from the pages of the Book of the Dead and replace him with her latest evil spawn. They’re both pretty bad examples of parenting skills.
Of course this also means there are fun and gruesome times ahead as Ruby must feed her child (human flesh, what else) and then destroy the seed of Ash Williams (including what he saved at the local cryobank… oh boy). And you thought that morgue scene last time was gross. If nothing else this season should be watched for Bruce and Lucy singing ‘Kids Today‘ during the credits of episode three. It’s really something. But I guess most people are here for the fight between Ash and a demonic porno magazine or the full on Sam Raimi style music room battle at the school. If you need characters goofing off or being tormented by slimy goings on they have you covered. A funeral sequence right out of Drag Me To Hell is also a standout moment early on. Like the other two seasons there’s a sense that all the really juicy stuff was saved for the opening and closing episodes, but this time around things are a lot more cohesive.
Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) and Pablo (Ray Santiago) proceed down their respective demon slayer/shaman storylines and Ash has to come around to the idea of actually acting like both a hero and a father. Some of the leftover threads from last time around get tied off which means that the ghost of Brock (Lee Majors) makes an appearance, tying into the new development – The Knights of Sumeria. These guys unfortunately are all just deadite fodder and feel like an underwhelming addition. They do make for some great possessed monstrosities in some cases, but their inclusion never really builds to anything besides kneeling around their saviour Ash and talking about saving the world. Besides their involvement in the final scene of the series which of course will probably never amount to anything. They could have been a great foil for Ash in either a historical or a futuristic setting, but unfortunately it was not to be.
THE CLASSIC(S) – BASEMENTS, PORTALS AND DEMONS (OH MY)
The logic may be a bit shaky at times but there is a lot of Evil Dead II used this time around as Ruby, The Knights, The Dark Ones, and the Ghost Beaters all have to utilise or prevent dimensional rifts in Elk Grove. How Pablo can read ancient languages to open the gate and how going into the portal (or dying and coming back through) is possible… is never that clear. I guess it’s not important. You might as well question how exactly deadite possession works and why some people are cured and others are dismembered. This is a show that involves evil sports team mascots and magic knives after all. I was hoping that they’d actually show what Hell itself was like in this universe, but instead there’s a kind of spirit world limbo where the same locations are covered in dust and green lighting. It does at least offer one of the funniest lines as a despondent Ash sees his car in this ethereal place ‘…they killed The Classic.’
Eventually of course things come to a head and we get to see what exactly The Dark Ones are. We even get to see what Kandar is after hearing the word so many times as a series of idiots read out demon resurrection rituals. The production values in the last few episodes are certainly a nice change from the usual house / trailer interiors. Overall though the show looks pretty good, and they’ve firmly established a colourful but spooky aesthetic for the whole thing. By episode seven the levels of horror and even actual drama are pushed to new heights as it changes gears and moves right into genuine slasher territory. The rest of the show generally stayed in the realm of comedy horror and splatter (with a few pretty eye watering exceptions) but when they throw a killer into a school prom and let things get out of control it comes into its own.
By the later stages of the storyline it’s obvious that they knew things might not be back for a fourth chapter and so there’s a kitchen sink approach on display. Luckily this means that the monsters get crazier and the performances get stronger. They even push the boat out in terms of fan service with Ash’s daughter Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill) getting unceremoniously thrown into her dad’s world. There’s even a classic tool-shed sequence in which she has to survive an (admittedly rather silly) attack from the evil. The shift between cartoon monster effects and genuinely nasty scenes of teenagers being massacred while Necromicon pages are made from live subjects might not be for everyone… but what else were viewers expecting at this stage? The late in the series audience decline might be due to the extremes they go to here, but let’s be honest they stuck to their guns and gave it their all at least.
The ending for what it’s worth is loud and brash and dumb, but at this stage it’s a logical progression once the powers of darkness have unleashed a nightmare on the living world. It’s kind of a conclusion but it’s still kind of a cliffhanger. It’s sort of a climax, but it’s sort of rushed and simplistic. For all the weaker aspects of Ash teaming up with Brandy and his other two sort-of-kids it would have been nice to see them together again in a Mad Max style world where things could get genuinely weird. It just needed to get there, to commit fully to the ideas presented in season two and three that involved time travel and other dimensions. Once more push would be all they need. Personally I think it would be a classic movie and Sam Raimi hasn’t done one for a while now. Besides how can you retire something that will never die?